Everything You Needed To Know About Contemporary Architecture
While there are many competing definitions and attempts to come up with a thorough description of the style, Contemporary architecture can only really be defined as the architecture of the present day. It’s often referred to as Postmodern architecture, but this definition is also often disputed, and some argue Postmodern architecture only refers to a period from the 1960s to the end of the 20th century.
Contrary to popular misconceptions and misuse, it’s different from Modern architecture, which is a diverse collection of styles that came about roughly from the late 1910s through to the 1970s. As the term implies, the styles that fall under Contemporary Architecture changes with the times.
It’s usually difficult to accurately describe current fashion and style trends as they happen and what we describe as Contemporary architecture here may well be outdated in 10 years, with a new, special name designated for the current crop of styles.
Contemporary architecture today is extremely diverse. No style has any dominance in the present day. However, a few patterns can be found. Expression and asymmetry are now prominent in a number of contemporary styles, and emergent technologies are continuing to change what is possible.
New materials and techniques have led to a never-before-seen type of expressiveness in the look of buildings, and architects are now more than ever taking on the role of sculptors. Buildings today are more likely to closely fit the style and vision of the owners and developers and are less bound to mundane constraints.
Prominent examples such as the Burj Khalifa and Taipei 101 are often given when it comes to this new class of expressive contemporary architecture, but residential architecture is also experiencing the benefits new technologies have brought. Popular examples of this are the Tubac house in Arizona and the Factor 10 house in Chicago, which blend high-tech design with simple, sustainable materials.
Popular trends of Contemporary Architecture
The story of today’s architecture is still being written. However, a few definite styles and trends are prominent in Contemporary architecture at present.
Postmodern architecture was originally a reaction to what was seen as the lack of humanity in Modern architecture. It’s often considered to have started in the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s. While some argue that the era of Postmodernism is over, there are signs that it is still carrying on today.
A large number of architects and firms from the second half of the 20th century are still around today, and they are still incredibly influential on the current architectures scene. Postmodern structures tend to have a deeper regard for psychology and may be designed with a sense of humor. They tend to be much more colorful than buildings built under Modern architecture principles and are more likely to feature multiple structures on one site, each with different functions. There is also a tendency towards asymmetry in Postmodern buildings.
The lime green “Magandang Bahay” on the UP Diliman campus is often cited as a great example of local Postmodern architecture that takes the traditional bahay kubo and gives it a futuristic twist. Many other new houses and developments in the country also have an identifiably Postmodern style.
New Classical architecture
New Philippine houses continue to be made in still-popular classical styles. “New Classical architecture” is not strictly its own style, but rather a continuation of older pre-modern era styles in the present day. While less prominent than Postmodern dwellings, new homes are still made with columns, arches, and other features that evoke classic European architecture.
Like New Classical, Neo-historism is not a style in of itself. It is the ongoing practice of incorporating historical elements into new types of architecture. One example is the near-constant reinterpretation of the bahay kubo in local architecture, a trend that has continued from the Spanish Era through to the present day. Art deco and Art Nouveau are particularly prominent styles that are often evoked in new buildings in some way.
Deconstructivism is an ongoing trend where structures are given the appearance of being broken down. Famously pioneered by Frank Gehry, structures appear distorted, at least in comparison to “regular” box-shaped buildings. This trend has definitely been polarizing architects and critics since buildings in the style became more popular.
Deconstructivist architecture tends to not have identifiable shapes. Buildings in this style are often compared to modern art sculptures. These buildings are usually only made possible through the use of computer-aided design and modern building techniques.
St. Benilde’s School of Design and Arts and several buildings in the Mall of Asia complex are commonly cited examples of Deconstructivist architecture in the Philippines. Houses built in a purely deconstructivist vein are still uncommon in the Philippines, but it’s many new houses to employ at least a few deconstructivist features in their design.
Again, this is not so much a style in and of itself, but an increasingly popular way of rethinking our urban landscapes. It goes beyond the design of single houses and instead looks at architecture from a wider city and community planning perspective.
Followers of New Urbanism tend to support planned open spaces, building architecture in styles appropriate with surrounding buildings, and the creation of community centers such as gyms, sports facilities, libraries, and public pools. Bike lanes, mass transit, and walkable paths and a reduced dependency on automobiles are also major concerns of the movement. Elements of New Urbanism can be seen in new planned communities all over Metro Manila and in smaller urban centers across the country as well.
Early Modern architecture tends to be overly dependent on power-hungry HVAC systems. It may even be difficult to live and work comfortably in a building without the use of artificial light and excessively powerful heating or air-conditioning. This often makes Modern architecture impractically expensive to run and causes them to have an undue impact on the environment.
