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Posts tagged ‘modernism’

Midcentury modernism a midcentury later.

Midcentury Modernism.

Is it in? Out? I’m thinking a little of both. When Target introduced their Project 62 line, I knew the cat was out of the bag (more like the shag was out of the bag!). At least with this line, dedicated to all aesthetics midcentury, it’s a good looking bag. Target is selling shag rugs in pink, wooden furniture to your heart’s delight  and the chairs are more rectangular, all adorned with rounded wooden feet.

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All things midcentury modern are hot and now the style seems a part of the common vernacular. It’s a little dizzying for me! Remember all that stuff your aunt had that you hoped she would never give you? Brown dinnerware, copper lights and the olive green walls? If only we had known, we could be rich right now!

Brands like Heath Cermanics and DWR have long-known that midcentury is très in but with Target joining in on the aesthetic, the look becomes accessible to a whole new demographic. Besides, is it Heath ceramics or it Target? Only your wallet will know!

 

I love the idea of making this kind of design accessible to anyone. It’s fascinating to witness in what forms the past gets picked up. What appeals to the popular culture? What becomes the symbol for that era? Is it copper? Spindly light fixtures? Dark wood furniture or just the good old shag rug?

 

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When I visited Los Angeles earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about the unfussy, democratic nature of mid-century modern architecture. There’s something appealing about the strident lines and simple silhouettes.

 

 

 

But we can’t spend too much time looking backwards! The Project 62 line is about revisiting the past but not reinventing it. It can all end up being a little boring, frankly. My favorite pieces end up being the one that take on a mid-century shape but add in some modern colors (peacock blue) or fabrics.

I just hope that Target realizes there are things from the past we shouldn’t ever revisit (like post-modernist furniture or shoulder pads).

The Idea of Excellence

In the last two years, I have begun a newfound obsession. A something ignited within me and I am now a basketball fan. A big basketball fan. Games had been in the background of the home I share with my partner, Mark, for years, but until the powerhouse Curry sent the team in a new era, I hadn’t paid much attention. And now, I can say I am a Golden State Warriors zealot. Friends know if plans are made around game time, we’ll likely be watching and my daughter googles their schedule to know when not to interrupt me at night (I’ll answer but only to quickly say “The game is on! I’ll call you back later!”).

I’ve never been much into watching sports on television. I definitely have a competitive streak and love a close race. But I am drawn to The Golden State warriors in a similar way to studying the contours of a beautifully designed building. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to ignore excellence when it’s placed directly in front of you.

We’ve seen plenty of examples before: watching with rapt attention an Olympic sport we had never heard of before, standing in long lines for one fantastic food croissant or life-altering falafel. We are drawn to excellence, to exceptionalism. It’s why in Barcelona, lines for Gaudi’s works are the longest, his parks and churches filled with tourists in awe of his bizarre genius. It’s why the Guggenheim is one of the most visited museums in New York City: it has phenomenal art but it’s curvaceous design is really what halts visitors in their step.

Watching Steph Curry maneuver on the court, you can see he is not only an exceptional athlete but a leader on the court as a communicator.  The team is a body and he is serving as the heart, helping the other pieces function, providing them with the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Steph Curry isn’t why I keep watching, though (or Durant!). My love of basketball is the fluid movements, teammates sacrificing their own opportunities for each other. You don’t always have the best shot, you aren’t always going to be open.

It isn’t about individual glory, it’s about how these players can move and work together as a nearly unbeatable unit.

Maybe it’s another example of how we are more than the sum of our parts. It’s somethings we can discuss in the future.

Just don’t call me during the playoffs, I’m busy.

Palm Springs: Modernism and Democracy

While I am a tried-and-true Northern Californian, my work often brings me to Los Angeles and the neighboring areas. And well, as an architect, I can’t help but notice what’s around me.

Modern architecture is often painted as elitist—as if efficient design can’t also be good design.

Buildings can be useful while still being beautiful.

 

 

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When More is Really Less

The tendency in architecture these days is to go bombastic: think big hair beehives in the 60’s, not to be missed, in your face, flashy and maybe a little tacky….and all under the guise of modernity.

