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PoMo Tea Time

A new ceramics exhibition explores the work of Memphis member Peter Shire
A Survey of Ceramics: 1970s to Present will run at the Derek Eller Gallery from September 8 through October 9. The exhibition covers the life’s work of Los Angeles–based artist Peter Shire, an eminent ceramicist and former member to the Milan-based design collective Memphis. Shire’s work, spanning 40 years, borrows from Futurist and Bauhaus design while being distinctly influenced by late modernism and the Googie style of Southern California. Inspired by what he called “California High Kitsch,” Shire's work explores color, geometry, and function, often in playful and unexpected ways. Though his catalog includes everything from sculptures to teacups, Shire’s most notable and persistent form is the teapot. His life-long engagement with the teapot has produced typical and atypical configurations for the ubiquitous household item. Shire has spent a great deal of effort exploring teapot physics and the challenge of getting every last drop of water out. Shire’s inclusion in the influential Memphis group came after being featured in Wet Magazine early in his career. Personally invited to the group by Ettore Sottsass, Shire was part of Memphis from 1981 to 1988. During that time, he would help shape the world’s understanding of postmodern object art and design. Running concurrently with the exhibition at the Derek Eller Gallery, Shire’s work will also be on show at The Jewish Museum, in New York. Shire’s work has been collected by many of the country's preeminent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Seattle Museum of Art. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, September 8, at Derek Eller Gallery.
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Minnesota’s Modern Love
St. Columba's nave is among Minnesota's finest midcentury worship spaces.
Peter Sieger

Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury
by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press, $50

In his new book, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury, author Larry Millett reminds readers: “Midcentury modernism was more than just a style. At its heart, it offered the prospect of a world unchained from the past. Behind the movement lay a whole way of thinking about how to live, work, and play in the new suburban communities that sprang up after World War II.”

Perhaps never more so than in Minnesota, where a burgeoning, postwar population in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul began to sprawl beyond city boundaries across the fields and prairies, in large part because of the tract houses built quickly and inexpensively by Orrin Thompson Homes. Young couples could afford to marry and raise families in the new ramblers and drive their new cars on new highways connecting their cookie-cutter suburbs with new shopping malls and office buildings.

In fact, Millett opens his book with a 1953 image of Minnesota’s first cloverleaf highway interchange, built in 1937 just outside of Minneapolis in a soon-to-be first-ring suburb. There’s an argument to be made here: that midcentury modern—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is suburban. In his book, however, he covers not only modest suburban ramblers, but also how the reach of midcentury modern encompassed a remarkable array of architectural typologies in locations (rural, suburban, and urban) throughout the state—consider Marcel Breuer’s church at Saint John’s Abbey and University (Collegeville); Eliel Saarinen’s Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis); Eero Saarinen’s IBM Building (Rochester); the Northwestern National Life Insurance Building by Minoru Yamasaki (Minneapolis); and Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center (Edina), the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States. Midcentury modern also encompasses Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theater (razed), along with such no-less-venerated venues as the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale (mothballed), the now-iconic Dairy Queen in Roseville (still dishing up soft serve), and St. Paul’s Porky’s Drive-In (razed).


In addition to the square, affordable rambler, midcentury modern birthed other housing types, from the long, one-level ranch house, to compact metal Lustron homes, to the flat-roofed, glass-walled, open-plan, architect-designed residence. Millett includes 12 such “high-style” homes throughout Minnesota—by Frank Lloyd Wright and Twin Cities’ architects Elizabeth Close, Ralph Rapson, and Gerald Buetow, among others. But his investigation goes even deeper.

As Millett also points out, midcentury modern, which dominated architecture and design from about 1945 to the late-1960s, “penetrated like oil into the social, political, and cultural machinery of the times.” So while delving into these projects and more in a nearly 400-page book rich with photography and illustration, Millett also places Minnesota’s love of midcentury modernism in a broader context.

