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What does a Modern Architect do?

By Miranda Fine
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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A modern architect designs buildings and structures in the modern style. The modern style, also known as modernism or the “international style,” is associated with utilitarian design and a lack of ornamentation. The modernism movement in architecture began early in the 20th century and became the dominant style in the post-World War II period. Since the 1970s, the dominance of modernism has waned and the diversity of styles practiced by contemporary architects has increased.

While any structure can have a modern design, modernism is especially associated with skyscrapers and corporate and institutional buildings. For this reason, a modern architect will typically work on commercial and institutional buildings rather than single-family residential dwellings. These projects are usually taken on by large architectural firms and designed by a team of architects, even when a famous modern architect oversees, and is credited, with the design.

There are many famous modern architects. Some of the most influential modernists were Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus school in Germany, Le Corbusier in France, and Frank Lloyd Wright in the U.S. Other well-known modern architects include Philip Johnson, Oscar Niemeyer, the firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Alvar Aalto, and Robert Venturi.

Modern architecture is associated with ideas about technology and modernity that are reflected in the buildings themselves. Modern architects generally pursue a functionalist approach to design, putting form after function. They strive to eliminate ornamentation and evoke streamlined forms while expressing the building’s structure in the design.

Like other architects, modern architects must possess at least a bachelor’s of architecture degree, which typically takes five years to complete. Many modern architects will go on to pursue a master’s degree and other professional training. While virtually all architecture programs offer some training in modern architecture, students who want to focus on this may want to consider programs with strengths in modern architecture, or internships at firms known for their modern design aesthetic.

In most cases, professional architects in the U.S. must be licensed by passing the Architect Registration Examination. The exam covers many different areas and is typically taken in modules over a couple of years. Once licensed, architects must maintain their certification by complying with continuing education requirements that are designed to keep them up-to-date about building codes, engineering advances and construction techniques. Each state and territory within the U.S. has its own rules about architecture licensing requirements.

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