The finest modernist architecture in the world

Modernist architecture defined the 20th century like no other movement. Its midcentury marvels quickly spread across the globe, represented in a multitude of typologies, scales and geographical locations – and giving birth to just as many regional expressions. Some of the 20th century’s most well-known architects – Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Balkrishna Doshi, Oscar Niemeyer, Lina Bo Bardi, Eileen Gray, Tadao Ando, Frank Lloyd Wright, Adolf Loos, Louis Kahn, to name but a few – are intrinsically linked to it. It is a movement with countless faces, and one that still influences design and architecture like no other. Here, in an evergrowing round-up to celebrate, study and be inspired by its gems, we tour some of the world’s finest examples of modernist architecture. 


Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, sits alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe in the reputational VIP lounge of 20th-century architecture. But if Lloyd Wright was the man of the flat prairies, of long horizons and open (mostly domestic) spaces; and Mies, the Bauhausian who bought great glass boxes to meaty, muscly Chicago, redefining corporate architecture in the process; then Le Corbusier is the arch European modernist and master planner, the man who hung out with Fernand Léger and then launched his own post-cubist artistic movement (tagged ‘purism’), designed a roomful of iconic furniture – working with Charlotte Perriand and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret – and then plotted high rise living and built a city from scratch at Chandigarh. Along the way, he designed what might be the most beautiful of post-war buildings, the Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.

Farnsworth House, USA

Mies van der Rohe designed the iconic Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, in 1945

(Image credit: Mies van der Rohe)

The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, has been a key site for architecture pilgrims for years, since its creation by Mies van der Rohe in 1945 (and completion in 1951) for Dr Edith Farnsworth. Its clean lines, arresting simplicity and minimalist perfection have inspired architects, designers and artists for generations.

SC Johnson HQ in Racine, USA

Brick building with black and red globe sculpture outside

(Image credit: TBC)

Long before Apple and Google hired Norman Foster and Bjarke Ingels to build sexy campuses in Silicon Valley, HF Johnson Jr hired Frank Lloyd Wright to build his Administration Building (1939) and Research Tower (1950), which remain two of the most innovative, and important office buildings in the history of modern architecture. ‘I wanted to build the best office building in the world, and the only way to do that was to get the greatest architect in the world,’ Johnson explained at the time. The Research Tower, renovated in 2013, was opened to the public for the first time a few years ago. Its 15 floors all cantilever off a central core, which extends more than 50 feet into the ground. The research spaces are skinned with ‘Cherokee Red’ bricks, and more than 7,000 Pyrex glass tubes. The development site of ubiquitous products like Glade, Pledge, and Raid, the tower contains original lab equipment, amazing architectural drawings, and correspondence between Wright and Johnson. 

Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A), India

Save IMM Ahmedabad- An exterior view

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

A World Heritage preservation controversy continues to brew. In 2020, the administration at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A) was set to proceed with its plans to raze 14 out of the 18 dormitories in Louis Kahn’s modernist architecture complex for the Indian school. A row kicked off as the design community and citizens initiated a campaign against the decision of the management. It got support from global organisations and individuals including Pritzker Prize laureates, the Council of Architecture in India, MoMA, and the World Monuments Fund. Consequently, in January 2021, the management decided to put the demolition on pause – a decision reversed in November 2022, when IIMA director Errol D’Souza announced that some of the buildings would be demolished and reconstructed, citing safety concerns. 

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