He traces Minnesota’s development and practice of midcentury modernism to three sources or “strains.” One was the work of such European architects like Adolf Loos, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, the Saarinens, Alvar Aalto, and Le Corbusier (“who was very fond of American concrete grain elevators, a building type invented in Minnesota in 1989”). Millett describes how these architects’ work and influences, combined with elements of art deco and art moderne, produced such Minnesota architects as Rapson—a proponent and practitioner of the International Style.

California’s ranch houses (even though their emphasis on outdoor living didn’t translate well in Minnesota’s tough winter climate) and the corresponding commercial version (affectionately named Googie) were the second source of influence. A third strain apparent in Minnesota’s midcentury modernism was the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his Usonian houses. Millett goes on to add that materials developed during World War II—laminated wood trusses that were used instead of steel, as well as prefabricated structures and prestressed concrete—also influenced the design and construction in midcentury modernism in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Despite these influences, Millett stresses that, “midcentury architecture in Minnesota was mostly a homegrown product.” Today, many of buildings designed by local and regional architects are sorely in need of preservation. The former architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Millett is an architectural historian whose previous books include Lost Twin Cities and Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities. Both books, as their titles suggest, discuss the architectural treasures Minnesota has lost to the wrecking ball.

Millett’s new book concludes with a call to action. Though the “architectural legacy of the midcentury era in Minnesota is decidedly mixed,” he writes, citing instances of “drably utilitarian” public buildings, “excesses of urban renewal” in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ill-planned suburbs, “the time has come to look at ways to protect significant works of the period.” Many of these works are now eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation.

What need to be saved, Millett continues, are not just individual “high-style homes” and the churches that have become “masterpieces of American architecture,” but entire neighborhoods of midcentury residences. The problem, he continues, is that “architectural modernism, especially in its high-style manifestations, has always had an elitist aura, and the general public has never really warmed to it.”

Minnesotans, with their no-nonsense approach, nonetheless cultivated a singular midcentury sensibility worth saving.

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Rendering of BIG and Heatherwick Studio's plan for Google.
Courtesy BIG / Heatherwick Studio

In our Comment section, we ask the industry's leading minds to offer their thoughts on all things architecture. Our contributors debated the impacts of Google on modernism and California’s Bay Area, while Reinier de Graaf, Jim Venturi, and Charles Birmbaum tackled topics ranging from economic policy to the Frick and Michael Sorkin distilled a career’s worth of knowledge into a list of the 250 things every architect should know.


Michael Sorkin

Two hundred and fifty things an architect should know.

[Continue reading.]


Reinier De Graaf

Reinier de Graaf tracks the history of economic policy through architecture.



The Case for Zumthor

Architecture and the court of public opinion.


Jim Venturi

Instead of closing LaGuardia, let's fix it and close Rikers.


John Marx and Pierluigi Serraino

The Bay Area authors and architects on pursuing a tighter fit between form and emotion.


Charles Birnbaum

On the national significance of the Frick's Page Garden.


The Legacy of Architecture for Humanity

While the loss of the organization should be mourned, important work continues, argues Jessica Garz.


Alan Hess

Alan Hess says Googie is as modern as a Craig Ellwood house.


John Pastier

A-list architects occupy Silicon Valley with planned Google headquarters leading the way.



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Flight Segments
LAX Terminal 5 renovation reroutes the flow of passengers from check-in to security.
Courtesy of Corgan

An uncomfortably wide hallway leads passengers from the ultra-premium check-in area toward the concourse in Delta Airlines’ newly renovated Terminal 5 at Los Angeles International Airport. The walls are unadorned, and the space feels eerie and un-luxurious, like you are headed to the operating room. Or, worse, airport security.

Anyone who flies through LAX is probably already prepared for the worst. Consistently rated one of the worst major airports in the United States, LAX has long been known for congestion, shabby facilities, and dullness in all but the largely ornamental Googie-style Theme Building.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Deputy Executive Director Roger Johnson cited the common joke about LAX: “It’s nine unrelated buildings connected by a traffic jam.” The renovation of Terminal 5 is one of the countless elements in an $8 billion massive modernization program intended to remedy this situation.

