Modernism in America

The readings, and listenings, this week were all about midcentury architectures, and specifically about midcentury Spokane. Wikipedia defines midcentury modern style as, “an architectural, interior, product and graphic design that describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965.” This design style was led by Brazilian and Scandinavian architects who strove to accommodate the “modern American family.” Palm Springs, California has numerous examples of the midcentury modern look, however, these styles can be found all over the country, including Spokane, Washington. “When Spokane was Modern” is a YouTube video presented by the MAC that describes the short time span when Spokane strove for modernism, “an elegant simplicity of forms and intricate details.” This type of

The Downtown Parkade is an example of a commercial building built in modernism style. Source
style was striving to create a Utopia, to create a form that was not only modern thinking, but a look to the future. Bruce Walker, the Trogdons, and Joel and Mary Ferris were some of the leading architects and designers in the area for this particular style. They aimed to utilize space, draw in light, and collaborate the talents of multiple artists to attempt to obtain perfection within a building. They helped design homes and other buildings throughout the city attempting to “create a better Spokane.”

During this movement Spokane was home to multiple nationally recognized Modernist architects, as was described in the “When Spokane was Modern” video, as well as one of the five best buildings constructed in the U.S. in 1959. Check out more and learn to better understand the movement in Spokane here. Apparently, these types of buildings are in trouble and they need to be preserved. According to the article, “The Challenges of Preserving Midcentury Modern Homes,” each generation dismisses recent architectural styles in preference to ones from further back. For example, Victorian was preferred over Art Deco. Now, Art Deco is popular with preservationists and Modernism is being dismissed. “Modern” houses, however, gave way to many of the designs that people now take advantage of in their own homes. Comfort, style, and utility all become one with the “Modern” style. This style is also more convenient for those looking to renovate or remodel as original plans, photos, home videos, and possibly even the architect are still around today to make it as authentic as possible. So, now is the time to start thinking about preserving these homes before they disappear and we regret it.

The two podcasts this week were about, perhaps the most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was all about trying to live with nature, while still living in a home, this can be called “organic architecture.” Wright usually designed his homes for wealthy cliental, that is, until, Herbert Jacobs challenged Wright to build a home for $5,000, about $85,000 in today’s dollars. Wright jumped on the idea and would go on to design the perfect house for the average family, a home that showed its layers, and interacted with nature, the kind of home that was “suitable for human animals.” The house he built for the Jacobs that had a carport, the first of its kind and a name coined by Wright himself. This house is known as Usonia 1.

Usonia 1 was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Jacobs for $5,500. Source
Wright’s dream was to create a sort of factory for building these houses for middle-class America, however, after the Depression, the $5,000 price tag just wouldn’t work and his factory dream was not meant to be. However, after his death, Wright’s students would go on to build a whole community of these homes, to make his dream of Usonia come true, at least in part. “Usonia the Beautiful” tells the story of Wright’s dream coming true. Wright claimed that, “The future of architecture is the future of the human race. The two are one. If humanity has a future, it is architecture.” This is the idea that was put into Usonia New York, and the idea that spread across America in all the houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his students and followers that came after him, houses that “connected and responded to the landscape.”

Lastly, we read two more chapters in “Nearby History.” Chapter 10 was about preservation of historic lands, sites, and buildings. By preserving these places it can give one the sense of “what it was like to have been there.” (194) Preservation is also important for a few other reasons which are outlined in the chapter including, economic sense, tourism, aesthetic reasons, and cultural value. The chapter goes on to outline what it means to preserve these places, how it can be done and what is already being done. This chapter is well-written and organized, the only problem that jumps out at the reader is the numerous links. A hardcopy book would not allow one to easily visit the sites that the chapter is referring to. This problem has already been discussed with previous chapters in the book, however, it only made sense to bring it up again to make it clear that these links are helpful guides and should be accessible to the reader.

Chapter 11 was on research and writing. How can one make their name known and leave behind a record? This chapter highlights many things that have already been discussed in previous chapters like taking notes, tips on writing, how to leave your record (books, blogs, film. . .), and where to leave your record (libraries, museums, archives. . .). This chapter had the typical problems that other chapters did with interrupting pictures and text examples. Also, as was already stated, the chapter focused on a lot that had already been discussed previously, so the question that can be asked is whether or not this chapter is necessary at all.


2 thoughts on “Modernism in America

  1. This week’s readings were really interesting to me because they related to my internship so much. The Trogdon house actually just got listed on the Spokane Local Historic Register this year which is really cool! I’ve never researched modern architecture much, but am very interested after this week’s readings. Its also funny because last week one of my coworkers was trying to tell me about Frank Lloyd Wright designing a house for really cheap, and then this week our readings focused on Usonian! I also realized that the first time I ever visited the MAC was when they had their mid-century display up, and I still remember looking at all the pictures! So many strange connections for me this week!

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