The Thoroughly Modern Garden

Are you mesmerized by the changing shadows on your patio, as the sun moves through the sky? Do you like minimalist planting and smooth, seamless hardscapes? If so, read on: modernist design may be for you.

Modern Backyard With Limestone Patio and Wooden Pergola

Modern Patio and Pergola

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design View original photo.

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Asymmetrical design is a hallmark of modernist style. The use of free flowing space, light and shadow, and uninterrupted surfaces gives a clean feel to any modern space. This outdoor patio area uses large slabs of limestone for a modern look that flows freely into the sleek wooden pergola.

The era of Modernist design began in the mid-twentieth century, with the key insight that functional design, adapted to human needs, could also be a plant-sustaining work of art. But, how does this insight play out in the current Modernist revival, in which great attention is being paid to selective planting and high-quality finishes.

One of the most recognizable traits of Modernist design is its use of light and shadow in free-flowing space. Views through Modernist gardens are complex, and often multiple depending on the time of the day or the location or sensibility of the viewers. Although one or two views may be emphasized, the partial enclosure of space within walls or hedges means that views are open to personal interpretation, as the visitor is not forced by the design to experience them in just one way. Sharp lines reinforce the contrast between horizontals and verticals.

The material palette of Modernist design is minimal — smooth rendered concrete is often used for paving and walls, and limestone or slate, with little or no decoration, are also ideal for floors. Designers prefer large slabs that minimize joints and create clean, uninterrupted surfaces.

Courtyard with Square Shrubs

Modern Courtyard with Square Shrubs

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

This modern courtyard design features a neutral stone patio paired with neatly-trimmed green boxwood. Simple, brown wooden square structures provide a place to sit underneath the shade of a tree.

Planting in the Modernist style is restricted too, with many gardens featuring only trees, hedges and lawn punctuated by key architectural specimens.

The geometry of Modernism is almost exclusively angular and emphasizes the horizontal line, although there are examples of designs based on circles or ovals in the Modernist genre too. Regular grids are often used to relate the house to the garden, blurring the distinction between interior and exterior space.

Infinity Pool Overlooking Forest Scenery

An Infinity Pool Gazes Over Hillside

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

An infinity pool overlooks a hillside that falls away steeply from a striking contemporary patio.

Water is used architecturally in Modernist design, often as a reflective surface. Here, a tranquil pool reflects a unified environment.

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