Modern Architecture in Birmingham? 4 stunning examples [Photos + History]

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This gorgeous Mountain Brook residence shows the beauty of modern architecture. Photo via Design Initiative

If you’re a fan of different architectural styles, Birmingham is a fantastic place to be. Whether you’re a fan of Neo-Classical, Victorian, Tudor or more, Birmingham has likely got a building that fits your fancy. We took a look at some of the examples of Modern Architecture in Birmingham—here’s what we found!

But First—What is Modern Architecture?

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Local architect Fritz Wohle with a model for a proposed modern office building in Birmingham. Photo via BhamWiki

Before researching the topic, my understanding of modern architecture was lacking. In my mind, modern architecture was the blanket term for any of the newer, less ornamental buildings built in the last 40 years. But the true definition is a bit more specific.

Turns out, modern architecture was a specific architectural style that emerged in the mid-20th century, and was most prominent between World War Two and the 1980s. Modern architecture was based on the idea that form should follow function—essentially, the architecture of a building should lend itself for the intended use of the building, rather than to make it look ornate. Modern architecture used new technologies of construction, such as reinforced concrete, steel and large glass windows. One of the most famous examples of modern architecture is Frank Lloyd Wright’s standout residential project, Fallingwater.

Surprisingly, Birmingham lacks a large collection of modern architecture. As a relatively young city, Birmingham missed the eras of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and other architectural fads. So, while other cities began to experiment with modern architecture, Birmingham played catch-up. Still, there are a few standout examples that survive today.

A Mountain Brook Residence

Exterior Elevation Modern Architecture in Birmingham? 4 stunning examples [Photos + History]
The Fritz Woehle designed residence in Mountain Brook, with lighting on and off. Photo via Design Initiative

Address: 3349 Brookwood Road

Built in 1963 by local architect Fritz Woehle, this stunning modern home is partially hidden by the trees in a wooded area of Mountain Brook. Like many of Fritz’ projects, the residence responds directly to the surrounding area. The original design consisted of a circular “drum” and a rectangular exterior deck.

Recently, local architectural firm Design Initiative renovated the home—updating the amenities while retaining the original intent of the design. Learn more.

Two North Twentieth

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The Two North Twentieth Building, with its famous huge billboard. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Constructed in 1962, this 17-story modern office building was designed by the local architectural firm Lawrence Whitten & Son as a home for the Bank for Savings and Trust. The building was the first skyscraper constructed in Birmingham since the Great Depression, and the most visible example of the International Style of modern architecture in the skyline.

The International Style emerged in Holland, France, and Germany after World War I and quickly spread throughout the world. As exhibited by Two Twentieth North, the style is characterized by the use of lightweight industrial materials, rejection of ornament, repetitive modular forms, and the use of flat surfaces alternating with glass panels.

Paul S. Worrell Building

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A photo taken of the Paul S. Worrell Building in the 1960s. Photo via BhamWiki

Address: 924 18th Street South

In 1960, a group of physicians known as the “Doctor’s Center Corporation” hired Fritz Woehle to design a modern office, known as the “Doctors’ Center.” The seven-story building, with its exposed concrete frame and floor slabs, contained four doctor’s suites on each floor, with the ground floor opened up. Woehle designed a ten-story sister structure, but it was never realized.

UAB purchased the building in 1985 to house UAB’s Department of Vision Sciences, the Vision Science Graduate Program, and the Vision Science Research Center for the UAB School of Optometry. However, UAB decided to tear down the structure in February of 2019.

YMCA Youth Center

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The stunning YMCA Youth Center in downtown Birmingham. Photo via CCR Architecture & Interiors

Okay, you got me—the YMCA Youth Center might not fit the classic definition of modern architecture. But how could I not include it? Built in 2006, the YMCA Youth Center featured large glass planes and a central glass spire, incorporating elements of Postmodern and Deconstructionist Architecture.

Have a favorite modern-style building we missed? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

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