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March 24, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Folks who love and/or hate modernist architecture: the functionmag tumblr might be fun. Via things.
posted by mediareport (17 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Most pics on individual posts can be embiggened.)
posted by mediareport at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2013


I have a theory about architecture. I think there's an "uncanny valley" of architecture that draws a visceral hate, not for its stylistic qualities, but for its interaction with people's lifetimes. Architecture of your parents' generation or say the time 40 years before you were born up to 10-20 years before the present day, is the most hated, no matter when it was actually built.

Most of our well-preserved East Coast areas with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings only made it through the derision of later times to the present because of the periodic depressions and industrial collapses of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Victorians tore down a lot of Georgians and Federals in the name of progress, and the 1920s-50s tore down a lot of Victorians.Things have to be around long enough to acquire the patina of "old" before the broad consensus shifts to support them.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Architecture of your parents' generation or say the time 40 years before you were born up to 10-20 years before the present day, is the most hated, no matter when it was actually built.

There's certainly something in this--the same thing happens, obviously, with fashion: what is being derided as hilariously silly, "OMG, what were we thinking" one moment becomes retro-cool the next. But I'm not sure about the time frames you're putting out here. "40 years before you were born" is going to be about 70 years old by the time you're likely to be buying a home or commissioning one to be built. I think 70 year old houses are old enough to count as intriguingly 'antique' or 'vintage' to most people. I think the "10 to 20 years before the present day" measure is probably more on the ball--and it's not so much that it's your "parents'" taste as that it's what you remember as kinda ubiquitous and "degree-zero" as you were growing up; it just looks blah and predictable (and a little corny) to you by the time you're beginning to call your own shots.
posted by yoink at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


. I think 70 year old houses are old enough to count as intriguingly 'antique' or 'vintage' to most people.

I'm not seeing a big run on 1943 houses. Well, there aren't many 1943 houses as the war years were a construction nadir. It's a rough guide, but I think that houses from the 30s get a "nice vintage" response, but postwar houses are not especially preferred yet, for instance. At least not on the East Coast. I always notice that in the Southwest and West, that's different, partly because the architectural stock is just a lot more recent/modern to begin with and there are entire regions where the oldest houses date to the 40s.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on March 24, 2013


Architecture of your parents' generation or say the time 40 years before you were born up to 10-20 years before the present day, is the most hated, no matter when it was actually built.

Really? The new public architecture here in Canada seems to be heavily inspired by the Centennial boom-era International Style with all its rectilinear forms and coloured panels, often looking more 1967 than the actual 1967 buildings they're replacing. I like it.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2013


I was glad to see that this old Dodge Dealership designed by Albert Kahn has been saved after being empty for half a decade and is being turned into an Aldi's supermarket. There isn't that much small scale modern architecture here, nice to see one saved.
posted by octothorpe at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The new public architecture here in Canada seems to be heavily inspired by the Centennial boom-era International Style

Yeah, this is part of what inspired my theory...it's been coming back in. Modernism in general (which used be considered embarrassingly dated not that long ago) has had a big resurgence in media design and now interior design. Exteriors seem to sort of lag for some reason.

This incredible church in my city was just town down after a long miserable public discussion about. Popular opinion here is definitely just on the fringe about the style right now - it was nearly even, but the voices saying "this still looks ugly to me" overpowered those who thought it was worth saving. It didn't help that it was not an easy space to reuse.
posted by Miko at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2013


The Victorians tore down a lot of Georgians and Federals in the name of progress, and the 1920s-50s tore down a lot of Victorians.

Yeah, and we're tearing down tons of Modernist stuff now. We've lost a number of modernist buildings in North Carolina over the last decade or so, in part because they were "typically resting just shy of the 50-year life span which would allow protection as a historically significant structure." Central NC used to be something of a modernist hotspot in the 1950s/60s because of a couple of architects who gathered a core of folks at the NCSU School of Design (the Raleigh area had one of the highest concentrations of modernist homes in the US after LA and Chicago), but that rich legacy has been chipped away piece by piece over recent years. The loss of the Catalano house was a particularly stupid and sad example.
posted by mediareport at 9:43 AM on March 24, 2013


It doesn't seem that modern architecture has made any impression in the residential space at in the Northeast. It's only for commercial spaces; for homes, anything that was clearly designed by an architect with her head in this century is derisively labeled "contemporary" and lamented as a property that's difficult to sell. The preference seems to be on fake architecture - bogus tudors, colonials,and cape cods. And the housing codes, while saying outright that applications shouldn't be denied just because they are "contemporary" architecture, they also contain requirements that homes should "fit in" to the neighborhood's existing fake architectural mish-mash, and often give neighbors veto power over anything new. And since most homeowners here seem to want nothing more than to have everything new look exactly the same as the junk around it .... well, death by democracy, really.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2013


I hope my generation likes this style when we get older, but I doubt we will. As 1adam12 says, modernist architecture in the Northeast never appears at home. Old habits and old tastes take a long time to die.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


but for its interaction with people's lifetimes

I think this is true, but there are a lot more than just timeline factors. Was there an economic boom in your town and they built a lot of X buildings? Was there later a bust and many of them sat empty and derelict? Do you have a downtown that has utterly failed and never took care of its older architecture? Etc.

