Archive for the ‘mid-century modern’ Tag

Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis

So everyone is familiar in some way with Eero Saarinen, as his structures are ingrained into the American built environment. His Gateway Arch became the instant symbol of St. Louis upon its completion in the 1960s, and chances are that you have changed planes at Dulles Airport or JFK Airport.

His father, Eliel Saarinen, is less well-known, and has a style all his own which is difficult to pinpoint. Eliel is best known for his “losing” design for the Chicago Tribune skyscraper, which became an oft-imitated model for the tall building and is now seen in 1920s skyscrapers such as the Gulf Building in Houston and the David Stott Building in Detroit. He created a number of seminal structures that manage to fly under the radar, they’re all carefully designed and executed buildings, but understated. They are however recognizable as Saarinen buildings, especially in his use of tan brick. He

designed two religious structures during his US-based career, two similar, radical designs for modern churches. One is in Columbus, Indiana, completed in 1942, and the other is Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Christ Church Lutheran was Eliel Saarinen’s last structure, completed in 1949, he died in 1950.

The exterior is of a simple geometry, with little in the way of decoration. A few sparse sculptural elements adorn the main facade, with some relief elements such as a cross on the side. The interior is a real treasure, with a narrow vertical window providing the illumination for the altar. Composed of white brick, the altar glows. While the exterior is a simple box, the interior adds a few elements of subtle, but noticeable asymmetry. The roof line is slightly slanted, the wall of the altar curves, and there is extra seating under a low ceiling. The brick walls wave in and out upon close inspection. Light comes in from side windows. In short, there is plenty of visual interest inside, but it requires close inspection to really appreciate the design elements. The overall effect is one of calmness.

Christ Church Lutheran, tower and detail of relief

Saarinen Sr. on the left, with the Saarinen Jr. extension on the right

Eero Saarinen, in one of his last works before his untimely death in 1961, designed the extension, which defers to his father’s design elements, and created a low-key, functional structure. The two buildings are linked through interior hallways and underground passages, creating a courtyard with a fountain in the center. This fountain led to leakage into the basement, necessitating an ongoing restoration effort. Right now, the courtyard is a mess with plenty of construction (as of May 2017), but the finished product ought to be similar to how the structure looked before.

Interior, from second floor balcony

Interior from first floor

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Architecture of Snowbird, Utah

I’ve been to Snowbird a handful of times, and aside from the amazing terrain, powder snow, and views, I was very interested in the buildings scattered around the base and the mountain. These are period pieces in classic Brutalist style, conceived in the mid-1960s and completed in the 1970s. Despite the seeming mismatch of lots and lots of concrete and wood, they strangely fit into the landscape, avoiding the often unexceptional, derivative nature of architecture at ski areas. Now architecture is normally not what one thinks of when going skiing, but I had to pause and explore some of these buildings in closer detail and loved what I saw.

I’ll also say a bit about the snow, my visit was timed with a moderate snowfall, with up to 6 inches accumulating overnight, and since some areas were closed until the avalanche danger eased, there were plenty of fresh tracks to be found. The crowds were minimal, despite being on a weekend, and there was no waiting in lines. The weather even cooperated on my second day there, as the sun came out. It’s a steep mountain, with lots of high speed lifts, and I probably got nearly 20000 meters of vertical over the course of two days. Fun! Incidentally, I purchased a Mountain Collective pass, which has been a good investment this year, especially now that the snow returned to the West.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The buildings are Brutalist, with no attempt at hiding the modernist roots and the architecture in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. They reminded me of Louis Kahn, with the blend of concrete and wood, but are mixed in with plenty of dark, reflective glass. The master plan was completed in 1966, and the buildings were completed between 1971 and 1973, designed by Enteleki, Architecture, Planning, Research, and Brixen and Christopher architects (closed 2016).

The best building is probably the mid-mountain lodge, designed to withstand the elements, but also graced with wood beams that blend with the trees, and plenty of windows that allow for views of the mountains. Designed by Enteleki and completed in 1971, it looks clearly 1970s in the color scheme, but has weathered the 45 years very well. The entrance is a bit awkward though, with a ground level entrance splitting the lower level in half, and stairs lead up to the lodge level.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

The base tram terminal shoots out of the ground like a church, but is a simply designed, logical structure that expresses exactly what it does. It’s unadorned form following function.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

So even the distinguished architectural photographer Julius Shulman dropped by and took photos, it was that good!

At the top is the Summit at Snowbird, which opened on 26 December 2015, and is the least distinguished structure, resembling a bunker. The views from the balconies and from behind the reflective glass are amazing, but it stands out like a sore thumb on the summit of Hidden Peak. The restaurant and seating is nice, though, serving healthy food with a touch of class and even linen tablecloths! It does provide a necessary stopping point at the junction of the upper tram terminal and the Mineral Basin lift. This “entry column” evokes the concrete architecture of the other buildings, but the materials don’t quite fit in.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

And the logos and fonts, they evoke the 1970s as well, large and clean, with the Snowbird “triangles” logo imprinted into many of the structures. This is a great 1970s period piece and remains fresh even today.

An excellent page with more info and photos can be found at the Salt Lake Modern website.

