Is Minimalism Dead?

Is Minimalism Dead?

The visual aesthetic of the past few decades could be defined as designing with the principles of ‘nothingness’. Whether it’s through art, lifestyle, fashion, industrial, or interior design, there has been an alleged need to keep things at a bare minimum, promoting the globally-loved-yet-highly-criticized trend of minimalism. Minimalism is this notion of reducing something to its necessary elements, but who is deciding what is necessary, and who is deciding what is too much? With those questions in mind, combined with radical changes in consumerism and the way people live seen during recent years, current trends have shown that minimalism might be here to stay, but with a twist.

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Minimalism is an art movement that began to take shape after World War II, believed to be as a reaction against modernism and abstract expressionism at the time. Artists wanted to move away from the emotional and expressive characteristics of these genres, which felt like a distraction from the art itself, creating what they believe to be the "purest form of beauty". Seen heavily in visual arts, music, and industrial designs of the 1960’s, the term minimalist often referred to anything that is stripped to its essentials, discarding any sort of ornamentation. Artists and sculptors, with the likes of Frank Stella, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, and Carl Andre, to name a few, began moving towards geometric abstraction, and exploring it through different media. Across the Atlantic, the European approach to minimalism was seen in works by artists associated with Bauhaus, De Stijl movement, and the Russian Constructivist movement.

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Koshino House, Ashiya-shi / Japan. Image © Kazunori Fujimoto

In architecture, minimalism describes a space or structure that is reduced to its basic elements. The movement rose to popularity in the late 1980s between London and New York, when architects were asked by fashion boutique owners to design somewhat-empty spaces that use white surfaces, cold lighting, and unobstructed voids with the least amount of objects and furniture to put all the focus on the clothing. It’s believed that the inspiration behind minimalism came from the Zen philosophy of traditional Japanese design, Bauhaus, and the De Stijl movements. Others claim that minimalism was also a response to the rise of industrialization and dense urban living, serving as an antidote to the hustle and bustle of major city life.

One of the key phrases to describe this architectural style is “less is more”, said by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. De Stijl’s use of abstraction and simplicity, combined with Bauhaus’ use of industrial materials and reduced forms define minimalist architecture. Finding value in simple forms of nature is also critical to the Minimalist movement. By reducing design to its essential elements, and focusing on form, light, space, and materials, minimalist architecture is able to achieve harmony through simplicity, bringing together nature and the interior space to achieve a balance between the man-made and the environment, as seen in many of Tadao Ando’s projects for instance. This does not mean that the space is designed completely without ornamentation, but that all the elements and details of the space are reduced to an extent where nothing can be removed further to improve the design.

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Vitra Conference Pavilion, Weil am Rhein / Germany. Image © Vitra, by Richard Bryant

Fast forward to the beginning of the 21st century, minimalism was everywhere - so much so that it became the aspirational and deluxe way of life. Interiors featured sleek designs and clean lines to convey a sense of timeless simplicity and chic taste. Surfaces were entirely free of clutter, prioritizing organization and cleanliness. White and neutral colors were used as a base, but were complimented with different tones and textures to add some character. Taking inspiration from Scandinavian designs, designers combined natural finishes like wood and stone with simple geometric shapes, a monochromatic color palette, and functional elements. Soon after, minimalism became a global discipline of living more with less - “in a consumer culture, minimalism was always a somewhat fancyland ruse”.

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Apartment in Largo do Carmo / Aurora Arquitectos. Image © do mal o menos
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Olaria House / NJ+ Arquitetos Associados. Image © Denilson Machado – MCA Estúdio

Although minimalistic design was extensively popular amongst designers, it has always been heavily criticized for being too cold and “soul-less”. Many used minimalism as a way to shut down the chaos of the outside world, and enter a state of calmness and serenity once they entered their home, others, however, did not feel any emotional attachment to the style, nor did it reflect their vibrant and loud personality. But towards the end of Summer 2020, the world finally began seeing this big shift in people’s “aesthetic journey”, leaning towards natural, vibrant, and eclectic interiors, “where rooms can be filled with color and kookiness and objects that don’t match, and that’s the point.”

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Ewelina Art Studio / Ewelina Makosa. Image © Anne.Catherine Scoffoni

Obviously, style is constantly changing, and new/recycled trends are often introduced every year, but the pandemic is believed to be one of the key contributors to this change. Following multiple months of being quarantined, it came as no surprise that people felt an urge to add warmer tones to their color palettes and infuse some energy into the space. Living in black and white was no longer desirable, people wanted plants, textures, prints, and accessories that reflected their personality. This saw the introduction of styles like Japandi and Organic Modernism, which borrowed stylistic elements from Japanese and Scandinavian designs, and complimented them with natural features and materials, adding life to a monotonous design. Designers also began borrowing design elements from other countries, such as color palettes, patterns, and native accessories, transforming their spaces into mini retreats.

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North Vancouver House / Scott & Scott Architects. Image © Scott & Scott Architects
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Record Company Office / Two Interior Design Studio. Image © Mikhail Stepanov

A more overstated response to minimalism is maximalism, which has also risen in popularity the last couple of years. Maximalism is often seen as a subliminal, socio-cultural backlash against minimalism’s historic political implications, a reaction to Austrian architect Adolf Loos’s controversial comments regarding ornaments and their relation to “uncontrolled eroticism, criminal activity, and peasantry”, for instance. Today, with the rise of individualism, inclusivity, and defying the status quo, maximalist homes are a representation of what’s inside of the home owner’s brain, the places they’ve visited, their culture and heritage, and their interests - it is “an expressive, connective humanity—an intentional hot mess” that celebrates expressionism, personal taste, and embracing who people are and where they come from.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: Aesthetics, proudly presented by Vitrocsa the original minimalist windows since 1992. The aim of Vitrocsa is to merge the interior and exterior with creativity.

Vitrocsa designed the original minimalist window systems, a unique range of solutions, dedicated to the frameless window boasting the narrowest sightline barriers in the world: “Manufactured in line with the renowned Swiss Made tradition for 30 years, our systems are the product of unrivaled expertise and a constant quest for innovation, enabling us to meet the most ambitious architectural visions.”

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Cite: Dima Stouhi. "Is Minimalism Dead? " 27 May 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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