Palm Springs Modernism Week

February 27, 2011 History, Vision and Style Comments (1) 1895

Palm Springs tramway gas station, Frey and Chambers, 1962

I have seen the future of historic preservation, and it is Mid-century Modernism. It isn’t just the influence of Mad Men or Dwell, which recently celebrated its first decade. The writing was on the wall in the 1990s when Anne Sullivan, who replaced me as Director of the Historic Preservation Program at SAIC, started her class “From Lustron to Neon: Preserving the Recent Past” and within two years it was the most popular elective EVER. I managed to get my work on architect Barry Byrne into a Mid-Century panel in 2002 at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference, thanks to Victoria Young and Christine Madrid French, and Chris is now the Director of Trust Modern, a supporter of Palm Springs Modernism Week, which draws quadruple digits to the desert oasis to feast on the glories of steel cantilevers, ribbed concrete and floor-to-ceiling glass. Continue Reading

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Chicago’s Gold Coast

September 24, 2010 Chicago Buildings, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1448

I took my Archival Documentation class up to the Chicago History Museum on Wednesday to get started on their research there. On the way there and the way back, we walked through the Gold Coast, a National Register of Historic Places historic district that encompasses about a half-mile (4 blocks) of Dearborn, State, and Astor Streets and Lake Shore Drive. It is bordered on the east by the lake and on the west by Sandburg Village, a typically soporific postwar towers-and-townhomes urban renewal development.

Chicago’s wealthy lived first on the west side, near Union Park, then on the near south side, along Prairie Avenue, and only from about 1890 on did the north side Gold Coast evolve into the most privileged area. Launched by Potter Palmer’s 1882 mansion, demolished in 1950, the Gold Coast was originally Italianate and Second Empire townhomes of relatively imposing proportion, although decidedly a notch below similar 1880s homes on the south side. Continue Reading

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August 23, 2007 Vision and Style Comments (0) 1119

No, this isn’t an comment on the Incompetent-In-Chief or his latest misreading of history – that would be too easy.

This is about the more difficult issue of taste and how it intersects with that most essential of historic preservation issues: time.

I was in the Wisconsin Dells recently, which is akin to admitting that you visited Branson or Vegas or Gatlinburg. It is quite outside of the educated taste that seems the center of preservation, and indeed many preservationists are refined in both taste and education. Preservationists don’t like billboards or overt commercialism, only the comfy chenille draped over their windows to history. Continue Reading

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Modern Mischief

June 24, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments Off on Modern Mischief 1371

Jack Hartray was one of five “Mid-Century Modern” architects who spoke at the opening event of the Illinois Preservation Conference last week. Always an enjoyable speaker, Hartray mentioned that Gropius and the modernist masters of the Mid-20th-Century created a lot of “mischief” with a seemingly mischief-free command: make the building do what the client wants.

In a sense, this is the restatement of Louis Sullivan’s “Form Follows Function” and a central tenet of all modernist architectural thinking from the 1890s to the 1960s. But the “mischief” identified by Hartray was a classic failing in the hyper-aware three-dimensional art of modern architecture: the failure to appreciate the fourth dimension: Time. Even in the Time-Life Building. Continue Reading

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