A west wing of the Tom Bradley International Terminal opened two years ago with a $2 billion, ground-up structure that has soaring ceilings, public artwork, and luxury boutiques that international travelers expect. The completion of Terminal 5’s $229 million upgrade marks a major milestone in the second phase (of three) in the airport’s modernization program. This phase includes upgrades to all central terminals except for Terminal 3 and will culminate in the ground-up construction of the Midfield Satellite Concourse. The design for the MSC was approved July 20.

The modernization plan is taking place under the slogan “LAX is happening,” but it’s not so much a plan as it is a series of projects that happen to be taking place in succession. A complex deal to restructure control of individual terminals—in which LAWA essentially bought out carriers’ long-term leases several years ago—means that carriers can now pursue interior upgrades according to their own schedules. LAWA is contributing significant funding to terminal upgrades, so carriers have incentive to make their own investments.

Courtesy of Aecom

“Once we broke the dam by starting Bradley West, all of a sudden everybody else started saying, ‘Hey, I want my piece of the pie,’” said Johnson.

Led by Dallas-based Corgan Associates in association with Gensler, design work at Terminal 5—opened in 1962 and originally designed by Pereira & Luckman—focused on the landside experience, the space between the curb and security.

Corgan’s approach favors performance over aesthetics. Terminal 5’s weathered 53-year-old exterior was largely left alone in favor of intensive structural and interior renovations. “The ticket counter is rapidly becoming an artifact of air travel,” said Johnson. Freestanding kiosks and pods replaced a seemingly endless ticketing counter. The design increases the number of check-in stations from 32 to 54 while also creating more elbowroom for passengers and their luggage, all without adding floor space.

“Our goal was to establish a modern, clean, crisp aesthetic that is in keeping with Delta’s brand and also created an environment in which passengers had a clarity about circulation that wasn’t obstructed with a lot of clutter,” said Jeff Mangels, aviation principal at Corgan.

The terminal serves an average of 23,000 passengers per day, about 200 of whom use the premium Delta ONE entrance. Four additional security lanes (including a premium section) mean that passengers will spend less time queuing amid its largely unadorned walls and low ceiling. That improvement, say Delta officials, is where the beauty of the project lies.

A central escalator that used to pass through an atrium to security was eliminated and replaced with several escalators and elevators. The move creates more floor space at the security level so that security queues are less cramped.

According to Mangels, the upgrades will reduce wait times by 60 percent, and the terminal’s International Air Transport Association service rating may go from F to a potential B/A. Corgan was not able to produce studies to support this claim.

The finishes throughout the new landside areas are handsome enough with graphic streaks of Delta’s signature navy blue. And yet, though the terminal was stripped to the girders, the result feels deliberately unspectacular. Much of this work was structural and therefore invisible, such as moving around load-bearing walls and performing seismic upgrades. Longtime Delta flyers excited about a new terminal will be mildly gratified. Anyone new to the terminal would be hard pressed to guess whether it was last renovated in 2015 or 1995.

Bathrooms were enlarged and upgraded, and new concessionaires were added (as they have been throughout the airport). Gates have new jet bridges. The premium Sky Club lounge was upgraded, with features like a central buffet and an odd library nook with tromp l’oeil bookshelves. Otherwise, little else has changed. Gate areas remain cramped, and the concourse’s yellowish floor tiles need a power wash. Amid an expenditure of a quarter-billion dollars, no one scraped the residue of tape off the floor of the security area.

LAWA has design guidelines meant to insure that some elements of terminal interiors, such as signage, are consistent with each other. Otherwise, carriers can make them as flashy, or dull, as they see fit.

 “Airlines have a lot of latitude in how they design and construct the interiors of their terminals,” said Johnson. “Every airline has their own brand, so they’re going to want to design their terminals with their color palette, their own ideas for how best to process passengers.”

