Mid-century modern

Last updated
Tulip chair (designed 1955-56) by Eero Saarinen Saarinen Tulpanstolen.jpg
Tulip chair (designed 1955–56) by Eero Saarinen

Mid-century modern (MCM) is a design movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development that was popular in the United States and Europe from roughly 1945 to 1969, [1] [2] during the United States's post–World War II period. The term was used descriptively as early as the mid-1950s and was defined as a design movement by Cara Greenberg in her 1984 book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. It is now recognized by scholars and museums worldwide as a significant design movement. The MCM design aesthetic is modern in style and construction, aligned with the Modernist movement of the period. It is typically characterized by clean, simple lines and honest use of materials, and it generally does not include decorative embellishments.



Mid-century modern architecture
California Mid-Century Modern Home with open-beam ceiling 1960.jpg
Tract home in Tujunga, California, featuring open-beamed ceilings, c. 1960
Years active1945–1969
Country United States
Influences International, Bauhaus
Detail of Copan, a Niemeyer building in Sao Paulo, Oscar Niemeyer Edificio Copan, Oscar Niemeyer (5877795893).jpg
Detail of Copan, a Niemeyer building in São Paulo, Oscar Niemeyer

The Mid-century modern movement in the U.S. was an American reflection of the International and Bauhaus movements, including the works of Gropius, Florence Knoll, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. [3] Although the American component was slightly more organic in form and less formal than the International Style, it is more firmly related to it than any other. Brazilian and Scandinavian architects were very influential at this time, with a style characterized by clean simplicity and integration with nature. Like many of Wright's designs, Mid-century architecture was frequently employed in residential structures with the goal of bringing modernism into America's post-war suburbs. This style emphasized creating structures with ample windows and open floor plans, with the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors in. Many Mid-century houses utilized then-groundbreaking post and beam architectural design that eliminated bulky support walls in favor of walls seemingly made of glass. Function was as important as form in Mid-century designs, with an emphasis placed on targeting the needs of the average American family.

Eichler Homes - Foster Residence, Granada Hills Eichler Homes - Foster Residence, Granada Hills.jpg
Eichler Homes  – Foster Residence, Granada Hills

In Europe, the influence of Le Corbusier and the CIAM resulted in an architectural orthodoxy manifest across most parts of post-war Europe that was ultimately challenged by the radical agendas of the architectural wings of the avant-garde Situationist International, COBRA, as well as Archigram in London. A critical but sympathetic reappraisal of the internationalist oeuvre, inspired by Scandinavian Moderns such as Alvar Aalto, Sigurd Lewerentz and Arne Jacobsen, and the late work of Le Corbusier himself, was reinterpreted by groups such as Team X, including structuralist architects such as Aldo van Eyck, Ralph Erskine, Denys Lasdun, Jørn Utzon and the movement known in the United Kingdom as New Brutalism.

Pioneering builder and real estate developer Joseph Eichler was instrumental in bringing Mid-century modern architecture ("Eichler Homes") to subdivisions in the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay region of California, and select housing developments on the east coast. George Fred Keck, his brother Willam Keck, Henry P. Glass, Mies van der Rohe, and Edward Humrich created Mid-century modern residences in the Chicago area. Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House is extremely difficult to heat or cool, while Keck and Keck were pioneers in the incorporation of passive solar features in their houses to compensate for their large glass windows.

Mid-century modern in Palm Springs

Miller House, by Richard Neutra Miller House, Palm Springs, California.jpg
Miller House, by Richard Neutra

The city of Palm Springs, California is noted for its many examples of Mid-century modern architecture. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [ excessive citations ]

Architects include: [11] [12]

Examples of 1950s Palm Springs motel architecture include Ballantines Movie Colony (1952) – one portion is the 1935 Albert Frey San Jacinto Hotel – the Coral Sands Inn (1952), and the Orbit Inn (1957). [21] Restoration projects have been undertaken to return many of these residences and businesses to their original condition. [22]

