Modern architecture started during the industrial period, when the conventional rigid ways of building were outdated. Architect Mies van der Rohe from Germany is a well known figure in this movement. During the time, modernist architects insisted that modernism is not a style, but rather buildings that focus purely on functions. Of course, today we know that modern style buildings turn out to represent “function” rather than be truly functional. “Function” has turned into the style of modernism.
These buildings are based on factory structures to represent the industrial age. Modern homes are minimal and supposed to be as functional as possible, “meant for the working man” (though no worker could ever afford a modern home at that time!).
Mies’s Tugenhadt House is an example of modern architecture, with the flat roof, open plan, front yard defined by pure grid, and the abundant use of glass to give the structure a lightweight, opened feeling.
Though modern architecture does not involve much ornamentation, Mies likes to see the building as an ornamentation itself, being an ornamentation of materials. His buildings are abstracted into nearly ‘nothing’, as seen in his use of very light lines and minimal, pure materials and furniture.
After modernism, there was expressionism in architecture. Expressionist structures aim to express internal emotions and thoughts with a utopian outlook, just like the idea of expressionist paintings.
The TWA Terminal at JFK was built in 1956, designed by Eero Saarinen. The structure expresses the excitement of travel, as shown through the non-static shape that is representing the flight of birds. This building is the ultimate definition of form follows function, as it has created the system of how terminals work at the modern airport up until today. The structure does not express function alone, unlike modernist architecture, but it also expresses symbolism, history and ideas.
While modern structures are focused on pure functions and use of honest materials and openness, expressionist architecture creates distortions of form for an emotional effect, as it really tries to express the inner experience. The architecture itself is truly seen as a work of art.