Today we’re chatting a little bit about midcentury modernism. If you don’t know, the Museum hosts the Mad About Modern Home Tour every fall, where we feature midcentury modern homes in the city and advocate for their preservation – and also get to look in some really cool houses. So let’s get up to speed on what midcentury modernism is!
In January of 1945, the Arts and Architecture Magazine challenged some of the country's most talented architects to solve the post-war housing crisis. Architects responded with over 30 unique house designs, many of which were built in California. Although they didn’t quite solve the housing crisis, the architects demonstrated revolutionary new ideas about design that quickly spread across the country. This experiment, called the Case Study House Program, kicked started the midcentury modern movement and changed residential architecture forever.
These pages from the 45th issue of Arts and Architecture announced the Magazine’s famous Case Study House Program. Credit: Arts and Architecture. January 1945.
Midcentury modern (MCM) is a term used to describe the larger design movement that the Case Study House architects contributed to. Beginning in the late 1940s, midcentury modern was defined by the use of sleek lines and innovative materials to create simple but functional designs- primarily in architecture and furniture. Case Study Houses #8 and #22, built in Los Angeles, were perfect examples. Besides clean lines and new materials, they featured open floor plans, an abundance of natural light, and bold, often asymmetrical, geometric forms - all trademark characteristics of MCM architecture. If you’re like me, you might be itching to see these masterpieces in person. Great news! You don’t have to fly all the way to California to see great MCM architecture. Some of Charlotte’s most talented architects brought the innovative ideas of midcentury modern to the Queen City.
Case Study House #8 (The Eames House) featured a simple rectangular form, standardized materials, and a carefully composed facade pattern. Credit: Eames Foundation. 2021.
This famous photograph of Case Study House #22 (The Stahl House) showed the house's unique flat roof and floor-to-ceiling windows. Credit: Atlas of Places. June 2019. Stahl House by Pierre Koenig (606AR) — Atlas of Places
Charlotte was already well established by the time midcentury modernism began sweeping the nation. As a result, most MCM construction was concentrated outside of the center city. A short drive south of Charlotte offers plenty of neighborhoods built at the height of the craze. Places like Lansdowne, the Cloisters, Foxcroft, and a few others boast an impressive collection of MCM architecture. You can easily fill a weekend afternoon driving through some of these neighborhoods to admire houses from every era of the movement. With a little more effort, great midcentury modern buildings can be found scattered elsewhere in the city too.
Many of these midcentury modern structures were built by some of Charlotte’s most talented architects. A.G Odell, perhaps Charlotte’s most famous architect, was among the first to bring MCM to the city. After working in New York, Odell designed the Charlotte Coliseum, Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, and plenty of houses too. Much like the Eames House, Odell’s Lutheran church brought a simple form to life with a colorful facade pattern. Murray Whisnant was responsible for some of Charlotte’s most impressive residential architecture including his own home and the recently restored Cohen-Fumero House. The Cohen-Fumero House used the same flat roofs and expansive windows made famous by Case Study House #22. Charles Bates even built a house in Charlotte inspired by Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, another iconic MCM design.
A.G. Odell’s Holy Comforter Lutheran Church brought a simple form to life with a colorful facade pattern. Credit: NC Modernist.
Much like Johnson’s Glass House, The Bates Residence used minimal steel framing to support expansive walls of glass windows. Credit: NC Modernist.
The midcentury modern movement left a significant mark on Charlotte’s architectural history. Unfortunately, only a fraction of these designs can still be enjoyed today. Remarkable buildings designed by Odell, Whisnant, Bates and others have been lost over the years to demolition or disrepair. Historic preservationists are working hard to protect what remains. You can support that effort through the Charlotte Museum of History’s Mad About Modern Home Tour- the best way to learn about and preserve midcentury modern architecture in the city.
Until next week,
UNCC Undergraduate Student
Summer Intern, The Charlotte Museum of History
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass