Is modernism dying?


THE AMETTA Place Clubhouse in Pasig makes use of a fractal plan which allows the maximization of light and air. It also breaks what would have been one massive structure into smaller, more human-scaled buildings.

By modernism, I don’t refer solely to the aesthetic aspect known and exemplified by the work of architects and artists but I speak of the world view of modernism as it flourished in the late 1800s. With the advancement of the arts, sciences, commerce, literature and philosophy during this period, mankind’s understanding of the universe’s workings—nature and himself included—made him believe he could shape the world to his destiny. Reason and science seemed to be the prescription for success, abundance and the promise of a happier humanity—or simply said: of a good life.

The onset of the industrial revolution and the development of products and materials like glass and reinforced concrete paved the way for the rise of communities and cities. Monuments grew, buildings flourished and the immense scale of the classical structures returned with a vengeance. Not only were they massive in scale, they were also taller and possessed new building systems like steel framing, glass skins and mechanical ventilation.

These structures rebelled against the ornamentation of classicism and had straightened embellishments into simple geometric designs, or have pared them down to none at all. Modern designers looked at their products like machines, embraced advanced technologies and explored the notion of production on a mass scale.


The modern built world represents what humans look upon as progress: computers and the exponential distribution of information; automobiles, roadways, suburbs and urbanization; skyscrapers, large shopping malls and multi-use complexes that created indoor worlds and “protected” humans from the workings of nature; mass transport systems that linked territories and blurred identities. Indeed man thought that with enough reason and intelligence, he could achieve anything.

Ironically, after many years of mindless consumption in the pursuit of this utopian ideal, the western world is down on its knees!  It has also brought architects, designers and engineers to rethink the purpose of architecture and design, and to align their creations with the basic need to feel human.

The depletion of material wealth has brought a greater respect for the immaterial and for the resources that have fed our appetites to false satisfaction. Thus, we see instead the flourishing of organic farming, social entrepreneurship, recycling and sustainable practices, among many others. Communities have become less “ethnocentric” and have developed an awareness for the connectedness—and the common goal—of humanity.

Signs of awareness

The design industry alone has begun to show signs of this awareness with certain inclinations in design approach:

• The promotion of sustainable design advocates “green” methods in design and also considers the negative effects of synthetic and volatile materials on the physical and emotional wellness of man and his quality of life.

• The localization of both design concepts and materials infuse character and identity to a globalized environment and develop that sense of pride and kinship with the community.

• The popularity of broken-up and fractalized spaces and buildings, the avoidance of massive structures and the creation of smaller environments sensitive to human scale, diminishing the disconnect between man and his environment.

• Natural wind, light and air are harnessed rather than disregarded or replaced with artificial means.

• The appreciation for the handcrafted, more soulful and innate art is preferred over the mass-produced or machine-made.

• The creation of more common social spaces within large communities fosters the sense of belonging and community that the grand scale of modern spaces has disregarded.

• The “deconstruction” of existing structures and reuse of materials and fittings for either cost savings or the preservation of heritage or history.

So will the modern aesthetic die as well? Not as we know it.

The term “Modern” is from the Latin term “modernus”  meaning “right now” and was coined to describe the new aesthetic that rejected the traditional systems of the world. But we are not returning to the traditional systems and we are continuing to evolve from them. This time, we are infusing more humane values and the recognition and respect for the powers of nature. Hopefully, we can fill the gaps of dissatisfaction.

That is, right now, what should constitute a good life.

Contact the author through or through our Asuncion Berenguer  Facebook account.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Gerald Piñero Dicen

    it has long died.. postmodernism is even supposed to be dying by now — if it hasn’t died yet.

  • ATA

    agreed, seriously quite outdated! 

  • xoce

    Wow. She’s about 40 years late with this article.

  • Brandon Leong

    duh rjimenez “modernus” is latin for “right now” how can something be “post-right now?” /sarcasm lol since when did Inquirer start hiring 1st year art students as article writers? 

    modernism died in the fallout of the nuclear bomb. IT and hyperfinance has dissolved all national borders. the rise of terrorism has shown just the opposite, no, there is no common human goal, no disney-small-world-multicultural fukayama-end-of-history project to save us from the coming storm, only a sea of shifting allegiances and malleable identities, masks upon masks belying the many faces of the beast and whore that strides across our oceans and continents. 

    belief in teleological progress towards a great society has never been at its lowest… there is no “origin” no “tradition” to return to, just sort of a figment of a civilization choking under the weight of its vampiric aristocracy, political corruption and a dying planet. yeah modernism died a loooong time ago. 

  • rjimenez1226

    Jesus, haven’t she heard of post-modernism yet?

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks



latest videos