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Nostalgia by the Numbers
#modTEXAS is crowdsourcing midcentury design across the state
To cull together support for the campaign, modTEXAs is working with some major groups on the project including Preservation Dallas, the Texas Historical Commission, the North Texas and San Antonio chapters of Docomomo, and the American Institute of Architects chapters in Corpus Christi and Dallas. As Walton gleans information on the documented projects from various posts, she’s sharing stats and geotags with the groups for their own conservation efforts. D Magazine reported that a real estate site called Candy’s Dirt has also joined the campaign and has created a map of where photographs are taken. Of course, many people are hashtagging images of architecture in more metropolitan cities around the state, so it’s unclear what treasures might be threatened in rural areas if more awareness isn't built on their existence.
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The June theme for our Mapping Mod Challenge is Car Culture (share what you uncover using #modtexas). Built in 1947, the Pike Drive-In Theater in Lancaster featured a massive cowboy mural accented by neon lighting. 📷: @fortworthhistorical. #modtexas #fortworthhistorical #fortworthinsta #fortworthtexas #fortworthhistory #docomomo #modernist #ilovetexasphoto #texashistory #texasphoto #texasphotography #texasphotographer #texas_ig #texasarchitecture #texasarchitecture #midcentury #midcenturyarchitecture #postwarmodernism #modernism #midcentury #midcenturydetails #docomomous #texasarchitect #midcentury #midcenturyarchitecture #modernistarchitecture
From Mall to Office
Plan to transform Jerde’s postmodern wonderland in San Diego moves forward
A preliminary plan to transform the Jon Jerde–designed Horton Plaza Mall complex in San Diego has taken several steps forward in recent weeks as developer Stockdale Capital Partners detailed plans to reconfigure the dazzling postmodern shopping mall into a mixed-use technology campus.
In mid-April, San Diego’s economic development committee unanimously supported a change of deed request made by the developers to reduce the amount of retail space that must be included in the development. Currently, guidelines require that at least 700,000 square feet of retail spaces be provided on the site, a figure the developer seeks to slash in half. In exchange for the reduction, the developer would build a 772,000-square-foot tech office campus on top of a 300,000-square-foot retail podium.
The plan, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported, would require Stockdale to take responsibility for a city-owned park located on the site, as well.
A recent batch of renderings unveiled for the new complex depicts glass curtainwall facades and dark metal structural elements. A mix of indoor-outdoor spaces and ground level shops, gyms, and restaurants would serve up to 4,000 tech workers who could be located on the site.
At the economic development committee meeting, Stockdale cofounder Dan Michaels said, “We’ve done this before,” referencing the firm’s successful redevelopment of a similar mall complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, that brought a slew of marquee tech companies to the city, adding, “[Horton Plaza] is the opportunity incarnate.”
The plan, however, is not without controversy.
Several cultural heritage and historic preservation groups have challenged the plan, which would remove all of the postmodern elements of the complex. Organizations like the San Diego Architecture Foundation and the La Jolla Historical Society have publicly asked the developer to take steps to somehow preserve the iconic postmodern facades that mark the mall’s interior courtyard.
In a letter supporting the preservation of the existing complex, Heath Fox, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society, said, “Horton Plaza is a highly intact, signature example of postmodernism by an important architect, and large-scale examples of postmodern architecture are exceedingly rare.”
Designed in the early 1980s during an era when defensive urbanism reigned supreme in American cities, Horton Plaza was conceived as a microcosm where some of the unexpected and organic qualities of traditional urban environments were recreated inside a tightly-controlled private development.
As a result, Jerde created stacked and broad covered interior streets that offer new and delightful experiences around every corner.
Richly detailed with traditionally-inspired cornices, pressed tin ceilings, ordered columns, and ever-changing and sumptuous materiality, no two vistas within the mall are alike. Massive mosaic tile-covered facades protrude into the central space to create the illusion of organic development while walkways slope to connect different levels as they might in an Italian hillside town. In other areas, variously styled storefronts project from larger facades and stuccoed expanses of cerulean, goldenrod, and rose-hued masses collide and explode every which way.
The development, heralded as a transformative success when it originally opened in 1985, has fallen on hard times in recent years, even as the areas around it have thrived due to the urban resurgence the complex initiated.
If Stockdale is successful in its efforts, the project could take shape as soon as 2020.
