Modern minimalism builds on the art, design, and architecture movements of the 20th century, celebrating the freedom and raw, immediate emotions to be found in stark simplicity. Reduced to the bare essentials, minimalist design uses elementary geometric forms, a lack of decoration, a focus on functionality, and wide open spaces to craft a dramatic visual impact. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s unquestionably the defining aesthetic of our era — and it’s only continuing to evolve along with our collective tastes.

The sleek white exterior of Rombo IV.

It’s not hard to see why minimalist design is so often monochromatic. Not only do all-white spaces express the sense of visual “purity” upon which the style is based, but they also call to mind the technology and materials of the space age. But after decades of adhering to modernist principles valuing the look of a nearly blank canvas, aren’t we getting a little bored? Some architects and interior designers are starting to infuse otherwise minimalist spaces, which can read as sterile, with unexpected splashes of color and ornamentation.

The stark white interiors of Rombo IV
The stark white interiors of Rombo IV

In a fun new residential project in Mexico City, architect Miguel Ángel Aragones transforms a complex of three houses and a studio set in a wooded area called Bosques de las Lomas. By day, Rombo IV (just one of the four buildings) is a modernist delight. It’s full of dynamic shapes and voids expressed through spherical sculptures, reflective black pools, mirrored floors, textured white surfaces, and striated marble punctuated by irregular cutouts revealing the rooms or outdoor spaces beyond. Occupying three floors, the house is one big Cubist sculpture down to its smallest details.

With its careful attention to pleasing asymmetry and eye-catching silhouettes, this home is far from yawn-inducing. All of those white surfaces highlight the greenery outside the windows, including many small courtyard gardens scattered throughout the property, and there’s always something to look at. But by night, Rombo IV takes on a whole different personality thanks to an installation of rainbow-hued neon lights. The feel of each and every room, hallway, and nook is instantly transformed, almost as if an artist came through and splashed all of those blank canvases with paint.

The interiors of Rombo IV after being transformed by neon lights.
The interiors of Rombo IV after being transformed by neon lights.

Shifting waves of color keep the spaces constantly changing over time, so you never quite experience them the same way twice. The reflective surfaces that appear black in daylight multiply dramatically illuminated shapes and cutouts under the neon lighting for a pleasingly disorienting effect. The way in which Aragones pulled off this dual personality is so simple, yet the result is so striking and unexpected.

The stark white interiors of Rombo IV
The interiors of Rombo IV after being transformed by neon lights.
The stark white interiors of Rombo IV
The interiors of Rombo IV after being transformed by neon lights.

He explains: “Photography tells a small part of the history of what we discover as architecture, leaving aside the touch and expression of materials, the hardness and the softness, the heat and the cold, the voice of a space that accumulates the journey of the wind in the leaves of a tree, the sound of a fountain, the cooing (murmur) of silence, a picture does not describe the fragrance of a garden or the smell of incense: all this speaks of atmosphere and shelter, and I only find it in spaces that have the need to murmur with light. The shape of their most natural accident is nothing but the consequence of a space in search of intimacy, with oneself and of experiences that we wish to repeat in the form of architecture…”