A collection of observations, notes and images regarding mid-century modern architecture and design.
My name is John Eaton and I'd like to welcome you to ModusModern. I decided to take a more personal and informal approach to ModusModern as the site publicly displays my opinions and views in regard to modernism and the things I observe. This is a very different approach from the many sites I have built and maintained over the years (they tend to be impersonal and informational) - I hope to both enlighten and entertain with ModusModern.
During the maintenance of NorthcrestModern.com, I found myself coming across information that I wished to expose to the public that did not pertain to the Northcrest neighborhood - information about roofing selection, or images of various mid-century modern structures that I've photographed during my travels, for instance. I needed a repository of your basic modern-miscellany and this conjured up the idea of ModusModern - a word play on the Latin "Modus Operandi" (method of work - it's often used to describe criminal intent so it fit my slightly twisted sense of humor). Thus ModusModern would be Mode or Method Modern i.e. Modern Method. I thought it would conjure up more of the idea of "how" and "why" things look and act the way they do in regards to Modernism - my intent is to at times go deep into the behind-the-scenes describing or photographing in detail so it seemed to fit. I call this "Restovation" (not a term I coined but rather embraced as it describes my desire completely!).
What is Mid-Century Modern?
There's been a lot of discussion about the definition of the term "Mid-Century Modern" on the various design and modernist boards to which I am a member - I thought I should provide my own definition so you'll understand where I'm coming from on ModusModern. The discussion revolves around the proper use of the term "Mid-Century Modern" especially by real estate agents to describe sale properties - some become offended when a typical ranch home is described as Mid-Century Modern - others reserve the term for houses and structures built during a specific period. The clearest definition I've heard, is that the term defines houses built between 1930 and 1970 - the middle part of the century, that have clean modernist lines and were built using modern construction methods, particularly the "post-and-beam" engineering affected by Eichler and others of that period. The problem with this definition is that there are many cross-overs or hybrids that fit into this general definition - as well there are issues when the building is built before or after the time span, yet clearly fits the general construction definition - thus the disagreement in usage.
My personal opinion is that the term was retrofitted into a need to describe a specific design esthetic. Since many construction methods were introduced as commonplace during the post-war era, the term "Mid-Century Modern" came into common usage to describe the construction methods more so than to describe the time range itself. What I mean by that is that even though an Eichler built in 1959 may fit the building construction description and the time range, the term should not exclude a present-day (2007) built home that follows the same building construction and design esthetic. If a newly-built ranch looks like an Eichler, who's to say that it's not Mid-Century Modern? At the other extreme, if a ranch house was built within the right time period and exhibits elements of Mid-Century Modern design - why should it be excluded because the windows have shutters (typically not a modern element). Another example would be construction done during the Bauhaus period (pre-WWII) that still clearly exhibit construction methods and design elements that would be identified as modern, or even Mid-Century Modern.
So in my descriptions of various buildings and homes, I'll use the following general definitions to help identify to varying degrees what I've found to be modern, Mid-Century Modern, etc.:
Modern - this is a general term I'll use to describe non-traditional elements (traditional mostly referring to the typical Cape Cod or bungalow houses built before the 20th century - still popular in present-day construction). This can be anything from rectilinear construction lines to expansive, wraparound windows.
Mid-Century Modern - rather than constrict the definition to a time period, my usage will be within the construction and design esthetic - post-and-beam construction, clerestory windows, oriental treatments and seas of wall-to-wall carpet will be common.
Googie - term attributed to Googie's Coffee shop (designed by John Lautner) which featured whimsical space-age or atomic design elements. Often associated with stainless and neon signage.
Art Deco - a design period from around the turn of the century up until the 20's defined by curved, repetitive shapes and the beginnings of the use of plastics and resins for everyday objects and jewelry.
Bauhaus - an arts and architectural design esthetic developed in Germany - most consider it the beginning of the European Modernist movement. The designs tend to be extremely stark, with contrasting colors (black and white, for example) and repetitive rectilinear forms.
