Midcentury modern is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days, but what is it really? Midcentury-modern architecture is not simply anything that was designed and built in the middle of the 20th century, but in fact an architectural style with a defined set of principles and influences. The style continues to influence contemporary architecture in ways big and small, so below, with the help of four industry experts, we’ve broken it all down from you—from the history to the most famous examples that still stand today.
What is midcentury-modern architecture?
Midcentury-modern architecture is a style created by architects in the middle decades of the 20th century. Influenced by the optimism of the post-World War II boom and by the exploration of a range of materials, including steel, concrete, and newly available insulated glass, the mainstays of midcentury-modern architecture remain appealing to this day. Though the architects we associate with the style varied in their preferences and creative decisions, there is undeniably a spirit of creativity that unites their creations.
“Midcentury modern was about stripping away unnecessary ornament and really getting to the essence of a design gesture,” designer Jonathan Adler says. “That clarity of vision is innately communicative and people love design that speaks to them. By stripping away the frills, the designer can communicate directly with the viewer, and communication is ultimately what good design is about.”
For John Ike, a partner of San Francisco–based architecture and design firm Ike Baker Velten, the continued draw to midcentury-modern architecture seems to be a product of specific design elements. “I think it’s really the materials, the open flowing spaces, and the real sunny feel to them that draws people to the architectural style to this day,” explains Ike, who lives in a midcentury-modern home himself in San Diego.
The history of midcentury-modern architecture
The stage was set for midcentury-modern design by visionary architects and designers that preceded the period. Frank Lloyd Wright is undeniably the most influential figure on the period. Hallmarks of his buildings—site-specific designs, the consideration for flow between the spaces, and his dedication to the use of wood paneling—are all prominent features of midcentury-modern homes.