Distinctive Elements of Contemporary Architecture

Posted on: January 20, 2020

There are so many fascinating elements used in contemporary architecture. From the highly practical to the aesthetically striking, architects and builders today aren’t afraid to push boundaries to create innovative structures with features that are evolving the way we interact with the buildings we live, work, and play in.

Whether you are thinking about building a custom home or you’d like to update your property with a remodel, you’ll want to have an idea of what design and architectural features are being used today. The more you know about contemporary architecture, the more inspiration and insight you’ll have to draw upon for your project – and the more likely you are to end up with results you love.

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What Is Contemporary Architecture?

Contemporary architecture refers to the design, landscaping, and architectural features being used right now in the 21st century. It includes all the latest innovations, new trends, as well as thoughtful improvements and changes to architectural features from prior eras.

Anything contemporary is what belongs to the current era. Rather than adhering to a single style or set of standards, contemporary architecture includes all the features and stylistic choices that are aligned with present-day culture and 21st century values.

So, for example, you’ll notice many eco-minded elements in both major landmark buildings and residential architecture because sustainability is one of the most important themes of the 21st century. Just look at The Eden Project, the sine qua non of eco-friendly architecture. The Eden Project is an educational charity located in Cornwall, UK. It features massive biomes that look like giant bubbles. Inside each bubble, visitors can explore foliage found in different areas of the world, such as Wild Cornwall, the Rainforest Biome, Western Australia, and the Mediterranean Biome. As a nod to the wild power of nature, there is even a Giant Bee sculpture on the grounds!

Another common theme you’ll find in contemporary architecture is globalization and connection – there’s a spirit of oneness and endless connectivity that comes out in a lot of today’s architecture. Classic cultural elements are set aside in favor of abstract design concepts. You can see this in Evolution Tower in Moscow. This skyscraper is shaped like a spiral, a shape that represents progress and the continuity of ideas from one generation to the next. Evolution Tower doesn’t just have a 21st-century-inspired design; it’s also eco-friendly. This building is the most efficient office building in Russia – it’s lit entirely by LED light bulbs and relies on a sophisticated building automation system.

Common Features in Residential Contemporary Architecture

When you look at residential contemporary architecture, you’ll notice the same features being used in homes from Seattle to Sydney. Let’s take a look at what these elements are and why they are so coveted by designers, architects, and property owners today.

modern contemporary architecture

Large Windows and Lots of Natural Light

One defining characteristic of contemporary architecture is an almost revolutionary use of glass. Today, nothing says luxury and serenity like floor-to-ceiling windows. They let in natural light and create a seamless connection from the indoors to the outdoor environment, whether it’s large windows that connect apartment owners with the bright lights of the city or massive windows that visually welcome all the elements of outdoor landscaping into the home.

Homeowners are installing skylights to create a bright, airy feel in attics, glass doors to create a sense of continuity from the kitchen or living room to the outdoor living space, and a lot of frameless window glass throughout the home for a cleaner, more open look.

Instead of the traditional windows of the past, such as double hung Victorian-style windows or casement windows – which were designed to open and let in the fresh air – a lot of contemporary homes are being installed for light only and have modern-looking geometric shapes. These rectangular and square windows are designed for their visual benefit rather than functionality so they don’t open, nor do they have screens and complex sashes. They are simple, unobtrusive panes of glass, often positioned above viewing height to allow for privacy without the need for curtains or other window treatments.

Open Interiors

Another distinctive element of contemporary architecture is the trend toward bright, open spaces. Instead of using walls to define each room in a building, architects are favoring open rooms that flow from one to the next.

We’re no longer walking through a doorway to reach the kitchen or dining room. Today, you will have one large space with subtle features, such as a curved wall or a slight change in the shape of the room, to designate what used to be separate spaces. This dovetails with the connected, open theme described earlier. The way we’re designing buildings today, we’re moving away from compartmentalizing spaces, departments, and ideas and are looking at how concepts, cultures, and values intersect. This is part of the 21st-century zeitgeist, and it’s a prominent feature of homes and workspaces built in the 21st century.

It also complements the intensive use of glass described above. Architects are dissolving the border between rooms with open spaces, and between the indoors and outdoors with larger windows and glass doors. A lot of new homes even come with glass balustrades, allowing light and visual flow to move freely through a home.

Flat Roofs

For centuries, homes have been built with sloped roofs to prevent water, snow, and ice from sitting on the roof. This sloped design has helped to prevent moisture damage, as well as structural damage from the weight of accumulated precipitation in colder climates.

Today, architects are opting for flat roofs. What’s interesting is the flat design doesn’t just look modern, creating a clean aesthetic that elegantly complements the geometric windows. It’s also practical but in a different way.

Flat roofs often feature overhanging edges, which create shade around the property. This makes it more comfortable with shade outside while also helping to reduce the need for air conditioning to keep the indoors cool in the summer. Shade from the buildings, as well as natural shade from landscaping elements, can help to cut energy costs and reduce a household’s carbon footprint.

