12 styles of Modernism in architecture

Modernism has long been hailed as one of the most optimistic architectural styles in history. It draws inspiration from utopian concepts, innovation, and a reinterpretation of how we live, work, and create in the future. Even as the world that birthed Modernism has radically changed, its philosophy continues to dominate architectural discourse today.

As we bid farewell to 2019, the year that celebrated the centenary of the Bauhaus movement, let’s take a closer look at the key architectural styles that define Modernism. This compilation serves as a tool to understand the evolution of 20th-century design, showcasing exemplary examples that embody the principles of each style.

Styles of the First Half of the Century


The Bauhaus school of design – Walter Gropius
Fagus Factory – Walter Gropius + Adolf Meyer

The Bauhaus, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, originated as a German school of art and architecture. It became a model for many architecture schools, emphasizing function, minimal ornamentation, and a harmonious fusion of abstract shapes and forms.

Notable Works:

  • Dessau-Bauhaus/Walter Gropius
  • Gropius House / Walter Gropius
  • Fagus Factory / Walter Gropius + Adolf Meyer

De Stijl

Café l'Aubette / Theo van Doesburg

Emerging in 1917, De Stijl, which means “Style” in Dutch, reached its peak between 1917 and 1931. This style is characterized by minimal design elements, vertical and horizontal lines, and the use of primary colors. Theo van Doesburg, a Dutch designer, also published the influential De Stijl magazine during this period.

Notable Works:

  • Rietveld Schroder House / Gerrit Rietveld
  • Café L’Aubette / Theo van Doesburg



While Bauhaus and De Stijl originated in Western Europe during the 1920s, Constructivism emerged in the Soviet Union. Combining technological innovation with influences from Russian Futurism, Constructivism gave birth to abstract geometric volumes. Notable Russian architects associated with this style include El Lissitzky and Vladimir Tatlin.

Notable Works:

  • A Brief History of Yekaterinburg Constructivist Architecture
  • Spotlight: Constructivist Pioneer Konstantin Melnikov
  • A Soviet utopia: constructivism in Yekaterinburg
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Grundtvig Church – Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klintg
Scharnhorst step-down transformer station (1928-29)

Expressionism, which coexisted with Bauhaus between 1910 and 1930, stands in stark contrast. It explores organic and emotional forms, departing from the clean, linear approach of Bauhaus architecture. This style emerged from the Avant Garde movement in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. It embraces new technical possibilities while evoking anomalies in volumes and a utopian vision.

Notable Works:

  • Grundtvig’s Church / Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klintg
  • “Fragments of Metropolis”: an exploration of the expressionist history of Berlin
  • AD Classics: International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts

Mid-Century Styles


Villa “Indian Ship” – Idhea

Functionalism, born in the aftermath of World War I, advocates for architecture that reflects its intended purpose and function. It emerged alongside the ideas of modern socialism and humanism. Throughout the 1930s, functionalism developed in various countries, including Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia. The central principle of “form follows function” aimed to enhance people’s lives through architecture.

Notable Works:

  • Rehabilitation of a Functionalist Villa “Indian Ship” / Idhea


Barcelona Pavilion - Mies van der Rohe

Minimalism evolved from the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements of the 1920s. It prioritizes simplicity and utilizes clean design elements without excessive embellishment. Architects like Mies van der Rohe championed this style by incorporating pure geometric shapes, simple materials, and clean lines into their designs.

Notable Works:

  • Barragan House / Luis Barragan
  • Barcelona Pavilion / Mies van der Rohe

International Style

Villa Savoy – Le Corbusier
United Nations – Wallace K. Harrison

The International Style, coined in 1932, refers to an era when European modernism spread worldwide, particularly in the United States. Characterized by simplicity and the absence of ornamentation, this style found its way into the United States, leading to the construction of monolithic skyscrapers with flat roofs, glass facades, and walls.

Notable Works:

  • Villa Savoy / Le Corbusier
  • Seagram Building / Mies van der Rohe
  • United Nations / Wallace K. Harrison


Nagakin Capsule Tower – Kisho Kurokawa
Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Center - Kenzo Tange

Metabolism, a post-war Japanese movement, merged superstructures with organic biological growth. Influenced by Marxist principles and biological processes, young designers such as Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, and Fumihiko Maki published their manifesto on metabolism in 1960. Key features include modular design, prefabrication, adaptability, and robust core infrastructure.

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Notable Works:

  • Nagakin Capsule Tower / Kisho Kurokawa
  • Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Center / Kenzo Tange
  • Kikutake Sky House: where metabolism and Le Corbusier meet


The Barbican Estate – Chamerlin, Powell&Bon Architects
Prentice Hospital for Women / Bertand Goldberg

Rusticism, introduced by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson in the 1950s, draws upon Le Corbusier’s “Béton brut” (raw concrete). Recognized for its simplicity, strict geometric style, and unconventional shapes, this style commonly appears in government projects, educational buildings, and high-rise apartments, often featuring rugged, unfinished concrete finishes.

Notable Works:

  • Southbank Theater London / Denys Lasdun
  • The Barbican Estate / Chamerlin, Powell and Bon Architects
  • Neviges Mariendom / Gottfried Böhm
  • Prentice Hospital for Women / Bertand Goldberg

Turn of the Century Styles


The Portland Building - Michael Graves

Postmodern architecture gained popularity in American and European cities as a departure from the clean lines and pragmatism of the cosmopolitan style. Challenging the core values of modernism, postmodernism seeks to revive historical and traditional ideas while embracing contextual design approaches.

Notable Works:

  • The Portland Building / Michael Graves
  • New State Gallery / James Stirling
  • Bonnefanten Museum / Aldo Rossi

High-Tech Movement

Georges Pompidou Center – Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
Lloyd's London Building - Richard Rogers

High-tech architecture, also known as structural expressionism, emerged as a later modernist style that emphasizes technology in building design. Architects take advantage of materials and advanced construction techniques, resulting in transparent designs that showcase the building’s structure and function. Exposed floors, visible services, and adaptable spaces characterize this style.

Notable Works:

  • Center Georges Pompidou / Construction workshop Renzo Piano + Richard Rogers
  • Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank / Foster + Partners
  • Lloyd’s Building of London / Richard Rogers


Vitra Design Museum – Gehry Partners

Derived from postmodernism, deconstructionism defies harmony, continuity, and traditional symmetry in architecture. It often manipulates textures to create non-straight shapes that challenge elements and evoke feelings of unpredictability and controlled chaos. The style gained prominence in the 1980s.

Notable Works:

  • Vitra Design Museum / Gehry Partners
  • Villette Park / Bernard Tschumi Architects
  • Seattle Central Library / OMA + LMN

Modernism is a living testament to human imagination, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in architecture. These 12 styles represent the ever-evolving journey of Modernism, each contributing its unique perspective to the grand tapestry of architectural history.

To explore more about these architectural movements, visit Caravansarai, where the spirit of Modernism comes alive.