What happened to that “can-do” spirit of the 1950s and 60s?
Back then, architects used all sorts of new materials –glass, steel, plastics, and even aluminum—to push the envelope and test new ways of living. Albert Frey, a Swiss architect, tapped into that spirit when he relocated to Palm Springs. There, he built Frey House I in 1941, an almost all-glass house, and Frey House II in 1964. As well as using new materials, Frey decided that his second home would be built on an unbuildable lot on the side of a mountain, and, further, he’d allow a HUGE rock to come inside and take up residence beside his bed!
After exploring Frey’s work, Where Cool Came From checks out a house made almost entirely of aluminum in Rochester, NY. Alcoa’s space-age, 1957 “Care-Free” home—which feels a little like living inside a Christmas ornament—becomes the setting for our host and homeowner Steve Plouffe to cook up some TV dinners and mix a few martinis.
Not only is hot-off-the-runway couture fashion financially out of reach for most people, it’s just not practical for everyday life.
And that’s also true of high-concept architecture, since it’s essentially the same thing. So why get angry at a one-off building designed for a rich client, even if it seems entirely impractical? However, this is exactly the reaction I’ve encountered a number of times when telling people how much I adore Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945),
or its little brother, Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut (1949).
Cut from the same cloth, these two beauties are all glass, a little bit of steel, and would both completely suck to live in if they were plunked down in the middle of a subdivision.
But that’s not the point. These two homes, in quiet, pastoral settings, work wonderfully for what they are: big ol’ sculptures that a person can also happen to live in. They were never meant to be prototypes for houses of the future, and their architects never thought they’d roll out these designs for the masses.
Yet, just like in fashion, their influence did trickle down to you and I.
Architects, reading trade magazines and scholarly journals, started to incorporate details that borrowed heavily from the two glass houses and, indeed, the progressive European buildings that came before (Mies van der Rohe was designing glass buildings as early as 1921 in his native Germany): open floor plans, big picture windows, more gently sloping rooflines (as opposed to severe hip roofs) and better connections to the back garden.
Some architects/builders in warmer areas such as California, were building semi-glass houses in tract neighbourhoods for the average person. While Joseph Eichler and the Alexander homes
are probably the best known of this group, there were others (building what we now call “Likelers”), and the style even got up to the Greater Toronto Area, where traces of California can be found in Don Mills, Scarborough and Mississauga’s Applewood Heights.
And for those who didn’t want to live in a semi-glass house but still wanted to participate in the future, there were all sorts of businesses or restaurants where one could experience the same thrill.
found fault with suburbia, and, later, in 1981, Tom Wolfe wrote a bestseller that really took the romance out of the style, From Bauhaus to Our House.
Yet many of us still crave transparency: just look at the condo boom of the early 21st century in many major cities. While not quite the same as suburbia, new and glittering glass boxes in the sky are the new starter homes for many.
But energy is no longer cheap; we can no longer just dial up the thermostat to combat heat-loss. If we still want to live in glass houses, we’ve got to find financially responsible and, more importantly, ecologically responsible ways to do so.
Part 1 of our webisode series on homes airs Monday March 24th!
We’ve just released a new webisode of Where Cool Came From!
Ever wonder why grandpa used to rock that fedora? Turns out he was just trying to be all gangsta… the old-school way.
Until the late-1960s, men put on hats almost as often as their underpants. Born when hats died, our fortysomething host took to hat-wearing in the 1990s as an inexpensive way to cover his ever-expanding bald spot, but found they also made him feel more ‘put-together’ too.
But why have noggins been topped with crowns, cones and furs for centuries? To truly understand why “the hat makes the man,” Dave puts on his deerstalker and visits fashion historian Ingrid Mida.
While it may look like a house from the 1950s, Philip Johnson considered his iconic 1949 Glass House in Connecticut to be from the 1920s! That’s because his inspiration came from across the pond…and the past.
A massive fan of Modern architecture, Dave tours Johnson’s human fishbowl to see if it fits his lifestyle: would a bathrobe and slippers work here?
Check out the newest webisode of Where Cool Came From.
Tattooing was banned in NYC for 30-plus years. But that didn’t stop Mike Bakaty.
Until recently, tattoos walked a fine line between freakish, criminal and cool. Even ultra-cool places like swingin’ sixties New York City found reasons to ban them; there, the inkwell ran dry for three decades! But where there are rules, there are rebels, and Dave visits the James Dean of the Needle Set, Mike Bakaty, to learn about the dark days.
Tattoo by Mehai Bakaty
Tattoo by Mike Bakaty
This webisode is dedicated to Mike Bakaty 1936-2014
Just released! The next webisode in the Where Cool Came From Series continues on with the topic of Hats. In this instalment Dave ventures inside Manhattan’s oldest hat shop, in business since the jazz age.
Risking a sunburn, Dave arrives in the Big Apple without his trusty porkpie. After two decades with the same melon-topper, he thinks it might be time to stir the pot. But where to begin? Piled to the rafters in a rainbow of colours, shapes and styles, the insane inventory at J.J. Hat Center makes it look like a Hollywood wardrobe warehouse! Thankfully, Marc Williamson steps in to soothe Dave’s haberdashery headache.