The W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery will host an exhibition sponsored by the Getty Foundation that showcases the finest examples of modern architecture in Southern California homes.
“Technology and Environment: The Post War House in Southern California” will appear in the gallery from April 11 to July 12. It is part of “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.,” a series of programs and events sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Trust in and around Los Angeles.
The exhibition will focus on nine houses that represent architectural trends from 1940 to the early 1970s.
“They’re all important, iconic houses associated with the modern [architecture] movement in Los Angeles,” says Cal Poly Pomona Architecture Professor Lauren Bricker, one of the exhibit’s curators.
Modern residential architecture is partly characterized by the innovative use of technology. For example, one aspect of the modern house was the use of a steel frame. When designing for a sloping site, architects might select steel, but were more likely to choose wood frames or a combination of materials. Seeking new markets for their products, the steel industry promoted its use of steel in modern houses, Bricker says.
While construction materials and systems were of interest to architects, they often found themselves designing modest houses on inexpensive hillside lots. In order to maximize the interior and exterior living spaces, they used built-in furniture and replaced opaque walls with sliding glass doors that opened to a patio or terrace. Dramatic spatial effects were often sought – and achieved within the houses – where single or multiple levels were designed to take full advantage of view of the beautiful California landscape, Bricker says.
Many examples of modern homes still exist. They are part of the cultural inheritance of the region. “Not surprisingly, the architecture community in Los Angeles, is very proud of these modern houses,” she says. “Its members are among the staunchest preservationists.”
The exhibit will focus on three areas: how the structural systems influence and relate to the ultimate form and construction of the home; sustainability and how the houses continue to function from a climatic and comfort viewpoint; and how the homes were promoted through print media.
It will feature articles, advertisements, historic drawings and rarely seen photographs from the Special Collections in the College of Environmental Design archive, as well as models of postwar residences built by architecture students at Cal Poly Pomona and new photographs.
Kristen Tuerk is a third-year master’s degree student in architecture who worked on the project, researching popular magazines and architecture journals for advertisements depicting different aspects of the modern house. She also searched for articles in periodicals about the specific houses featured in the exhibit.
“You really get to see how influential the modern house was, especially in a cultural sense,” Tuerk says. “I find that getting to experience them in the eyes of their time, and in a commercialized setting, provides greater context for their design impact.”
Mark Fagan, a fourth-year architecture student, said doing the research and producing the physical and digital models of the homes gave him a greater appreciation for mid-20th century Southern California architecture.
“In those four decades in which Southern California’s population increased by more than six times its size, architects and designers found creative freedom in the design of California’s single-family residences,” he says. “Most intriguing to me is the social impact that these houses had on the population intended to inhabit them.”
Fagan said working on the project was a fantastic influence on his approach to education and solidified his interest in architectural history and theory and becoming an architect.
Tuerk said working on the project has helped her learn how California architecture developed, gain experience in research that was valuable to her master’s thesis, and develop project management skills.
“It has been great – a true student/educator collaboration,” she says.
The Modern Influence Lives On
Modern architecture continues to influence residential design. But new houses today rarely have the whole package of modern features; instead, they’re more likely to have individual concepts, Bricker says.
“It’s a market issue. The sale-ability of modern is always limited,” she says. “It’s something of a catch-22: if there were more opportunity to buy affordable modern houses, people would.”
In addition, the public generally has more conservative tastes than some of the adventurous modern residential designs, and builders and developers respond to that, Bricker said.
Bricker and Judith Sheine, who worked at Cal Poly Pomona before joining the University of Oregon, are co-curators along with architecture Professor Pablo LaRoche and landscape architecture Professor Philip Pregill. Renowned architecture photographer and digital publisher Tim Sakamoto designed the exhibit.
The Getty Foundation contributed $300,000 in two grants to underwrite the research and exhibition, a substantial amount among the grants allocated from the foundation.
A portion of the exhibit may be displayed in Spain, where LaRoche has associates with whom he collaborates on sustainability studies, Bricker said.
(Photo: Judith Sheine, Philip Regill, Lauren Brinker and Pablo LaRoche look over a model of a house designed by Ray Kappe. The home models were built by architecture students at Cal Poly Pomona for the exhibition.)