Industrial design

Scandinavian design was very influential at this time, with a style characterized by simplicity, democratic design and natural shapes. Glassware (IittalaFinland), ceramics (Arabia – Finland), tableware (Georg Jensen – Denmark), lighting (Poul Henningsen – Denmark), and furniture (Danish modern) were some of the genres for the products created. In America, east of the Mississippi, the American-born Russel Wright, designing for Steubenville Pottery, and Hungarian-born Eva Zeisel designing for Red Wing Pottery and later Hall China created free-flowing ceramic designs that were much admired and heralded in the trend of smooth, flowing contours in dinnerware. On the West Coast of America the industrial designer and potter Edith Heath (1911–2005) founded Heath Ceramics in 1948. The company was one of the numerous California pottery manufacturers that had their heyday in post-war US, and produced Mid-Century modern ceramic dish-ware. Edith Heath's "Coupe" line remains in demand and has been in constant production since 1948, with only periodic changes to the texture and color of the glazes. [23] The Tamac Pottery company produced a line of mid-century modern biomorphic dinnerware and housewares between 1946 to 1972. [24]

Social medium

Printed ephemera documenting the mid-century transformations in design, architecture, landscape, infrastructure, and entertainment include mid-century linen post cards from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. These post cards came about through innovations pioneered through the use of offset lithography. The cards were produced on paper with a high rag content, which gave the post card a textured look and feel. At the time this was a less expensive process. Along with advances in printing technique, mid-century linen postcards allowed for very vibrant ink colors. The encyclopedic geographic imagery of mid-century linen post cards suggests popular middle class attitudes about nature, wilderness, technology, mobility and the city during the mid-20th century. [25]

Curt Teich in Chicago [26] was the most prominent and largest printer and publisher of Linen Type postcards [27] pioneering lithography with his "Art Colortone" process. [28] Other large publishers include Stanley Piltz in San Francisco, who established the "Pictorial Wonderland Art Tone Series", Western Publishing and Novelty Company in Los Angeles and the Tichnor Brothers in Boston. [29] The printing of mid-century linen post cards began to give way in the late 1950s to Kodachrome and Ektachrome color prints.




Additional notable names

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eero Saarinen</span> Finnish-American architect

Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-American architect and industrial designer noted for his wide-ranging array of designs for buildings and monuments. Saarinen is best known for designing the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan, Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., the TWA Flight Center in New York City, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the son of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Neutra</span> Austrian-American architect (1892–1970)

Richard Joseph Neutra was an Austrian-American architect. Living and building for the majority of his career in Southern California, he came to be considered a prominent and important modernist architect. He mainly built suburban single-family detached homes for wealthy clients. His most notable works include the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, California.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Style (architecture)</span> 20th-century modern architectural style

The International Style or internationalism is a major architectural style that was developed in the 1920s and 1930s and was closely related to modernism and modernist architecture. It was first defined by Museum of Modern Art curators Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in 1932, based on works of architecture from the 1920s. The terms rationalist architecture and modern movement are often used interchangeably with International Style, although the former is mostly used in the English-speaking world to specifically refer to the Italian rationalism, or even the International Style that developed in Europe as a whole.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modern architecture</span> Architectural movement and style

Modern architecture, or modernist architecture, was an architectural movement or architectural style based upon new and innovative technologies of construction, particularly the use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete; the idea that form should follow function (functionalism); an embrace of minimalism; and a rejection of ornament. It emerged in the first half of the 20th century and became dominant after World War II until the 1980s, when it was gradually replaced as the principal style for institutional and corporate buildings by postmodern architecture.

Albert Frey was a Swiss-born architect who established a style of modernist architecture centered on Palm Springs, California, United States, that came to be known as "desert modernism".

Emerson Stewart Williams, FAIA was a prolific Palm Springs, California-based architect whose distinctive modernist buildings, in the Mid-century modern style, significantly shaped the Coachella Valley's architectural landscape and legacy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Construction Company</span>

Alexander Construction Company was a Palm Springs, California, residential development company that built over 2,200 houses in the Coachella Valley of Riverside County, California, between 1955 and 1965.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Julius Shulman</span> American architectural photographer

Julius Shulman was an American architectural photographer best known for his photograph "Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960. Pierre Koenig, Architect." The house is also known as the Stahl House. Shulman's photography spread the aesthetic of California's Mid-century modern architecture around the world. Through his many books, exhibits and personal appearances his work ushered in a new appreciation for the movement beginning in the 1990s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palm Springs, California</span> Resort city in Riverside County, southern California, United States

Palm Springs is a desert resort city in Riverside County, California, United States, within the Colorado Desert's Coachella Valley. The city covers approximately 94 square miles (240 km2), making it the largest city in Riverside County by land area. With multiple plots in checkerboard pattern, more than 10% of the city is part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation land and is the administrative capital of the most populated reservation in California.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kaufmann Desert House</span> House designed by Richard Neutra