For example, my city has a ton (like many) of ranch house tract development from the 1960s. These are now "old enough" to be considered technically historic, and in fact there are a handful of really interesting individual homes that could potentially eventually be on the National Register. (In fact this prewar historic district exists of a non-ranch-style suburban tract, the first in our city to be designed around the automobile.)

It doesn't seem that modern architecture has made any impression in the residential space at in the Northeast.

Well, keep in mind that contemporary architecture (current) and Modern architecture (mainly 1930s and 1940s) are two different animals. (I know, it was rude of Modernism to steal that word and then become passé, but deal.) Contemporary architecture in the residential space is largely missing from suburban-style development due to the involvement of contractor-developers; if you want interesting new architecture (that isn't crazypants expensive rural sprawl) you need to look at urban areas and either rehab or infill development. Architect-designed (custom) homes have never been more than low-single-digit percentages, ever, and still aren't. Also, most people aren't interested in something that's outside what their neighbors will accept -- they move to those neighborhoods for a reason.
posted by dhartung at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This incredible church in my city was just town down after a long miserable public discussion about.

Huh. I almost did a double take at that photo, it's so stylistically similar to this building. Still, I don't think that the opposition to a building like that is simply a matter of period. It would be easy to find examples of churches from the 50s and 60s that are both characteristic of their time and widely beloved. And I don't think it's really true to suggest that midcentury modernism is "beginning" to come back into style now; if anything, if you read design and architecture commentary we've moving out of the modernist revival. The whole "Mad Men" thing (much as I, personally, love that aesthetic) has been retro-chic-ed to death. Not to say that there aren't still people who roll their eyes at International Style buildings and say "you call that architecture!" just as there are still people who stand in front of a Picasso and say "my six year old could do a better job than that"; but I don't think those people really speak for the current zeitgeist.
posted by yoink at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2013


I took a course on the history of art and when it went from the Baroque to the Modernist period I had a mild panic attack. I think it was due to horror vacui - all those cozy Victorian homes replaced by stark functionality.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:25 PM on March 24, 2013


It seems like modernism is too big to be just one school of thought. How Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies Van Der Rohe and this obscenity can fit in the same mindspace I'll never know.
posted by gjc at 4:55 PM on March 24, 2013


The "House of Blues" sign ruins it, or at least makes it much, much worse than it already is.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2013


gjc, that was originally designed as a movie theater and an integral part of the Marina City complex (which has a fascinating social history: it was built by a building maintenance workers' union) by Bertrand Goldberg, who favored flowing and circular forms. HOB took it over after years of vacancy. There's an image of its original appearance here.

The theater building was originally designed for live theater productions, but was ultimately constructed as studios for television, with three smaller movie theaters below. The structure is a combination of space-frames, arched beams, and sprayed concrete, covered in lead sheathing. -- BG site

I have dim memories of feeble protests at the HOB alterations, since it did preserve the building itself, something that far more aggressive protests for Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital failed to do -- as of last month, there are no more legal challenges to its demolition.

In any case, gjc, modernism is largely an esthetic and a period rather than a specific style. It encompasses specific styles within itself, such as Wright's Prairie School, Bauhaus, or Postmodernism, just as Victorian architecture encompassed a variety of both traditional and radical, experimental styles.
posted by dhartung at 2:59 AM on March 25, 2013


And I don't think it's really true to suggest that midcentury modernism is "beginning" to come back into style now

I'm not talking about people on the design leading edge who read design commentary. By the time they're through with something it's still just catching on with the general public as an aesthetic choice outside high-end urban settings. I agree that Modernism is tired for designers but still feels fresh for people in the mainstream. I'm not up on where people think things are going but it seems to be a general Romantic revival with Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Beaux-Arts references.

I spent some time thinking about the varying cycles of fashion, graphic design, and architecture and how they rarely seem to align exactly; what's interesting is that Modernist interior design is definitely very much approved right now in the mainstream, but Modernist architecture still faces battles, for many of the reasons (I suspect) dhartung gave about residential architecture. But I still don't quite understand the opposition to it in monumental and commercial architecture. In the case of this church, you could perhaps find examples of similar styles which are beloved, but this church's opposition was, in all honesty, 100% aesthetic. A big part of it may be its discontinuity with the surrounding environment, which is mid-1800-1920s, two- and three-story red brick commercial architecture and residential late Victorian. Placed in open space in an exurb, or in a contemporary city high-rise environment as the NZ example is, it would probably be shrugged at, though not loved by the people who opposed it here. The aesthetic is simply not welcome in this surrounding.

Everyone who's interested in this should check out the Recent Past Preservation Network.

posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on March 25, 2013


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