Mid-Century Modernism is my favorite period in architecture. Modernism is a transitional design idiom that takes us from Art Deco and is a precursor to the International Style. I am always uplifted by the sense of optimism that Modernist buildings display. They are often grand and corporate but are never infused with the Ozymandian portent that International Style buildings instantly generate due to their inhuman scale.
Like Art Deco before it, Mid-Century Modernism had strong design cues and could be executed with economy with a simple superstructure clad in a few details executed with glamourous materials. Put away that marble – we're going with terrazzo! All of this gave the effect of great style at the lowest possible cost. It was therefore possible for any architect in almost any burgh to propose a Modernist building for a new build. Mid-Century Modernism was also perfectly suited for that most common low-cost high style Mid-Century build – the shopping mall.
Growing up in a small City with a Pop. of 250,000 I was not exposed to a great number of international design movements. But Modernism was everywhere. And I remember the sense of occasion one had going to these buildings. They were slick, clean and up-to-date. There were escalators or elevators. One was always the newest medical building. Just walking in the front door you new they would have the latest advances in medical technology. Whatever ailed you would soon be cured.
Then there were the City's two shopping malls, both executed in Modernist style. What is more exciting to a young person, or anyone, than a trip to a shopping Valhalla? And finally, in the 1960s all apartment towers were being executed in the chic Modernist style.
My real passion for Mid-Century Modernism is what I have named the “Pavilion Style”. In the Canadian City of Toronto there is an entire complex of fairground buildings called the Canadian National Exhibition. These are a fairgrounds so old that once a Crystal Palace was the main structure.
And before all of those things was the 1939 New York's Worlds Fair. And recently an amazing series of “electric city” style nocturnal time exposures has emerged. Breathtaking!
The story is great, but I recommend scrolling half-way down the page to the photo gallery. Read the story afterword and you will appreciate it more.