“Everyone is upping their game all over the industry, all over the world,” said Rajan Goswami, Delta’s West Coast vice president of sales. In that respect, LAX is just trying to keep pace.

In addition to the Terminal 5 renovation, Central Terminal Area itself is getting aesthetic upgrades, with new lighting and canopies paralleling the two-level horseshoe road that connects the terminals. A ground-up satellite terminal will be built in the midfield. Whether these individual choices will collectively elevate the airport’s reputation, though, remains to be seen.

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Heroic Food Farms in rural New York teams up with Ennead to provide micro-housing, mentorship, and jobs to displaced veterans
Shaken by war and existentially disoriented, most veterans struggle to reintegrate and find work. A nonprofit food farm on the outskirts of New York City is being eyeballed as a possible housing and training solution for displaced veterans. The masterplan by Ennead Architects and RAFT Landscape Architecture includes eight micro-housing units for individuals or couples. The homes, equipped with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette, will all be programmatically linked by a community building for living, dining and instruction. The housing units, which are positioned in relationship to one another, rest on piers to “sit lightly on the land” and are interconnected by raised decks. The architects declined to install a living room in order to encourage tenants to use the community building for leisure. Meanwhile, the existing farmhouse, hay loft, and barn will be renovated. "It's about striking a balance between creating privacy for the individual and fostering a sense of community with shared spaces that open out to the view," said Andrew Burdick, director of Ennead Lab, the architecture firm's public interest and pro-bono division. Sited on 19 acres in the hilly Hudson Valley, the shed-like dwellings are designed to meet Passivhaus standards of extremely low energy consumption. The configuration of the buildings – a quadrangle surrounded by residences with linked porches, takes after Thomas Jefferson’s academic village at the University of Virginia. Veterans will receive instruction and mentorship, as well as job placement at nearby farms during harvest peak season. On the Heroic Food Farm site, they will raise livestock and cultivate produce in the greenhouses. Though small in scale, Burdick hopes the food farm can become a prototype to help plug the gap in the U.S. labor market, whereby a simultaneous shortage of agricultural workers and high unemployment among veterans presents a promising opportunity to connect those dots. According to report by the Wall Street Journal, the shortage of farm workers reduces agricultural production by roughly 9.5 percent per year. Statistically, one possible cause is that 30 percent of farmers are over the age of 65, while less than 10 percent are below 35. Heroic-Food-Farms_Ennead-Architects_sketches_dezeen_468_1 Screenwriter Leora Barish, founder of Heroic Food Farms, told Architect Magazine: “We know that supportive housing is one of the keys to sustaining programs for returning veterans.” Currently, New York ranks among the top ten states with the highest veteran population and veteran unemployment rate.
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This abandoned rail corridor in Singapore will soon be a nationwide linear park, and these firms are competing to design it
Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has shortlisted five winning design firms for an RFP to overhaul the Singapore Rail Corridor. Defunct since 2011 and once a prominent Singapore–Malaysia trade route, the railway spans the entire country from north to south starting at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to the Woodlands Checkpoint. A competition launched by the URA requested proposals to transform the 15-mile stretch into a public greenway connecting four important urban nodes: Buona Vista, the Bukit Timah Railway Station area, former Bukit Timah Fire Station, and Kranji. The five shortlisted design teams are as follows:
  • West 8 and DP Architects
  • Grant Associates and MVRDV with Architects 61
  • Turenscape International and MKPL Architects
  • Nikken Sekkei with Tierra Design
  • OLIN Partnership and OMA Asia with DP Architects
“The expanse of the corridor running through the center of the entire country presents an unprecedented opportunity to develop a new typology of landscape with transformative effects for the country as a whole,” said Michael Kokora, partner at OMA, one of five shortlisted firms. “This is a project that has the potential to improve quality of life for generations to come.” To progress beyond Stage 2A, the selected firms will have to draw up a feasibility study and present preliminary designs for a 2.5-mile signature stretch designated as a “green gateway” to the Rail Corridor. The landscape architecture is a linchpin in the evaluation process, seeing as the brief calls for the conversion of the railway into a “leisure corridor for shared sports, arts and community activities” while leveraging the tropical environment. The URA launched the "Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space" RFP in March 2015. Sixty-four design teams responded. Stage 2B will commence by the end of this year following a public exhibition held from October to November 2015 by the five shortlisted teams. After assimilating public feedback, the winning teams will work with the URA to refine the Concept Master Plan and Concept Designs to account for the provision of services and