 

 

Oak Ridge master plan

As one of the Atomic Cities, the massive uranium enrichment plant K-25 sprung up nearly overnight in an isolated river valley 25 miles west of Knoxville during the Manhattan Project, spurred by the proximity to electric power from the TVA projects during the New Deal. The town came into being some years later, as one of the earliest projects of the renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Looking at the early photos and some of the areas today, it still strikingly modern. I’m not fond of the sprawl of the town, as you can’t really walk from place to place. The commercial areas are pretty cookie-cutter, and the old town square is now somewhat of an afterthought. While that part of town is disappointing, the housing complexes along the hillsides are nicely built and maintained, with plenty of greenery, park spaces, and what appears to be some pride in the modern architectural features. The wonderful photos on the SOM page really show off the mid-century aesthetic of the residences and buildings. While these have inevitably been modified beyond recognition, it does give the impression of the confidence and nation-on-the-move feel of 1950s America. I went on a search for some of those funky home designs, and none of them seem to exist anymore. The apartment buildings are more or less intact, however.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

Apartment detail.

Apartment detail.

Miami Beach Art Deco

This is the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, born out of catastrophe in the mid-1920s. A hurricane in September 1926 virtually wiped out Miami Beach and the citrus industry, and sent the region into an early economic downturn that lasted until the 1940s. Out of this came a boom of construction that gave Miami Beach its trademark Art Deco architecture. Most of the structures are in South Beach, especially Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, with many less distinguished, but still well-kept examples further inland that make this an especially harmonious ensemble. The area fell into decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and ironically the TV series Miami Vice was one of the factors leading to its revitalization, depicting the glitzy and still dangerous side of 1980s Miami against a backdrop of gorgeous buildings. Mid-Century Modern architecture is also very well represented, with the structures of Morris Lapidus dotting mid- and northern sections of town. In fact, the action moved north in the 1950s and 1960s and contributed to the decline of South Beach. Most of the newer buildings are in Miami proper, especially along Biscayne Blvd. and south of downtown in Brickell. The walking tours offered by the Miami Design Preservation League (http://www.mdpl.org) are excellent.

Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive

Colony Hotel in its neon glory.

Colony Hotel in its neon glory.

Demographically, it’s a rather incongruous mix of Cuban and Latin American, northerners, snowbirds, a large LGBT community, and a large Orthodox Jewish presence. Pretty much a cross-slice of America, isn’t it? The region felt Latin American- it is said that the financial capital of Latin America is Brickell Avenue in Miami, not Mexico City, or Sao Paulo, or Buenos Aires. Spanish is widely spoken, almost the lingua franca around here. Politically, it’s a mix of everything, with the diversity of opinion that befits a metropolis of nearly 6 million people.

Brickell Avenue, Miami proper

Brickell Avenue, Miami proper

It’s a pretty walkable place, with a few exceptions along Collins Avenue in mid-Miami Beach, where the traffic nears freeway pace. The beach doesn’t feel like a focus of town, but rather, the parade of people and buildings and life steals the show here. It’s not a relaxed place, but intensely urban, fast-paced, with more than a hint of tension. Traffic is maddening, like L.A., and I don’t think people really get along around here. The owner of the hotel I stayed at was an equal-opportunity offender, bashing pretty much every ethnic group in the region, but then again, she came from Central America.

Neighborhood Art Deco

Neighborhood Art Deco

Cadillac Hotel, mid-Miami Beach

Cadillac Hotel, mid-Miami Beach

Copenhagen Airport

Another little post from my recent travels. Copenhagen has a beautiful airport to look at, at least parts of it. Terminal 2 is Danish design at its best, designed by architect Vilhelm Lauritzen, and completed in April 1960, the building features a memorably functional scheme, simple on the outside, and lighted on the inside by these circular skylights. Although the airport has now been expanded, with the addition of the sweeping Terminal 3 and associated rail station, the 1960 structure has aged remarkably well. Also of note is Pier A, which is a calm, although overly long concourse, with nifty arches a bit like a cathedral, not that airports are ever cathedrals.

Terminal 2, exterior, well-done Modernism.

Terminal 2, exterior, well-done Modernism.

Terminal 2, circles and circles, a great space.

Terminal 2, circles and circles, a great space.

And more circles. . .

And more circles. . .

The additions and shopping mall airside are another matter, they contribute to a chaotic, cacophonous visual spectacle, but this is the modern airport these days, resembling more of a shopping mall than a transportation hub. Still, with the wood floors and warm tones, Copenhagen’s airport outdoes pretty much everything in the US, and is comparable to the best of the European airports, Munich, Zurich, Schiphol.

Terminal 3

Terminal 3

And upon exiting the baggage claim and customs, a great way of entering a great city.

And upon exiting the baggage claim and customs, a great way of entering Denmark.

Concourse A, it just takes forever to get there and get out of there, though.

Concourse A, it just takes forever to get there and get out of there, though.

The layout for the traveler is a bit confusing, though. Security lines are centralized, and quite congested. And after all that, you are spilled out into a duty free mall, so going through here is no relaxing experience, but far better than going through other European hubs like Frankfurt, Heathrow, and de Gaulle.

Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana, is one of America’s supreme built environments, in a rather unlikely place, located 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, Indiana. Over the past 70 years, there have been a string of distinguished buildings from the leading architects of the day, starting with the First Christian Church of Eliel Saarinen. In this small town of 44,000 is a treasure trove of civic and religious structures, many of them built in an agreement with the Miller family and their Cummins Foundation, who would pay the architects’ fees in exchange for a commission from their list of architects.

The town overall exudes Midwestern conservatism, no doubt a defining feature of Indiana, especially the southern part of the state. I perceived a bit of a Southern flavor as well, given that it’s south of the I-70, and within about an hour of Louisville, Kentucky, and two hours of Cincinnati, Ohio. And it was difficult to find a cup of coffee downtown.

I dropped by in mid-summer 2012, complete with oppressive heat and humidity, and crunchy brown lawns. The best of the buildings are the churches, I visited the three ‘historic’ ones, by Saarinen senior, Saarinen junior, and Harry Weese. Each of them is in a different style, and rendered even more amazing by the more recent McHouses nearby, typical of American suburbia. The Saarinens couldn’t be more different in style, and Weese puts a human scale to Brutalist architecture, and is a very underrated architect. Weese loves concrete and brick, and he did wonders with the First Baptist Church (1965), just as he did with his more recognized works in the DC Metro and Chicago. The outside is reductionist, almost windowless, with the clear elements of a church. The interior is a surprisingly warm space, with wood ceilings, and still plenty of natural light filtering into the sanctuaries. Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church (1942) is very large, occupying an entire city block, a sprawling complex with his signature brickwork and Craftsman-like woodwork. The building must have caused a stir when it opened, as it was unlike anything in the town at the time, and still dominates the area as the tallest structure downtown. Saarinen junior’s North Christian Church (1964) soars tall, with a 200 foot spire topping an asymmetric floor plan. The interior is subdued, with this filtered oculus that didn’t quite work the way it was intended, but still hovers high above the space in a thrilling way.

First Christian Church (1942)

Door detail, First Christian Church

North Christian Church (1964)

Oculus, North Christian Church

Downtown has stuff that one would never imagine today, for example the post office (Kevin Roche, 1970). This is no ordinary post office, it’s a rugged, brawny structure reminiscent of the Daley Center in Chicago. The main newspaper office (The Republic) is a clean, glassy block. Eero Saarinen’s 1954 bank building (Irwin Union Bank and Trust) is accompanied by the skylit addition (Kevin Roche, 1973) that could have been mistaken for 2003. The Saarinen building was probably the most distinguished bank structure since Louis Sullivan’s banks. And there’s a whole lot more, including buildings by Pei, Pelli, Stern, Meier, Venturi, Birkerts, distinguished public art, and all sorts of creative designs for schools, bridges, fire houses, and other civic structures. There’s also Saarinen’s Miller House, which is hidden away (but I think I’ve figured out where it is) and is open for tours, though they were sold out the day I visited.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust, with the 1973 extension on the left, and the original in the background

First Baptist Church (1965)

Interior, First Baptist Church

Still, given all the wonderful buildings in town, it’s hard to say how much this enhances the daily lives of its residents and workers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Wildwood, New Jersey

At the southern tip of NJ, along the infamous Jersey Shore, there’s Cape May, and a few miles north, there’s Wildwood. They couldn’t be more different, Cape May is sedate, Victorian, and small, while the Wildwoods (Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest) sprawl along several miles of coast, with a 1.8 mile long boardwalk and a historic district full of mid-century modern motels. It’s a time capsule back to the 1950s and 1960s, the names evoking travel, exotic locales, and the Space Age, an expression of the optimism, dreams, and mobility of postwar America. For 50 years, they survived fully intact, and only in the mid-2000s did a number of them disappear in the name of ‘progress’. Still, the motel row along Ocean and Atlantic Avenues remains full of Googie / Doo Wop architectural pieces, complete with sweeping lines, cantilevers, outrageous decor, and neon signs.

Royal Hawaiian Resort (1970/1979)

The typical structure has covered parking, balconies looking towards the water, a sundeck, and a swimming pool. They’re distinguished from one another by themes and decor, many with fake palms near the swimming pools, and other decorations on the  walls.

Shalimar Motel (1962)

The best of them is the Caribbean Motel (1957), one of the earlier structures built in Wildwood, with a unique spiral ramp to the second floor, a cantilevered cornice, and owners that have kept the motel in good upkeep. It is one of the first structures in town listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Caribbean Motel (1957), spiral ramp and cantilevering goodness

Pyramid Motel (1962)

Bel Air Motel (1960)

There’s other stuff, like the Singapore Motel, the Pan American and Cape Cod with the spinning neon signs atop, and 200+ properties, built between 1947-1977. Mid-century architecture in the U.S. is being razed quickly, too old that it’s out of fashion, too new that it isn’t recognized as historic or worthy of preservation. Wildwood’s motel row is luckily being recognized and renovated for ‘adaptive reuse’, and hopefully in a manner that preserves the architectural merits.

For more information, visit the Doo Wop Preservation League website.