Modern Means

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Recently I had a conversation over dinner with a potential client. Whoa, dinner, aren’t we a baller… hey, he offered to pay, otherwise it would’ve been coffee! He’s considering building a new custom home and realizes the value of an architect, at least I think he does on some level. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Thanks for meeting with me. I know we briefly talked on the phone, tell me more about the house you’re thinking of, the property, how you plan to live in/use the house…

Client: Yeah, I’m not really into all that… I just want a modern house.

Waiter: Can I get you something to…

Me: I’ll have scotch!

Waiter: Okay, and for you…

Me: He’ll have scotch also! What does a modern house mean to you?

Client: You know, built ‘today’ and with cool materials.

Me: Cool materials? What do you mean built ‘today’…

Client: Well, if it’s built today and not years ago it’s modern, right?

Me: Well technically yes, but… no…

Client: Alright forget that, just give me something with flat roofs and lots of glass… that’s modern right?

Me: It can be but… there’s more to it than that…such as…

Client: Oh yeah, I want the outside walls to be covered in metal and no windows…

Me: But, you said you want lots of glass…

Client: Yeah yeah yeah, I want there to be a duality of the dichotomy between glass and no glass.

Me: What?

Waiter: Here’s your 6th scotch, are you ready to…

Me: I’ll have the grilled chicken breast and a side of frustration… Did I say that out loud? I mean a side of fruit salad.

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The word ‘modern’ is used quite a bit- here a ‘modern’ there a ‘modern’ everywhere a ‘modern.’ Typically it’s used as just that, a word. Without belief behind or understanding of how you are using the word ‘modern,’ it’s meaningless. If a word is used without a meaning behind it, what is the recipient to imply as the meaning? Whatever they imply, does it matter if the user as no meaning of the word? This is particularly applicable to architects. We need to have beliefs as to what modern architecture is to us and convey those beliefs to the client.

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What is modern architecture, and what does modern mean? It varies from architect to architect, but for me and what I strive for in my work, modern architecture embodies:


Simple massing/ form/ details with a clear expression of varying massing/ form/ details.

Minimal use of the unnecessary and reduction, or elimination, of frivolous wishes.

Open floor plans with minimal enclosure to encourage user interaction.

Versatile spaces serving varied purposes throughout the day/ owners need/ life span of the structure.

Connected to natural resources visually, tangibly, and through sustainable building/ life-cycle operations.


‘Style’ is not a belief of mine in architecture, it’s not a word I like to use. I prefer the term aesthetic, perhaps a future post on that subject. There are too many limitations imposed to a style. Fashion is about style and fashion goes out of style. Architecture shouldn’t be fashionable.

Modern architecture is not about a predetermined ‘style.’ At the commencement of each project, I try to negate any ‘style’ that is strived towards- the goal is for the resultant design to be based upon inherent design problems, client needs, desires, and context. I strive to let any notion of ‘style’ be inherent and intrinsic- one that develops from the nature and usage of materials as well as an expression of the spaces defined.

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This is what I strive for in my projects and my beliefs of a modern architecture. The beauty of modern architecture is its varied beliefs and executions by architects. My beliefs of a modern architecture may or may not be similar to other architects, that’s okay, that’s not the point. The point is to have a belief- don’t just use ‘modern’ as a word.

What are your modern means?


Design On,

** For the record, modern architecture can have a gable roof.

  1. I just wrote about the problems the word style creates. Modern is a term that is either misunderstood or feared.

    • I hope I didn’t instill fear or add to the misunderstanding 😉

      • No, you explained it so well that I will be borrowing from your lesson. I just said fear because my house is “that house” in the neighborhood. My small town is a bit behind the times. They want to tear down history and recreate it in Fypon, Dryvit and vinyl. I’ll be writing about that soon.

      • Nooooo…fypon is a tool if the devil! Thanks for the kind words.

  2. “lots of glass with no windows”….I almost died. 😛

  3. phillyarchitect said:

    Architecture is and always will be a succession of styles. From Renaissance to Baroque, from early 20th Century Eclectic to Prairie Style to International Style. Today I consider all architecture to be Post Modern even so called cutting edge designers like Rem Koolhaus or Frank Gehry. Their work is referential to 1920’s international style only done in a warped geometry. It is consciously done in a picturesque manner with the intent only to create an image, not expressing structure or function. So if you’re referencing historic architecture of 90 years ago as in the new moderns, or 120 years ago as in the traditionalist designers like Andres Duany you’re all post modern. I do think the best approach is to forget about what style it is and focus on the site, the program, and the client and create a beautiful functional design with an authentic sense of place, and yes I do think it’s OK to incorporate reference, iconic imagery and ornament in the mix if it works for the particular project.

    • Phillyarchitect-

      Thanks for reading and commenting on, I appreciate it. My point, us that an architect needs to know what modern means to them and there work. For me, I don’t like the term ‘style’ I find it to constraining from the onset. I think, from your comments, we basically agree!

  4. Wayne said:

    This is absolutely classic- especially for us sitting on the professional side of the conference table, nervously clicking our pens or twirling our pencils under the table. I completely relate to the often surreal part of the process when trying to get into the head of a new client to see what they are seeing, what they are envisioning and what they really want/desire.
    Thanks for taking the time to write this- I really needed a laugh…and a cry-

    • Thanks Wayne! I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

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