infrastructure such as cycling tracks, shelters, and toilets. Evaluation panel member Dr. Malone-Lee Lai Choo, Director for the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities at the National University of Singapore and member of the Rail Corridor Partnership, said, “We were looking for schemes that are particularly strong in responding to the ecology of the site, that respect its natural qualities, while introducing sensitive design interventions to enhance them.” “They must demonstrate understanding and appreciation of the needs, sentiments and collective aspirations of users and residents. We would also want the Corridor to be an outstanding urban asset, and are therefore open to innovative concepts, particularly in and around the nodes; ideas that demonstrate freshness of approach and potentially exceptional design qualities that will enhance our urban landscape.”
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Sasaki Associates proposes a community-friendly Boston City Hall Plaza buzzing with cultural activities
Requests, complaints, and even full-fledged proposals came flooding in after Mayor Marty Walsh issued a Request for Information (RFI) in January for the redesign of Boston City Hall Plaza. Four months and nearly 1000 tweets later, plans to launch a complete assail on the eight-acre eyesore of red brick and concrete are beginning to consolidate. One firm, Sasaki Associates, took to Twitter to solicit ideas from Boston residents on what to change, what to axe, and what to add. The design firm then compiled the responses on cards and shared them on social media using the hashtags #PlazaPlus and #CityHallPlaza. Mayor Walsh couched his call-to-action in broad terms in his State of the Address early this year, invoking a redesign which would be “an inviting and attractive public forum that is robustly used by residents and visitors.” While one brazen submission suggested privatizing the entire plaza, Sasaki Associates zeros in on public programming and community engagement by incorporating benches, Hubway bike share stations, pop-up cafés, music festivals, food truck gatherings and public art installations. Surprisingly, the renderings do not propose any alterations to the foreboding Brutalist building itself, focusing instead on activating the exterior space. Bike lanes, an outdoor market, and lounge seating encourage passersby to convene, while a stormwater collector planter and micro wind turbines address environmental concerns. "The team is firm on its stance that while the plaza is in need of major renovations of its physical infrastructure—the underground parking roof, new pavements, fountain renovation, and tree planting, among other things—the form and circulation patterns do not need an overhaul." The Massachusetts-based practice proposed the following four guidelines for its design:
  1. Extend plaza into the city + leverage cultural capital
  2. Design for civic and human scale + populate with variety
  3. Preserve City Hall’s character + activate underused space
  4. Enhance infrastructure and natural systems + showcase Boston’s innovation
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These competition-winning bus shelters in Austin will harvest rainwater for a pocket park
It’s a matter of time before the canine-abused fire hydrant is outfitted with its own sound system—like this park bench. Two designers are retooling a high-traffic bus stop in Austin, Texas, to incorporate a pocket park for city dwellers to revisit distant nature. AIA Austin’s "design voice" committee and transportation company Capital Metro have announced designers Sara Partridge and Melissa Robledo as winners of the Bus Stop Shelter Design Competition. Located at 1717 South Pleasant Valley in east Austin, the new stop will shade riders from rain and shine with three structure cisterns in colorful designs inspired by Metro Rail’s Crestview Station, which includes a trail providing pedestrian and bicycle access to the station from the surrounding neighborhoods. Meanwhile, a harvesting system will collect rainwater to irrigate the native and adapted plants in the surrounding landscape, while the enhanced lighting and bicycle racks makes it easy for cyclists to switch from two wheels to four. “The bus stop meets riders’ basic needs by providing shade and shelter from the rain, but we have also designed a space that welcomes riders, cyclists, pedestrians and even the riders in cars passing by,” Partridge said. The concept stems from a new “place-making” approach: the design of community-centered and multifunctional public spaces designed for health and wellbeing – in which the park bench becomes an ogle-worthy social hub for reconnecting with nature. “Austin is rich with arts and culture and we wanted to celebrate our community by creating a unique neighborhood space,” said Dan Dawson, Capital Metro vice president of marketing and communications. “We are excited to begin working with our winning design team, and look forward to picking up riders from this one-of-a-kind stop.” The design competition commenced in September 2014 with a design charrette attended by over 30 designers and architects. Finalists then had four weeks to develop designs and submit their presentations. In the meantime, AIA Austin designvoice and Capital Metro surveyed over 100 riders and community members to gauge transit needs and feedback. Capital Metro will contribute $30,000 to the project, which is the average costs for the construction of a bus shelter, while the design team is responsible for securing additional project funding.
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Sawyer & Co. Restaurant
Casey Woods