At the turn of the 20th century, the life-world in Europe and America was deeply transformed by the simultaneous appearance of the telephone, subways, elevators, skyscrapers, cinema, automobiles, and the incandescent lamp. As outlined by Sanford Kwinter in his 1986 article, “La Città Nuova: Modernity and Continuity,” a new order emerged, whose main manifestations also fueled a new aesthetic realm—exemplified by the theoretical program of Italian Futurism.
Electric Light: An Architectural History, written by Sandy Isenstadt and published in 2018 by MIT Press, depicts the same cultural milieu as Kwinter did: It’s an attempt to relate the rise of a novel spatial sensibility with the proliferation of technical innovations. More specifically, Isenstadt, professor in the art history department at the University of Delaware, focuses his attention on electric light as epiphenomenon of a broad paradigm shift: modernity.
The advent of electric light, in fact, not only allowed people to extend conventional daytime activities to nighttime, but also alter the conception of a day-night divide Electric light introduced modern space through two fundamental concepts: instantaneity and action at a distance.
Despite similar premises and a shared chronological framework, Isenstadt’s work differs from Kwinter’s and many other contributions on the same theme in several significant aspects. First, Isenstadt doesn’t directly confront the avant-garde culture of the time. He doesn’t indulge in the typical topoi of movement and dynamism, nor does he introduce Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, and Antonio Sant’Elia, all leading Futurist figures who envisioned a new material world made of speed, electricity, and intensity. On the contrary, Isenstadt is concerned with the impact of electricity on the everyday lives of millions of people. This is because, as he claims, electric light is itself a form of architecture. For this reason, Isenstadt also compiles an inventory of extraordinary objects enabled by electric light, such as cars, lamps, bulbs, animated advertisements, and lighted signs—all of which not only contained novel intrinsic properties, but also forged the emergence of a world that radically altered the perception of existing spaces and created new ones. By compiling these objects, Isenstadt traces a genealogy of modernity crystallized in the description of five different case studies all rooted in the American territory.
Whereas the first case study on the light switch depicts its technical and symbolic relevance—from its use in domestic spaces to the celebration of religious and political events—the second one looks into the experience of night driving; the car becomes a prosthesis of the human body, a projection of desires and curiosities, and the headlamps an instrument to explore unknown territories. The third case study analyses electric light in terms of efficiency and productivity in the workplace, including factories and schools, and the fourth is on Times Square in New York City: a landmark of modernity, a phantasmagoria of signs and billboards that constituted the first example of TEXT-scape, a homogenous field characterized by signs, signals, and advertisements. Lastly, Isenstadt explores the relationship between wartime and lighting during World War II by describing the application in America of collective and individual forms of blackout, which stemmed from paranoia about being bombed.
Regardless of its organization into five different parts, Electric Light: An Architectural History constitutes a narrative continuum on the idea of modernity. A further differentiation emerges. The case studies, in fact, suggest the simultaneous presence of two interpretative criteria. One is merely phenomenological: electric light has altered the perception of the space around us, our experiences, and our feelings. But at the same time, Isenstadt also points out how electricity has physically shaped a new world by inducing the rise of unprecedented spaces and typologies. This twofold perspective translates either into the intriguing description of certain perceptual conditions—such as the act of night driving or the urban reading of Times Square—or into the accurate classification of technical devices and methods of construction.
Whereas the whole narrative skeleton defined by Isenstadt makes his text undoubtedly fascinating, at first sight its subtitle—An Architectural History—can appear misleading. The book, in fact, is not a chronological excursus of architectural episodes, nor does it provide a methodological schema to understand what modernity in architecture is and what its features are. In varying the scope of his reflections—from the detail of the light switch to the suspended temporality of a city’s electrified streets—Isenstadt engages readers on a compelling journey at the intersection of society, culture, and technology. Rather than deploying aesthetic categories, Isenstadt focuses on new visual habits. Here again, the convergence between material, constructive depictions, and phenomenological aspects allows us to look at the five selected cases with a revived interest that reaches beyond sterile disciplinary categorizations.
The end result is a history of electric modernism: in the author’s words, “If modernity itself can be characterized by rapid, incessant change and modernism as the creative and conscious response to such change, then electric light—instantaneous, malleable, evanescent—is modernity’s medium.”