Classically Modern Housing Design — A Concept To Renew

To me, in every time period, the predominant architecture of home design — that nest which protects us, where we raise our families, where personal expression and outlook seem most acute — provides a window into whom we are as a people, where our collective minds have set sight, and what future we might usher into reality.

During my formative years, America was noted for its modern home designs. This was a period where the home was redefined in an architectural vernacular that had never existed before, wasn’t a derivative of the past. We were jetting around the globe in new airliners, blasting off to the moon, wearing clothes and hairstyles expressing a bright future and vibrant individuality.

Modern Home Designs... a period where the home was redefined in an architectural vernacular that had never existed before, wasn't a derivative of the past... Like America, our homes expressed an optimistic view to the future.

Like America, our homes expressed an optimistic view to the future. To be sure, most neighborhoods were still built for bourgeois tastes with a more conservative bent and traditional influence, but modern designs flourished in custom-made, speculative, and subdivision homes… as well as cutting across middle-class, well-to-do, and the wealthy classes.

Today, as with our times, the predominant trend has been the traditional… the cookie-cutter McMansion… the derivative design of a romanticized past… a bland expression that looks not toward a progressive future but baths in smugness… again, “in custom-made, speculative, and subdivision homes… as well as cutting across middle-class, well-to-do, and the wealthy classes.”

Cookie-Cutter McMansion… the derivative design of a romanticized past… a bland expression that looks not toward a progressive future but baths in smugness...

There was a time when in our housing…

  • design was a extension of art
  • design was for both wealthy and middle-class
  • design was based upon a forward, positive viewpoint
  • design was to symbolize advancing society
  • design was an expression of sophistication
  • design was an exploration of new boundaries
  • design was to integrate with the environment and mature with it

Fortunately many of these homes still exist, though we tear them down regularly for the “new new” of the same-old same old.

My hope would be that modern home design can flourish again when our economy recovers, houses are built once again, and people might have learned that they are better off by envisioning a future that has not yet existed, when testing new bounds of progress is applauded and not derided.

So, let’s appreciate some classics of modern design houses from a period of American progress and strength.

Vista Las Palmas Mid-Century Modern Homes

Tour through the area of Vista Las Palmas in Palm Springs California featuring Mid-Century Modern architecture.

All Is Not Lost

Now, all of this is not to say that we have lost our mojo completely, nor to say that modernism has ceased to exist.

It is, though, meant to say that “by-and-large” we as an American people do not appreciate the mind-set and aesthetics of modernism, especially how it implies and stewards our future on cultural, scientific, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, and quality levels.

So, let’s appreciate just a few examples of (international) modernist applications in our current day, from middle-class to elite.


2 responses to “Classically Modern Housing Design — A Concept To Renew

  • Summer Zheng

    what do you think are the most prominent difference between modernist’s design and classical ones?
    lighting? material? shapes?

    • Coronare Modestus Faust

      Well, this is actually a very good question, but I should qualify my firm belief that any design may be “classic,” as in transcending their particular time period by remaining relevant, inspiring, and “good” — hence, my preference to say, “classically modern.” Some modernist designs are only a product of their time with no relevance to the future (i.e., they are just trendy), while others will be evergreen and acknowledged as good design no matter the reigning fashion.

      So, I’ll go on a limb and respond with some assumptions: that we are speaking about differences similar to music… classical music juxtaposed to jazz music. In that regard, I would say that “classical” design as I think you intend might be within the victorian, early american, colonial, french provincial realm, and numerous others, as such… juxtaposed to modern, contemporary, googie (the exaggerated Modern architecture seen in the coffee shops and bowling alleys of the 1950s and 1960s), organic, “green,” etc.

      If I’m correct in your meaning, I would ask that you picture an ornate, red-velvet covered victorian chair next to the Rietveld designed “Zig-Zag” Z-Chair of 1934. The victorian chair is one of styling flourishes, of a basic chair adorned with elements meant to differentiate. It is not a “designed” chair but rather a “styled” chair. The Zig-Zag chair is the chair reduced to its basic elements and then reduced even further, breaking down what we would conventionally say is required of a chair. Zig-Zag eliminated all four legs of the chair as well as all ornamentation. It required new means of construction and manufacturing.

      When seen by the unaccustomed, the chair is still called “modern,” meant as “contemporary,” new, current (for “modernism” is a very specific period of design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) — even while it is a nearly 80 year-old design. It is the epitome of “classic” design, relevant beyond its years. It looked toward a future that had no real antecedent, no past reference… and, today, still challenges us.

      Apply this concept or understanding to “classically modern” house design, and that is what I mean.

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