Learn more about the mid-century modern design by getting to know the most renowned architects in history and today that have wowed the world with their iconic mid-century modern designs and architectural styles.
Since the beginning of time, men have felt the compulsion to cover space and turn it into a place of their ultimate comfort which they eventually started calling their “home”. This genius idea has given birth to the concept of architecture, which you like it or not, has been an indomitable part of our reality. While architectural works kicked off as a humble starting point for planning, designing, and constructing simple structures, with the passage of time and with the advent of modernity, they have been taken to a whole new level.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this practice has fully evolved into an actual art form and we are, indeed, lucky to come across some of the most wondrous architectural pieces in modern times. The kind of architecture that we witness today is something that architects, let’s say, back in the 15th or 16th century, may not have even thought about it. But at that time, architects focused on developing a true Renaissance architecture and they excelled at it. But as they say “change is constant”, the same is true for architecture as well.
Architecture is the reflection of the society we live in. So, in the mid-century, architects wanted to try something unique, something that is never done before. These professionals wanted to bring about a positive change in the society and therefore they thought of achieving their aim through out-of-the-world designs and constructions.
It all started from Northern Europe around the 1930s where Scandinavian furniture and public garages came into the spotlight for the first time. Like any other architecture, mid-century modern movement has some distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other previous architectural designs. This type of architecture is distinctively known for its classic yet fuss-free look, promoting minimal yet sophisticated adornments. Mid-century modern architecture also boasts functionality just as much as form. What is a more setting-apart quality about MCM is its acceptance of both conventional and non-conventional materials, suggesting the modern concept of accepting everything that comes our way just as it is, without any judgment or reluctance.
However, it would be ignorant of us to talk about this monumental movement without discussing its pioneers or promoters that help bring it to life. This blog post highlights both historic and contemporary architects that are recognized for their outstanding contribution to this world’s renowned design movement.
Table of Contents
- 1. Rudolph M. Schindler (1187 – 1953)
- 2. Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976)
- 3. Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965)
- 4. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959)
- 5. Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888 – 1624)
- 6. Walter Gropius (1883 – 1965)
- 7. Charles and Ray Eames (1907 – 1978) and (1912 – 1988)
- 8. Philip Johnson (1906 – 2005)
- 9. Charles Greene (1868 – 1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870 – 1954)
- 10. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969)
- 11. Eero Saarinen (1910 – 1961)
- 12. Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971)
- 13. Tadao Ando (Born in 1941)
- 14. Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2016)
- 15. Oscar Niemeyer
- 16. I.M. Pei (1917 – 2019)
- 17. Yasuhiro Yamashita (Born in 1960)
- 18. Shigeru Ban (Born in 1957)
- 19. John Pawson (Born in 1949)
- 20. Jean Nouvel (Born in 1945)
1. Rudolph M. Schindler (1187 – 1953)
An Austrian-born American architect, Schindler has some of his most important architectural works located in or near Los Angeles in the mid-century. Trained as both an engineer and architect in Vienna, Schindler carved out his own unique style that quickly became the center of attention. The project that Schindler’s aesthetic sense is most admired for is a fine house that he built for his family and an engineer friend Clyde Chace in 1922.
Today, the Schindler house, located in West Hollywood, has turned into a museum for the exhibition of arts and architecture. It is known for its dual dwelling and awe-worthy interior. Instead of typical wood, the walls and floors are made up of tilt-up concrete panels while the roof is constructed from wood which gives out strong, sturdy vibes. The sheer brilliance of the house lies in the fact that it was designed completely without bedrooms!
2. Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976)
One of the most famous Finnish architect and designer in the world, Alvar Aalto got his Diploma of Architecture at the Helsinki Institute of Technology and then his career was ready to take flight.
The Finnish architect is known for many notable achievements, especially his L-leg design that took the kitchen interior to a next level. Owing to his L-leg invention, homeowners started attaching legs to their tables, chairs and stool tops; and this is a trend that is still very much present in today’s modern kitchen interior.
3. Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965)
Also known as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, this Swiss-born genius was not just a remarkable architect but a great planner, painter, designer, and sculptor. While he studied classical architecture and was mainly interested in classical designs, he was never afraid of learning and exploring other cultures. Throughout his career as an architect, Le Corbusier mixed heritage and modernity.
The architect at an early stage of his career developed five principles on the basis which his most buildings are constructed. Those principles are:
- The external walls should be glazed
- A terrace roof that also serves as a roof garden
- A structural framework formed by columns and beams
- Replacing supporting walls with concrete columns
- No structural constraints
4. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959)
Wright was a modern architect who designed several iconic buildings in his lifetime. While his buildings were different from one another, all of them shared a common feature – they embraced simplicity rather than elaborate patterns and designs.
The unique quality of Wright’s architecture was that it continued changing as the American society changed. At first, his designs were based on, what is known as today “Prairie Style” – a style that focuses on openness and minimalism. But due to the financial crisis in 1929, he started building “Usonian houses” which were simple, affordable, and for every man.
5. Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888 – 1624)
Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, a skilled designer, and architect had a penchant for re-inventing furniture and constructing elegant houses. His early designs and constructions were a characteristic of De Stijl – a modernist art movement that embraced aesthetics along with visual clarity. Rietveld is known for his primarypiece the Rood-Blauw Stoel” also known as the “red and blue chair” which was praised for its sheer elegance and simple design.
His Rietveld-Schroder House was also considered ground-breaking during his time as the house boasts light and space at its best. The horizontal windows flooded the room with immense light and sliding doors used the space skillfully.
6. Walter Gropius (1883 – 1965)
Out of all the architects of mid-century modern, Walter Gropius has the biggest influence on the development of modern architecture. He also founded a revolutionary art school in Germany known as the “Bauhaus” that helped promote his revolutionary modern concepts.
He was a big believer of the most important modernist principle that functionality should be conducive to form and made sure that his work was a prime example of it. He built several innovative buildings using new materials like reinforced concrete.
His fame reached new heights when he impressed everybody with the construction of Gropius House, renowned for using a combination of traditional elements like wood and brick and new materials like glass and block.
7. Charles and Ray Eames (1907 – 1978) and (1912 – 1988)
Charles and Ray Eames are considered to be the most significant American designers of the 20th century as they astounded the world with their groundbreaking contributions not only to architecture but furniture design, manufacturing, and photographic arts too.
Charles and Ray married in 1941 and worked together to design innovative furniture using plywood. The talented couple designed molded plywood chairs, sold by Evans in 1946. These modern chairs were regarded as “the chair of the century” by an influential architectural critic – Esther McCoy.
8. Philip Johnson (1906 – 2005)
While Philip Johnson majored in philosophy, his curiosity for architecture didn’t hold him back from studying architecture at Harvard in 1943. He collaborated with many great architects but stood out for his construction of Seagram Building in New York City which he built with his mentor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
However, it wasn’t until 1949 when he built his own house “the Glass House” that enlarged his fame and reputation worldwide. The house is distinguished because of its exceedingly simple structure, adorned by large glass wall panels – an ideal example of the minimalist aesthetic.
9. Charles Greene (1868 – 1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870 – 1954)
Commonly referred to as “Greene and Greene” or “Greene Brothers”, Charles Greene and Henry Greene were phenomenal architects and furniture designers. They experimented with a wide range of styles but always stuck to simple and clear architectural forms, suitable for Southern California. The interior and exterior of their famous bungalows are beautifully harmonized with nature and are adorned with old and new materials.
The Greene brothers built a handful of intricate houses in Pasadena from 1904 to 1911, boasting overhanging eves, broad sleeping porches, and wooden sticks as a decorative material for the exterior. The primary material used in abundance in these houses was wood. Soon enough, several smaller houses started to be built in a similar design. Unfortunately, from 1914, the Greene’s design practice came to an abrupt halt.
10. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is the most influential architect of the 20th century, known for developing the most thriving architectural style – mid-century modernism. The all-time famous architect’s career kicked off in an influential studio of Peter Behrens where he worked along with the other two shapers of modernism – Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Mies was a preacher of minimalist designs and it was he who originated the term “less is more” – a term that is widely used even today, despite knowing its origin. He openly rejected the idea of a traditional system of enclosed rooms and boundaries and encouraged spaciousness by relying on the use of glass.
He also proposed a never-thought-or-seen-before glass tower which he designed in 1921 and continues to be his most well-known work. Mies’ admiration of glass can also be seen in his “glass box” which he constructed in the Fox River, West of Chicago. His glass box turned out to be his last residential house.
11. Eero Saarinen (1910 – 1961)
A Finnish-born American architect, Eero Saarinen was one of the biggest leaders for experimenting and exploring American Architectural design in the 1950s. One of the most notable works of Saarinen was his independent work “General Motors Technical Center” in Warren, Mich. In this complex, he built five major buildings for a research study. The precision and clarity by which this complex was constructed was a true reflection of the work of the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
In his lifetime, he also designed large buildings like auditoriums and chapels. For example, he built the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a red bricked cylinder chapel. The auditorium came into the spotlight due to its handkerchief-like dome resting on three points while the chapel consists of a unique red brick cylinder.
These buildings were completed in 1955 and this was the first time when anyone gave a meaningful character to public buildings. In addition to auditoriums and chapels, Eero Saarinen designed a prize-winning Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and a skyscraper – the CBS Headquarters in New York City (1960-64).
12. Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971)
Arne Jacobsen was a Danish designer and architect, known for his notable contribution to architectural functionalism. He was the first architect to introduce modern architecture in Denmark and further developed it through his versatility and visual art.
Among his plethora of projects, two famous buildings stand out – the terminal building of the Scandinavian flight company SAS and the Royal Hotel of Copenhagen. For the latter project, Jacobsen planned and designed everything from interior work to furniture to fabrics to small details like lamp or curtains. For his project of a National Museum in Klampenborg, Jacobsen received a Golden Medal in the Academy.
13. Tadao Ando (Born in 1941)
Tadao Ando, a Japanese self-taught architect, promotes simplicity by emphasizing having empty spaces. While he is all about elegance and simple designs, the Pritzker award winner incorporates elaborate spatial circulations. This shows that the Japanese architect endorses simplicity with style and sophistication.
Ando also prefers to incorporate nature into his architecture as it elevates the overall appeal of the designs. The majority of his works are known for the maximum use of natural light. His concept of architecture highly resonates with the traditional Japanese architectural style and therefore he is known as a “critical regionalist”.
His brilliant use of light, nature, space, and bare concrete walls for the construction of the “Azuma House” made him the rightful winner of the Annual Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan. Besides this, Ando is also highly appreciated for his widely-recognizable designs – the Church on the Water in 1988 and the Church of the Light in 1989.
14. Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2016)
Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born British architect, is distinguished for her radical deconstructive designs. In 2004, she became the first female architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. While Hadid is known for her numerous remarkable works, her first and foremost work remains the best of all. Her first major project – the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany was composed of shrewd angular planes that resembled the flight of a bird.
In addition to this, her other major projects include IBA Housing in Berlin, the Land Formation One Exhibition space in Weil and Rhein. In these giant projects, Hadid explored and experimented with the sculptural architecture and creative interconnecting spaces.
In 2003, Hadid became the first woman to design an American museum – Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. It is constructed from a series of cubes and voids and the front of the museum has a translucent glass exterior.
15. Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Niemeyer was arguably the finest architecture in Brazil. He has been credited for designing primarypieces like the building on the Ministry of Education and Health, Pampulha complex – known for housing an amazing church, casino, dance hall, restaurant, yacht club, and golf club.
