There is a common perception among most of us, which is “happiness is about having more, possessing more”, and “beauty is a product of adding ornament, giving more details, adding more color, adding more shape…., it is about adding more, having more, possessing more, getting more.” It is about the “more”.

But what if it is about the “less”. Instead of Having more having less, instead of Adding more adding less, instead of Possessing more possessing less, Only the necessary. And This is Minimalism, it is about the few to achieve the most.

“Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.” -Nicholas Burroughs

Minimalism in art emerged in the late 1950s and flourished 1960s and 1970s in USA. Minimalist Painters and Sculptors pay attention for the materiality of their art works and avoid symbolism and emotional contents.

Minimalist works have characteristics like minimal color palette sometimes monochromatic, clean simple graphic elements mostly geometric lines, forms and shapes, and maximized negative spaces. So minimalist artists strive to bring beauty in their works through the concept of “less”, less color, less elements, less graphic contents.

“I've found that the less stuff I own, the less my stuff owns me.”- Nathan W. Morris.

The concept of minimalism is not only aesthetic concept but also a life style concept. And on this case, minimalism stand against consumerism (a backbone of capitalism). After the industrial revolution, the advancement of industries led to mass production, and this provide an opportunity for consumers to consume more than before, and this behavior grows into a habit of consuming way more than necessary. And this creates a mentality of consuming more, possessing more is something better. Minimalism confront this mentality. Minimalists advocate that possession makes our life less flexible (since we have something to stick with), creates more fear (a fear of not be able to consume, being overwhelmed) and took away our freedom, and cluttered focus (not be able to focus on things that are important for life our purpose instead focusing on too many things even that are not significant).

“Minimalism is a clear focus on life what matters.” Thomas Davis.

So minimalist people are believers on the idea of possessing less and consume only the necessary is breaking the trap of consumerism and having a free, focused and more flexible life.

“The greatest architectural illusion is not Baroque fancy or Victorian flamboyant, but minimalism.”– Kevin McCloud

Minimalism in Architecture

Emerged from the movements of Bauhaus (a holistic art and design movement seeks to unite fine art and applied art by having an intention of producing functional and aesthetic products and architecturally characterized by focus on functionality and simplicity of forms, incorporating industrial materials like glass, steel and concrete to maintain authenticity) and De Stijl (a movement of art known for its simplicity, thick straight lines, simple forms and primary colors and architecturally characterized by focus on functionalism, lack of ornament and use of rectilinear faces) in 1920s.

Minimalism emerged on the shoulders of these styles gave a new height for their concept of simplicity. “Less is more” – a most famous quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the third and last Bauhaus director and one of master builders) consider reducing everything down to necessity and achieve simplicity. And projects like Barcelona pavilion and Farnsworth house are great examples.


Japanese culture has strong influence on Minimalist Architecture.

Japanese Zen philosophy

Place a value on simplicity as a way to achieve inner freedom. This philosophy of simplicity is one of the core values of minimalism that minimalist architects advocate.

Japanese Wabi-sabi

style seek finding values in materials in their most real, pure and honest version. And this representation of materials in their simplest form is one of the most visible characters of minimalist architecture especially on the use of glass, concrete and steel.

Ma (Japanese concept for negative space)

Focusing on the perception of a gap or space and encourage “an emptiness full of possibilities“ like "the silence between the notes which make the music". This philosophy expressed by a minimalist architect Mies Van Der Rohe as “An interesting plainness is the most difficult and precious thing to achieve.”

“There is a poetic nature to minimalism that is about striking a balance between full and empty.”– Jennie C. Jones

Qualities of Minimalist architecture

Minimalism has characteristics like minimal or no ornamentation, simple forms and functions, clean open spaces, simple use of materials like steel, glass and concrete. But lets focus on the Qualities of minimalism.


One of the most important qualities of minimalism is that intentionally possess valuable things only, and avoid everything else to be none distracted. This character is also prominently visible on minimalist architecture. All parts of a building are there because they are significant defining parts of the building and the building cannot afford missing out of this part. If anything on a building doesn’t have enough purpose and missing this part is affordable, then it is going to be eliminated.


Using materials with the intention of revealing true identity instead of hiding or changing it to create artificial beauty. For example, if a steel column is standing in a living room and its existence is important, it will be stand gracefully without shame and it is going to be a part of the building identity.

Celebrating negative space

One of the most common things anybody can see in every minimalist architecture is sensible emptiness. Minimalist architects carefully design the empty space as an important part of architecture not just as a left-over space that cannot be furnished.

“Less is bore.” Robert venturi.

Criticism on Minimalist architecture

Minimalism is criticized for being aesthetically cold & sterile due to too much focus on simplicity and cleanness lack character which creates an unwelcoming effect.

Architects like Robert Venturi (father of modernism) criticize minimalism by its denial of complexity from custom tradition, cultural context and community values. And also, he criticizes minimalist architecture for its focus on clarity of meanings instead for richness of meanings (which is the most important thing for him).

Thank you.

Written by Biruk Hailu.


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