21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today

Modernism dominated architectural design throughout the 20th century. Here are some of its best examples from 1945 to date
Christopher McFadden
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Modernism or modern architecture is an architectural style that emerged in the early 20th Century. Modernism would become the dominant architectural form in the aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War.

Its heavy use of new technologies characterizes it. with particular emphasis on the use of glass, steel, and, of course, reinforced concrete. Many also define it as the rejection of the old traditional neoclassical style and Beaux-Arts that was popularised during the latter half of the previous century.

Modern architecture would remain the dominant architectural form throughout most of the 20th century until it was deposed in the 1980s by the appropriately termed postmodernist style.

Famous Modernist Architects

There have been many prominent Modernist architects throughout the years, but the most notable include:

- Frank Lloyd Wright

- Le Corbusier

- Ieoh Ming Pei

- Erich Mendelsohn

- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Example of a house built in the Modernist style. Source:AMDUMA/Pixabay

In general, modernism up to and including the 1960s was dominated by rectangular building forms, emphasizing bold, straight lines. After the 1960s, more free-flowing and organic designs replaced the more ordered post-war style. 

Modernism can further be subdivided into:

- International Style

- Expressionist Style

- Constructivist Style (Mainly Soviet Union pre-WWII)

However, some also include Structural Expressionism in this category, as it serves as a transition to postmodernism. This category had its heyday from roughly the 1970s to the early part of the mid-1980s. 

The following is an eclectic mixture of buildings that fall under the umbrella of the architectural style of 'Modernism.' 

1. World Trade Centres 1 and 2 took modernism to new heights

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Grandmaster E/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

The towers of the former World Trade Center, before their tragic destruction in 2001, were one of the world's most famous landmarks. The two main towers (World Trade 1 and 2) were designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki and were built between 1966 and 1971.

Yamasaki's original plan was to limit the main towers to 80 stories tall, but this was increased to 110 when the local Port Authority pressed the need for at least 10,010,436 sq ft (930,000 sq mt) of office space.

Both towers used steel frames, a curtained-walled concrete slab on steel truss joist construction.

Once complete, they instantly became one of America's most striking buildings and a fine example of the architectural ethic of Le Corbusier. Its final design would hint at the fusion of traditional Gothic with the modernist style that Yamasaki would become famous for.

2. The BT Tower still dominates London's skyline today

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Uli Harder/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

The BT Tower (previously known as GPO Tower, The Post Office Tower, and the Telecom Tower) in London was designed by Eric Bedford and completed in 1964

This modernist tower stands 580 ft (177 mt) high, with additional aerial rigging stretching its 'full' height to 626 ft (191 meters).

Once completed, the tower would overtake Millbank Tower to become the tallest building in London and the UK. It held this title until 1980, when the Natwest Tower was completed.

3. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a "Temple of the Spirit"

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Jean-Christophe BENOIST/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, New York, is a Modernist art museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Although the museum has existed since the later 1930s, it wasn't until the late 1950s that it moved to its current iconic building.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building as a "temple of the spirit," It is a roughly cylindrical building that tapers towards its base. Today, it is one of the most widely recognized buildings in the world.

Today it houses a huge collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, modern, and contemporary artworks.

4. United Nations HQ cost $65 million to build

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: oriol04/Flickr

Architectural form: Modernist/International Style

The United Nations Headquarters building was the brainchild of architect Oscar Niemeyer and others. It has housed the United Nations since its completion in 1952.

The building stands 500 ft (155 meters) tall and costs around $65 million ($599 million today) to build. Construction costs were provided as an interest-free loan under the Truman administration in 1948

To this day, the site and building enjoy an extraterritorial status in the City of New York.

5. The very bold Salk Institute for Biological Studies

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Jim Harper/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, or simply the Salk Institute, is a not-for-profit scientific research institute in La Jolla, San Diego, California. It was originally founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, who famously developed the polio vaccine.

The Salk Institute has since 1965 been housed within a very bold modernist building designed by famed architect Louis Kahn, along with Jack MacAllister. Its design has a heavy emphasis on symmetry and exposed concrete.

Part of the requirements for the building was to make sure that it could be easily upgraded as scientific technology improved. For this reason, support beams are restricted to the edges of each lab for maximum flexibility of internal space reconfigurations.

6. Once criticized, now revered: The Louvre Pyramid, Paris

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Hteink.min/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist 

The famed Louvre Pyramid is a large, metal frame-and-glass pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. This pyramid is also surrounded by three smaller ones in the Cour Napoleon courtyard of the Louvre Palace.

The Louvre Pyramid serves as the main entrance to the museum and was built in 1989. Although it received significant criticism when first installed, it has since become an icon of Paris.

