Study of Modernism in the 20th Century

6 min readApr 8, 2021


The follow essay highlights a three-part experiment in generative tile coding focused on three major modernist movements in the 1900s and exploring their evolution throughout the decade. The three major movements of study break the decade into roughly three equal parts, and are ‘de stijl’, ‘mid-century’ and ‘post-modern’, respectively. Architecture is the primary lens through which each movement is explored with additional inspiration from recognized art and design pieces.

Part 1 — ‘de stijl’

De Stijl (de stijl), or “The Style”, was a Dutch art movement founded by architects and artists in 1917, in the city of Leiden, Netherlands. The movement advocated for a sense of pure abstraction in both form and color. A juxtaposition to its more traditional counterparts. Some of the most famous artists to embraces this movement were Theo Van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, whose original conceptual ideas stemmed from simple primary colors and shapes. Shortly after their first paintings, De Stijl had begun influencing another profession who had begun experimenting with modernism. Architecture embraced this movement, and Mies van der Rohe along with Garrit Rietveld, designed some of the most important works of the time. The Rietveld Schroder house is a living Mondrian/Doesburg painting, while Villa Savoye is a testament to pure simple forms. Each a masterpiece is their own rights, staying true to their objective with a complete elimination of any and all decorative elements which don’t contribute to the primary function of the design. The beauty that comes from this design style, is recognized through its intuitive construction while staying true to spatial distribution. Wanting to stay true to these ideals, the engine through which the ‘de stijl’ tiles are generated uses primary colors, along with an array allocation of rectangles (instead of the more common golden ration distribution that is seen in a lot of Mondrian works). Each tile can be randomly sized within a 800x800 canvas with a 4–7 array in both the vertical and horizontal distributions. This allowed a base floor to work with while keeping the‘de stijl’ principles in mind.

You can visit to see all 100 tiles, and to learn more about the rules for how each tile is created.

tile destijl_001

Evolution 1 (de stijl -> Mid-Century)

Each evolution from one generation to another receives three primary focuses on its rule sets. First, the overall forms that are distributed in the array. Second, the palette of colors that are going to be used throughout the entire tiling experiment. And Third, the randomization of the array allocation rules which determines the placement within the tile.

  1. add filleted rectangles (random 0–50px)
  2. 3 color palette -> 4 color palette
  3. 4–7 array -> 4–8 array for columns, 4–6 array for rows

Part 2 — Mid-Century (m-cm)

Mid-Century modernism was an American design movement popular after World War 2 and was most prevalent in architecture and urban design and space planning. But was also very influential in product design and fashion. Staying in line with its predecessor, m-cm design style focused on simple clean lines with a complete reduction in decorative elements, and staying true to the material in use. Where ‘de stijl’ had stuck with rigid forms, mostly comprised of right angles, mid-century modernism had started bringing curvature into the design aesthetic. This can be seen best in contrast with the two inspirational designs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Falling Water with its heavy cantilevers. And the soft curves of the equally famous Eames Chair by Charles and Ray Eames. The beauty that comes from these informed designs lies right beneath their creation where the material was the primary driver of the massing. All the materials used to construct Falling Water were all sourced from that area. While Eames explored what could be possible with a material which was always previously been represented in a linear fashion and breaking that mold. Both still keeping in mind that expression in simple massing can have a much more impactful response than unnecessarily placed decorative elements which can sometimes hinder a design. Wanting to evolve in the best way possible from ‘de stijl’, the engine generates using a new mixed palette based of primaries, along with an array allocation of rectangles that have a randomization of being filleted from 0–50px. Each tile can be randomly sized within a 800x800 canvas with a 4–8 array for columns, and a 4–6 array for rows.

You can visit to see all 100 tiles, and to learn more about the rules for how each tile is created.

tile mcm_001

Evolution 2 (Mid-Century -> Post-Modern)

Keeping in line with the former Evolution 1 rules, the evolution from Mid-Century to Post-Modernism had the following modifiers.

  1. fixed fillet at 500px
  2. 4 color palette -> 6 color palette (1 hollow)
  3. 4–8 array for columns, 4–6 array for rows -> 6–11 array for columns, 6–13 array for rows

Part 3 — Postmodernism (post/m)

Postmodernism is a macro design movement that developed in the later part of the 20th century, and reached its peak popularity in the 1980s-1990s. This movement continually pulled new professions and disciplines into its folds as it had begun affecting a wide variety of creative movements. Post/m was a direct response to its previous ‘de stijl’ and ‘m-cm’ design movements that argued its predecessors was perceived as not having solved the ideals it strived for. However, what stayed true in it’s ideals was an attempt at cohesive responsive design, continued elimination of unnecessary ornament, and as Le Corbusier is famously quoted as saying, “less is more”. The Vanna Venturi House, designed by architect Robert Venturi is one of the earlier design examples of postmodern construction which intentionally responded to certain architectural elements and massing. Wanting to evolve in the best way possible from ‘de stijl’ through ‘m-cm’ and into ‘post/m’, the engine generates using a new mixed palette not based on primaries, along with an array allocation of oblong rectangles that have a fixed fillet of 500px. Each tile can be randomly sized within a 900x900 canvas with a 6–11 array for columns, and a 6–13 array for rows.

You can visit to see all 100 tiles, and to learn more about the rules for how each tile is created.

tile post/m_001


This experiment was done over a three-month period, with 100 tiles being generated for each part, and a three phase evolution at each step. This gave a wide range of opportunities for the engine to create a multitude of different aesthetics ranging from showing all available rule set options, to just one or two. All tiles within a series are generated sequentially from 001–100 without any rejected tiles. If a tile had to be rejected, the entire series would have been restarted from scratch, but that never had to occur. While the aesthetics and concepts through the decade changed what modernism meant, a few things still held true. Simple, clean reduction in forms, while highlighting connections, details, and colors can transform entire movements through the decades. Three distinct aesthetics, but all cohesively identified by modernity. Beauty in simplicity. Beauty in possibilities. Less truly is more.