Tag Archives: NOSTALGIA

#167: MID-CENTURY MODERNISM: POINT OF DEPARTURE

March 24, 2023

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Hunter Kerhart)

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 that 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.

Speaking at the Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs (photo by Olive Stays)

There are a dozen ideas from MCM that serve well as design themes—to be adapted not regurgitated. Acknowledge past legacies, but look forward not backward.

Case Study House #9 / Entenza House, 1950, Pacific Palisades, California, by Eames and Saarinen (photo by Julius Shulman)
Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg)

The MCM concept of the open floor plan countered the traditional compartmentalization of homes. At Poon Design, we applied the open floor plan to the design of a middle school. Rather than the conventional 12-foot wide by 10-foot tall, congested hallway lined with lockers, we created a 60-foot wide by 30-foot tall corridor—more a central atrium. Within sits the community functions open and accessible—library, math amphitheater, woodshop, and social areas.

Mirman Residence, 1959, Arcadia, California, by Buff, Straub and Hensman (photo by Julius Shulman)
Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photos by James Butchart)

In California, we are blessed with moderate climate—not too hot, not too cold—that allows us to bring the outside in, blurring the division between interior and exterior. With today’s advanced engineering, the span of openings are wider. Technology even allows for sliding doors to disappear into walls.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust
14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, Virginia (photos by Mark Ballogg)

Expansive walls of glass are prevalent in MCM homes. Here, we apply the ideas of lightness and transparency to a Buddhist temple. In the day, the walls of glass mirror the surrounding landscape, and at night, the glass disappears.

top: Alexander Home, Twin Palms, 1955, by William Krisel; bottom: Park Imperial South, 1960, by Barry A. Berkus, Palm Springs, California (photos from palmspringslife.com)
Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)

Often called the “butterfly” and “accordion” roof, we used such shapes not as an MCM gesture on a house, but as a unifying theme throughout a high school campus. Our roof lines recall the local mountains and serves as a metaphor for the institution’s mission statement, “Learning in Action.”

Frey House II, 1964, Palm Springs, California, by Albert Frey (photo from psmuseum.org)
top and bottom left: Mendocino Farms 3rd and Fairfax; bottom right: Mendocino Farms Fig at 7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

A restaurant can capture the imagination through wit and charm by applying 400 wood clothespins on chicken wire making a chandelier, faux grass expressing a new concept of the American picnic, and a mural-like chalkboard continuous from wall to ceiling.

top: Century Modern Pattern 01 (from happywall.com); bottom: color palette (from kathykuohome.com)
top left: Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory and Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois (photo by Anthony Poon); top middle: Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design); top right and second row left: S/B Residence, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design); second row middle: Greenman Elementary School, West Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg); bottom left: Coral Mountain Residence C, La Quinta, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Lance Gerber); Villa Sunset, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Martin/Poon)

We enjoy the application of color and patterns, but not just as decoration—rather, to add personality to a space, to capture the spirit and character of the owner—whether a purple chocolate factory, red powder room, of multi-colored gymnasium.

left: Eichler Home, 1950s, California, by Joseph Eichler (photo from sunset.com); right: Sputnik chandelier, 1939, by Hans Harald Rath of J&L Lobmeyr (photo from etsy.com)
top: Aura Cycle, West Hollywood, California (photo by Aura Cycle); bottom left: Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California (photo by Hunter Kerhart); bottom right: S/B House, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

Light can be more than simply a source of illumination. Consider light to be similar to stone, wood, or metal. Meaning, light can also be a building material. Light can be an element to be shaped, harnessed, and applied like a painter applies oils to a canvas.

Round House, 1968, Wilton, Connecticut, by Richard Foster (photo by Iwan Baan)
bottom: Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design)

Having dominated architectural outcomes for centuries, the classical principles of architecture were open to MCM reinterpretation. At this wine store, the cabinetry possesses a traditional look with its cornice, trim and paneling. Yet, we applied such a traditional look to an elliptically-shaped showroom. Upon entering, the bottles of Bordeaux embrace the visitor.

Eichler Homes, Burlingame, California, by Joseph Eichler (photos by Anthony Poon)
top: Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo from earth.google.com); bottom: Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Chris Miller)

As the Case Study Housing program attempted, Poon Design also sought to provide attainable, budget-driven, mass produced homes. Building and selling 230 contemporary homes in four new Palm Springs communities has earned us the highest national honor from the American Institute of Architects, the 2018 Best in Housing, alongside dozens of other regional and national awards.

left: MCM Hilltop Community, 1950, Seattle, Washington, by Paul Kirk; right: Roberts House, 1955, West Covina, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Cameron Carothers)
Din Tai Fung, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Poon Design)??? Glendale, California (photos by Poon Design and Gregg Segal)

New tools and technology allowed us to exploit MCM’s drive for a high sense of craft. Giant lampshades at the famed Din Tai Fung restaurant reinterpret historic Chinese screens. Through computer scripted patterns alongside milling techniques of oak plywood, we created lampshades and skylights that are works of sculpture, expressing a devotion to detail and innovation.

