Contemporary Architecture

What is contemporary architecture?

Contemporary architecture is a form of construction that embodies different building design styles from a wide range of influences. Contemporary architecture is distinguished from the modern architecture of the late 20th century by the inclusion of ecological elements and creativity of all kinds. In addition to using different contemporary architectural styles and influences, contemporary architecture uses the latest technologies and materials.

One of these techniques used in contemporary architecture in North America is the tubular structure, which is used to design high-tech buildings that are stronger and taller than most buildings of previous generations. Thanks to modern design software and the use of techniques such as simulation and computer-aided design, buildings can be built with great precision and speed. Design programs allow for the three-dimensional modeling of a structure before it is built.

The difficult determination of the time interval of works belonging to this definition depends on the concept of "contemporaneity" which, in architecture as well as in art, music or theatre, is chronologically dynamic. Every work of architecture is "contemporary" when it is created. Only after several decades and with a broader historical perspective, will it be possible to find formal, conceptual, technological or structural similarities between different works that may determine the definition of an architectural trend under another name.

Characteristics of contemporary architecture

A distinctive element of contemporary architecture is the expressiveness of form and design. Buildings incorporate innovative and creative designs that are supposed to be noticed and appreciated. The aesthetic sense is very important in the design of structures. There is also a wide range of material combinations to enhance contrast or uniformity.

A single building could be constructed using concrete, glass, aluminum screens, and a variety of other materials that may not be common in modern architectural buildings. The innovative character includes asymmetrical facades and crystalline facades that change color according to the orientation of the sun at different times of the day.

This form of contemporary Latin American architecture is dominant throughout the world and is not specific to Europe or the United States. In this sense, contemporary design is global, unlike modern architecture that was concentrated in Europe and the United States. Today, there are famous contemporary buildings in China like the Shanghai Tower, Latin America, the Middle East like the famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the CN Tower in Toronto, and many other buildings in the world.

Contemporary architects have a sense of sustainable development. This is achieved by designing energy-efficient buildings that use recycled materials during most of the construction process. These buildings could be powered by solar panels, used as roofing materials.

Most contemporary buildings have large windows that allow as much natural light as possible to pass through. This not only increases the association with space, but also improves air quality and minimizes air conditioning costs.

Reinforced concrete is widely used and can be used in every conceivable way to create unusual and aesthetically attractive buildings. Architects expect to achieve this form of design while ensuring that the overall project is economical and meets the intended objective.

History of contemporary architecture

Perhaps never since the late sixteenth century in Italy have contemporary movements in architecture been on the threshold of such a crisis, subject to such virulent discussion. From the current variety of approaches to architecture, we realize that modern architecture as it was conceived until now, that is, the architectural syntax of the 20th century was part of the origin of contemporary architecture, with its white, rectangular and abstract forms, its flat roofs and its vast glass surfaces, is now at the end of its course, if not completely discredited.

The so-called "international" style, to confirm the name given in 1932 by Philip Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock as an introduction to contemporary architecture to this then universal trend, seems to be fading in the face of an unprecedented pluralism of modes of expression and attitudes.

While the second quarter of the 20th century was dominated by the work of "modern" masters Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Alvar Aalto, the third quarter was largely influenced by those whom Philip Drew called "the third generation of modern architects", that is, those born in the first three decades of the century, personalities as diverse in age and achievement as Jørn Utzon (Denmark), Moshe Safdie (Israel), Arata Isozaki (Japan), James Stirling (England), Frei Otto (Germany), John Andrews (Canada) and Robert Venturi (United States).

About a decade earlier, they set trends in contemporary architecture and the list would have been different; it would certainly have included artists such as Eero Saarinen (United States), Kenzo Tange (Japan), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil) and Aldo Van Eyck (Netherlands). The fact that both lists are incomplete to the point of iniquity is underlined by the omission of two marginal but pervasive figures: Richard Buckminster Fuller and Louis I. Kahn, whose personal contributions still influence indirectly the course of architecture today.

Influences of contemporary design

Most of the elements of contemporary architecture come from the modern architectural movement of the early and mid 20th century. This includes sharpness of line and cleanliness. However, contemporary architecture allows for fluidity of form, creativity and extensive use of curved lines. 

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a classic example of sustainable contemporary architecture. This building was designed by contemporary architect Frank Gehry and uses many curvilinear styles to create the impression of movement. Limestone, glass, and titanium are used to highlight the unusual shape of the structure and include the essential elements of a contemporary building, such as natural light, recyclable materials, and innovative design.

Contemporary architecture in Mexico

Since the 1950s, Mexico City has been the adventurous home of a brilliant school of architects. President Miguel Alemán (1946-1952), who emerged from this seraglio, launched important works of contemporary Latin American architecture that transformed the capital into a modern metropolis.

From the Torre Latinoamericana to the Paseo de la Reforma, bold achievements defy the moving terrain, sliding from functionalism to purity. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez made a name for himself with his Museum of Anthropology (1964) and his basilica with its provocative roof (1976).

But the most famous figure of modern architecture remains Luis Barragán (1902-1988), the genius of the private house, whose work successfully combines the subtle light effects, rigorous geometry, and vibrant colors of popular Mexico. Built in 1947, his house-workshop (museum) in Tacubaya, near Chapultepec Park, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

The 21st century looks no less promising. After the completion in 2003 of the Torre Mayor, the highest skyscraper in Latin America (225 m), on the Paseo de la Reforma, Fernando Romero's new Soumaya Museum, with its extremely bold architecture, in the colony of Polanco, and the achievements of Michel Rojkind, Javier Sánchez, Alberto Kalach.