Frank Gehry’s Louis Vitton Foundation

Just like mentioned in the Devil Wears Prada, economics doesn’t trickle down but style does. So when there’s this tendency for grandiose object making architecture by brilliant architects, the aesthetic trickles down to the more common, but the buildings become more desperate. Without the knowledge and context of a season architect, it becomes a hodge-podge of copy and paste. If you can have wood sliding, wood panels, metal and copper, why not add metal screens, glass, tile and stucco?

The facades become only skin-deep, full of materials and not much else. But the good news is, no matter how horrifically a building is, someone will deem it worthy of publication, 15 seconds of fame on the Internet.

Humor aside, it isn’t just the lack of weight and meaning behind the facades. It really is what this represents. The thing here is that these buildings are supposedly modern in form but really there are post-modern in their exterior expression—an attempt to resolve the architecture of the new with the appreciation of the old. The ornamentalism and contradictions of post-modernism cannot co-exist without much education, thought and deliberation. Post-modernism is a beast of rule breaking and remaking. This is the ultimate revenge of post modernism (ugly post modernism, at that), which got shunted by modernism in the 90’s. It has insinuated itself back–behind the scenes– reemerging in the hands of the modernist who are desperately trying to differentiate themselves.

All the glass facades have begun look alike. How many variations on mullions, glass colors and module layout can you do? Is the issue education? How young architects sometimes seem oblivious to any “modern” architecture before 2000? History is a subject no longer taught or in fashion in architectural education. So the newbies to the industry design with panache, unaware that it has all been done before. Worse yet, they design without much reference to the successful buildings of the past. But it’s a hard to slay a beast if you don’t know why you’re fighting it in the first place.

Hercule Poirot and Modernism

So who says you can’t learn something from TV?

I have been continuing my marathon of “Poirot” episodes and movies. I can’t seem to resist the weird Belgian detective of Agatha Christie fame. But, in my defense, it was raining this weekend. (If you missed my last post on Poirot, you should check it out now)

One of the best things about the series, which I did not touch on in my last post, is the great locations where the episodes are shot.  I don’t often look to television for architectural inspiration but Poirot’s apartment alone is a gem: a great deco, mid-rise with a bathroom you could have sworn was built in 2002 and not 1922.

The houses in the series are always owned by the wealthy English families. And we’re talking about a time in which homes are the ultimate emblems of success and heritage. Yet, we find something so refreshing about the modern architecture. It’s a statement! You don’t need to be an earl and live in Downton Abbey!

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The phenomena of signature buildings without a signature.

New Year, same blog and more complaining!

Maybe when you get old, you just get cranky and think everything is worse than before and it isn’t! Maybe one day I will look back at this rant and realize I was wrong!

The issue is that  I find myself looking at a lot of architecture, all over the world, and I can’t say I am impressed. The irony of the urge to rant using phrases like “in my day” is not lost on me.

I’ve talked before about signatures (whether it be in jeans, in food, in fashion) – greatness comes from an appreciation of the rules and then an ability to break them. The same, of course, goes for architecture.  It was only a few months ago that I was complaining about the dwell light phenomena!

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Phenomenal, Phenomenal

Now, it takes a lot to make get me walk down a 12” wide corridor as I am really claustrophobic.  Usually it’s a very dry, very strong martini. In this case, however, I did it for art (how many times have I heard that statement before?) when I went to see a show in San Diego. It was called Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface and featured artists like Bruce Nauman, James Turrell and Doug Wheeler.

 

This is my friend, Pauline, in the corridor. I may have rushed through a bit too quickly for the camera to pick me up.

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A History of Western Architecture

I am delighted and very honored to announce that I am featured in the 5th edition of  David Watkin’s A History of Western Architecture.

And how did they know 691 was my favorite number?

Maybe Modernism is More –

Maybe Modernism is More –

I recently went on vacation to a small hamlet in the south of France called Esparon. During the “off-season,” it boasts a population of 15 which swells to a daunting 45 during summer. Everything built on top of this little mountain is over 300 years old.

At first, you are overwhelmed by the antiquity of style – the stone work, the arches found everywhere, the low-ceilings and never-to-be-paved routes. But the minimalism also had me thinking about modernism. Not modernism with high tech cellphones and solar panels but architecture that is true to itself. Esparon is a place where buildings are striped of their pretentiousness so that they only reveal the structural forces that make it possible for them to exist. It is the antithesis of mannerist because here less is definitely more.

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