Case Study House #8 / Eames House, 1949, Pacific Palisades, California, by Charles and Ray Eames (photo by Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust)
top: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal); graphic design for Chaya (by Poon Design)

MCM architects sought to provide design services combining three prominent strains: architecture, interiors and landscape. For our Chaya Downtown restaurant, we went further to deliver a cohesively designed environment. We created the branding, website, and graphics. We also designed furniture and lighting, as well as curated the art. We continued our pursuits to include the employee uniforms and even the selection of music. Music too is an element of architecture. What is heard during the morning hours of coffee is different than the business lunches—different than festive happy hour, different than an elegant dinner, and different than late night cocktails.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust)
The Point Lifestyle Center, Irvine, California

We continue the optimism of MCM at larger scales and more ambitious programs than housing. For this lifestyle center serving the Asian community, the first floor comprises an Asian fish market, the second is a Korean spa, the third a Japanese karaoke bar, and the fourth a Chinese rooftop garden restaurant.

Kaufmann House, 1946, Palm Springs, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Slim Aarons)

The design concepts of Mid-Century Modernism endure, because they are timeless and universal. The challenge is to look to MCM concepts as a platform to launch into the future—as inspiration not as nostalgia, for interpretation not replication.

#79: MID-CENTURY MODERNISM: STOP THE INSANITY!

March 2, 2018

The Refill, by Shag

I am exhausted watching Mid-Century Modern (“MCM”) seep into every crevice of design. As popular as this design movement is, I find MCM outdated and old fashion, like the styles of 19th century Victorian or 17th century Baroque.

Why are people obsessed with living in this particular MCM past? Are these fanatics doing away with their computers, going to drive-in movie theaters, wearing saddle shoes, and twisting to Doris Day? No, these MCM zealots are only interested in the superficial look of a vintage era, roughly the 50’s and 60’s.

An ’embalmed’ MCM interior in Palm Springs, California (photo from soosxer.com)

Returning recently from my lecture at Modernism Week, where 100,000 attendees descended on Palm Springs to celebrate the MCM movement, the crowds were more interested in embalming the style vs. understanding it. Some of the attendees arrived in full 50’s theme attire, similar to how Trekkies and Fanboys proudly share their geekdom, dressing as Kirk, Spock and Klingons at Comic-Con.

The current MCM mania is an unfortunate approach that is merely design paint-by-numbers. For example, the enthusiasts create homes for themselves that are nothing more than architectural historical replicas. Call it curating or antique-ing, but all I see are devotees trying so hard to obtain that mint condition, original issue, Saarinen table within a Neutra house, where the Zeisel pottery sits perfectly in the room of avocado green paint.

Nice MCM yes, but only as a piece of history, Palm Springs, California. (photo from birdcourage.com)

Stylish, yes—but has anyone ever sat in an Eames rocking chair? The majority of MCM pieces have been panned as not just uncomfortable, but not all that functional.

So predictable and so uncomfortable; every piece is a cliché, Palos Verdes, California. (photo by Nate Cole)

My view: MCM should stand for Mid-Century Mausoleum. The owners of these fetishized environments have not created a pleasant home, but rather, forced their families and visitors to live in an ironic display from a history museum. Nostalgia is fine, but not when it is only a kit-of-parts, or worse, a collection of stale clichés.

To my 1957 MCM Bird Streets house, I added Brazilian Cherry and Maple flooring, along with a hand-troweled, sculptural fireplace, by Poon Design. The predictable Eames chair is not in the usual black but in putty leather, and the chair’s wood is not the usual Walnut, but Cherry. In Hollywood Hills, California (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

There is nothing wrong with collecting, like when a child buys, sells and trades baseball cards. But ask any kid the stats of a particular player, and you will get a wealth of data. Ask a MCM collector about the design movement’s origins, and it is unlikely that you will receive a grasp of post-war housing crisis, the drive for affordability and production, middle class views of wilderness, high rag content paper, and offset lithography. No, you will probably just hear some MCM buff bragging about his Satellite 23 clock.

I have learned from MCM ideas, i.e., the open plan, indoor/outdoor connections, and walls of glass. But I choose to view MCM as inspiration, not an ancient source for replication. As a point of departure, I view MCM as a place to stand and look to the future.