Sawyer & Co.
4827 East Cesar Chavez St., Austin
Tel: 512-531-9033
Designers: Mickie Spencer, Clayton & Little Architects

Filling some big shoes, a New Orleans–style diner, serving up Texas comfort fare, has opened in the former and much beloved Arkie’s Grill in Austin. The new eatery has channeled its predecessor’s mid-century, roadside spirit, and aesthetic, with its own, more pronounced Googie-inspired renovation—even naming it after the original owner, Faye “Arkie” Sawyer. But first, the owners, Lauren and Stephen Shallcross and Mickie Spencer, gave the restaurant, built in 1948, a much-needed overhaul, from replacing the plumbing and electrical systems, to demolishing the back portion of the building, to taking down an unattractive drop ceiling that concealed handsome, dark wood rafters.

Much of the retro interior was conceived by Spencer, a metalworker and designer, who also owns and has collaborated on several restaurants and bars in the area, such as the East Side Show Room and Hillside Farmacy. For the most part, the restaurant is configured like Arkie’s, with the counter-turned-bar on the right side, and red oak banquettes with turquoise vinyl cushions to the left. “Even though we rebuilt it, we put it back in the same place because so many people grew up going there and really liked it,” said Spencer.


Adding 1,000 square feet to the original plan made way for a new alcove in the back with more seating, an expanded kitchen, and bathrooms. A colorful mural by Spencer, featuring angular geometric shapes and lines, in the main room fits with the 1950s design scheme and contrasts well with the warmth of the red oak panels throughout the space. Spencer also designed and built the lighting, including the intricate starburst fixtures and the bowl lights suspended over the bar. A new patio, outfitted with strips of AstroTurf and vintage lawn furniture found at antique fairs in Texas, provides outdoor seating and a waiting area.

With the help of local firm, Clayton & Little Architects, the exterior was revamped to accentuate the “mid-century modernist look” by replacing the flat facade with dramatic, slanted windows.

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Alan Hess
Pann's diner exterior.
Alan Hess

The avalanche of support for Norm’s La Cienega, the Googie Modern coffee shop recently threatened with demolition, exposes an often overlooked fact: Modernism can be popular.

Many early modern architects sought to bring the fruits of the industrial age to the average person. Over time that goal was often blurred as modernism focused on custom homes and skyscrapers. Today modernism has been narrowed to a stripped-down, less-is-more aesthetic of white walls and spare furnishings, but back in the day there were many modernisms—including the vibrant, popular public architecture of Googie coffee shops that began in Los Angeles and spread nationwide.

