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Design: Modern Design

Modern and Contemporary Design

Modern is a static term, contemporary is a dynamic, changing term.

Know Your Design History: The Bauhaus Movement—

Bauhaus Design



Modern Design

"If today's arts love the machine, technology and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy, this implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate to our times." 

(Oskar Schlemmer)
The Bauhaus was the most influential modernist art school of the 20th century, one whose approach to teaching, and understanding art's relationship to society and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and the United States long after it closed. It was shaped by the 19th and early 20th centuries trends such as Arts and Crafts movement, which had sought to level the distinction between fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing. This is reflected in the romantic medievalism of the school's early years, in which it pictured itself as a kind of medieval crafts guild. But in the mid 1920s the medievalism gave way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design, and it was this which ultimately proved to be its most original and important achievement. The school is also renowned for its faculty, which included artists Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee and Johannes Itten, architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and designer Marcel Breuer.

The artists with a vocation for Bauhaus are called "Master of Form", and they have a master craftsman on their side as a technical supervisor. Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who is also head of the metal workshop, and Josef Albers hold preliminary and elementary courses. Lyonel Feininger is head of the printmaking workshop, Gerhard Marcks of the pottery workshop, Georg Munch of the weaving workshop and Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee of the glass and wall painting workshop. Oskar Schlemmer is responsible for workshops for stone and wood sculpture as well as for the Bauhaus theater.



The son of a German stonemason, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) initially attended trade school but later moved to Berlin and studied architecture under Bruno Paul.

He finished his first house in 1907 at the age of 20, and the following year joined the office of leading German architect Peter Behren (where Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier also trained).

After setting up his own studio in 1912 he enlisted in the German army during World War I, but quickly re-established his architecture practice afterwards.

As architectural director of the Deutscher Werkbund he organised the influential Weissenhof prototype housing project in Stuttgart. This 1927 exhibition showed all the hallmarks of what would later become known as the International style – skeletal boxes with flat roofs.

It was around this time that Mies van der Rohe began using new industrial technologies to design his iconic modern furniture pieces such as the MR10, Barcelona and Brno chairs.

He designed the German Pavilion for the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929, and his equally famous Tugendhat house in Brno, Czechoslovakia, was completed in 1930.

In the same year, he became the director of the Bauhaus school, but the Nazis forced its closure in 1933.

In 1937, Mies van der Rohe emigrated to America and became head of the architecture school at the Illinois Institute of  Technology in Chicago. He found America, and post-war corporations in particular, happy to embrace his International architectural style and his love of fine and expensive materials such as marble and plate glass.

He went on to design such internationally recognised buildings as the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, New York’s Seagram Building and Chicago’s IBM Plaza.

Barcelona chair

It’s become a feature of office lobbies the world over, but the Barcelona chair (pictured) was originally created for a different purpose. Mies van der Rohe designed the German Pavilion at the 1929 International Exhibition, held in Barcelona.

The king and queen of Spain were opening the pavilion, so Mies van der Rohe created the chairs in case they became tired. The chair has always been expensive to produce, due to the exacting upholstery and mirror-polished, chromed, flat-bar steel base.

In 1953, the design was exclusively licensed to Knoll International, probably partially due to the fact that Florence Knoll had been a student of Mies van der Rohe.


Mies van der Rohe designed houses of simplicity and elegance. His long, low skeletal structures had flat roofs, open internal spaces, large areas of glass and were divided internally by moveable walls. He often included feature walls in the finest quality natural materials, such as marble or ebony, and tended to use low plinths around his single-storey designs.

His furniture has an architectural beauty, with simple flowing lines and the same splendid detailing. The main structural material was steel, often employing cantilevered forms to enhance the feeling of lightness created by the delicate structural frames. Quality leather and cane were then used in the seating elements to soften the look and add luxurious comfort.

Best known for

The famed ‘MR 90’ Barcelona chair was created for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929. Its X-shaped legs made reference to the imperial chairs of ancient Rome.

His earlier MR10 and MR20 chairs (1927) stemmed from the Bauhaus’s socialist ideals.

The tubular steel used in these was far cheaper to produce, thus making them furniture for the masses.

Marc Newson has been described as the most influential designer of his generation. He has worked across a wide range of disciplines, creating everything from furniture and household objects to bicycles and cars, private and commercial aircraft, yachts, various architectural commissions, and signature sculptural pieces for clients across the globe.

Born in Sydney, Newson spent much of his childhood travelling in Europe and Asia. He started experimenting with furniture design as a student and, after graduation, was awarded a grant from the Australian Crafts Council with which he staged his first exhibition - featuring the Lockheed Lounge – a piece that has now, twenty years later, set three consecutive world records at auction.

Newson has lived and worked in Tokyo, Paris, and London where he is now based, and he continues to travel widely. His clients include a broad range of the best known and most prestigious brands in the world - from manufacturing and technology to transportation, fashion and the luxury goods sector. Many of his designs have been a runaway success for his clients and have achieved the status of modern design icons. In addition to his core business, he has also founded and run a number of successful companies, including a fine watch brand and an aerospace design consultancy, and has also held senior management positions at client companies; including currently being the Creative Director of Qantas Airways.

Marc Newson was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and has received numerous awards and distinctions. He was appointed The Royal Designer for Industry in the UK, received an honorary doctorate from Sydney University, holds Adjunct Professorships at Sydney College of the Arts and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and most recently was created CBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

His work is present in many major museum collections, including the MoMA in New York, London’s Design Museum and V&A, the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Vitra Design Museum. Having set numerous records at auction, Newson’s work now accounts for almost 25% of the total contemporary design art market.

Newson has been the focus of on-going and intense interest in the media, generating significant editorial value for his clients, and he has been the subject of a number of books and documentary films.

He is married with two children.

Contemporary Design

Contemporary style is a relative term – it is not tied to a specific time period, but rather, refers to the styles, materials and ideas that are popular in the current day, whenever that day may be. Because of that, it is a fluid concept that changes with trends, new technology and lifestyle changes. At one time, Victorian décor was contemporary, and given a few decades, today’s “contemporary” will become vintage.

Currently, contemporary design embraces a great deal of modern style, thus the overlap in these two terms. But contemporary style adds an eclectic, personalized twist to the modern look, making it far more adaptable, livable and comfortable. In the contemporary take on modern décor, simple lines, unfussy design and neutral colors are still predominant-- however, you are also likely to find far more colorful accents, rounded or soft lines and  luxurious touches like overstuffed upholstery, layered fabrics and quirky artwork. 

This contemporary bedroom shows a lot of modern influence in the clean lines and chrome legs of the furniture. But the retro shaggy rug, the global-inspired throw pillows, mirror and bedside accessories; and the strong brown walls add today's flavor to the mix.

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Frank Lloyd Wright designs

Mies van der Rohe

Marc Newson

Contemporary Design