The entire structure stands 70 ft (21.6 meters) tall and has a square base of 110 ft (34 meters) with a base area of over 10,750 sq ft (1,000 sq ft).

7. Royal National Theatre: London's brutalist masterpiece

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Aurelien Guichard/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Brutalist

The Royal National Theatre, or simply National Theatre, is one of the UK's most prominent publically-funded performing arts venues. It is housed in an iconic modernist/brutalist building designed by Sir Denys Louis Lasdun.

The theater is his best-known work, and the current building is a Grade II listed structure. Doors opened in 1976, and it has since become one of London's most iconic landmarks.

8. Sydney Opera House blew its budget

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Michael McDonough/Flickr

Architectural form: Modernist/Expressionist

Danish architect Jorn Utzon designed the iconic Sydney Opera House, it was formally opened in 1973. The New South Wales Government authorized work on the building in 1958, and the ground was broken in 1959.

Construction costs would famously spiral out of control, and Utzon would ultimately resign before the building was finished. It was originally estimated to cost $7 Millon Dollars, but this was a fraction of the final costs, estimated to be 102 Million Australian Dollars (912 million Australian Dollars today).

 9. The Atomium is an iron unit cell

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Mike Cattell/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Ludic Modernism

The Atomium in Brussels is a landmark building in Belgium and one of the more unique examples of post-war Modernistic architecture. It was designed by Andre Waterkeyn and Andre and Jean Polak and was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.

It is constructed from nine 60 ft-diameter (18 m) stainless steel clad spheres, connected with 10 ft-diameter (3 m) tubes, to simulate the basic unit cell (the smallest repeating unit having the full symmetry of the crystal structure) of an iron crystal. The entire structure stands at 334 ft (102 mt) tall.

The topmost cell of the structure houses a restaurant with fantastic panoramic views of Brussels. It also houses exhibit halls and other public spaces.

10. Fazlur Khan designed the John Hancock Centre

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Knutaril/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Structural Expressionism

The John Hancock Centre (now known as 875 North Michigan Avenue) in Chicago, Illinois, is a fine example of early Structural Expressionism and was completed at what would today be considered the bargain price of $100,000,000. Construction commenced in 1965, and it was completed in 1969.

This building is a fine example of the genius of Fazlur Rahman Khan, and was built by Tishman Construction Corporation. The entire structure stands at 1130 ft (344 mt) tall architecturally, with rooftop structures helping it top 1500 ft (457 mt).

It was, for a time, the world's second-tallest building. 

11. Gateway Arch is the tallest arch in the world

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Bev Sykes/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Structural Expressionism

The famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, is a 630 ft (192 mt)-tall monument clad in stainless steel that takes the form of a weighted catenary arch. It is still the world's tallest freestanding arch and the tallest constructed monument in the United States.

It was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947, and construction was completed in the mid-1960s. It cost around 13 Million Dollars ($78 Million today).

12. The Berliner Fernsehturm Is Germany's tallest building

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

The Berliner Fernsehturm, Or Berlin Television Tower, is a telecommunications tower built between 1965 and 1969 in central Berlin, Germany. It was commissioned and built by the German Democratic Republic primarily as an ostentatious piece of communist propaganda.

German architect Hermann Henselmann designed it and still dominates the Berlin skyline today. It stands at 1200 ft (368 mt) tall and is the tallest structure in Germany.

Today it still serves as a radio and television broadcasting station and a viewing tower for the city. 

13. Disney's Contemporary Resort is an enormous A-frame building

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Brian Kendig/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Contemporary

Disney's Contemporary Resort, originally called Tempo Bay Hotel, is a triple-A, Four-Diamond, Award-winning resort in Disney World, Florida. It originally opened in 1971 and is located next to the Magic Kingdom.

Welton Becket designed it and was a collaborative project between Disney and the United States Steel Corporation. The building's most prominent feature is its A-Frame construction, with outer walls that slope away from an inner atrium.

14. Cité Radieuse was Le Corbusier's masterpiece

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Toutaitanous 2/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Unité d'habitation

Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) is a fine example of Unité d'habitation (housing unit), a characteristically modernist style of residential development designed by the great Le Corbusier. It was designed in conjunction with painter-architect Nadir Afonso. 

Cité Radieuse, known informally as La Maison du Fada (The Madman's House), was built between 1947 and 1952 and can be found in Marseille, France. It would prove to be one of Le Corbusier's most famous works and was enormously influential at the time, for better or worse. 

Some claim it inspired the rise of the Brutalist architectural movement.

15. Farnsworth House is an Internationalist masterpiece

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Internationalist

Farnsworth House was designed as a one-room weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a Chicago-based nephrologist. It was built between 1945 and 1951 and was designed and built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The original brief was for Dr. Farnworth to have a place for quiet contemplation and to indulge in her hobbies. The building is widely considered the pinnacle of the International style of architecture and has become a National Historic Landmark for the U.S. in 2006.

