Why Modern Architecture came back, and what it looks like now

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Why Modern Architecture came back, and what it looks like now
Hufft Projects’ Shed / Photo by Mike Sinclair

Last year, the Kansas City-based firm Hufft Projects completed their challenging and intricate restoration of the Snower House, designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer in 1954. Located in the upscale neighborhood of Mission Hills, the 1,900-square-foot home is a Modernist gem. With its flat roof, archly rectangular structure, open living areas, and cantilevered first floor, it is a classic example of what Modernist architects were rightly renowned for: light-filled interiors, the use of industrial or readily available materials (in this case, cedar siding), and the creation of small, elegant spaces that were joyously livable. Robert Snower and his wife lived in the house until the former died in 2013 at the age of 90, almost sixty years after moving in. “It is determinedly minimalist,” said architect Matthew Hufft, “right down to Breuer’s use of color on the exterior.” When Snower’s family came to sell the house, aware that the lot value in the neighborhood now outweighed the actual value of the house, they found a couple, Robert Barnes and Karen Bisset, intent on preserving it.

The new owners might not have been so game were it not for Modernism’s heightened popularity. In the last two decades, objects created during that era—the Eames recliner, the glass-topped coffee table designed by Isamu Noguchi, and Breuer chairs come to mind—have become ubiquitous. Magazines extol the houses designed by Modernist architects. New homes deemed highly faithful to this tradition are sought after. And the restorations of homes such as the Snower house have become noteworthy architectural endeavors. Decades after it was the prevailing architectural mode of expression, Modernism is perhaps even more popular than in its post-World War II heyday.

Beginning in the 1920s with Walter Gropius, the head of the Bauhaus in Germany, Modernists pioneered the idea of combining design with new technology. (Marcel Breuer was among the famed artists and architects on Gropius’s staff.) Later, Le Corbusier took this obsession with technology further, famously calling the house “a machine for living in.” […]