Many years ago when I was to start my blog “The Modernist Angle”, my ex-wife and I – we worked together then – discussed those two terms at length. What sounds like a First World Problem is in reality a bit like cooking: if you’re sloppy in the details, it comes back to bite you later.
And even though folks frown upon a native German (that would be me), throwing around English words he barely understands and can hardly pronounce in his native language, not to speak of English, there is a reason I prefer “Modernist” over “Modern”.
Back then, we found an interesting forum where the pros differentiated between those two terms carefully, the former referring to a style or aesthetic, while the latter – modern – meaning “something current”.
“Takeaway lesson: There's an important difference between 'modern' and 'modernist'. Modern means nothing more than 'current' or 'recent'. Modernist means... the ideology of modernism... an aesthetic movement that emerged in Europe during the interwar period”. (–Ray Sawhill, on the Visual Resources Association Forum)
Adding to the point:
“Modernist is ultimately a more valuable and specific term for us than the more generic Modern. Modernist is our stylistic term of choice, whereas Modern seems more like a state of mind.” (–Dane A. Johnson, Visual Resource Coordinator, College of Architecture and Design, Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI, on the Visual Resources Association Forum)
Thus, a mid-century design by Richard Breuer or Ludwig Mies as an example should really be referred to as Mid-Century Modernist.
Though nobody does that, as a client reminded me when he snubbed all homes older than five years, disregarding their modernist styles.
With my own firm’s residential arm being named “Modern Florida Homes”, and its mission being “Brokering, Promoting and Preserving Modern Homes and Architecture”, an important step for me was to check the prevalence of either term in colloquial usage. “Modern” was the clear favourite.
So I use “Modern” in the website name and mission statement, but on social media and especially in a verbal context where one can discuss, explain and elaborate, I prefer “Modernist” as the correct and more precise term.
Fun question to ask your favourite architect, isn’t it? – You do have one, don't you?
Tobias Kaiser is an independent real estate consultant and licensed Realtor in Florida since 1990. He specializes in modern architecture and net leased investments.