What Is Minimalist Architecture?

The exterior of a home showing minimalist style architecture

Ярослав Алексеенко / Unsplash

Minimalism is a trending look for interior design, art, and lifestyles. Minimalist architecture is another area where simple designs really shine. Learn where this powerful movement of architecture originated, what sets it apart, and how this style makes its mark today. 


Minimalism architecture can be traced back to a few key architectural styles: Japanese Zen, Cubist designs, De Stijl, and Bauhaus designs in the 1920s. Though each of these styles have their own history and characteristics, they all share the same purpose. Each style strives to keep things clean, simple, and stripped down to only the essentials—resulting in a clean, clutter-free, calming space. This approach to architecture and design became increasingly popular after World War II and continued to rise, thanks to famous architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. 

In the United States, minimalist architecture took off in the early 1960s, coinciding with a rising interest in minimalist artwork. From its inspirational roots in 1920 to now, minimalism has served as a respite from an often busy, cluttered world—frequently expressed through architecture, art, or even as a school of thought. 

Key Characteristics

Minimalist architecture, like other aspects of minimalist design, aims to reduce as much visual clutter and noise as possible, stripping a structure down to the bare minimum. This style focuses on structure, light, materials, and space. It glorifies the essential structural elements of a building, drawing attention to its simplest form. Structures almost entirely lack ornamental features, making the structure itself the focal point. 

A lack of ornament in no way leaves these spaces without visual interest. Minimalist architecture uses simplicity to create a unique space. Carefully chosen angles, materials, and lighting are used to create the highest visual impact with the least amount of items. A key aspect in achieving this is the use of empty space. In other styles, empty space may not seem to accomplish much, but with the thoughtful use of this element in minimalist architecture, empty space is used to draw attention to the key architectural elements, or the lack thereof. 

The color palettes used in this style complement the concept of using as little as possible. White, gray, black, or other calm neutrals, such as tan, are used extensively. Simple building materials such as steel, stone, concrete, and glass are used. While these materials often have neutral colors that play well with minimalist designs, they also keep the core of the building as simple as possible, omitting any unnecessary ornamentation.

Simplified angles and clean lines are used throughout the structure and are often repeated, giving the whole building a feeling or orderliness and simplicity. Geometric shapes are common, while curved, ornate lines are not utilized, since they would detract from the clean, minimal, practicality of minimalist architecture.  

Minimalist Architecture vs. Contemporary Architecture

Minimalist and contemporary architecture are often confused. Many people may use both words to describe the same style. While this is common and both of these styles are known for their clean designs, minimal and contemporary architecture are actually quite different.

Minimalist architecture refers to a specific architectural style characterized by its goal of achieving stripped-down, clean simplicity. Contemporary architecture, on the other hand, is an ever-changing style referring to the trending architectural designs at any given period in time. Therefore, a contemporary building constructed ten years ago may look very different from a contemporary house built in 2022. However, whatever features a contemporary house possesses, they all have the same goal: break the mold. Contemporary architecture seeks to break away from common architectural designs, using unique, imaginative features, shapes, and technologies.

Minimalist Architecture
  • Little to no ornamental features

  • Simple, basic materials, such as concrete, glass, and stone

  • Neutral color palettes

  • Clean lines and geometric shapes, often repeated for orderliness

  • Uses structure, shape, light, and space to create maximum visual impact with as few items as possible

Contemporary Architecture
  • Use of trends

  • Breaks the mold, purposefully avoiding more structured architectural rules

  • Imaginative, unique shapes, structures, and forms

  • Use of new, advanced technology and advancements

  • Changes with the trends, making each contemporary building different

Minimalist Architecture for Maximum Impact

Minimalist architecture still thrives in today’s architectural world. Its simple, zen-like feeling and clean lines are inspiring architects around the world. From the 1920s onward, minimalist architecture has had a major influence on architectural trends. Whether structures borrow a few main features or boast a full minimalist design, minimalist architecture continues to impart maximum impact in the world of popular architecture.