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In Defence of Modernity

Published on
Sep 2, 2022
Written by
Maya Fettes
Published by
Aisling Gogan
Edited by
Lannii Layke

“Cottagecore” this, “farmcore” that; what happened? Modernity was all the rage, and yet, “reject modernity, embrace tradition” sweeps our timeline in more industries than just architecture. What was it that inspired a widespread shift in architectural preferences which in turn allowed a change in the public perception of what “good” architecture is?

Gen Z’s environmentally conscious orientation is evident in our architectural interests. Our teenage selves, obsessed with colour palettes that hosted black, white, and only the tamest pastel gradients may have never seen it coming, but the monochrome, all-white home is a quickly dying art form. Likely brought on by the pandemic forcing an overindulgence of time inside, the clean, minimalist interior is now perceived as cold and uninviting by much of Gen Z audiences. Though an alternate point of view can be considered, in the eyes of studying architectural designer Myles Marrin, is it possible to “see minimalism as using what we have, not manufacturing to appear more simple”? Marrin’s keen eye for modern architecture has led him to design spaces with minimalism in mind, that doesn’t subtract from or tarnish the comfort of an environment. It wasn’t so long ago that Gen Z fantasized over the Ikea Alex Drawers and acrylic desks, in order to create our own forms of minimalism and modernity.

It was in 2020 that Cottagecore—the traditional and romanticized rural-living aesthetic—took over and further infiltrated in 2021. While Cottagecore resembles a more fantastical and idealist way of being, the practice of Biophilic Design might be able to fulfil some of these same desires in an architectural format. Biophilic Design focuses on the desire to be at one with nature, tapping into rural farm-house fantasies with sustainability at its roots—sound familiar? As much as we might hope, none of us are unique for feeling a kinship with a fiddle-leaf ficus; the human species has evolved for over 99% of their history to adapt to nature, not man-made structures. We are biologically encoded to resonate with natural products and processes. The reality of Cottagecore is that it’s not an architectural style, but more of a lifestyle, and in that, a rather unattainable one. Perhaps Cottagecore serves us better as a mindset because the truth of moving to a cottage in the woods, away from the comforts of a metropolis is far too outlandish for many.

What has served as one of modern architecture’s biggest critiques is that it is “cold”. That modern architecture doesn’t serve a purpose in maintaining comfort but rather, seems to be all for show. That all comes down to perspective, yet it seems to be what dominates much of the general public’s view on modern architecture styles.

“In my opinion, scale is more psychologically influential than style,” says Marrin. “Architecture beyond human scale will always feel alien. Car infrastructure like overpasses is a good example. They are totally minimalistic, purely functional, though they offer nothing at the human scale. Bricks are the total opposite, when you see a brick you subconsciously understand that its form fits in a human hand. It's an evolutionary thing, humans developed in nature, nature’s scale is our scale. Most people associate older architecture with better human scale though it doesn't necessarily need to be this way. Modern and contemporary architecture can fill the same need.”

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright // Photo via the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

The happy—and highly underrated—medium is perhaps Prairie Architecture, popularized by architects like Isabel Roberts and Frank Lloyd Wright; this style melds the functionality needed for lifestyles in the modern age without disregarding the importance of conservation and connection to the natural world. Cut to the climate crisis of the 21st century, the public walkouts surrounding global warming; it’s no surprise that the theme holds precedence in the minds of Gen Z. Cottagecore represents escapism while Prairie Style actively realizes these same desires and works to realistically establish their presence in our everyday lives.

And the principles of Biophilic Design and Prairie Architecture are practiced worldwide. “Houses are for living, not for filming,” says Chris Gilbert, director of Archier Architects, the Australian company that designed Harry House; a custom-designed family home that brings nature into modernity through Japanese-inspired architecture. The idea that glass walls and ceiling to floor windows create an inhospitable room is just one opinion, but as was the intent with Harry House, glass works to unite the interior and exterior of the building, allowing the user to associate with their surroundings instead of blocking them out. This idea of bringing the outside in was a central focus of the Prairie School Architects.

Harry House // Photo via Archier
Harry House // Photo via Archier

This style is nothing new; if Prairie Architecture came to fruition as early as the late 19th century, our love affair with complexity and nature is simply a renaissance. Perhaps it can be chalked up to the differences between homes designed versus homes built. Architecture is an art form and when one foregoes that artistic process, the results make that evident. A relevant reminder: modernity ≠ minimalism and furthermore, minimalism ≠ lack of character. There is a difference in architecture for architecture’s sake; buildings are made to challenge the existing limits of design and what we consider modernity to be. Architecture for living has to forego some of those possibilities - and when it successfully does so, we can incorporate the principles of the beloved Cottagecore lifestyle with Biophilic Design and Prairie Architecture, integrated into an established livable space.

What feels like disdain for modern architecture seems to stem from misunderstanding. Of course, not everyone has the time for nor the interest in studying the ever-developing styles of architecture, which leads to inaccurate, layman's terms explanations of the principles behind these processes. What muddies the waters further are the impressions made by marketing and consumption trends, leading to an overall ambiguity on what the principles of modernity include.

Featured images courtesy of Archier