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  • Modern or Contemporary Architecture: What Gives?

    There has been an internal office debate over the past two years as to what exactly defines Modern Architecture vs. Contemporary Architecture. When describing our work to clients the term is often used interchangeably among those who are not Architects and specifically and intentionally by those with definite opinions or who have been practicing Architecture for years. After digging through definitions and doing some research it’s high time to look at these terms more in depth and figure out what’s what.


    There is one project in particular that ignited the initial conversation and has sparked a healthy debate ever since. This house…designed by our firm nearly 8 years ago.

    Modern 1

    Contemporary 1


    Is it Modern or Contemporary Architecture? To begin, let’s start by talking about each and we’ll come back to what this house is or isn’t.


    Merrian Webster defines Contemporary as “happening or beginning now or in recent times existing or happening in the same time period” and “marked by characteristics of the present period.” Modern, on the other hand, is defined as “of or relating to the present time or the recent past: happening, existing, or developing at a time near the present time” and “based on or using the newest information, methods, or technology.” Ok, well that clarifies things…NOT.


    What I have gathered through personal observation and information seeking is that Contemporary Architecture is not as much a ‘style’ per se as it is a reflection on what is current, happening today, and an expression of present-day ideas. Whereas Modern Architecture embodies purely functional needs through an expression of machine age materials (primarily steel, reinforced concrete, and glass), simple clean lines, symmetrical compositions, little to no ornamentation, and large open spaces.


    Modern Architecture evolved starting at the beginning of the 20th century and became popular post World War 2, thanks to architects like Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rhoe. There is usually a clear visual expression of a structure with an emphasis on function, simplified form, and clean lines. Some of my favorite modern buildings include:


    Farnsworth House

       Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rhoe

    Notre Dame de Ronchamp

      Notre Dame de Ronchamp by Le Corbusier

    Barcelona Pavillion

     Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe

    Bauhaus School

     Bauhaus School of Design by Walter Gropius

    Contemporary Architecture is happening now at present day and is often associated with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Green building practices and techniques and BIM (Building Information Modeling). Contemporary Architecture is an expression of today’s and tomorrow’s expression of the current style. Characteristics of Contemporary Architecture varies greatly with no specific underlying features. Only time will tell how today’s current style of buildings will be classified and termed by theorists of the 22nd century. Some well known examples of Contemporary buildings include:

    Walt Disney Concert Hall

    Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

    Simmons Hall

    Simmons Hall (at MIT) by Steven Holl

    Royal Ontario Museum

    Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind

    Seattle Public Library

    Seattle Public Library by Rem Koolhaas

    Hopefully the variances in style and expression now have recognizable differences to help distinguish between Modern or Contemporary Architecture.  And to answer the office debate…it’s unanimous: Contemporary Architecture is the best way to describe the Ripple Design project above.

    A link to our Contemporary Mediterranean home can be found here: Contemporary Mediterranean Home

    Remodeling? Should you stay or should you go now?

    It’s the age-old remodeling dilemma – should you live with construction or move out? Whether the remodel is extensive or very small, once we are through the schematic design process and start having any initial discussion involving construction costs, we almost always find ourselves answering questions about the reality of living with construction during a remodel. As a homeowner who has personally lived through two remodeling projects I can tell you first hand, the only thing scarier than the actual construction estimate is the thought of how to live through the construction while balancing a happy house, family, and sense of well-being. We hope we can offer some tips and get you thinking about what’s best for you and your sanity during the next remodeling project at your home.


    Let’s first talk about some of the advantages to staying at home… First, you don’t have to relocate, which can be quite costly, disruptive to your lives (especially if you have kiddos), and provides an added inconvenience. Second, you don’t have the expense of not only moving, but also paying rent AND a mortgage simultaneously, unless you are able to live with nearby relatives, but that opens a whole other can of worms. Third, you are likely to communicate more often and openly with the contractor and crew, which helps put at ease any concerns, frustrations, anxieties you may be having. The final and perhaps most compelling reason for staying at home is that you can monitor the construction process on a daily basis and check on progress. Being onsite also allows you, the homeowner, to short circuit any questions or time-pressing issues that require your attention.


    Now onto the benefits of moving out. First, you are very much removed from the dust, filth, drilling, and distractions of construction. Second, sometimes, but not always, construction will go a little faster and smoother with your absence because contractors can pound away without worrying about disrupting your lives or sticking to zones away from where you’re living. Third, there are undeniable emotional benefits to not seeing, hearing, or smelling construction and everything that comes with it. Tip: If you do decide to move-out, make sure you plan-ahead and relocate services normally used at your house such as mail delivery, cable/internet, newspaper, etc.


    Tips for staying and living with construction: First, set-up a sealed-off construction and dust-free zone that is your serene space, no matter how small, where no one except you and your family will go. Second, try to take a vacation that coincides with the messiest part of construction – demolition. Do however make sure you’re not so far away that you can’t be reached by phone if questions come up. Third, try and view the whole experience as a great adventure for the benefit of your family and know that as with everything else in life, it too will come to an end.


    One of our clients who recently finished a project and lived through construction e-mailed us a photo of their construction site during the holidays. They had a lot of family coming in from out of town for the holidays and wanted to celebrate all together in the new space – despite it being a few months away from completion. Our client had the contractor pull the dumpster, equipment, and tools off of the job for one week so they could have family time and be together uninterrupted.  In the end, our clients invited the contractor over for drinks one evening because they were so used to his company and got along very well. In the best of situations, the contractor-client relationship eventually turns familial and is long-term.


    Here is a before photo, 1 day before the contractor pulled off of the job site for the week of Christmas.



    And here is a photo of the decorated great room, under construction, during the holidays:

    Remodeling Photo 1


    It’s not perfect, but the clients made living with construction work for them and they saved quite a bit of money while doing so. Construction is stressful, expensive, and an emotional process no matter if you live with it or away from it. Always remember to tell yourself that it will end one day and keep the end goal in mind – a beautiful new space in your home that you’ll be able to enjoy everyday.