The Kaufmann Desert House, or simply the Kaufmann House, is a house in Palm Springs, California, that was designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1946. It was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr., a businessman who also commissioned Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Miller House (Columbus, Indiana)</span> Historic house in Indiana, United States

The Miller House and Garden, also known as Miller House, is a mid-century modern home designed by Eero Saarinen and located in Columbus, Indiana, United States. The residence, commissioned by American industrialist, philanthropist, and architecture patron J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, is now owned by Newfields. Miller supported modern architecture in the construction of a number of buildings throughout Columbus, Indiana. Design and construction on the Miller House took four years and was completed in 1957. The house stands at 2860 Washington St, Columbus Indiana, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000. The Miller family owned the home until 2008, when Xenia Miller, the last resident of the home, died.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Porter Clark</span> American architect

John Porter Clark (1905–1991) was an American architect. He worked with Albert Frey on several projects in Palm Springs, California, and was part of the Van Pelt and Lind firm. He has been referred to as a "mid-century modernist", and credited as one of the pioneers of "Desert Modernism", by using local rock, concrete blocks, metal and glass. His own house, the John Porter Clark House (1939) in Palm Springs, has been described as being in the international style and as one of the earliest examples of residential modern architecture in Southern California.

Donald Allen Wexler was an influential Mid-Century modern architect whose work is predominantly in the Palm Springs, California, area. He is known for having pioneered the use of steel in residential design.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conversation pit</span> Architectural feature

A conversation pit is an architectural feature that incorporates built-in seating into a depressed section of flooring within a larger room. This area often has a table in the center as well. The seats typically face each other in a centrally focused fashion, bringing the occupants closer together than free-standing tables and chairs normally would. In residential design this proximity facilitates comfortable human conversation, dinner parties, and table top games. Their disadvantages include accidental falls and uncomfortable interactions with those standing above in the main room.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Krisel</span> American architect

William Krisel was an American architect best known for his pioneering designs of mid-century residential and commercial architecture. Most of his designs are for affordable homes, especially tract housing, with a modern aesthetic.

The Palm Springs School of Architecture, often called Desert Modernism, is a regional style of post-war architecture that emerged in Palm Springs, California. Many of the architects who pioneered this style became world-renowned later in their own careers. Numerous buildings and homes by these architects remain in the Coachella Valley. Additionally, this style of architecture is showcased annually at the Modernism Week event in Palm Springs.

Metaphoric architecture is an architectural movement that developed in Europe during the mid-20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Butterfly roof</span>

A butterfly roof is a form of roof characterised by an inversion of a standard roof form, with two roof surfaces sloping down from opposing edges to a valley near the middle of the roof. It is so called because its shape resembles a butterfly's wings. Butterfly roofs are commonly associated in the US with 20th century Mid-century modern architecture. They were also commonly used in Georgian and Victorian terraced house architecture of British cities, where they are alternatively termed "London" roofs. The form has no gutter as rainwater can run off the roof in no more than two locations, at either end of the valley, often into a scupper or downspout. The form may be symmetrical, with the valley located in the center, or asymmetrical with an off-center valley. The valley itself may be flat, with a central roof cricket diverting water towards the valley ends, or sloping if the entire roof form is tilted towards one end of the valley. The roof also allows for higher perimeter walls, with clerestory windows allowing light penetration without impacting privacy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modernism Week</span> Mid-century architecture and design event in Palm Springs, California, United States

Modernism Week is a 501(c)(3) organization which provides public education programming fostering knowledge and appreciation of modern architecture, the mid-century modern architecture and design movement, the Palm Springs School of Architecture, as well as contemporary considerations surrounding historic preservation, cultural heritage, adaptive reuse, and sustainable architecture. Modernism Week provides annual scholarships to local students pursuing college educations in the fields of architecture and design and supports local and state organizations' efforts to preserve and promote the region's modern architecture. The organization is centered in the greater Palm Springs, California area in the Coachella Valley which is home to a significant collection of extant residential and commercial buildings designed in the mid-century modern vernacular.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Villa Hermosa (Palm Springs)</span>

The Villa Hermosa is a mid-century modern private complex in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs, California, United States. Located at 155 W Hermosa Place, near North Palm Canyon Drive and West El Alameda, it was originally commissioned as a residential hotel for winter visitors by C.K. Fulton in 1946. The property was featured in photos by Julius Shulman in 1947, and subsequently recognized locally as historically significant.


