Contemporary architecture is definable broadly as the building style of the present day. Examples do not necessarily have similar or easily recognizable features, however, because the "style" is really quite varied and has a number of different influences. Even though a precise definition of the term is difficult to articulate, contemporary homes typically include an irregular or unusually shaped frame, an open floor plan, oversized windows, and the use of "green" and repurposed components. Such homes also often have an organic design, fitting into the surrounding space and meeting an immediate need in the area.
Prominent contemporary architects include Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao; John Andrews, who designed the CN Tower in Montreal; and Jean Nouvel, who designed the Quai Branly Museum in Paris.
Contemporary vs. Modern Architecture
Although people sometimes use the terms "contemporary" and "modern" architecture interchangeably, they technically are not synonymous. Modern architecture refers to the building style of the early to mid-20th century. It featured clean lines with an emphasis on function.
Some people viewed the elements that characterized modern architecture as too cold and impersonal. This belief lead to the creation of the contemporary style as is recognized today. Like the modern style, it connects indoor and outdoor spaces, but it adds some personal touches and warmth throughout the living space. The use of natural light also plays a big role, so large and expansive windows are a common and easily recognized feature of such homes.
Green building is also a strong component of the contemporary style. Architects place more emphasis on energy efficiency and use sustainable, natural, and recycled materials to create eco-friendly houses. It's not unusual for builders to thoughtfully integrate these homes into their natural surroundings. People sometimes refer to this practice as organic architecture.
The connection extends from the outdoor landscape to the indoor environment. Outside, local plants may be used to decorate the surroundings, or the house may be designed around a prominent natural feature. Living roofs, in which plants are used as roofing materials to increase energy efficiency, are also becoming popular. Inside, natural materials like bamboo flooring and granite countertops are common.
Contemporary architecture often seeks to take old buildings and structures and reuse them in innovative and fresh ways. This might mean a simple redesigning of interior furnishings, or it might entail extensive renovations that dramatically change the look, layout, or function of the space. For this reason, the style often ties easily to work by previous architects and designers, especially since it often uses fairly traditional materials, such as steel and concrete.
Computer Aided Design
Architects and designers often rely heavily on computers as they create their finished product. This allows professionals to produce results that are incredibly precise, durable, artistic, and efficient. Computers also play a role in ensuring the designs are safe and preventing injuries during the construction process. Another major benefit is that they shorten the time it takes to create a structure.
Need as a Driving Force
Whereas desire for particular aesthetic elements typically drove previous styles, need is the primary driving element behind contemporary architecture. Increases in population, along with a reduction of funds and some resources, are forcing communities to explore different means of building and organizing space. One way of defining the style, therefore, is by identifying the structures or designs that meet some pressing need in the immediate surrounding area.
The size or use of a given structure by itself does not determine whether an architectural design accurately can fall under the contemporary classification. Skyscrapers in cities are known for leaning toward this style, for example, and may cover dozens of floors and a huge amount of space. Residential homes can also have a contemporary appearance and feel, however. The style appears in both rural and urban neighborhoods.
A closely related concept is contemporary chic. Better known in relation to personal appearance, particularly hair, clothing and accessories, this idea relates to things that are fashionable yet still highly comfortable and functional. Architecture in this style is both useful and artistic enough to set trends.
Over time, contemporary architecture has developed several offshoots, each with its own characteristics, including postmodernism, neomodernism, and deconstructivism, among others. Postmodern and neomodern architecture returned to the use of ornaments on the facade of building. Deconstructivism developed from postmodernism and is characterized by ideas of fragmentation.