It is easy to confuse the terms modern architecture and contemporary architecture since the two words mean the same thing in casual usage. However modern architecture refers to the design which was inspired by the historical modernist art movement, so that in actual fact most examples of modern house plans are at least fifty years old. The modernist movement represented a rebellion against the traditions of classic architecture. Because this movement spanned almost sixty years, it embraces different architectural styles including Arts & Crafts, ranch, and Art Deco. The movement also produced giants in the pantheon of architecture, including Frank Lloyd Wright in America, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany, and Le Corbusier in Switzerland.
The key elements which distinguish modern architecture are open living spaces, which is largely Frank Lloyd Wright’s contribution. Wright thought that separate rooms tended to impede the flow of living. Thus, modernist home plans are characterized by open floor plans which combine spaces for entertaining, relaxing, and dining. Modern country houseplans feature large plate-glass windows and outdoor patio areas to increase the living space and to bring the sense of the outdoors inside. Another key element of the modernistic style is its clean geometric lines and lack of adornment, instead of the embellished columns and arches characteristic of the classical style. Modernism also adopted technologically-advanced materials such as steel, glass, and concrete instead of the traditional stone, wood, and plaster. Another key element of modernism is the “form follows function” ideal, which is largely the contribution of Mies van der Rohe and his Bauhaus followers, whom you can thank for the office cubicle. Mies’ view was that homes and other buildings should be large and wide-open in order to accommodate various functions, and then be subdivided as needed with movable screens and walls. Mies believed that the open space would create a feeling of community.
Although the concept of open space in modern architecture has visual appeal, probably Wright never thought for a moment about the difficulty of keeping all that open space clean. With an open floor plan, it isn’t possible to shove clutter into a corner and close a door on it. Indeed, in modern luxury home plans it is possible to see dirty dishes from the living room, so there is nowhere to hide from having to keep the kitchen spotless at all times. Also, although modernist architecture’s focus on using new technologies and materials was quite exciting in its time, by now the metal-and-glass boxes seem cold and sterile – not to mention that they show dust. While modern architecture honors the idea of freely flowing space, its slavish devotion to pure function tended to ignore human needs. As an example, towering modern condos and apartment complexes are an economical use of limited land space, but their lack of contact with nature and greenery and of common areas discourages human interaction and promotes isolation. Open space in the home can interfere with people’s need for privacy. Also few people really want to live with no sentimental objects in view.