In a simpler day, everything you needed to know about contemporary architecture fit inside a neat pair.
There was modernism. That meant simple geometries, concrete slabs and mirrored glass, free of decorative frills.
And there was traditionalism. That was most everything else--architecture derived from historic styles dating all the way back to Babylon.
But now things are not so simple. Modernism gave way to Ultra-Modernism, which splintered into the overlapping subcategories of High-Tech, Pop-Modernism and Late-Modernism. Traditionalism, meanwhile, was reborn as Post-Modernism.
So, what do all these terms mean?
The following lexicon is designed to help you through the maze of contemporary architecture.
MODERNISM: Known by many for its slogan, "form follows function," modernism is a functional, stripped-down, technology-based style characterized by plain and simple surfaces free of extraneous ornament or historical reference.
The ruling style of the mid-20th Century, Modernism's roots reach back to pre-World War I Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Chicago and New York. American Modernism was strongly influenced by immigrant European designers like Richard Neutra, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. Many of these Europeans were former teachers at the influential German Bauhaus School, founded in the 1920s and closed by Hitler in 1933.
MAIN EVENTS: The 1928 Le Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne in Switzerland, where urban modernism was first codified; the 1932 exhibition, "The International Style," at New York City's Museum of Modern Art, devised by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock to introduce European Modernism to the U.S.
MAIN ICONS: Le Corbusier's 1929 Villa Savoye at Poissy; Frank Lloyd Wright's 1938 Falling Water house at Bear Run, Penn.; Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson's 1958 New York City Seagram Building; Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, New York City, 1947, by Irwin Chanin and Gilmore Clarke.
MAIN LOCAL EXAMPLES: Barnsdall House, Hollywood, 1920, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Lovell House, Silver Lake, 1929, by Richard Neutra; Chemosphere House, Mulholland Drive, 1960, by John Lautner; Salk Institute, La Jolla, 1965, by Louis Kahn; Century Plaza Towers, Century City, 1969-75, by Minoru Yamasaki; Art Center College of Design, 1976, by Craig Ellwood.
ULTRA-MODERNISM: Seemingly Modernist in its non-traditional style, Ultra-Modernism is more mannered in its often free-for-all use of arbitrary shapes and colorful materials and can be divided into the following three categories.
HIGH-TECH: A style defined by the use of stock industrial systems coupled with exposure of a building's "guts," such as ventilation ducts and structural framework. In the 1970s and '80s a group of mainly British designers, including Norman Foster, James Stirling and Richard Rogers, developed High-Tech into a revved-up art form.
MAIN ICONS: Housing Union Building, Edmonton, Alberta, 1972, by Barton Myers; Pompidou Centre, Paris, 1976, by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano; Hongkong Bank, 1985, Hong Kong, by Norman Foster; Lloyds of London, 1987, by Richard Rogers.
MAIN LOCAL EXAMPLE: Eames House, Pacific Palisades, 1949, by Charles and Ray Eames.
POP-MODERNISM: Characterized by the use of commonplace--even trashy--materials not previously considered "architectural," it is a jazzy style inspired by popular building types such as Las Vegas hotels and roadside fast-food stands.
Los Angeles has long been a leader of the Pop-Modernism movement. In the '50s, the style fathered a popular and fantastical coffee-shop architecture later tagged "Googie" (Ship's restaurant on La Cienega or the world's oldest McDonald's in Downey).
In the 1970s, Frank Gehry and a group of younger designers influenced by him refined Pop-Modernism's intention to create an artistic architecture based upon popular idioms. Cheap materials like wallboard are mixed with marble in ironic juxtapositions that point up the ad-hoc and impermanent character of much contemporary building.
MAIN ICON: Gehry house, Santa Monica, 1978, a traditional cottage converted into a Pop-Modernist comment on the typical suburban dwelling's pretense to permanence in a changing world.
MAIN LOCAL EXAMPLES: Kate Mantilini restaurant, Beverly Hills, 1987, by Morphosis; Petal House, Santa Monica, 1982, by Eric Moss; Loyola University Law School Campus, Olympic Boulevard, 1984, by Frank Gehry; Claudia's Bakery, Horton Plaza, San Diego, 1987, by Tom Grondona.
LATE-MODERNISM: Still simplistic in its use of Modernist mannerisms and strictly functional forms, Late-Modernism is given to extravagances of shape and lushness that "classical" Modernists consider decadent.
MAIN ICONS: Atheneum, New Harmony, Indiana, 1980, by Richard Meier; Pennzoil Place, Houston, Texas, 1976, by Johnson/Burgee.