Contemporary - generally referring to "current" or "present day" interior furnishings, or it may be used with a decade to indicate that the design was common to the specific era (example would be 70's Contemporary - homes built during the 70's typically covered with cedar siding at 30-45 degree angles meeting a matching angled roofline).
Polynesian - design elements borrowed from the Polynesian islands, used in restaurants like Trader Vics and seen in some 50's and 60's homes and businesses. Also Tiki - from Polynesian but specific to the wooden, totem pole-like carvings found in the Polynesian islands. I've broken it out as there's a trend to bring a bit of the islands to the home wetbar, and the Tiki is a favorite design motif.
Oriental - displaying design elements common in Asia such as oriental motifs, pagoda-like rooflines and shoji screens.
Ranch - term loosely used to describe single-story dwellings and generally scaled-down copies of the Prairie Houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Note that some Mid-Century Modern split-levels are referred to as "California Ranches" and that some ranches have full or partial basements.
Clerestory Windows - (also clearstory) are typically above normal window height and extend to meet the roofline.
Barrel Roof or Barrel Vault - indicates a curved roofline or ceiling, much like the exterior or interior of a barrel - the quonset hut is a prime example.
Butterfly Roof - a modern roof technique of joining two roof gables so that they dip in the middle and resemble a butterfly's wings. More common out west where the rainfall is minimal.
Post-and-Beam - a building construction technique that utilized posts from the ground to overhead beams that supported the roof's weight. The constructions allows for large living area expanses (as the exterior walls were usually the load-bearing ones) that provided much architectural freedom when designing modern buildings.
Cantilever - a projected shelf that extends from a building structure or interior detail, without visible means of support. Frank Lloyd Wrights Falling Water is a prime example of the extensive use of cantilevered architecture.
Globe Lights - spherical lighting (usually white but sometimes clear), commonly used in exterior or interior entryways.
Screen Block - decorative block (brick) that allowed the construction of walls that allowed airflow and light while still providing some privacy.
Tongue-and-Groove - often found in modern ceilings where the T&G boards ride above beams and make up the actual substrate for the roofing material. Pine, Cedar and Redwood 2"x6" planks that interlock to form a very strong roof/ceiling structure. Also a technique used in interior wall covering but in smaller, thinner boards and mimicked by the panelled sheets found in many homes built in the 60's - 80's (still a favorite for remuddleling).
Floating - referes to design elements that do not have any visible means of support (such as stairs that cantilever from the wall).
Pocket Doors - a favorite during the 50's and 60's, pocket doors slide into a space in the wall so that they disappear when open.
Terrazzo - flooring created by intermixing crushed marble in concrete then polishing after the mixture has set. This technique creates beautiful flooring that may cover large expanses and was once very inexpensive to produce (the technique fell from favor as did concrete flooring in general).
Mies Van der Rohe - one of the godfathers of modernism, whose designs are minimalist and geometric in form.
Eichler - a West Coast builder who built entire Mid-Century Modern communities using a simplistic but extremely efficient design. Most often attributed as the first to extensively use modern materials and methods to build inexpensive houses, from which other Mid-Century homes were copied.
P&H - a local Atlanta company who built subdivisions such as Northcrest and elsewhere in Northeast Atlanta - responsible for the "P&H Split" as referred to by reators.
Robert Green - a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, this Atlanta architect used "Organic Architecture" that often resembles the FLW style. Noted for multiple commercial buildings and residences in Atlanta and the surrounding areas.
Note that the list above is made up of my own general definitions and may not be "purist" to some - I've tried to relate my understanding of the various terms and they are by no means definitive. I'll try to add and/or edit as I see fit.
ModusModern is designed to express my interests and perhaps be a bit informative and entertaining. If I can provide some useful information and get an occasional chuckle, I would call the site a success. If you see something here that you find offensive please let me know - I won't promise to remove it but I do promise to at least glance at your complaints before trashing the email. If you see something that has been copyrighted and the copyright belongs to you, please note that this site is not-for-profit and you probably only benefit from being published here. If your copyrighted property published here is a problem, let me know and I'll take it down or alter it so it's not recognized as your property.