Contemporary vs Modern
© Benjamin Benschneider (Olson Kundig)

Are Contemporary and Modern Architecture the Same?

Architecture changes and evolves over time. Some styles go out of fashion, others replace them, and then there’s this sort of merging and blending of styles that occurs. One of the most common infusions is the modern architecture, which is often incorporated with contemporary. That leads to one central question: modern vs contemporary: what’s the difference between the two?

What is Modern Architecture?

Modern architecture is easy to confuse in terms of time period because it sounds like something occurring at this very moment in time. However, it’s a style that is actually older than its contemporary architecture counterpart.

What is the Modern Architecture Time Period?

Modern architecture points to a style that was in use from the early 1900s through the 1950s. At these times, the architecture was highly ornate and decorative. You would walk into homes or down the street and see these very decorative styles, with a focus on:

  • Edwardian
  • Victorian

Modern architecture introduced several key characteristics of homes that we can see in many residential structures of today:

  • Open floor plans
  • Glass walls
  • Large windows
  • Asymmetry
  • Rectangular forms
  • Emphasis on nature

Functionality and simplicity were the core focus of the modern style, and the key was to remove anything deemed as unnecessary while ensuring function. This was a time period when people started moving more into their fast-paced lifestyles, and the focus on creativity waned drastically.

However, the modern style tried to remove the home’s interior and exterior boundaries, which is why we see larger windows and even windowed walls become so popular at the time.

What is Contemporary Architecture?

Contemporary architecture is the style of the 21st century, and it’s a style that has many timelines depending on the source you look at. While the true contemporary style became dominant in 2000 and beyond, we really started to see contemporary elements entering homes in the 1970s.

The contemporary home is:

  • Complex
  • Advanced

However, that doesn’t mean that these homes didn’t have the same function or elements of modern or even styles before. In fact, contemporary architecture is a mixture of styles that incorporate many elements.

As all architecture and styles do, evolution has been the main part of contemporary architecture. The contemporary style in the 1970s certainly looked different from the style of the 2000s.

Even people with a lot of exposure to many architectural styles will find that a home is modern rather than contemporary in style, even if the goal was to mix the styles together. When you see the word “contemporary,” it’s usually a home that has a variety of styles in one. Still, you might only recognize modern elements because they’re more dominant in the home than, say, Edwardian.

Contemporary architecture is truly a reflection of society at any given time, and today, this means:

  • Eco-friendly features
  • High-tech designs
  • Repurposing
  • Mixed materials
  • Free-form composition

If you pass by a shipping container home or even a home made from reclaimed barn wood, it is the contemporary architecture of today.

Modern Vs. Contemporary: Where the Lines Blur

Modern and contemporary are two unique styles of architecture that we see in the construction industry. However, there’s a blurring of the lines between the two styles because contemporary, at its very root, is a mixture of styles that are in favor today.

It’s difficult to find homes that don’t have modern architectural characteristics today.

A quick glance on any builder’s website or realty page, and you’ll see homes boasting about their:

  • Open floor plans
  • Massive windows
  • Etc.

You’ll also find custom-built homes with a post modern style, which first started to emerge in the 60s. The post modern style is all about individualism because homeowners and builders were both tired of the same cookie-cutter homes lining streets.

Experimentation and individualism are what post modern is all about, and the goal is for the building to be fun and exciting rather than sticking to the norms of the time.

If you’re working with a builder or even buying a home, it’s imperative that you have the true definition of modern and contemporary listed for you by the entity. Often, the two words are used interchangeably by professionals in the field, leading you to misunderstand what architectural style will be used in the home.

Often, homes, skyscrapers, libraries and other buildings will be contemporary because it’s a more fluid architectural style, which is meant to meld the best features of each style together.

Modern architecture, even if it has lost some of its appeal over time, is still a driving force in the contemporary homes. The open floor plan and focus on natural light have helped even the most contemporary homes come to life because people still prefer the mixing of the outdoors indoors with their oversized windows.

The key difference between modern vs. contemporary styles is that contemporary offers the modern style with advanced features and an eclectic form of architecture that is in high demand.

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