Tag Archives: modernism

Designing Modernist

Through all the “ism” in art and architecture, modernist design in architecture refers to the mid-century of the 20th century. So many buildings and residences set the stage for contemporary modern designs. Many of the iconic places so familiar to us have exerted incredible influences on current design to such a degree, that the postmodernist reaction has been to take its elements and add complexity and elaboration similar to the Baroque and Rococo changes from the Renaissance.  In terms of modern style, modernist design suits small and tiny houses much more so than the flamboyance of the contemporary due to the emphasis on what I call direct design; that is, avoidance of unnecessary complications and details.

 

Glass House, Philip Johnson, 1949.
Glass House, Philip Johnson, 1949. By Staib – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7797606

 

Of that stated above, not all is entirely true. Due to the fact that the modernist impulse leads to experimentation and groundbreaking designs, not all modernist fabrications strictly adhered to the International Style such as in the design of the Glass House or the Farnsworth House.

 

Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1945-51.
Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1945-51.

 

Significantly different to the Internationalists, Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs clearly differ to the more rectilinear edifices of the Internationalists such as Mies van der Rohe’s creations.

 

David and Gladys Wright House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1952.
David and Gladys Wright House, Phoenix, Arizona, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1952.

 

Since this is not a scholarly examination of all the types and elements of all modern architecture, for our purposes we will stick to some of the elements of the International Style.

One always hears or reads the phrase, “…clean lines…” I prefer unadorned or unbroken lines. Modernists seek to find elemental geometry in their vision of the residences they build. The cube, the circle, the triangle becomes their palette. The most important and well-known houses built by modernists possess a Zen-like quality when combined with their surrounding environment.

 

The Bailey House or Case Study House #21, Los Angeles, California, Pierre Koenig, 1958.
The Bailey House or Case Study House #21, Los Angeles, California, Pierre Koenig, 1958.

 

Case Study House #22, The Stahl House, Los Angeles, California, Pierre Koenig, 1959.
Case Study House #22, The Stahl House, Los Angeles, California, Pierre Koenig, 1959.

 

This brings us to the first modernist element. The house should create an atmosphere when combined with its surrounding landscape. This means that those inside feel the influence of the outside landscape through walls of glass, sliding glass doors, large windows, even walls that move to allow access to patios or verandas. Any room might be exposed in some way to views or have access to the outdoors.

 

Mid Century Modern House, Berkeley, California, Roger Lee, 1952.
Mid Century Modern House, Berkeley, California, Roger Lee, 1952.

 

The Hailey Residence, Richard Neutra - bedroom
The Hailey Residence (Bedroom), Los Angeles, California, Richard Neutra, 1959.

 

Many times, where there are no windows or glass walls, modernist architects used clerestory windows and skylights to bring in natural light.

 

The Hailey Residence, Richard Neutra - front
The Hailey Residence, Los Angeles, California, Richard Neutra, 1959. (Notice the clerestory windows all along the top just below the roof.)

 

This brings us to another important element of modern residences. Often times the walls of glass and sliding glass doors were on the sides of the house not facing the street. When, indeed, the front facing the street had considerable glass, screens of sculpted cement block, wood or metal blocked a direct view.

 

Twin Palms, Palm Springs, California, William Krisel, 1957.
Twin Palms, Palm Springs, California, William Krisel, 1957.

 

 

Whittier Public Library, Whittier, California, William Harrison, 1959.
Whittier Public Library, Whittier, California, William Harrison, 1959.

 

Rather than walls, screens were also used for spatial arrangements in the interior as well.

 

Knoll Showroom, Mexico City, Erwin Hauer, 1961.
Knoll Showroom, Mexico City, Erwin Hauer, 1961.

 

Probably the most noticeable and prevalent feature of a modernist, post and lintel dwelling is the exposed skeletal structure. Large beams supporting the roof are left to be admired.

 

Curtis House, New Orleans, Louisiana, John Dinwiddie, 1955.
Curtis House, New Orleans, Louisiana, John Dinwiddie, 1955.

