Midcentury Modern homes, though now held up by many as architectural art, were originally meant for everyday people, and their design, materials and adaptability reflects that.
Modern Phoenix Week from March 24 to April 2 highlights this style of 1950s and ‘60s architecture with activities centered around their preservation, restoration and uses. The week’s events further the conversation and create awareness about central Arizona’s Midcentury Modern architecture through tours of residential and commercial buildings; workshops and talks on issues related to midcentury modernism in Arizona; and mixers with experts in the fields of preservation, restoration and modern design.
Alison King, founder of Modern Phoenix, said in Arizona, architects often constructed modern tract home developments for middle-class homeowners.
“One of the things we really succeeded at was an economy of scale in the development of tract housing that were in the modern spirit,” King said. “We’ve got excellent examples of modern affordable homes, and the real estate here is still somewhat affordable for people wanting to get started in collecting modern homes.”
One of the highlights of Modern Phoenix Week, the home tour on April 2, lets visitors explore Midcentury Modern homes in different Phoenix neighborhoods. This year, the focus will be the Paradise Gardens neighborhood, an area known for its Al Beadle homes.
Beadle, an architect in Phoenix who designed the Case Study project Triad Apartments, is known for the openness, simplicity and elegance of his designs.
Tickets for the home tour go on sale Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. and usually sell out quickly.
King said the tour will give participants a chance to see homes owned by different types of families in Paradise Gardens.
“The fun part is seeing how owners have personalized and modified them,” King said. “You get to see all the clever ways that people have adapted these tracts into something that works for them.”
The homes on the tour all share Midcentury Modern characteristics, but their owners have customized them to fit their lifestyles.
For homeowner Bruce Cutting, restoring his 1961 home to its original condition meant stripping away colonial remodels.
Cutting tried to stay true to the time period with touches such as birch cabinets and doors, concrete flooring, sliding cabinet doors in pastel colors and pinch-pleated drapes.
“What we wanted to do was renovate the house in a way in which Al Beadle would have if he would have been given free reign,” Cutting said.
Cutting said midcentury homes often had a similar vibe as the period following World War II.
“I think that period postwar was a very optimistic time in the history of our country. I think midcentury architecture mirrors that optimism,” Cutting said. “They have a joyful spirit. I think that’s what made me love midcentury homes.”
As part of their renovation, homeowners Scott and Kristy Smith focused on bringing an indoor/outdoor feel, prevalent in modern homes from the 1950s and ‘60s, to their Paradise Gardens home.
The couple’s extensive use of glass has helped to create this aesthetic.
“When you come into the living room/dining room/kitchen area, it is one big room. It is very open to the outside and just a continuation of surface out toward the pool,” Scott said.
Scott said Midcentury Modern homes allow for the owners to make updates and add modern appliances and furniture without taking away from the overall design.
Like many homeowners in Paradise Gardens, the Smiths sought out a Midcentury Modern home when they were house hunting.
“Nobody came here by chance. If they are looking for midcentury homes, this is certainly one of the more known areas of Phoenix,” Scott said.
The week-long event series, which takes place at 19 venues throughout Phoenix, will expand this year with the inclusion of the Docomomo US National Symposium from March 29 to April 2.
In its fifth year, the symposium brings together architects, designers, industry professionals, preservationists, academics and everyday citizens with an interest in Midcentury modern architecture. It is hosted by Docomomo US, an organization dedicated to the documentation and preservation of modern buildings.
This year’s symposium will focus on the theme of modernism and climate, a topic King said is especially relevant to Arizona because of how the desert climate can impact restorations.
“We are a great petri dish or sandbox for experimentation to see what works. Certainly, we’ve got a lot of failures, but we learn from it and move on,” King said.
The national symposium will incorporate a day-long retreat to Paolo Soleri’s “urban laboratory” Arcosanti; visits to spots such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West; workshops on modern resource surveys and preservation advocacy efforts and sessions on Phoenix’s Midcentury Modern commercial architecture and microclimates.
A welcome reception on March 29 highlights the south rotunda of the Phoenix Financial Center, a 2016 Citation of Merit recipient in the Docomomo US Modernism in America Awards. King said the event allows Docomomo members from around the country to experience the award-winning building firsthand.
“For us, as Phoenicians, this building and this whole complex is really a point of pride,” King said.
As part of the symposium and Modern Phoenix Week, visitors and locals have the chance to tour Midcentury Modern buildings and residences built by some the area’s top architects.
Bus tours will highlight midcentury banks, churches, buildings developed by Phoenix’s leading architects, Al Beadle homes, the Superlite Block Factory and Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti and Dome House.
During Modern Phoenix Week, area homeowners are brought into the conversation about efforts to preserve and restore modern homes. A workshop on March 25 will give community members the resources needed to research their midcentury homes.
“They can figure out if they are historically significant or not, or if they were designed by somebody famous, or if they have details that are unique to them or part of a larger story of the growth and development of Phoenix,” King said. “For many people, it’s just inspiring, the stories of their neighborhoods. Those little tidbits of history really uplift people and give them a sense of rootedness.”
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