“There is no such thing as 'Bauhaus Architecture' " – Ulf Meyer and Hans Engels: Bauhaus
BRIEF HISTORY OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE
1. CONTEMPORARY AND MID-CENTURY MODERNISM
Scene from the tv-show Mad Men, ©amc-tv
What the TV series Miami Vice did for Florida tourism, the current TV-hit Mad Men seems to be doing for all things Mid-century Modern. The fact that the series is now in it's fifth season, spawning a retail bonanza from clothing lines to perfumes, gives the craze additional momentum.
The spark created some misconceptions, several hundred new blogs and probably makes one or two architects shudder, especially when lay persons confuse period and/or style terms ("Bauhaus architecture" just one of them).
But the renewed interest in modern architecture overall is a blessing and a shot in the arm for many buildings otherwise threatened to be lost to the wrecker.
A quick glance back – Modernist history 101:
Where Contemporary Modern groups all modern architecture styles from the '70s to the present together, Mid-Century Modern refers to an architectural – as well as design and furniture – style prevalent from as early as ca. 1933 to the late 1960s. (A chronological list of the most common "modern" architectural styles appears below).
The modernists of that time didn't sit down in search of a new style like a bunch of fashion designers. Their goal was a much-needed liberation: from historical precedents and stylistic quotes of the 19th century, from the style Great Britain's Prince Charles defends to this day.
From day one, modernism could be observed in many commercial buildings – think the Bauhaus school (the second of three and best known school built in Dessau/Germany in 1925) – but it is even more common in residential structures. In form language related to Googie and Space Age, its roots are found in the German Bauhaus, the International Style and the Scandinavian style.
Mid-Century and also contemporary modern architecture is typified by
There are too many brilliant modernist architects to mention here, but two stellar names include Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies (yes, Mies was the last name he was born under. He appended a Dutch van der and his mother’s maiden-name Rohe to his last name, to be known since as Mies van der Rohe).
Gropius was director of the German Bauhaus; together with Mies and Le Corbusier he is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture. Mies later became director of the Bauhaus, before he and Gropius decided in the 1930s to rather leave Germany than live under Hitler's oppressive regime. Gropius went to the UK first, where he was joined in 1935 by the outstanding Hungarian architect Marcel Lajos Breuer, another Bauhaus teacher, at that time one of the best-known designers in Europe.
The three immigrated to the US, as another modernist giant did a few years earlier, the Austrian Richard Neutra. There, they took up teaching and became a major influence to a whole generation of architects.
Thus, by trying to suppress modern architecture as "entartet" (degenerate) and forcing these masters to work where they were free to develop and spread their ideas, the Nazi regime accomplished exactly the opposite of what they aimed for.
Some of the best-known examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture are the famous Case Study Houses. Arts & Architecture magazine (1938 - 1967) had commissioned 28 significant architects – among them Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig and Eero Saarinen – to design inexpensive model homes, aimed at the post-WW II housing boom in the US. These houses were built between 1948 and 1966, mostly in the South California, with one each also in San Francisco and Phoenix, AZ.
An extensive and immensely informative archive of modernist architects and their work is on the website of Triangle Modernist Houses, a North Carolina non-profit dedicated to the preservation and promotion of modern architecture.
L to R: Case Study #22, Stahl-house by Koenig, photo ©Julius Shulman; Case Study #9, Entenza-house by Saarinen, photo ©Julius Shulman; Case Study #?, Kaufmann-house by Neutra, photo ©Wikipedia
Today, Mid-Century Modern exists mostly in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, New Jersey, the Triangle region of North Carolina as well as in South Florida: in Sarasota, greater Miami and greater Fort Lauderdale.
Here is an attempt – a work in progress – to list the different styles of modern architecture:
On the everlasting debate between Modern and Modernist:
This section will eventually expand further and include examples and photos. Your comments and corrections are welcome!
2. MODERNISM IN SOUTHEAST FLORIDA
Modernism in Southeast Florida came into it’s own in the 1940s. As in California, Florida’s climate made a connection between inside and outside spaces not only possible, but also desirable – even more so since smaller houses could be made to feel much more spacious than they actually were.
Today, even though especially mid-century modern architecture often goes unrecognized, great modernist structures can be found throughout Dade, Broward and to some extent also Palm Beach counties.
Brilliant practitioners such as Rufus Nims, Don Singer, Dan Duckham or Alfred Browning Parker contributed outstanding architecture to the local inventory. Between Miami and Jupiter, over 2400 existing mid-century and contemporary modern residences have been documented by address (per 2013).
And thankfully, there is a noticable shift in current taste in Southeast Florida, moving slowly away from a Spanish-Mediterranean-sort-of revival to modern architecture. The change, at first with the dynamic of a sand dune, in the last two to three years a bit speedier, can be observed in the renewed interest in saving existing modernist structures, in new home construction and even in some new townhouse developments throughout the region.
4. THE DANGERS OF DEMOLITION
The shuttered Ireland's Inn Hotel, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Photo ©tckaiser
Nevertheless, many original Mid-Century Modern structures in Southeast Florida are threatened by greed, ignorance, neglect and/or demolition, or have already been lost.
One example: the Ireland's Inn on Fort Lauderdale beach (photo). The hotel closed to be demolished for redevelopment of the site since May 2007. Awaiting tear-down when the market is ripe for another luxury resort hotel in Fort Lauderdale as the owner stated to Tobias Kaiser, it stands fenced in and abandoned, seven years and counting.
Site design and contents ©Tobias Kaiser 2007-2014. Publication, reproduction or use only with written permission.