A Look at Minimalist Architecture and Its Cultural Impact

minimalist architecture villa living room

Clean and streamlined, minimalist architecture represents refuge from excess and grandiose design. Over the years, the definition and depiction of minimalism in general and minimalist architecture in particular has been debated and has often changed, but the idea of designing with restraint in mind continues to be embraced by many in the field.

What Is Minimalist Architecture?

The roots of minimalism in architecture are often traced back to the mid to late 1950s. The movement was a reaction to new styles of architecture - and lifestyle - that was being cultivated in the United States. In the U.S. in those post WWII boom years, there was a movement towards large and excessive styles of building. During this era, groomed suburbs and cavernous supermarkets popped up all over the map, and there was a trend towards the ornate. Minimalism developed as a response to the increasingly commercial and consumerist lifestyles that were being reflected in design.

Although minimalist art (which is sometimes known as literalist art) has its roots in America, minimalist architecture was born elsewhere. Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, and Japan are important in the history of minimalist design, and in fact, these places continue to be among the biggest embracers of minimalism.

In general, the idea of minimalism can be described as "less is more," or as some designers and architects are fond of saying, "doing more with less." Minimalist architects use space as a design feature in and of itself. Instead of trying to fill space with features, they create designs in which the empty space is as carefully thought out and used as everything they add to the room. Basic shapes and straight, clean lines are also important techniques used in minimalist design, as is playing around with different kinds of lighting. The outcome is elegant but without being fussy.

Another technique that is often employed is giving one feature more than one use. One example might be a floor with a heating unit underneath, forming both the foundation for the room and warming the room. This allows designers to create optimum utility without crowding the space.

Some important architects working in the field of minimalist design include:

  • Lugdwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Dieter Rams
  • Luis Barragan
  • John Pawson
  • Eduardo Souto de Mouro
  • Alvar Siza
  • Tadao Ando
  • Alberto Campo Baeza
  • Yoshi Tanigushi
  • Peter Zumthor
  • Richard Gluckman
  • Michael Gabellini
  • Claudio Silverstrin
  • Vincent Van Duysen

Is Minimalist Architecture Cold?

One common criticism of minimalism in architecture - or in design in general - is that it is aesthetically cold and that it creates an unwelcoming home environment. Proponents of the design style argue that in fact minimalism is more welcoming than more ornate styles of design. They say that taking the "less is more" approach creates a relaxing, calming environment free of all of the clutter that demands attention in more ornate design styles. In reality, it all comes down to a matter of taste. Some people prefer grandiose architecture while some prefer simple and clean styles. The principles of minimalism can be applied poorly, which can indeed be stark, but properly employed, minimalism can be elegant and inviting.

Learning More about Minimalism

There are many wonderful books dedicated to minimalism in architecture, as well as many websites where you can check out photos of building and homes created in this style. If you want to learn more, the following resources can help:

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A Look at Minimalist Architecture and Its Cultural Impact