 

Proudly exposing the structure of a building was thought of as an asset, many times, and not to be bashful about. This notion carries over from commercial buildings and high-rises such as the Seagram Building in New York.

 

Seagram Building, New York, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, 1958.
Seagram Building, New York, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, 1958.

 

Of course, when dealing with the International Style modernists, they reveled in using steel for the framework of a residence. This didn’t always carry over from commercial to residential. Besides the more famous structures, most modern houses are framed in wood, especially those made in a modern American Style. At any rate, the readily visible frame claimed a poetic beauty among modern houses.

 

Case Study House #8, Pacific Palisades, California, Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.
Case Study House #8, Pacific Palisades, California, Charles and Ray Eames, 1949.

 

Not all modernist houses in the International Style sported flat roofs. Butterfly, saw-tooth, shed and other unique shapes, such as the hyperbolic parabolic figure into modernist designs.

 

Mid-Century Modern House With Hyperbolic parabolic Roof, New Canaan, Connecticut, by James Evans.
Mid-Century Modern House With Hyperbolic parabolic Roof, New Canaan, Connecticut, by James Evans.

 

An Example of Butterfly Roof On Mid-Century Modern Home.
An Example of Butterfly Roof On Mid-Century Modern Home.

 

Decorative elements became frowned upon in the International Style. However, simple sculptural elements, especially those which supported or supplied a function found their way into their architectural palette. Included among these decorative elements, designers created walls of natural stone or wood that continued from the inside to the outside, repeated arches and columns and simple porticoes or decks that continued and accented the rectilinear quality of the form of the rest of the house.

 

Hooper House, Baltimore, Maryland, Marcel Breuer, 1959.
Hooper House, Baltimore, Maryland, Marcel Breuer, 1959.

 

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington District of Columbia, Edward Durell Stone, 1971.
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington District of Columbia, Edward Durell Stone, 1971.

 

Although the above example of repeated columns is not a family residence, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts provides an excellent illustration of how a simple element presents an appealing architectural feature.

Since we have examined basic elements of modernist design of residences, we can create a small house utilizing what we know. Fortunately, Modern Tiny House already has translations of modernist houses from previous articles. See: A Mies van der Rohe Tiny House? and Eames Case Study House #8 Goes Tiny: Complete Addition

 

A Tiny House Version of the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe.
A Tiny House Version of the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, the Glass House by Philip Johnson, and Case Study House #8 by Charles and Ray Eames.

 

However, a second article will forward the basic ideas of design and, then, digitally build a modernist tiny house inculcating many of the elements above. Possibly, sometime in the future we will venture a try at tiny, modern organic houses utilizing the elements such as those used by Bruce Goff or Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

Tiny House Version of Case Study House #8 by Charles and Ray Eames.
Tiny House Version of Case Study House #8 by Charles and Ray Eames.

 

HBosler

Self-Portrait in Red.
Self-Portrait in Red.

Small House Ideas From the Past

In a post on midcenturymoderngroovy.com, I described the Aluminaire House, a prefabricated metal house that could be taken apart, packed up and moved to a different location. I am including the article here on Modern Tiny House because of the Aluminaire House when the garage and deck footage are excluded, is a relatively small house of just a few hundred square feet. Besides the Aluminaire House, I have included information on another modernist prefabricated house by Serge Binotto, an assistant of the famous French mid century modern architect, Jean Prouve. This is a circular house put together using pre-made insulated panels.

The main reason for including such information on Modern Tiny House is the form and nature of these two houses lead to all sorts of interesting ideas in terms of designs for tiny houses. As a further bonus, I have generated a 3D model of a dwelling based upon the concepts embodied in these two houses and will post the article as soon as possible.

