Happy Birthday, Oscar!

 Image © unknown, 1972
Even though he thinks that turning 102 today is "crap," Oscar Niemeyer has quite a bit to be thankful for.  Not only is he one of the greatest architects of the modern era of International Style, he has also reached a milestone few live long enough to experience.

Born in Rio de Janiero in 1907, Niemeyer has created some of the world's most memorable structures.  Among the most famous are his work with  Le Corbusier on the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the design of Brasilia (Brazil's planned capital city), and the Niteroi Contemporary Museum of Art.    Niemeyer's spectacular use of reinforced concrete allowed him to experiment with modern design and create lasting monuments for the world to enjoy.

Brazilian National Congress in Brasilia
 Image © Eurico Zimbres, 2006 

Oscar Niemeyer is truly a world treasure.  Happy Birthday, Oscar!


Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

If you happen to visit Washington DC in the near future, then you should make your way over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.   Why, you ask?  Well, because it was the last building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Finished in 1972, it is the only building he designed in the nation's capital.  It is a classic International Style structure located at 901 G Street (also next to 9th Street) NW.

The library was designated historic landmark status in 2007 by the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board.  This is timely in an era of urban renovation.

Step inside and you will also find several of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's iconic Barcelona Chairs (pictured above).  You can take the Metro's Green, Red, and Yellow lines to Gallery Place-Chinatown and avoid parking worries.


"Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future"

The Museum of the City of New York is sponsoring an exhibit titled "Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future." The exhibit is open to the public now until January 10, 2010.

Saarinen, who left Finland in 1923, became one of America's greatest modernist architects.  Saarinen's work includes the well-known Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, the Trans World Airlines Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and the Dulles International Airport Terminal in Chantilly, Virginia.  Some of his other equally fascinating architectural examples include Case Study House #9 (designed with Charles Eames) in Pacific Palisades, California, the Kresge Auditorium and Chapel at MIT, the Irwin Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, Kramer Chapel in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.  This is only a partial list of Saarinen's architectural accomplishments. 

Saarinen also made an indelible mark on modern furniture design.  Saarinen's Womb chair and ottoman, and his Tulip chair variations remain favorites among modern collections worldwide. 


"The Sixties turn 50"

It's hard to believe, but the sixties will be turning 50 beginning next year. The Los Angeles Conservancy is already celebrating the modern architecture of this important, but endangered, mid-century era with "the Sixties turn 50" campaign.

Modern architects around the world were building structures that epitomized the prosperity, hope and future of humankind during the sixties. Perhaps, nowhere did the combination of business, government, and residential architecture exemplify the lure of the modern world than in Los Angeles.

Some events have already come and passed such as, the October 10, 2008 "Evolving Skyline Tour," but there is still plenty of fun on the horizon. For example, there is the "Fall Tour: It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod City" on November 8, 2009."

These activities are only the beginning stages of a timeline than extends into 2010. Even if you are miles away from Los Angeles, you owe it to yourself to visit "the Sixties turn 50" site and enjoy the information and images. Maybe, you can become involved with the LA Conservancy effort.


Mission 66: Modern Visitor Centers

What do famous modernists such as, Richard Neutra and the well known architectural firm of Anshen and Allen have in common?  National parks!  To be more specific: the design and construction of modern visitor centers.  Christine Madrid French, Director of the Modernism + Recent Past Program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, notes on her well-documented Mission 66 website, that:
"Park Service planners, architects, and landscape architects devised the concept to incorporate visitor facilities, interpretive programs, and administrative offices in one structure. In a departure from the rustic-style buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Mission 66 designers embraced a contemporary structural form for the new centers."
At Mission 66 you can view many photographs of modern visitor centers that are found in national parks all accross the United States.  Moreover, you can learn about this historic, yet fantastic program that "began in 1956 and ended in 1966."  Sadly, many of these iconic structures are endangered such as Neutra's Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania which was completed in 1962.  Some like the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, which was "in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest," was "demolished in 1994.

All images © Christine Madrid, 1998

After spending some time enjoying Mission 66, you may well wish to pack a picnic lunch and visit the nearest national park.  Furthermore, you also may feel inclined to assist in preserving these modern memorials so they don't disappear forever.   Make sure that you also visit The National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as your local preservation group for information on how to get involved


Coast Modern Documentary Film

The West Coast of North America has always had a special place in terms of Modern architecture.  Anyone familiar the the movement has certainly heard of John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, Cliff May, Peter Koenig, Joseph Eichler, et al.  The list of impressive designers, architects, and developers reads like a who's who of the Modern movement.

Coast Modern Film Trailer from Coast Modern.

This work-in-progress documentary by Coast Modern shows style and definite promise in showcasing many of the famous Canadian, and American architects and designers who defined the Modern look.  Hopefully, the film will be finished soon.  Enjoy!


Chris Nichols: The Googieman

As I've already mentioned, I have a curious fascination with Googie-themed architecture and motifs.  A short film titled, "Chris Nichols: Googieman" has been around now for some years.  Nonetheless, I always enjoy watching it over and over.  I admire Chris Nichols and his preservation efforts.  Sadly, many of these offbeat architectural gems are vanishing as  they are demolished in favor of newer (and mostly bland) structures.  I believe preservation is important! 