In midcentury Southern California, the everyday life of the average citizen was filled with modern architecture: supermarkets, gas stations, banks, bowling alleys, drive-through laundries. Leading the list were the exuberant Googie-style coffee shops (not “diners”) that were prominent on the streets of Los Angeles. Besides a half dozen Norm’s by Armet and Davis, there were Tiny Naylor’s and Biff’s by Douglas Honnold, the Wich Stand and Pann’s by Armet and Davis, Ship’s by Martin Stern, Jr. in Westwood and Culver City, Bob’s Big Boys by Wayne McAllister, and many more. They helped define the urban character of the car-centric city. Most have been replaced, and always by buildings designed not nearly as well.

Norm’s in La Cienega.
Hunter Kerhart

Googie, the name given to this ultramodern roadside style, comes from the name of a 1949 restaurant on the Sunset Strip designed by master architect John Lautner, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright. It exhibited the hallmarks of the style: outside, a boldly scaled roof to grab the attention of motorists driving by, with a neon sign integrated into the design. Inside, large glass windows gave views of the lively street scene, and the kitchen was open so customers could watch their food being made. True to modern principles, form followed function in Googie design, and the function was to draw in customers in their cars, and feed them in an appealing, exciting modern environment.

In Los Angeles, to be part of the modern age you didn’t need to hire A. Quincy Jones or Ed Killingsworth to build you a Case Study house. For the price of a hamburger and coffee you could step into the modern world, anywhere in the city.

Tiny Naylor’s interior.

In dozens of examples, Googie was excellent design—modern architects orchestrating modern materials, technology, and lifestyles into thoroughly modern spaces and structures. Step inside Norm’s today and the optimism, the openness, the innovation of its style is still striking. Instead of the traditional box enclosed by four walls, the space is open, defined by glass walls that eliminate the barrier between inside and outside. Slender columns clad with ceramic tiles support the truss roof that sweeps upward to expand the space. Every detail, from the shape of the roof, to the integral neon sign, to the jazzy angles of the tables and banquettes, to the custom-designed stainless steel kitchen counters, grills, pie cabinets, and spring-loaded plate holders, contributes to a unified design. The kinetic shapes, natural textures, landscaping, and warm colors reflect the organic modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright, not the austerity of Bauhaus modernism.

The quality of Googie Modernism is no mystery. Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, the architects of Norm’s and a series of definitive Googie coffee shops, trained at the USC School of Architecture, one of the headwaters of California Modernism.

Yet in spite of this heritage, and its fulfillment of modernism’s quest to serve the average person, Googie has been largely neglected by official histories. “Googie was used as a synonym for undisciplined design and sloppy workmanship,” explained writer Esther McCoy.

Googie bowling alley sign.
William Bird

Most establishment critics considered Googie the bastard child of modern architecture. Residential and institutional design was respectable; commercial design (especially coffee shops) was not. Googie’s flashy neon, exaggerated forms, and its appeal to the masses disqualified it as serious design. Plus it was from California.

Modernists may have embraced the masses in theory, but the profession’s patrician heritage found popular architecture distasteful.

Paul Rudolph (perhaps with a touch of defensiveness) warned in 1952 about the lack of discipline he detected in Googie. Freedom in design was fine, but needed to be carefully guided. Then “one could unleash the imagination… without fear of producing ‘Googie’ architecture,” he lectured. The modernism heralded by Museum of Modern Art exhibits was elegant, tasteful, subdued. It did not need to shout. Googie did.

So successfully was Googie suppressed that to this day there are academics from the east coast who have never even heard of the term.

But Esther McCoy was right: “Googie was not a name forgotten in a year; it clung to us.” The support for Norm’s La Cienega proves Googie has stood the test of time.

Make no mistake, Googie is as Modern as a Craig Ellwood house. From now on when we think of Los Angeles Modernism, we must think of the public modernism of Googie as well as the private modernism of the Case Study houses. They’re two sides of the same coin.