Do something different with MCM, like bright white, laser-cut, Italian cabinets, blue Brazilian marble, and a pair of Parallam ridge beams, by Poon Design. Renovation of my 1964 house, Bel Air, California. (photo by Anthony Poon)
A distinctive addition adds new life to a 1957 MCM house, in New Canaan, Connecticut. (photo by Peter Aaron / Esto)

To my clients who are fans of MCM architecture, I suggest this: Your homes can have MCM ideas, but let’s add your own ideas. Let’s add your personality, and it doesn’t have to come from one catalog. You are not living in a period film, but rather, you are breathing a modern existence, full of current ideas about lifestyle, technology, media, sustainability, and invention.

Here is a good example of adding personality to a 1962 MCM house, Palos Verdes, California. (photo from redfin.com)

#35: ARCHITECTURE FROM A TO Z

April 29, 2016

Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbarto Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Poon)

ALLOWANCE
Allow creative ideas to resonate in your head. Like wine aging in a bottle, the clamor of an idea seasoning in your cranium is called imagination.

BE
Be original. Be remembered. If you do the same thing over and over again, you will always get the same results, of which, most have already been done, or might be boring and forgettable.

CREATE
The medium of our art is not just pens and paper, paint and canvas, or software and megabytes. The medium of our art is life itself. Design your world.

Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Lance Gerber)

DIVISION
There should be no divisions between architecture, graphics, landscape, fashion, poetry, music, photography, theater, and all artistic endeavors. In the act of creation, design industries must overlap and blur, operating as a comprehensive force of artistry. Our contribution to progress and civilization.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914
Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

EXISTING
Promote society’s advancements, and acknowledge the legacy of traditions. Beware: nostalgia can be a yearning for a false past that either does not apply today, or never truly existed. “Nostalgia” is made up of two Greek roots: nostos “returning home,” and algos “pain.”

FOCUS
Focus. Listen. Don’t forget what you have heard.

GATHER
Design communicates more than aesthetics. Design communicates ideas: everything from our culture and community, to the solutions for each client. We call this content.

HIGH TO LOW
Our work explores everything, from high art to pop art, from Schubert to So You Think You Can Dance.

(photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash)

IS
Form is function, and function is form. Style is not superficial. Though a purist, don’t assume that style is only artificial. That trap is known as pretentious unpretentiousness. Understand style as the expression of character.

JUICE
Design is about thinking strategically. As in chess, plan all your moves. Start by seeing a few moves ahead, then grasp for more. This is called experience.

KIN
All works of art are in progress. A good idea advances, evolves, and changes.

LEVERS
Good design balances imagination and reality. Architecture must balance greatness and fantasy, with things like schedule and budget.

MUST
Process and product: both fascinate. The end of the journey is as exciting as the journey itself. We design both the outcome and the process that leads to the outcome.

NOT
Do not subscribe to the cliché, “Work hard, play hard.” Work can also be play. We do not divide our lives into boring work and fun play.

OUT LOUD
Enjoy your life. Laugh out loud. Arthur Rubenstein suggested that one should not practice piano too much: Limit your practice time, enjoy your life, and you will have much to express when playing piano.

(photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash)

PRACTICE
Don’t take yourself seriously, but take your work seriously.

QUIRKY
As in jazz, when a mistake is made, exploit it as a delightful thing. In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it gets buried under a flurry of other notes. In jazz, when an unintentional note is hit, the musician bangs on that note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it.

READY
Embrace improvisation and creating impromptu. Be prepared to make up things off the top of your head, from the tips of your fingers.

SLEEP
A fresh mind has the most creative potential. Don’t subscribe to the romanticized and fatalistic belief that sleepless nights bring about incredible imagination. And don’t believe that an artist needs to struggle, bleed, and die to be considered a genius.

Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907
Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907

TAKE
Take a lunch break every day. Give your brain a rest. Even if the day is hectic, take that break—not just to have it, but to decree that you are still in control of your day.

UNDO
If your work is boring you, do something different. If you are boring yourself, be someone else.

(photo from warosu.org)

VICTIM
Try not to dress in all black. Don’t be a fashion cliché.

WRITTEN
Read everything: not just design magazines and blogs. Read poetry. Read the classics. Read autobiographies, non-fiction, comic books, music. Even read horoscopes and advice columns.

XANADU
Get used to senselessness and not knowing everything. The world is asking for too many answers. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” so said Albert Camus.

YOUTH
Like a young student, believe that you will save the world through your idealistic spirit. Hold tight your hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

ZENITH
Terms used to describe Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: icon, masterpiece, seminal and absolute. The curse of The Ninth prevented superstitious composers from attempting to write a tenth symphony and surpass perfection. It goes so far as believing that the composer will die after writing his own Ninth. Gustav Mahler did. What would the world be if Beethoven had written a Tenth Symphony?

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

 

© Poon Design Inc.