What are the main differences between modernist and postmodernist architecture?

Modernism and Postmodernism architecture both refer to a design movement emerged in 20th century. Although they might as well follow similar key ideas in design, there are still massive differences between the Modernist and Postmodernist architecture. The main difference between these architectural styles will be discussed, by referring to some of the architect’s perception towards modern and postmodern architecture.

Modern architecture focuses largely on the functionality of the form, and are basically identified by “form follows function” (Sullivan 1947). According to one of the American Post-modernist architect ‘Denise Scott Brown’, Modern architects were focusing on demolishing the historical buildings, and replacing them with modern buildings, to adopt them to the rapid technological development.

Moreover, Modern architecture defines the beauty of design in a different way. They look for the beauty of design in its simplicity by removing the unnecessary details, acknowledging that “less is more” (Van Der rohe 1947). They emphasized the notion of truth to materials, by exposing the true nature of materials without adding any extra layers to them such as painting or polishing. Furthermore, In Modern architecture the majority of the buildings’ structures were about verticality and horizontality.

On the contrary, Postmodern architects found this notion of ‘simplicity in design’ truly unattractive.[1] They emphasized the function through meaning and originality of a building. Postmodernism’s focal point is more about incorporating the historical elements and creating a unique style in order to associate the buildings with their culture and history.[2] In other word, they highlight the importance of creating a sense of place, by building strong relationship among the city’s occupants with its historical buildings, whereas modern architecture “lacked cultural depth” (Fitzpatrick 2003) .

Postmodern architecture combines the natural materials within classical forms to contradict the influence of industrial development on architecture. They believed modernism does not respond to its contextualism or what people need.Postmodernist architecture brought playfulness to a design, replacing modern flat roof with pitched roof, solid walls instead of glass, as it is evident in the ‘Vanna Venturi House’ designed by Robert Ventury.[3] He believed that “less is a bore” (Ventury 1966), meaning that the lack of detail and visual aesthetics is clearly leading the buildings to become soulless.[4]

The facade of the Vanna Venturi House

To conclude, Modern and Postmodern architecture both highlight the notion of functionality of design and its place making, but in contradictive ways. Modern architecture focuses on creating a relationship between the material and structure by relating and adopting them to their present technological era, Whereas Post-modernist architecture emphasizes the vitality of historical elements in design. Furthermore, Modern architecture highlights the pure functions in design, whereas Postmodernism considers the aesthetic values in design.


  2. Trufelman, Avery. “Lessons from Las Vegas.” 99% Invisible. (04 September 2018) https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/lessons-from-las-vegas/
  3. Venturi, Robert. "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: Selections from a Forthcoming Book." Perspecta 9/10 (1965): 17-56.
  4. Fitzpatrick, Kirsten. “Less Is More/Less Is a Bore.” Craft Arts International, no. 56 (2003 January): 98