16. Seagram Building changed American architectural design

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: jphilipg/Flickr

Architectural form: Modernist/Internationalist

The Seagram Building is a skyscraper designed by Ludwig Miles van der Rohe and Philip Johnson that was built in New York in 1958. It is widely considered a classic example of the international style of modernist Architecture.

The entire building stands 515 ft (157 mt) tall over 38 stories. It was designed to be the headquarters for Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, a Canadian distillery company.

Ludwig was given a blank check by Seagram's heiress Phyllis Lambert to design and build the tower, allowing him to forego the heavy stone and brick used in ornamental facades of previous decades and rely instead on steel and glass. The Seagram Building helped usher in a new era of simple, straightforward skyscrapers

The building combines a steel moment frame with steel and a reinforced concrete core. This core extends up to the 17th floor, with diagonal core bracing extending to the 29th floor.

17. Manufacturers Trust Company Building: the model for Modernism

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Internationalist

The Manufacturer's Trust Company Building in New York is widely considered the "very model of Modernism." It is a glass and aluminum building that was completed in 1954.

It was originally built to serve as a bank for the Manufacturer's Trust Company, which later merged with Hanover Bank and Trust to form the Manufacturers Hanover Corporation.

Charles Evans Hughes III and Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merril designed it. Once completed, it became the first bank building in the United States to be built in the International style of architecture.

Today, it is a historical building designated a New York City landmark.

18. Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban is one of the 20th century's most significant buildings

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: rushii13/Flickr

Architectural form: Modernist/Monumental

Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, or the National Parliament House, houses the Bangladeshi Parliament and is located at Sher-e-Bangle Nager in Dhaka. It was designed by the famed architect Louis Khan, who Muzharul Islam assisted. 

The entire complex is one of the largest legislative buildings in the world and covers around 8,611,128 sq ft (800,000 sq mt). It is widely considered one of Khan's best works and one of the 20th Century's most significant buildings. 

Construction commenced in 1961 and was completed in 1982. The building is a mixed construction of reinforced concrete and brickwork. The building appeared in the 2003 film My Architect, which details the career of Louis Kahn.

19. Sainte Marie de La Tourette: Le Corbusier's last building

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source:Alexandre Norman/Wikimedia Common

Architectural form: Modernist/Internationalist

Sainte Marie de La Tourette, sited on a hillside outside Lyon, was designed by the great Le Corbusier and serves as a Dominican Order Priory. It was Le Corbusier's last building.

Le Corbusier was one of the key proponents of the modernist movement, and his designs for the monastery did not disappoint. Its design would make heavy use of raised pilotis, which is very characteristic of his work.

Construction commenced in 1956, and the building works were completed in 1960. The structure underwent a significant renovation in the early 1980s.

The building was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2016 (along with many of his other works).

20. Notre Dame du Haut: Le Corbusier's Expressionist chapel

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Valueyou/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist/Expressionist

The Notre Dame du Haut (Our Lady of the Heights) is a modernist-style Roman Catholic chapel in Roncahmp, France. It was designed by Le Corbusier and was built in 1955.

It is widely considered one of the finest examples of Le Corbusier's work and a significant 20th-century religious building. It is a working church that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

It was commissioned to replace the previous 4th century AD chapel on the site destroyed during the second world war. The new chapel is primarily concrete, with the upturned roof supported by columns embedded into the walls. Its structure also utilizes remnants of the original chapel.

The chapel, like other of Corbusier's works, officially became recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 (along with many of his other works).

21. Millbank Tower is a gem of Modernist architecture

21 Buildings That Helped Shape Modern Architecture, From 1945 to Today
Source: Iridescenti/Wikimedia Commons

Architectural form: Modernist

Millbank Tower in London is a 390 ft (118 mt) tall skyscraper built in 1963. It has been the home of several important political organizations, partly due to the buildings' location close to the Palace of Westminster. It has been home to several political organizations, including the Labour Party, the World Bank, and the United Nations.

Ronald Ward and Partners designed it, which has become a landmark of London's skyline.

It was also the UK's tallest building between 1963 and the construction of the BT Tower. Since its completion, it has become a Grade II listed building in the United Kingdom and is considered a "gem of modernist architecture." 

The tower has been featured in some films and TV series, including Doctor Who, The 1973 film The Vault of Horror, and more. There are plans, despite its protected status, to convert the building into a luxury hotel and apartment.

And that, as they say, is all folks. 

These 21 buildings are but some of the most important ones that helped shape modern architecture. With so many great buildings out there, we are bound to have missed some other important ones.

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