Modern roofing technology is what makes flat roofs possible, even in climates with a lot of rain or snow. Flat roofs can be made with innovative roofing materials, such as PVC or EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) rubber. These materials are less likely to deteriorate due to moisture – which means you won’t end up with a leak.

Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Almost everyone is concerned with their carbon footprint and how their lifestyle impacts the planet. This has caused one of the most important shifts in building design today – the move toward eco-friendly materials.

Whether you’re building a new home or are renovating an existing building, you have the option to use a huge range of sustainable and earth-friendly materials. Here are some of the common eco-friendly building materials being used in contemporary homes:


With a light wood color that looks beautiful in contemporary and minimalist interior design, bamboo is a popular choice in new custom homes. It’s also a sustainable building material. Where timber from pine, cedar, and other types of wood takes years to replenish through planting new trees, bamboo grows fast. In fact, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet!

Fortunately, bamboo also offers a lot of the desirable features that other timbers have, such as strength, versatility, and longevity. It’s also fire resistant and is great for promoting good indoor air quality because it doesn’t give off any volatile organic compounds. Bamboo can be used for flooring, walls, built-in shelving, stairs, and more.

Recycled Steel

When building a custom home, a lot of people use recycled materials to create a greener home. Recycled steel is one of the most commonly used recycled materials because there’s so much of it. Steel is an important building material overall because of its strength and durability. It outlasts other building materials and is often used in the structural elements of constructing a building.

Over 65 million tons of steel scrap are recycled every year. This has a huge impact on the overall global footprint of the building industry – recycling one ton of steel means 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone won’t have to be used to manufacture one ton of new steel.

Reclaimed Wood

Another way to build a greener home is with recycled timber. Using reclaimed or recycled wood reduces the impact on the environment because new timber doesn’t have to be harvested. It also offers a unique aesthetic – contemporary architects like to use reclaimed timber for flooring, wood beams, and wooden doors because of the antique look of the wood.

Green Concrete

Concrete is one of the most frequently used building materials. It’s also somewhat eco-friendly on its own because concrete can be recycled. As builders look for ways to reduce their eco-impact even further, manufacturers have been coming up with ways to create green concrete alternatives.

Green concrete is made from different materials, usually waste materials from other industries such as post-consumer glass or plastic waste. These reusable materials are combined with cement to create green concrete. Other types of concrete use eco-friendly construction materials in place of cement, such as fly ash, silica fume, and wood ash.

Sustainable Design

One big concern of the 21st century is energy usage. And, some of the biggest causes of energy consumption are heating and cooling systems. So, you’ll find that most contemporary homes feature sustainable design elements to help reduce energy costs. Energy-efficient design elements include:

  • Passive solar design – It involves using window placement and roof overhangs to keep a building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Energy-efficient windows – By installing double glazed windows, contemporary homes are better insulated and won’t need to rely as much on a heating and cooling system.
  • Cool roofs – By using a reflective or light-colored material on the surface of a roof, it’s possible to reflect sunlight, keeping a home cooler. Cool roof materials include tiles, slate, and clay. Another contemporary trend is to install a plant cover if you have a flat roof.
  • Solar panels – more and more homes are being built with solar panels so the building can rely partially or fully on a renewable energy source.
  • Sustainable landscaping – by planting trees and shrubs around the home, it’s possible to create shade, keeping the exterior and interior of the home cooler in the summer.
The clients wanted to bring natural elements without the maintenance associated with these, and so, synthetic turf became the best option.

Natural Features

Another key element of contemporary architecture is the use of natural features. This theme complements a lot of the other common elements you’ll find in 21st century architecture. People are more focused on the environment and appreciate integrating elements of nature into their living and workspaces.

Architecturally, you’ll find a penchant for natural materials such as stone, timber, marble, and glass instead of plastic or synthetic building materials. From flooring to countertops and fireplaces, builders are combining different natural materials to create that serene, natural, modern environment that is so coveted in contemporary architecture and interior design.

People are choosing to use water features – both in outdoor landscaping and as indoor elements. Outdoor ponds, fountain walls, and indoor fountains are often used to create unique natural focal points.

In addition to using large windows to let in more natural light and to make the greenery and garden features outside visible, people are opting to put more green indoors. This goes far beyond indoor plants and includes green walls, shelves filled with plants along with books and decorative items, and even green art. Lighting is used to highlight indoor greenery and unique features such as alcoves, and well-lit corners are prime spots for even more green plants.

Achieving the Contemporary Look and Functionality You’ve Always Wanted

There are many wonderful elements of contemporary architecture that are sure to endure for years. From practical elements that improve energy efficiency and the beauty of open spaces to a fresh embrace of the natural world and all the textures, colors, and design features nature offers, architecture today is creative and innovative while also being functional.

If you are looking for ways to give your home a contemporary refresh with landscaping, renovation work, or an extension – or if you want to build a custom home – contact the team at Eco Minded Solutions. We can help you create the home of your dreams.

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