Today, homes are more likely to be designed from the ground up to be better suited for their specific location. Clever building design and the use of green technologies allows buildings to better use natural sunlight for lighting during the day, and also allows them to us less power-hungry climate control systems. Quite often climate-adaptive buildings will employ features that allow good cross-ventilation and passive cooling to allow a building to remain cool even without air-conditioning – a particularly important point in the Philippines.
Characteristics of Contemporary Architecture
Here are some features that have come to separate Contemporary architecture from its precedent, Modern architecture.
Lightweight tube frames
Perhaps the biggest factor influencing the look of Contemporary architecture is the use of Tube structures, which allow for buildings in a variety of shapes and layouts due to the strength and lightness afforded by the technology. Compared to previous technologies, tube structures are better able to cope with irregular shapes, which is another hallmark of Contemporary architecture. While older building techniques are still used, high-strength tube frames give architects more ways to implement a prospective owner’s vision.
Computer-aided design is another technique that separates Contemporary architecture with Modern architecture. The use of computer modeling vastly speeds up and simplifies the once tedious process of creating and fine-tuning a design. New designs can also be run through simulations to check for the precise angle of the sun, wind factors, and earthquake resistance among others.
The use of computer-aided design is also the reasons why curves and irregular shapes are now more common in Contemporary architecture. While curves and irregular shapes were also present in historical Modern architecture, structures were often over-engineered and heavy due to the lack of tube frames. To make things more difficult, the necessary calculations for stress loads were less simple to execute with as much accuracy as is possible today. This means that Modern architecture tended to be boxy and more symmetrical than architecture today.
Today computer-aided design is an indispensable part of architectural practice, seeing use not just in building new structures, but also for repurposing and breathing life into old spaces as well. As time goes on, the addition of more computing power and more precise modeling will likely allow more and more opportunities for architects to realize even the most unique visions.
Another hallmark of contemporary architecture is that structures today can be made far more sculptural and expressive than was possible back in the day. Thanks to new materials and technology, lighter yet stronger structures could be made, allowing projects to be as quirky as the architects and owners desire.
The traditional square and rectangular shapes of older generations of architecture are much easier to diverge from, as computer-aided design makes it possible to plan very precise curves and calculate structural stresses or irregular spaces with incredible accuracy – something that simply was not always feasible during the Modern architecture era of the 1910s-1970s.
Recycled and natural materials are making a significant comeback in Contemporary architecture. Repurposed objects, sustainably-harvested woods, and recycled aggregates are just some of the materials seeing increased use today. The increased use of bamboo flooring, longer-lasting fixtures, discarded shipping containers are just a few of the sustainable trends that are seen more and more in contemporary Philippine house designs.
Even conventional materials are more likely to be made in more sustainable ways than they previously were. Low-emission paints and less-toxic plastics and synthetics are now becoming a standard in building projects.
Sustainable concepts also extend to the actual function of living spaces. Green energy sources such as wind and solar generators are seeing increased use in homes, allowing homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint and save maintenance costs over time. Energy and water-saving technologies are also now standard in new homes to help homeowners cut their utility bills without sacrificing their lifestyles.
More natural lighting and ventilation
One feature that ties new residential structures together is an emphasis on maximizing available light and air circulation. Many new condominium developments, for instance, diverge from the old-style box shapes and feature angled windows and sections cut out to allow cross-ventilation and more sunlight. New houses are also more likely to have larger windows and translucent roofs to allow natural sunlight to illuminate spaces, eliminating the need to use electrical lighting in the daytime.
From the Modern era moving forward, new homes have become less and less likely to have symmetrical features. Thanks to new materials and computer-aided design, building homes that diverged from the tried-and-tested box has become safer and more feasible than it ever was.
Most new houses and residential developments today feature asymmetrical designs that are carefully tweaked to give them a sense of harmony. These designs are often intended to catch attention while still serving the homeowner’s unique needs and making the best possible use of a location.
It’s no longer unusual for homes to have outdoor spaces that are as well appointed as the actual house itself. Regular front and back yards are no longer just for barbeques and doing the occasional messy DIY project. They’re more likely to be designed specifically to help the homeowner relax and comfortably host guests.
Landscaping and horticulture are now also starting to receive closer attention in the construction and design of contemporary homes. Features such as strategically located trees and planted walls can provide passive cooling to structure, reducing energy bills while detoxifying the air around a home.
Trends in Contemporary architecture offer prospective homeowners plenty of benefits when it comes to building a new home. The availability of new building techniques and materials allows new homes to provide more comfort to the occupants while costing less than previous generations of homes to run.
The best part is, homeowners are not necessarily tied to styles and looks currently trending in Contemporary architecture. Most of the newly available technologies and principles are readily adaptable to virtually any style a new homeowner wishes. These ideas are also quite often easy to implement in existing structures, giving new life and usability to otherwise expensive-to-maintain spaces.