100,000 attendees descended on Palm Springs last month for Modernism Week 2023, the 10-day design festival celebrating Mid-Century Modernism (“MCM”). As a feature lecturer, I presented The Myth of Mid-Century Modernism—positing we honor the design style of the 1950s and 1960s, but should not embalm it. For the thousands of MCM fans and fanatics, my position was blasphemous of sorts.
Often, two separate architectural projects by two separate architects appear similar. Sometimes too similar. Hmmm . . . it is simply a coincidence, did one design inspire the other, or has an idea been “appropriated”? In other words, stolen.
Looking at a building of subtlety, I sometimes say, “I don’t get it. Nothing to see here.” Then I realize that this might be the point. My next thought revolves around the art movement of the 60s and 70s known as Earthworks. I have always been fascinated by these elemental compositions, less the ecological agendas and more the drama in their abstraction and mystery. Over the decades, Earthworks influenced contemporary architecture, resulting in structures looking more like Minimalist sculptures and less like buildings.
Some have called it renovation or maybe remodel. Everyday lexicon might use recycle. Architects strive for adaptive reuse. And the most current language enjoys re-purpose. Whatever is your R-word of choice, the world of design has become less fascinated with the new and more committed to the re-new or renewal.
The New York Times recently wrote, “First, on a planet with limited resources and a rapidly warming climate, it’s crazy to throw stuff away; second, products should be designed with reuse in mind.” Calling out architects, “Buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.”
In 2017, I listed my all-time favorites. In 2019, I presented ten projects I called the “most seductive.” In 2020, the adjective used was “most intriguing.” In 2021, my essay displayed buildings that were the “most striking.” For the end of 2022, I highlight what takes my breath away. Defining breathtaking typically involves words such as awe-inspiring, astonishing, wondrous, and even out-of-this-world.
Upon visiting the recently completed Orange County Museum of Art, I thought of Christina Aguilera or Patti LaBelle. Maybe Whitney Houston too. All three singers engage in vocal acrobatics, excessive riffs of attention-grabbing notes in virtuoso succession. So too with the new museum designed by Culver City-based Morphosis.