Modern Austin :: Architecture & Design of Central Texas
At the risk of starting a flame war I have to ask: Is this really modern? Does simply having a shed roof and square picture windows qualify as modern?
This and the house below – not modern!
Modern architecture is characterized by simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. The first variants were conceived early in the 20th century. Modern architecture was adopted by many influential architects and architectural educators, gained popularity after the Second World War, and continues as a dominant architectural style for institutional and corporate buildings in the 21st century.
Hi Kim- I’m curious to your “take” on modern. I am a designer and have found that every client has a different spin on what they think is modern (look or function). I’m not sure if these would be classified as modern in my book either but if designed on spec then they would have to appeal to a broad market- if commissioned then, more interpretation falls on the client and the architects’ translation…
Fun subject- as long as it doesn’t get too personal…
btw- I’m not affiliated with either of these projects in any way- just a long time reader:)
The wiki definition is pretty vague (and non-committal). Over the weekend I pulled two books from my bookshelves that celebrate the best of midcentury design: The Harvard Five in New Canaan and Eichler/Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream. The homes featured in these books were unabashedly modern and forward looking in a way that most of the new “modern” construction around Austin is missing. There’s a fine-tuned sense of scale and balance in the midcentury designs that looks delicate yet well grounded. Many of the so-called modern projects featured here look clumsy and ill-proportioned by comparison.
I know I’m about to start a heated discussion but I’ll put Agave forth as Exhibit A of clumsy and oddly proportioned design. As much as I want to like (no, love) these homes, I don’t think I’ve seen one that comes close to the excellence in design and execution of the Eichler homes.
Modern can take many forms. Last week I snuck out to the Lake/Flato Carraro house (aka the cement factory). Built in 1990 of a reclaimed industrial structure, limestone, and galvanized metal, the building is gorgeous because of the juxtaposition of the massive limestone element and a delicate steel structure (creating the “world’s largest screened porch”). But beyond the grand design is the extreme attention to all the human scale detailing. 20 years old, the home is completely modern in feeling but virtually all the details are lifted from much older buildings and construction methods.
If you want the best modern design in the U.S. in the past twenty years, look no further than the work of Sam Mockbee’s Rural Studio.
Now that I’ve stirred the pot I’ll step back and let the discussion proceed.
Well put Rob-
My previous house was a Mid-Century Modern and I can say from experience that not only is the scale and proportion completely different than most new construction but they just live differntly. I think that along with “forward looking” should come “forward thinking”. The use of materials was about the materials- yes they looked nice but they had a function- cork for the warmth and durability, concrete for the simplicity and clean lines, wood paneling (yes I think this was a good idea at first, then the imitations came along and ruined it…).
Rural Studio is one of the best examples of modern thinking relating to the built environment.
I think that clients are sometimes afraid that what they want or need in a house may not be what the next homeowner wants or needs. It’s sad that the idea of “resale” shapes so many homes…
Agave could have been really great- the architects involved are talented and some of the best in Austin. I think they were too constrained by the development, except one by FAB- 1784 (too bad it only fit on a few lots). Reminds me of a MCM plan that I liked from Palm Springs- can’t remember the architect for the life of me but have no problem remembering the plan…
RobG I couldn’t agree more with your statement:
‘There’s a fine-tuned sense of scale and balance in the midcentury designs that looks delicate yet well grounded. Many of the so-called modern projects featured here look clumsy and ill-proportioned by comparison.”
for me it is/was a slice that ran through Wright, then Neutra, then Lautner (with some Bruce Goff thrown in there). The scale and proportion are perfect, the details clean and simple and executed flawlessly. They seem ‘warm’ even though concrete, steel, glass and brick dominate. I’ve only witnessed one architect locally that can regularly achieve some of that and it’s MJ Neal. IMO he has a great sense of volume, proportion, details that are almost always good. Alterstudios, Cottam Hargrave and a few others have some great looking designs I just haven’t spent much time in them. Also Michael Hsu, great style. (I’d love to see the Lake/Flato house you described Rob).
I love Agave for the attempt; It would be difficult by anyone’s measure to create an entire neighborhood from new cloth that featured all modern design by a variety of architects, aiming for a certain price range. The Eichler neighborhoods I’ve seen are cool because, well, it’s a whole neighborhood of Eichlers! but some of them were tract-y in that they repeated floor plans (4? 6?). As a film designer I always thought Agave made an interesting, slightly quirky picture of what a ‘future’ neighborhood might look like, or at least a pop version of what we today would imagine that to be. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s geographic difficulties currently keep it from a fuller potential.
I live in an MJ Neal house and can say that he really does think about every detail – nothing is not deliberate. There is a marriage of form and function and balance and proportion. What I see in the house here is a box that probably looks “modern” to lots of people, but to me lacks the thought involved, for example, in an MJ Neal home.