The film shows a few of southern California's celebrated landmarks such as, Pann's Coffee Shop, Covina Bowl, and (my favorite) John Lautner's often imitated Chemosphere.  Please enjoy, and then get involved with a local preservation group!


Mid-Century Travel Poster Art

Travel anyone? Travel during the mid-century modern era was made easier by the burgeoning airline industry.  The introduction of the Douglas DC-8 and the Boeing 707 jets in the late fifties, helped shorten the world by literally leaps and bounds.  The jet age ushered in a new class of traveler: the “jet set.”  The “jet set” exemplified modern travel and luxury.  Airlines quickly capitalized on avant-garde modern motifs in their advertisements and travel posters to lure in passengers.   The artists who created these iconic pieces of art captured the timeless feel and excitement of the jet age.  Now collector’s items, these posters still evoke a sense of modern adventure.

Among the many mid-century era travel artists, a few clearly stood apart such as, David Klein, Stan Galli, and Tom Hayne.  David Klein painted the famous Fifth Avenue night scene for TWA’s New York poster which captured the nightlife in a simple colorful cubist style.  Klein created several other equally modern posters that transported you visually to faraway places and exotic locales.   Stan Galli painted equally exciting posters for United Air Lines, but perhaps none more exciting as seen in the captivating Hawaii outrigger poster.  Tom Hayne, another artist commissioned by United, painted travel scenes that emphasized modern architecture such as the twin Marina City towers in Chicago.  Another United poster features a unique perspective: faint sailboats on Lake Michigan as viewed between the two Mies van der Rohe designed Internationalist Style Lake Shore Drive apartments in Chicago. 

Original posters can be quite pricey; however, inexpensive reproductions can be purchased online.  Moreover, what better way to travel back in time by seeing these classics on your wall.


Iconic Mid-Century Modern Photographer Julius Schulman Dies

Julius Schulman a well known mid-century modern architectural photographer has passed away at age 98. A Los Angeles Times article reported that Mr. Schulman died on Wednesday.

Mr. Schulman's photographs helped define the mid-century modern look to several generations with his special talent for capturing just the right angle and lighting. His photographs often featured people in beautiful homes which reflected on the period such as The Stahl House. His enduring photos of the famous Palm Springs Kaufman house will always be treasured.

Rest in peace!


Thermo-Con House

The United States Army has always been known for its power and military campaigns; however, it has never been properly noted for modern architecture. Situated at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, just 14 miles south of Washington, D.C., is an Internationalist Style modern structure that immediately stands out from the traditional brick colonial style military housing. This structure is called the Thermo-Con House.

According to the Fort Belvoir Housing History site, the Thermo-Con House was built as a prototype for the US Army in 1949 using a special concrete building technology developed by Higgins Resources (known for the famous WWII Higgins boats). Albert Kahn Associates, Inc., famous for designing much of Detroit's business buildings and industrial facilities, designed the minimalist structure.

Historically, the Thermo-Con House was designated to billet the post Sergeant Major, yet today it serves as distinguished visitor's quarters. Since 1997, the Thermo-Con house has been on the Virginia Landmarks Register, and was renovated in 2000.



Long before I knew anything about modern architecture or what it was called, I can remember noticing strange, yet wondrously designed buildings around my town. These buildings, whether hotels, bowling alleys, coffee shops, dry cleaners, gas stations, etcetera, looked as if they belonged in a science fiction movie. The building style that I’m referring to goes by various titles, but the most common is Googie.

Googie architecture seemed to capture the excitement of the burgeoning space race of the late fifties and early sixties, but it also allowed us to dream of a better and easier future. The common design motif was a hodgepodge of exaggerated and geometrically odd angles, boomerang, atomic and amoeba shapes, starburst ornamentation, and eye-catching neon signs. Other styles during this same period are closely related such as, Tiki or Polynesian. Occasionally, these styles fused into cool styles that safely transplanted us to another place.

As the Space program lost excitement, so did the public fascination with Googie. From the mid-seventies up to recently, Googie has been criticized by some as gauche or ridiculous. Unfortunately, many of these unique structures have long since lived their usefulness, and many are in decrepit condition (as seen in the photo). Googie buildings are frequently bought by greedy developers who in turn raze them in order to construct generic architecture. Nonetheless, Googie continues to be an important part of our historical and cultural landscape. Googie was in effect, very modern for the time.

If you are interesting in learning more about Googie, then please visit Space Age City for a more detailed explanation. Also, please look into the multitude of national, local and community preservation groups such as Atomic Age Alliance and Recent Past Preservation Network.



Welcome to Modernesia! I have been completely hooked on modern architecture, style, and design for as long as I can remember, but I have yet to post a blog on such a cool area of interest. There are already many great modern blogs and sites on the internet which cover many of these areas efficiently. So why blog? I suppose I hope to add my own personal touch to the modern world by highlighting more than just the normal topics, but the peripheral areas as well, such as lifestyles, films, music, inter alia. With Modernesia, I hope to post current, as well as, historical modern information for all to enjoy. Moreover, I plan to post as often as I can. I hope that as Modernesia evolves, so will participation and readership.