  1. "What Is Mid-Century Modern?". February 9, 2021.
  2. "Understanding Mid-Century Modern and How To Use it in Your Home". September 29, 2017.
  3. Jason Peterson (2014-02-01). "Designer Spotlight: Florence Knoll". Emfurn. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  4. Wills, Eric (May–June 2008). "Palm Springs Eternal". Preservation. 60 (3): 38–45.
  5. Cygelman, Adèle; David, Rosa (forward); Glomb, David (photographs) (1999). Palm Springs Modern: Houses in the California Desert. New York: Rizzoli International. p. 192. ISBN   0-8478-2091-2. LCCN   98048811.
  6. Shulman, Julius; Stern, Michael; Hess, Alan (2008). Julius Shulman: Palm Springs. New York: Rizzoli International. p. 208. ISBN   978-0-8478-3113-5. LCCN   2007933610.
  7. 1 2 Hess, Alan; Danish, Andrew (2001). Palm Springs Weekend: The Architecture and Design of a Midcentury Oasis. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 180. ISBN   0811828042. LCCN   00024046.
  8. Quinn, Bradley (2004). Mid-Century Modern: Interiors, Furniture, Design Details. London: Conran Octopus. p. 176. ISBN   978-1840914061.
  9. Faibyshev, Dolly (2010). Palm Springs: Mid-Century Modern. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub. p. 112. ISBN   9780764334610. LCCN   2010925309. OCLC   475457720.
  10. "Desert Modernism Timeline". Palm Springs Modern Committee. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  11. Goldberger, Paul (May–June 2008). "The Modernist Manifesto". Preservation. 60 (3): 30–35.
  12. "The Time: Modern: Highlights in the development of modernism in the Coachella Valley". Palm Springs Life. Palm Springs, CA. February 2007. Archived from the original on 2015-06-15.
  13. 1 2 3 4 "Lost: Maslon House". Palm Springs Preservation Foundation. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  14. "A Winter Residence in Palm Springs" (PDF). Architectural Digest . Fall 1967. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 17, 2016. Retrieved May 23, 2012. Interior Design by Arthur Elrod, A.I.D. and William Broderick, A.I.D.; Architecture by William Cody, F.A.I.A.
  15. Palm Springs Preservation Foundation: Then and Now
  16. "William Krisel". Palm Springs Modern Committee. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  17. Bradley, Darren (29 June 2013). "Modernist Architecture: William Krisel". modernistarchitecture.blogspot.com. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  18. Leet, Stephen (2004). Richard Neutra's Miller House. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 191. ISBN   1-56898-274-7. LCCN   2003021531.
  19. Friedman, Alice T. (2010). "2. Palm Springs Eternal: Richard Neutra's Kaufmann Desert House". American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture . New Haven, CN: Yale University Press. pp.  262. ISBN   978-0300116540. LCCN   2009032574.
  20. Bricker, Lauren Weiss; Williams, Sidney J. (2011). Steel and Shade: The Architecture of Donald Wexler. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Art Museum. p. 131. ISBN   978-0981674346. LCCN   2010043639.
  21. Howser, Huell (September 27, 2002). "'50s Motel – Palm Springs Week (20)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archive.
  22. Colacello, Bob; Becker, Jonathan (photographs) (June 1999). "Palm Springs Weekends" (PDF). Vanity Fair : 192–211. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-11.
  23. Zahid Sardar (2004-02-01). "Home Is Where the Heath Is: A Bay Area pottery tradition continues under new ownership". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  24. "Tamac Plate: Decorative Arts". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  25. Meikle, Jeffrey L. "A Paper Atlantis". Journal of Design History. 13 (4): 267–286. doi:10.1093/jdh/13.4.267.
  26. Curt Teich Postcard Archives, Lake County Discovery Museum. Retrieved March 4, 2012.
  27. Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City. Retrieved March 4, 2012.
  28. "An Offset Pioneer" in: American Printer, October 1, 2006.
  29. Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library.
  30. Mayhew, Augustus (11 July 2011). "Urbane Developments: Miami & Delray". New York Social Diary. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  31. Saperstein, Pat (2014-08-07). "David Weidman, Animation Artist Whose Work Appeared on 'Mad Men,' Dies at 93". Variety . Retrieved 2014-08-29.

Further reading