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What is Modern Architecture and Its Impact in South Africa?

By 7th Dec 2020Feb 20th, 2021No Comments
What is Modern Architecture_

Modern architecture is a popular design style and trend that has transcended decades and has proven to stand the test of time. This architecture and design approach is defined by clean, sleek lines and a minimalist style. 

The modernism trend has gained traction in South Africa over the years and has had a significant impact on building and home design. We examine this in more detail below.

What is modern architecture?

To understand the impact of modern architecture, we need to define it. Modern Architecture is defined by the use of innovative and new construction technologies. This design style is characterised by its emphasis on form over ornament, appreciation of materials and structure as well as its methodical use of space. Modern architecture is also distinguishable by its use of metal, reinforced concrete, glass and minimalism.

In recent years the visual aesthetic of clean lines, sleek minimalist look and move towards functionalism has made modern architecture an extremely popular design choice both locally and internationally.

What are the characteristics of modern architecture?

  • The use of vertical and horizontal lines as well as rectangular forms – modern architecture makes use of box shapes, clean lines and flat roofs which all lend themselves to clean and sleek lines.
  • Specific and innovative use of materials – this design approach looks at using elements like aluminium, face brick, concrete and glass in new simple and creative ways. The focus is on maintaining the natural look of these materials.
  • Creation of open and flowing interior spaces – the modernist architecture approach looks at creating one open space where all functional elements complement and continue on from one another.

For example, the latest modern houses boast open plan flowing spaces that have no dividing walls. In this case, the kitchen, living area, lounge and exteriors, make up one grand room.

  • Natural light takes centre stage – modern buildings use significant amounts of natural light. This is achieved by large glass panes, expanses, windows etc

What is the importance of modern architecture?

There are several reasons why this architectural design is both important and a popular design choice, these include:

  • Modern architecture uses environmentally friendly building materials that can be reused and recycled, such as glass and aluminium. This minimises a building’s carbon footprint and the design style often follows green building principles.
  • Modern buildings are known for their energy efficiency, which is primarily a result of the building design and materials used. Large panes of glass are often used in this design style to provide natural light. Other features, like the use of aluminium door and window systems, also provide insulation from the elements, thereby saving on energy consumption and electricity bills.
  • The flexibility of space is an important benefit of modern architecture as it allows you to transform, utilise and customise a space to your needs.

For example, this allows a modern house to transition into every life stage of the family living there and, in the case of an office building, new tenants would have an opportunity to create a space that suits their unique needs.

What are the most commonly used modern architecture styles in South Africa?

With so many benefits associated with modern architecture, it is no surprise that many South African architects have turned to this design approach. It is important to note that there are various styles under the modern architecture umbrella, some of these include:

  • Art Deco: this design style is known for its sleek curves, symmetrical lines as well as geometric and abstract design elements.
  • Brutalism: often used in governmental, educational and high-rise apartment buildings, this design style is characterised by monolithic forms, rigid geometric styles, and unusual shapes and typically have rough, unfinished concrete.
  • Bauhaus: the Bauhaus style is known to embrace classical architectural ideas that focus on functionalism. These buildings are also known for their streamlined form, flat roofs and smooth facades.
  • High tech: this design style makes use of innovative materials and technology, and also has a firm focus on functionality. This style is distinguishable by its overhanging floors, a lack of internal walls, exposed servicing, and customisable spaces.

There are several different modern architecture buildings in South Africa that have taken inspiration from the above modern architecture styles and adapted this to the South African environment. Some of our favourites include:

Conservatory House by Nadine Englebrecht

Conservatory House is the perfect example of modern residential architecture. The structure was designed using passive building principles to ensure the interior is comfortable through the extremes of both the summer and winter climates. The materials used were chosen for their durability and low maintenance capabilities. It includes cement, washed bricks, exposed steel and concrete soffits.

Image Source:
Barn-inspired Consevartory House by Nadine Engelbrecht

Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town by Thomas Heatherwick  

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa was a landmark refurbishment. The museum was created by hollowing out the inside of a historic grain silo building at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront to create the 80 gallery spaces, hotel and restaurant. Concrete, glass and steel were all used to give this building its distinctive look, enhance natural light and make the space inviting for guests.

Modern Architecture styles in South Africa (2)

Image Source:
The Zeits Museum of Contemporary Art by Heatherwick Studio’s

Cheetah Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve by ARRCC

Cheetah Plains is the perfect combination of traditional safari-style architecture with a more simple and modern look. The lodge boasts smooth concrete walls and large frameless windows that stand alongside weathered, natural surfaces like rugged mica stone and steel.

Modern Architecture styles in South Africa (3)

Image Source:
ARRCC Afro-Minimalist Safari Lodge


Modernist architecture has become a popular design style for homes and office buildings across South Africa. This is due to the appeal of the visual aesthetic and the functionality, energy efficiency and the usability of space that this architectural style provides.

We expect to continue seeing the modern house architecture design trend develop and become more prominent in and around South Africa over the next few years.

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Mike Moore is a Director at Inso Architectural Solutions