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The Pied Piper of park benches draws visitors to a French museum with music
Like a functioning plumbing system, park benches are one of those fixtures we take for granted—until they aren’t there. But an out-of-the-ordinary iteration of the ho-hum park bench by French designer Isabelle Daëron is drawing double takes by the dozen. The sculptural bench, called Bibliophonie, plays tunes and displays text from a database of open-source media managed by the L’Autre Lieu Library in Le Rheu, Bretagne, France, where the bench is located. Designed to attract visitors to the library, the public bench animates at the push of a button. It is curved at one end—perhaps a somewhat questionable bid at promoting an intimate, roundtable feel among total strangers—and has a raised section at the other for lying down or using as an armrest. Foreseeable issues of space hogging aside, the bench is designed to connect the library with the nearby community center, youth center, town hall and retirement home and integrate the newly constructed library as a community fixture. “The project had to be an invitation to enter the building,” Daëron wrote on her website. Featuring a mosaic backsplash-cum-backrest of overlapping blue and green ovals, the bench is equipped with a lamp, and serves as a light source at night. Content for playback is regularly updated by library staff, and in the medium-term, will be supplied with musical tracks created by city associations and students at the nearby inter-communal music school.
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Winning Designs for World’s First Sci-Fi Museum on View at Brooklyn Public Library
  Science fiction’s outlandish imaginings are set to become reality, with  the top 10 designs for the world’s first sci-fi museum on display at the Brooklyn Public Library through May 31. Naturally, the first-of-its-kind project warrants no less than a high-tech, out-of-this-world edifice worthy of Star Trek. The winning design by graduate student Emily Yen, titled Schrödinger’s Box, proposes a 3,990 square foot modular museum comprised of a trapezoid frame with infilled planes at various heights (think staggered wall shelving). An exterior insulated plastic cube is then hung from the frame, while a flexible fabric roof pivots around the opaque projection wall “facilitating connections to the universe and beyond,” according to Yen’s proposal. “It explores the imagination that anything is possible—it’s infinite. I think [Yen’s] design really teaches you to dream big,” said Barbara Wing, Manager of Exhibitions at BPL. A runner-up design by Indonesian architect Ko Wibowo perpetuates the concept of a roving museum with a building designed entirely from boxes affixed to trailers, with each one connected to the other by electrically charged magnetic edges. The boxes will be prefabricated off-site and designed to easily detach—facilitating relocation of the museum via truck or train. Sliding steel doors protect the glass-facing sides during transportation and control interior sun exposure for when the museum is reconfigured in different locales. Aspiring simultaneously towards a galactic dreamscape and the futuristic technologies of the sci-fi genre, the museum’s interior and exterior will be informed by a “utopia” (organic) and “dystopia” (industrial) concept respectively. The building will sport an industrial-looking front made from clear-coated raw steel and silicone-insulated glass. The indoors, meanwhile, will be awash in constellation-like lighting reflected off movable stainless steel walls with a mirror-like finish. Overhead, the brushed aluminium ceiling is embedded with self-illuminating signage. Knocking the ball out of the technological park is the creator of virtual reality experience “Project Anywhere,” Constantinos Miltiadis, who proposes a completely empty, non-descript building where museumgoers’ experience is mediated entirely through a wireless head-mounted display. Users dock their smartphones on the virtual reality headset for a customized experience of navigating a traditional museum—only virtually. While the concept of windowless-basement-as-museum may seem somewhat unsettling, Miltiadis’ point about eliminating physical constraints has merit. “The USS Enterprise, therefore, could be exhibited in its real scale: it can fly above you, take off and land,” he wrote in his proposal. Jonathan Spencer, Corporate Counsel at the Museum of Science Fiction, would like to see this technology come to fruition in the near future. "Some of the concepts which we hope to be able to incorporate are to allow visitors to have an augmented reality. Of course we would still have physical exhibits but augmented reality would allow us to bring educational programs to schools," he said. The Science Fiction Museum's primary goal is to inspire interest in STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) by exploring the genre through film, literature, art, graphic novels and music. Following its appearance at the Brooklyn Public Library, previews of the Museum of Science Fiction will be exhibited in Los Angeles, Milan, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai, Berlin, Moscow and London.