How Normie Minimalism And Farmhouse Chic Took Over Contemporary Design

When one thinks of minimalism, they may picture a sculpture by Donald Judd or a piece of music by Philip Glass. Architecturally, their mind may dwell in the realm occupied by sparse, cubic forms and white, empty window-walled rooms filled with naught but a rug, a monstera plant, and a mid-century sofa, perhaps framed by tasteful stairs. Indeed, this is the aesthetic that has been sold to consumers of high design for decades now in the pages of Dwell and the endlessly scrollable interfaces of websites like designboom and ArchDaily. It’s the aesthetic that has been co-opted by Silicon Valley headquarters, your Instagram feed and AirBnBs alike, one that has described by the critic Kyle Chayka as “airspace”:

“[Airspace is] the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet.”

Minimalism’s ubiquity in the world of “good design” is well known and well documented. However, in the world of the popular commercial vernacular, it’s managed to go relatively unnoticed, likely because it takes a slightly different aesthetic form, one less peppered with the signifiers of modernist good taste. It does this in the same way Chayka’s airspace colonizes cafes and co-working spaces: through media saturation. In order to explain this form and how it wormed into television sets and later into homes around the country requires an explanation of what came before.

An emblematic co-working space with potted plants (image via and courtesy Piqsels)

Minimalism is one of those words that is reaching a breaking point as to how many things it can possibly mean. Minimalism refers to anything from Marie Kondo’s decluttering ethos to any architectural form devoid of a gable. It has become a stand-in for the equally vague “contemporary.” Succinctly put, minimalism writ large has come to mean a combination of modern design and the ethos of living with less.

Minimalism, in the historic sense, refers to a movement in art and music dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s whereby artists created sculpture, painting, and musical composition using themes of large scale, cubic and geometric forms, industrial materials, limited palette, and repetition. This movement was an extension of the earlier Abstract Expressionist and Op Art movements in art; in music its origins lie in serialism. Ad Reinhardt, an Abstract Expressionist painter whose monochrome paintings are frequently seen by art historians as a precedent to Minimalism, described his work’s artistic underpinnings succinctly: “The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.”

Architecturally speaking, the “less is more” dogma begins much earlier than the 1960s. While Minimalism was not a movement that extended explicitly to architecture (which, in the 1960s was in a very different place aesthetically than art), its ethos can be found in the oft-quoted aphorisms and manifestos of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and other kingpins of early 20th century International Style architecture. However, aside from the obvious aesthetic heritage of European modernism, there is an important and underemphasized architectural link to the Minimalism of the 1960s, namely regarding the places in which it originated.

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The SoHo neighborhood of New York City was once a thriving hub of industrial activity. Its 19th-century cast-iron loft buildings once served as the backdrop of garment manufacturing, machine shops, and warehouses. The loft building, characterized by being three to five stories in height, floors consisting of thick beams of wood supported by thin cast iron columns, was once the pinnacle of 19th century structural engineering, and for centuries served their purposes as sites of light industry. However, by the post-war period, these structures had long outlived their usefulness in trades such as manufacturing or warehousing. Structurally, they were inefficient for the machinery and workflows of modern industrial production, which was increasingly being farmed out to massive sprawling factories outside the city. The lofts’ urban profile — narrow buildings tightly packed together on even narrower streets — made shipping and logistical operations increasingly difficult. As a result, by the 1960s, blight and business abandonment made SoHo a prime target for the mid-century urban renewal schemes — and yet, much of SoHo was spared the wrecking ball, thanks to the efforts of a specific constituency: artists. In SoHo, artists could rent or purchase a large amount of interior space for cheap, all while being close to transit and the previous arts hub of Greenwich Village, which was increasingly becoming unaffordable. There were downsides, however: The lofts were often structurally deficient, and living in a building zoned for commercial or industrial use was illegal, yet, the artists, including such Minimalist luminaries as Donald Judd and Philip Glass persevered — and thus the minimalist “loft aesthetic” was born.

Source: togel online via pulsa