His other architectural works include the Ministry of Defense building in Brasilia and Constantine University in Constantine, Algeria. In all of his projects, the architect remarkably used abstract curves and styles that made his structures appear modern and trendy.
16. I.M. Pei (1917 – 2019)
Chinese-born American architect – Ieoh Ming Pei – worked closely with several architectural firms. Pei designed many modern structures including the Luce Memorial Chapel, Tawan; the Everson Museum of Art, New York; and the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Colorado.
The renowned architect also built a pentagonal control tower for Federal Aviation Agency which was installed in a number of American airports. The core belief that reflects well in his buildings and designs is the connection between the present and the past instead of viewing architecture as future vs. past. Owing to this philosophy, Pei’s structures are a beautiful blend of conventional elements and progressive elements like geometries.
17. Yasuhiro Yamashita (Born in 1960)
Yasuhiro Yamashita is an influential Japanese architect who also has an architecture firm Atelier Tekuto. While many architects focus on elaborate designs and large spaces, Yamashita’s style differs in the fact that his most projects comprise of small houses.
He deliberately emphasizes clean, simple, and elegant designs that appeal to all kinds of people. The befitting example of his affordable housing is the musician’s house which he built in 2008 in Kita-ku, Tokyo. The beauty of the house lies in its simplicity and the use of different forms of materials.
18. Shigeru Ban (Born in 1957)
A renowned Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban is known for his unconventional works that listed him in the Time magazine as one of the 21st-century innovators in the discipline of architecture.
Ban has a distinctive architectural style as he creates most of the work with paper, using recycled cardboard tubes. The reason why he does so is that paper is affordable and recyclable. For example, Ban built a Japanese pavilion building at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany with the architect Frei Otto. It is believed that the 72-meter long building was created out of paper tubes. Owing to his innovative style, his architectural art is regarded as “invisible structures”.
He designs and builds his buildings in such a way that can easily grab one’s attention from afar. His western education and eastern traditions have helped him combine the two in most of his architecture. His innovative structures are a brilliant expression of both western and eastern forms.
19. John Pawson (Born in 1949)
Born in England, John Pawson is a well-known British architect that has won many awards for his outstanding work such as RIBA London Special Award, RIBA National Award, and the Blueprint Architect of the Year.
Like other mid-century modern architects, Pawson is all about minimalist aesthetics. His projects are a testament of how he boasts simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. The most popular work for which Pawson is known for is his design museum in London. The museum makes great use of light, space, and proportions. As his work focuses on aesthetic minimalist, the museum is a modern display of stripped details, plain white walls, frameless glass, and absence of joints.
In his words, “I love clear spaces. I love the absolute minimum. I find that pleasurable. I also get pleasure from things done nicely… I have to go the whole way”.
Some other notable projects that are a lovely example of his inimitable architecture style are London’s Cannelle Cake Shop, New Wardour Castle apartments, Calvin Klein stores like the ice palace on Madison Avenue, etc.
20. Jean Nouvel (Born in 1945)
Jean Nouvel is a renowned French architect famous for his minimal architectural style. Owing to his simple and elegant contemporary designs he won three prestigious awards; one is the Aga Khan Award in 1989, Pritzker Prize in 2008, and the Wolf Prize in 2005.
Did you know that he has built over twenty buildings all over the world? Each building is unique in its own way. What common is among his buildings is the usage of contrasts. He seeks his inspiration from a wide range of themes, ranging from history to film to literature to futurism. Due to his exceptionally unique themes, he has been able to construct a wide array of primarypieces.
Some of the most notable projects of Nouvel are Culture and Convention Center (2000), Euralille (1995), Foundation Cartier pours I’Art Contemporain (1994), and Arab World Institute (1987).
Needless to say, without the motivation, inspiration, and hard work of these acclaimed architects, the mid-century modern architecture wouldn’t be as prestigious as it is considered today.
Related: Mid-century modern homes