Functionalism vs Modernism

Subject: Culture
Type: Compare and Contrast Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 924
Topics: Modernism, Architecture, Art History, Design

Architecture is a term that is used to define the process of and the product that comes from the planning, designing, and construction of a building or any other physical facility. It dates its origin from the first century when a Roman architect called Vitruvius who stated that a building should be constructed based on the principles of durability, utilitarianism, and beauty. A lot of developments have taken place since then with the agrarian, industrial and technological revolutions that have taken place over the years to make architecture an enviable professional field in the present academic circles. This paper looks into the theories of functionalism and modernism and how they have influenced the architectural field.

In architecture, functionalism was a movement that happened towards the close of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. The main proponent of this movement was an American architect called Louis Henri Sullivan (UKEssays, 2015). This was after him coining the famous quote that ‘form should follow function’ (UKEssays, 2015). This went on up to the Machine Age when the spirit of the age called for embracing of modernism.

In the 1920’s some architects who were believers of the functionalism movement saw the fall of Europe during the World War I and thought of coming up with entirely new things that reflected their time (Poursani). This was accelerated by the Machine Age which meant that they could come up with buildings which have been reinforced with concrete and steel. This marked the beginning of the modernist movement that was revolutionizing Europe then and architecture was not left behind (Modernism). 

Functionalism is therefore defined as a school of thought in architecture which is based on the principle that architects ought to design a given building on the basis of the purpose of the building. The function of a building according to functionalism school of thought was reflected in the perception, enjoyment, and use of a building. On the other hand, modernism is a school of thought in architecture that was based on the principle of the use of new technology of construction in the 1920s which embraced the use of reinforced concrete, steel and glass. It was without the use of ornamentation. 

Functionalism differs from modernism in the sense that the principle of the form of a building following function controls the functionalism thought (Gaugy, 2015). Modernism has this principle at its core and also eliminates ornamentation but agreed with clean and sleek constructions (Gaugy, 2015). The two schools of thought, however, have the same line of thought and modernism is sometimes viewed by some philosophers as a development of functionalism. 

When functionalism was the basis on which a building was designed, planned and constructed, then the building or material was characterized by a huge display of the materials used in construction, the levels of ornamentation being low, and decoration being extraneous (Muscato). Since the function of the building precedes aesthetics, the raw materials which were used to make the building are not covered. Therefore, the steel sheets, the wooden beams, and floors, the concrete slabs were seen exactly as they were (Muscato). The design of the building and the craftsmanship was always ignored by the functionalism architects and the materials left to be seen for their functions. This revolutionized the construction industry then. The people were able to use the tenets of this theory to change society and this greatly affected society. Practically, it coincided with the industrial revolution which brought about a lot of development in Europe and America.

Modernism methods in architecture reflect the spirit of a given age. This was based on the premise that present architecture must have a social imprint (Mallgrave, 2009). Buildings are therefore to be judged according to its aesthetics and not individually. The structures built in the modernist school of thought ought to emphasize the rhythm of the masses (Mallgrave, 2009). The buildings and structures which represented the style of modernism have structures which are visually expressive, simple forms, functionality and abstract ornamentation (MamunRashid, Dilshad RahatAra, 2015).  Modernism placed more value on the aesthetics of a building or structure by appreciating clarity through the appearance and detail considered in the design and construction of a building (MamunRashid, Dilshad RahatAra, 2015). 

The principles of modernism have carried on for some time through the following developments into postmodernism and later into futuristic thought. Modernism brought about some freedom of thought and expression to the architects who designed buildings and structures that reflected culture, tradition, and mood of a given society. Examples of buildings and structures that embodied the modern spirit are the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport among others. Some have been tourist attractions sites that have earned income for the government. 

In conclusion, functionalism and modernism revolutionized architecture in the 19th and 20th century. This has not only led to the development of architecture but other fields also. Philosophical thought in therefore critical to societal development.  

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  1. Gaugy, M. (2015, July 10). Are functionalism and modernism two words for the same movement or two similar but separate things?
  2. Mallgrave, H. F. (2009). Modern Architectural Theory: A Historical Survey, 1673–1968. London: Cambridge University Press.
  3. MamunRashid, Dilshad RahatAra. (2015). Modernity in tradition: Reflections on building design and technology in the Asian vernacular. Frontiers of Architectural Research, 46-55. Modernism. (n.d.). 
  4. Muscato, C. (n.d.). Functionalist Architecture: Definition & Characteristics.
  5. Poursani, E. (n.d.). Modernism in Architecture: Definition & History.
  6. UKEssays. (2015, March 23). Functionalism And Machine Aesthetic Of Modern Architecture Architecture Essay.
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