Posted on Nov 10, 2014 in Architecture

Modern Architecture as we know it started largely with the Art Deco period of the 1920s, later evolving into the different trends we see today. These varying modern styles of architecture are prevalent throughout San Francisco and demonstrate many values and characteristics of their time.

Art Deco

Art Deco stems from Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes which took place in Paris in 1925. It is representative of modernism becoming a fashion statement for the wealthy and elite, both in Europe and America. This style typically entails simple and streamlined geometric shapes, emphasized by unusual material combinations, such as bakelite and jade.

This building showcases the Art Deco style through the use of Chevron borders and motifs surrounding the windows. Theaters were also typically done in the Art Deco style during this period.

This building showcases the Art Deco style through the use of Chevron borders and motifs surrounding the windows.

International Style

Also known as Functionalism, the international style of architecture follows a design strictly for practicality. There is a blatant lack of ornamentation on these buildings, especially when compared to the Art Deco style, and a focus on economical and utilitarian design. While this style was not very popular for single family residences, it flourished in the commercial sector, quickly being the style of choice for skyscrapers with their flat glass and metallic look.

These buildings exist solely for functionality and their designs have rejected aesthetic elements and ornamentation

These buildings exist solely for functionality and their designs have rejected aesthetic elements and ornamentation

Streamline Moderne

Although directly related to the Art Deco st yle, Streamline Moderne takes a page from ship and airplane design. Typically white, this style is all about rounded edges and emphasizing horizontal instead of vertical lines as most Art Deco buildings had in the past. There is a lack of ornamentation and a tendency of being asymmetrical, with windows either taking the shape of portholes or wrapping around the building.

Rather than sharp corners, rounded edges present a smooth exterior, one of the defining features of streamline moderne.

Bay Area Modernism

This architecture style stems from the Bay Area, hence the name, and is meant to be a fusion of nature and mechanical efficiency. With wood usually used as the medium of choice, this design avoids ornamentation and instead goes for a more minimalist look while bringing the outdoors inside. This architectural style is further subdivided into 3 styles, referred to as the First, Second and Third Bay Traditions. As the traditions evolved, Bay Area Modernism began to interact more with the Postmodern movement, integrating playful elements of pop culture. The row houses of the Sunset district are also a part of this architectural style.

Wood textures are the main takeaway from this movement.

A 1941 ad for homes on Judah Street in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Wood textures and hard edges are some of the main elements of this movement.

Mid Century Modern

Characterized by the designs of Joseph Eichler, Mid Century Modern homes are common in the Bay Area and Southern California. Eichler is famous for bringing modern design to middle class and discriminated people that were previously denied housing by other builders. Characterized by open floor plans, these buildings were also designed to let in plenty of natural light via glass walls. Much of the concept for his designs are meant to merge the exterior and interior environments. 

Eichler defined much of the midcentury modern architectural style with the use of open floor plans and plentiful natural light.

Two examples of Eichler’s home in San Francisco, one of the defining architects within the mid century modern style.

Post Modernism

With the postmodern movement, rather than being focused solely on functionality, architects began to bring back design elements for the sake of aesthetics. Ornamentation came back in style with designers mixing and matching elements from various design eras. This created an eclectic look, while bordering on tackiness at its worst, slowly eroding the completely minimalist style of years past. Brutalism was also a part of the postmodern movement. Popular amongst government buildings, the design aesthetic was largely based on making a statement of power.

Ornamentation is reintroduced during this era, as displayed by this home.

Ornamentation is reintroduced during this era, as displayed by this home. The De Young museum, though vastly different visually, ,was also influenced by post modern design principles.

New Modernism

In the New Modernism era of architecture, design characteristics are now embracing nature and ornamentation. The focus is now on homes being capable of keeping up with rapidly changing technologies as well as being green homes. Environmentally sustainable has now become an important aspect in tandem with functionality and livability. For the prevalence of green homes, this movement is also called sustainism for its focus on doing more with less.

New Modernist puts special emphasis on nature and the need to protect it.

New Modernist puts special emphasis on nature and the need to protect it while also using natural design elements, open layouts with a focus on light.


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