With its sleek lines and lack of decoration, the idea of modernism might seem straightforward enough, but as an architectural movement it actually takes in a broad swath of different sensibilities. The swift industrialization that began to occur internationally following the Second World War gave wind to new streams of thought in life, art and architecture that led to Postmodernism, Neomodernism and Neo-Futurism. Largely featuring a pared down aesthetic with clean lines, minimal decoration and sometimes moving into surrealism, the modernist movement led to the construction of many buildings that stood out along the more classical architecture of Europe. From the spare style that characterizes Modernism to the exaggeration of Art Nouveau, the following are some of the most awe-inspiring examples of modern architecture constructed in recent history.
10) Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
Located in the ever-eclectic architecture capital of Spain, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) is a defining presence in the midst of Plaça dels Angels. Opened on November 28, 1995, the beginnings of MACBA actually date back to 1959 when the art critic Alexandre Cirici Pellicer planted the seed among local artists for a collection for a contemporary art museum. Designed by the American architectural firm of Richard Meier & Partners, MACBA is a sleek 120 x 35 meter white building with a simple, straight-lined aesthetic that is particularly striking among the tightknit, bustling streets of Barcelona’s Ravel area. With a primary focus on Catalan and Spanish artists from the 1940’s up to the present day, MACBA is a complimentary tribute to modernism.
9) The Sony Center
Located on a plot of land that existed as a barren, featureless stretch following the destruction of the Berlin Wall, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Potsdamer Platz was reimagined. Designed by Helmut Jahn, the Sony Center opened in 2000 as a space for both retail and commercial property that featured a conference centre, hotel rooms, museums and even a movie theatre. An impressive and progressive structure in an unlikely place, the defining feature of the Sony Center is the iron and glass roof that rises up above the atrium like a bloomed flower to unite the buildings that comprise the space. While the center was sold in 2008, it remains a mecca for entertainment and retail in Berlin and beyond.
8) Kursaal Congress Center and Auditorium
Perched at the edge of the Cantabrian Sea in the city of San Sebastián, Spain, the Kursaal Congress Center seeks to symbolize a unity between the land and the water. Completed in 1999 by Rafael Moneo, the complex features a modern architectural style that is relatively uncommon for the Basque region. The two cube shaped buildings that make up the city’s cultural center consist of a chamber hall and an auditorium, and feature a minimalist, linear style that is all translucent glass so the buildings glow like a homing beacon as soon as the San Sebastián coastline grows dark.
7) Zlatý Anděl
Completed in November 2000, the Golden Angel (Zlatý Anděl in Czech) is a building in the Angel neighbourhood of Prague, Czech Republic. Dreamed up by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the corner structure is a tribute to the statue of an angel that sat atop Prague’s Golden Angel’s pharmacy before it was knocked down in 1980 to make room for a metro station. The curved building houses an office complex and is a thoroughly modern tribute to the intersection of art and architecture. Inspired by the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire”, the image on the façade features an angel from the movie looking down on the intersection as if to protect the daily comings and goings of the city people.
6) Casa Batlló
A perfect example of Catalan Modernism and the work of Spain’s most recognizable architect, Antoni Gaudi, this unique residence is located in the country’s beating heart of Barcelona. Built around 1906, Casa Batlló showcases the whole spectrum of Gaudi’s architectural sensibility from the interior and the windows to the wavy exterior made of stone and glass. A representation of the surrealism that Gaudi was known for, the outside walls are covered with a mosaic of coloured tiles that has given the building the name Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones) by locals for its raw, skeleton-like appearance.
5) The Gate of Europe
Taking inspiration from its name, the Puerta de Europa refers to two office towers erected in the city of Madrid, Spain. Designed by the American architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the buildings were completed in 1996 and have the honour of being the first inclined buildings of their kind in the world. The two buildings are as much like a modern skyscraper as they can with the exception of a 15-degree inclination that causes them to lean to the side like they are reaching towards each other, making them akin to a gate along the busy Paseo de la Castellana.
4) The City of Arts and Sciences
A monumental achievement in modern architecture located in Valencia, Spain, the City of Arts and Sciences was originally envisioned as a central gathering place for education and culture. Situated along the former riverbed of the Turia River, the center was designed by Santiago Calatrava in July 1996 and was finally presented as a whole on October 9, 2005 complete with an oceanographic park, a palace of arts, a planetarium, a science museum and a center for arts and sporting events. While the controversy surrounding the cost of completing the 350,000 square meter center remains, the City of Arts and Sciences is Valencia’s most popular and awe-inspiring tourist attraction and a symbol of Calatrava’s modernist architectural aesthetic.
3) Notre Dame du Haut
Located in Ronchamp, France, this chapel was finished in 1954 by the famous Franco-Swiss Architect Le Corbusier. Slated as one of his most influential designs, Notre Dame du Haut is a more extreme example of Le Corbusier’s generally minimalistic style. The structure consists of three chapels and a main altar and was designed with a modern aesthetic in mind to keep the church and its ideas in step with the changing times. Made of concrete and stone, the defining feature is the upturned roof that gives the building a connection to the surrounding nature and alludes to its spiritual intent.
2) The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a commensurate tribute to the art contained within it and has become one of the most famous buildings constructed in the last 20 years. A perfect testament to architect Frank Gehry’s talent and vision, the museum takes up 32,500 square meters of space along the Nervion River and has transformed a once empty expanse of land in the former port town into one of the Spain’s most popular cultural destinations. The museum is known for its distinctive appearance and features 19 galleries in 11,000 meters of space that sit among peaked swells of titanium, a glass atrium and high-rise ceilings that provide visitors with a sense of the intimacy and vastness of art.
1) Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art
Situated in Paris’s 14th arrondissement along the lively stretch of Boulevard Raspail is the current incarnation of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, also known as Fondation Cartier. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, Fondation Cartier is among the most striking of buildings in a city that is renowned for its elegant architecture. Established as a center for art in 1984 and moved to this location in 1994, the museum is a half-glass half-garden creation with the woodland portion of the gallery completed by conceptual artist Lothar Baumgarten. Fusing modernism with a natural setting, Fondation Cartier exists in harmony with the artists from all over the world that it unites within the walls of its museum.