Modern Architecture for dummies (Appreciation for Asterios Polyp)

Going through Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, I can honestly say I really like this book. The story continues within no boundaries that limits it to a framed section. The other aspect was the theme of Architecture. I am currently enrolled in a class of Modern Architecture taught by Professor Dreiss, I appreciate the architectural theme a little more. I would like to give a short basic explanation of modern architecture so Asterios Polyp can be appreciated more. I’ll start with the history and then the principles.

  1. 19th century
revival arch
Left to right: Egyptian building, Lincoln memorial, Rotunda, Monticello, House of Parliament, Trinity Church

Before we can get to what defines ‘Modern Architecture’, let’s cover a bit what is happening in the 19th century that lead to modern architecture. In the 19th century, the age of revival started to pick up as can be seen in

  • Egyptian Building at VCU (1848) an example of Egyptian revival
  • Lincoln memorial  (1920) an example of Greek revival
  • Rotunda library at UVA (1822-26) an example of Roman revival
  • Monticello (1772) example of Palladian revival
  • House of Parliament (1886) an example of Gothic revival
  • Trinity church in Boston (1872-1877) an example or Romanesque revival

The revival style was popular at the time because it was the style that was been built meaning it can be investigated and there is a lot of information on it.

  1. World’s fair in the Crystal Palace and Skyscrapers
Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton

The World’s fair or sometimes called The Great Exhibition was being held in 1851. The location it was being held was also part of the fair, the Crystal Palace which was a temporary building made entirely of steel and glass. What makes this event important is the introduction of new building materials that is mass produced and a building style that has no direct connection to a style from the past.

The birth of the Skyscraper in Chicago came shortly after this event. Louis Sullivan is the father of skyscraper and was responsible for the skyscrapers in Chicago and also responsible for being the mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright.


  1. Frank Lloyd Wright
images (2)
Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright
Neutra house in Palm Springs by Richard Neutra

Fast forward to Frank Lloyd Wright, he is the father of modern architecture. He is known for his creation of Falling Water, the Guggenheim museum and many others. He is the influence of many famous architecture of the 20th century and today like Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, James Goldstein, and many others.  Many of these architects have designs that were never built; it’s not uncommon for designs not to be build. Mies Van Der Rohe has more design on paper than in reality. Asterios may not have any of his buildings build, but he understands the principles making him more of an architecture critic.

  1. Principles

What makes modern architecture ‘Modern Architecture’ is that it is differs from any other style. It is a new determinant of form-function, structure, materials, and site.

The determinants of the form of building are:

  • Not historical style (not primarily historical)
  • Function – Forms follow function
  • Structure – form reveals or expresses structure
  • Materials – iron, steel, glass, and reinforced concrete
  • Non-ornamental
  • Site – (depending on the architect)
  • The Architect
Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain by Frank Gehry

What this means is the building has no direct influence of any styles from the past; its design depends on its location and the architect. The building’s design also depends on the function and the design or form is built around that. Mass produced materials allow also no limit to the shape, structure of the building as can be seen in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.

Chrysler Building by Willam van Alen



But wait.. what about ornaments and decoration? Asterios talks about designs without ornaments, and considers the designs as art still. Art does not mean decoration; art can serve a purpose and be appreciated. Many modern architects care more about the beauty of their work such as some show off the materials that builds it like Villa Savoye that shows off the concrete and stucco. But wait.. isn’t the Chrysler Building a modern skyscraper with ornaments? Yes, many of the modern buildings may have some ornaments. This is influenced by the modern art movement Art Nouveau/Art Deco that also follows the rules of no direct connect to historical styles. The rules of ornaments are modern buildings are ornament-free (this this more of the international style), but if there are ornaments it can come from non-historical sources like nature art (botanical), contemporary zoomorphic, and biomorphic (organic shapes).



Longer than I thought it would be, but this is just a basic on modern architecture.  Asterios understood how modern architecture is revolutionary and introduces how it affects his life. Or that might just be me.



Notes from ARTH 355 taught by Professor Joseph Dreiss

  1 comment for “Modern Architecture for dummies (Appreciation for Asterios Polyp)

  1. May 1, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    One thing I find really fascinating about architecture is how it becomes a kind of storytelling on its own. Like in your revival examples, there’s a story being told about how how the present form relates to past forms. With modern art, the lack of that kind of historical context is just another kind of storytelling where the form becomes “about” itself and (allegedly) nothing more.

    Thanks for an informative post!

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