For a modern, contemporary look

Last Updated 31 October 2013, 13:05 IST

People usually confuse modern style with contemporary design. A little distinction between the two will be helpful in building that dream home, says Priti Kalra

Modern architecture - a means to an end or the only way? What started off as blasphemy in the world of design, eventually came to be accepted as the ultimate path to create meaningful architecture. As the debate continued through the chapters of history, modernism stood tall. Today, it holds the strongest position in the world of contemporary architecture.

Here, one must note that there is a fine line between the terms “modern” and “contemporary”. “Modern” recalls the architecture embodying the ideals of the machine age or the Industrial Revolution: steel and concrete structures, open floor plans, large expanses of glass, minimalist exteriors and an absence of ornament.

It is a movement in architecture that gained popularity after the Second World War, and constantly endeavours to reconcile the principles underlying architectural design with technological advancements and the modernisation of society.

It came as a reaction to the classical styles, and was heavily opposed by a large section. Today, some historians believe that it is the movement of enlightenment. “Contemporary”, however, refers to a strain of design particular to its time. In essence, it is an innovative and forward-looking design, very much rooted in the present.

The terms are often used interchangeably because in the contemporary world, modernism is the most widely practised style of architecture. Today, let us look at different features which one could incorporate in his or her modern home.

The overarching theme of modern architecture is that the land or the function of the project should dictate its innumerable traits. Buildings should be “one with the site,” or unique to the respective plots of land they occupy. The project brief or the client requirement itself should be the inspiration behind the concept. In this sense, modernism strives to design for each unique situation which is to be influenced by its purpose.

Functionality is the key

The most important dictum of modernism is simplicity in form and design. Modern homes are free of clutter and unnecessary elements. With functionality above all as the general motto, the focus is on the space itself, rather than on decor and details which are irrelevant to the overall scheme. With regard to this, most architects employ open floor planning with minimum walls resulting in open living or dining or kitchen areas.

Floors are often divided on split levels and there is a continuous attempt to achieve varying volumes and double height spaces.

The modern style wants the viewer to see the inner workings of the project. Structural elements are left exposed, and there is a sense of honesty in the design. Note that the structural system generally employed is “column and beam.”

This simply means that the steel and concrete framework of columns and beams is built to support the entire weight of the structure. Walls are then built to close the exteriors, and as room dividers, but do not carry the weight of the building.

Modern architects love straight lines. In most modern homes, you will find bold horizontal and vertical expressions. These will take shape in beams, columns, windows, staircases, roofs and other structural elements. There is an emphasis on rectangular form, even though a curve or organic line may creep in occasionally to make a point. Some architects design linear open plans advocating a certain simplicity in function which is inherent to these layouts.

It is important in modern homes for the interiors to flow into the exteriors. Multiple rooms open out onto verandas and patios, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor. Large expanses of glass between indoor and outdoor spaces also contribute to seamlessly binding the two.

Modern homes take into account the topography of the site and are designed accordingly.

Pushing the boundary

Modern architecture dares to push the boundaries of roof design. Moving away from the traditional triangular sloped roofs, homes today exhibit multiple roofs at varying levels and boast of unique silhouettes. Varying lines, elongated vaults, well positioned overhangs and unusual linear elements help to make a unique statement.

There is an effort made to reveal materials and textures in their natural state. Materials are not concealed to look like something they are not - reiterating the concept of truth in design. Modern homes combine traditional materials with new techniques of application which are possible through technology. Therefore, while steel, concrete and glass may be thought of as the materials of the modern age, wood, stone and brick hold their place in this era as well.

Windows are used as an element of design and are generally provided at standard prescribed locations to let in light and avoid glare. In modern homes, they are often extended from floor to ceiling wherever functionally suitable. Clerestory windows are used in spaces where light and privacy are equally necessary. Openings with sliding shutters are incorporated. Windows, thus, become a part of the aesthetic of the home.

Simple techniques

Apart from using modern systems of construction to create efficiency in the home, there are simple design techniques, too, which make modern homes competent. They are oriented to make full use of nature’s forces. Positioning of service areas (kitchens, utilities and toilets) and living areas methodically generates passive solar heating which keeps these homes warm during the winter.

Recessed windows and large overhangs help keep them cool during the summer. Direction of wind is taken into account while positioning the windows for ventilation.
Roofs are designed to ensure that rainwater harvesting is a possibility. In this way, modern homes are innately designed for basic sustainability.

The modernist aesthetic states that the final appearance of the building should be directly related to its function, ensuring that there is a functional reason for every element of design. It preaches a lack of unnecessary ornament. Keeping this in mind, there are varying degrees of this aesthetic with some homeowners preferring to follow the strict ideas of minimalism. Others enjoy combining the minimalist aspects of modernism with their personal style. Choosing your own colours and textures adds to the uniqueness of your home.

Architect Louis Sullivan’s concept of “form follows function”, meaning that functionality is of top priority, and that the aesthetic is merely derived from it, is the essential notion behind modernism. With the idea that the personal touch is the key secret ingredient, you and your architect are ready to get started on your very own modern home in the contemporary world.

(Published 31 October 2013, 13:05 IST)

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