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Modern vs. Contemporary Architecture

The terms “Modern” and “Contemporary” are often used interchangeably by home owners and designers alike when describing residential Architecture. In fact, Modern and Contemporary design have significant historic and methodological differences. The primary confusion lies in the fact that the characteristics and elements of modern design are integral part of current contemporary design trends.

Modern style describes an era-specific design style that breaks with those pre-Industrial Revolution traditional styles. Modern design is connected to the age of mechanization and is typically referred to Architecture of the 1920s-1950s, characterized by structures of steel and concrete, large expanses of glass, minimal exterior expression, open floor plans and an absence of ornament.

Contemporary is not limited to a single stylistic thread. It is dynamic, meaning it is constantly changing and it is not tied down to one specific style – it’s of the moment and borrows bits and pieces from a variety of styles and eras. Therefore, Contemporary architecture and style is, literally, what is being created and produced right now.


Below are key features of Modern and Contemporary Design:


  • Began at turn of 20th Century

  • Minimalist Industrial materials such as steel and concrete

  • Intentional asymmetry, simplified form

  • Open floor plan

  • Architecture is an object in the landscape

  • Large expanses of glass

  • Minimal exterior expression

  • Absence of ornament, machine aesthetic


  • Present Day

  • Variety of materials and finishes, integration of local, renewable and natural materials

  • Intentional asymmetry

  • Both open and complex plans

  • Strong relationship to the landscape

  • Large expanses of glass

  • Expressive exteriors including variation in shapes and relationships between elements

  • Ornamentation is present but minimal, and primarily expressive of structural systems and connections between elements


One should note that current Contemporary trends focus on Sustainable design and use of renewable materials. Also, Contemporary architecture may vary regionally, an example being Northwest Contemporary, characterized by exposed timber structure, articulated gables and natural color palettes.

Modern - Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier

Contemporary - Runion Residence by Ralph Anderson

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