 

Aluminaire House

Early on in my post secondary education I studied architecture. The notion that one can, in artistic fulfillment, create a work that not only others see, but also encapsulates them usefully for work, endeavors or domestic desires, brings a different sort of satisfaction over the embellishments that painting or other two-dimensional productions provide. In my nascent understanding of architecture the lofty goal of the modernists to design an inexpensive and quickly built dwelling that satisfies economic and social needs of the ordinary person, grabbed me as it has many an architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller and for differing reasons.

 

Rosenbaum House, Usonian, Florence, Alabama, Frank Lloyd Wright,1940.
Rosenbaum House, Usonian, Florence, Alabama, Frank Lloyd Wright,1940.

 

Dymaxion House, Henry Ford Museum, Buckminster Fuller, 1930.
Dymaxion House, Henry Ford Museum, Buckminster Fuller, 1930. (By Rmhermen at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1917827)

 

The concept of a prefabricated house built of mass-produced and industrial materials that can be packed up and reassembled like a factory made doll house without a lot of consumed time or resources certainly garners fascination and experimentation.

 

Aluminaire House, Now in Palm Springs, California, A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey, 1931.
Aluminaire House, Now in Palm Springs, California, A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey, 1931.

 

Asked by Walter Street of the Allied Arts and Industries and the Architectural League of NY exhibition in 1930, A. Lawrence Kocher, who was the managing editor of  Architectural Record, enlisted  Albert Frey, a 28-year-old Swedish architect that had migrated to the US to help in developing a modern design for a house using off the shelf materials. Albert Frey was imbued with the Internationalist Style due to his experience with Le Corbusier’s office. The influence of American manufacture in the ready availability of materials that went into Aluminaire House also strongly pointed Kocher and Frey in the direction of metal and prefabrication.

 

After this experimental house was displayed at the shows the house sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison for $1000 and was moved to his property on Long Island, NY. There it remained until 1987 when the New York Institute of Technology accepted it to prevent its demolition and for its reassembly next to the School of Architecture by students. Although, annual lectures and events surrounded the Aluminaire House, plans to move the house to a location in New York City were not approved and the house, through the auspices of the Aluminaire House Foundation, was set to be moved to Palm Springs across from the Art Museum in 2017.

 

The Aluminaire House incorporated mostly aluminum and steel for the skin and framing of the building. Wood in certain places allowed for the attachment of insulation board and the floors were linoleum. At the time, the designers thought that aluminum would become ever cheaper and abundant and quite useful for building construction.

 

One of the most appealing qualities of the Aluminaire House comes from an overall design that seems in place at a more advanced stage of modernism. In fact, with little modification, this house could be built today and stand critical scrutiny. Of course, the use of steel instead of aluminum and a few other small changes would also result in a dwelling not all that expensive to produce.

 

Aluminaire House.
Aluminaire House.

 

Illustration From August 1931 Popular Mechanics Magazine.
Illustration From August 1931 Popular Mechanics Magazine.

 

It is fitting that the Aluminaire House will exist happily in Palm Springs, California where Albert Frey created notable work.

 

The Famous Frey House, Palm Springs, California, Albert Frey, 1964.
The Famous Frey House, Palm Springs, California, Albert Frey, 1964.

 

Interior of the Frey House.
Interior of the Frey House.

 

Interior of the Frey House.
Interior of the Frey House.

 

A future article will include further information on Albert Frey and his unique designs.

For more detailed information about the Aluminaire House visit these websites:

Aluminaire Organization.

New York Institute of Technology Aluminaire Information Page.

Curbed Article on Aluminaire. 

Article on Palm Springs Modern Committee about Albert Frey. 

Article on Architectural Digest concerning the Frey House II. 

 

 

 

The Circular House by Binotto

 

This is a digital walk through of the Binotto circular prefab house:

 

 

The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.

 

1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969.

 

1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)

 

1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)

 

1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariège, south west France
The Binotto House, Mirepoix, France, Serge Binotto, 1969. (Interior)

 

 

 

HBosler

Self-Portrait in Red.
Self-Portrait in Red.