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Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house – interior view

Minimalist Architecture Design: Seems Easy? Don’t Be So Sure!

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Straight or Curved? Plain and simple, or detailed and complicated? Ornaments or sleek brute material? There is really no obvious winner. It’s been a seesaw throughout the history of architecture. Ornaments and decorations swinging back and forth as the fashionable style of the day; Same for trends that scaled the architecture back to its necessary roots and scrub off all the unwanted bits.

Here, we want to learn where the interest for such decoration-free design in minimalist architecture started, how it grew and what did it end up offering as it still does.

Here it is;

Mies Van der rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion

Where Is the Minimalist Architecture from?

The specific term “minimalist architecture” as a movement dates back to sometime around the 60s.

But the essence and the main principles that form the style, are fed by greater movements like modernism which basically had a knack for stripping architecture of anything unnecessary.

Let’s take a look at the famous minimal styles that came before the Minimalist Architecture; Starting from the oldest one.

- Japanese Traditional Architecture

Have you ever walked inside a Japanese house, tea-room or one of their Zen Gardens? Or what about their Stone Gardens? Given their names and use, you wouldn’t think of them being similar;

But there’s a shared quality to all of them; You probably can’t remove or add anything to it.

Simple coloring composition that is mostly made of shades of the same color. Simple honest structure and furnishing. This mentality stretches over all other aspects of the Japanese lifestyle. Take clothing for example; There’s an essential functionality to every single element of their traditional outfit, Kimono’s minimalist architecture.

a minimal room with functional patterns that gave out a character of Japanese Traditional Architecture

It’s a bit of a stretch to relate the minimalist architecture to some of the known western styles like Rococo or classical architecture.

But one could say minimalist designers could have been inspired by the simplicity and to-the-point approach of the Japanese minimalist architecture characteristics.

- Bauhaus School of Thought

The Bauhaus was one of the most influential schools for the minimalist architecture definition of the modernist movement as a whole, in the 20th century.

Especially early in the century, a deep rift had grown between industrial production and art design. The industrial products, manufactured in high volumes looked dull compared to the ones domestically crafted by small local productions.

They felt the urge to sew this gap between art and industrial design.

The School’s faculty also included some of the biggest modern to-be and minimalist architecture protagonists in decades to come after the school closed.

Bauhaus School in Weimar

The school building itself is a monologue of what it once advocated. Forms that follow function and high-quality mass production techniques for building construction.

- De Stijl Movement

Around the same time as roots of minimalist architecture definition in Bauhaus was getting started and sprinting toward its demise, a movement in the Netherlands went by what is Dutch for “The Style”. It intrigued designers, sculptors, painters, and architects.

Abstraction and simplicity seem to be what they were looking for.

Use of horizontal and vertical lines, primary colors (Blue, Red, and Yellow) and simple base shades of white and black.

The Rietveld Schröder House

The dots between the De Stijl Movement and minimalist architecture characteristics are pretty easy to connect.

De Stijl Movement lost momentum around 1930.

- “Less Is More.”

The dean of Bauhaus for a couple years in Germany, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, fled to the United States and laid the groundwork as one of the most influential figures for the minimalist architecture definition.

He is second to none when it comes to clean, simple composition of mostly steel and glass panels, minimizing the architecture to sole minimal structural frameworks and involving open spaces in his buildings.

The Chicago Crown Hall, Seagram Building in Manhattan, and Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin best show the minimal spirit in his work.

Chicago Crown Hall by Mies van Der Rohe

What Are Minimalist Architecture Characteristics?

You’ve probably bumped into minimalistic designs before; Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. Something must have tickled you to know a little more!

Pure geometric shapes and forms in an apartment

Now that you’ve got acquainted with its roots, reviewing the characteristics of it is a piece of cake.

You might as well just list them yourself! Here are the core principles of minimalistic architecture design:

- Pure Geometric Forms, Not Disturbing Each Other

Look at the picture below; It’s composed of a number of strong basic geometric forms that just sit next to each other.

That’s how basic shapes like rectangular, are.

When they cut one another in perpendicular axes, the offspring is a basic geometric form itself.

- Overwhelming Use of Material and Colors? No.

It’s always about a limited number of simple plain material on all sides of the space.

A limited number of colors in a palette makes any anomaly in your streamlined canvas of a minimalist architecture look sharper and bolder.

limited use of primary colors in a building

It’s like a strong, effective slogan; A short rich minimalist architecture message is always more gripping.

- Seamless Flow of Spaces

Open space is an integral part of any minimalist architecture design.

There has to be an effortless flow between the spaces of a building just as to simplify the circulation in the building.

- Lines; Subtract Until it Breaks

Mostly adopted from the De Stijl movement, a serious symphony of horizontal and vertical lines is the official party line in minimalist architecture design.

Reduce the main lines of your until it stops working.

- Reduction and Simplifications For the Sake of Unification

All different aspects of simplicity and reduction to essentials in geometry, material, color, and lighting in a minimalist building is for delivering a strong unified message.

A rich short message without any spiel about irrelevant content is all the minimalist movement as a whole is trying to transfer.

- Detail Without Detail

Don’t know if it’s harder but it’s certainly not easier to use fewer elements in the material, colors, geometric forms and space of a building.

A sullen plain surface with few splashes of color that you find in minimalist architecture is also prone to flash every little speckle. Handling the joints and the smallest details is the main problem that a real minimalist architect is best at.

Simple Details in minimalist architecture

Creating visual interest across a seemingly tedious surface sure does seem easy but wait until you roll up your sleeves and get down to business!

No wonder Mies Van Der Rohe has stood out as a legend in minimalist architecture design throughout all these years.

How Minimalists Back Up Their Cause

What are the philosophies behind the minimalist movement? Here is how the most prominent ones put it.

- Exhibiting the Essence of Architecture

Some proponents of the minimalist architecture believe that they portray the essence of architecture by reducing it to its essentials.

As we put it earlier it’s like a strong, effective slogan; A short rich message is always more gripping.

- Preventing Alternative Perceptions

This way, by getting rid of all the doodads in a design, you stay clear of any drapes covering a reality you want your audience to behold.

A domestic simple house


What a seasoned teacher does to control a class of noisy teenagers, might seem easy to an amateur; but he’ll still find it very difficult to imitate all the nuanced details in his teaching.

That’s the case with minimalist architecture design.

  • You have to convey your message in the smoothest way possible, so you have to know the message very well.
  • Scrap all the unnecessary parts and reduce your design to essentials, so you have to know what’s important and what isn’t.
  • And create a seamless flow of negative and positive spaces, so you have to appreciate human interactions very well.

Over to you; What do you think about the minimalist architecture characteristics? Do you find it a good approach to design or a foul one? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Mitchel Sardy
Author: Mitchel Sardy
I am a Computer Engineer and an architecture enthusiast, graduated on both majors up to the master's degree from the University of Washington; I'm an advisor to early-stage architecture startups all around the globe; the ones using computer-based solutions to design in architecture.

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