What happened to post war mid-century optimism and creativity?

What happened to post war mid-century optimism and creativity?

The conclusion of World War II in 1945 started the beginning of a new era in America. While the roots of modernism can be traced back to around 1920 the mid-century modern era is typically defined between 1945 and 1975.

The high level of positivity, creativity and optimism perforated all aspects of American culture with the goal of creating a better life. This was highly noticed in architecture and the furniture that came out of this period. By pushing ahead with new materials and breaking from traditional design norms amazing results ensued. From Googie architectural banks that looked like they could be on the Jetsons to the Eames Lounge Chair from Charles Eames and Herman Miller tangible successes were everywhere and still shine to this day.

The question is what happened? What happened to optimism and creativity? The vast majority of homes, apartments and commercial buildings built in the modern era are forgettable on the drawing board and should never have been built. Design can be better without drastically increasing costs, but it takes more critical thought and work.

A couple years ago I brought some ideas to a meeting with a large commercial architectural firm building a $60M apartment complex for a very large commercial real estate firm and they were blown away by what I thought were simple suggestions to improve the design. A mid-century design style was perfect for the surrounding neighborhoods and would make the complex stand out. A few of the ideas were implemented and the design improved, but it was nowhere close to reaching potential or being something special.

Why does this happen over and over and what can we do about it? The main reason it happens is because people don’t care. The architects, the developer, and the person renting or buying the house are all lacking the standards they should have. The problem is when 90% of what you see is terrible, but consistent, this sets the standard. In comparison to the mid-century area where there was a high level of creativity and design even in something small like a gas station. Today we are bombarded by C and D level design across the board.

All we can do is focus on what we can control. Become more educated on design, talk about it, be optimistic and creative, don’t settle, don’t buy the poorly designed house, etc. I look to you reading this to do all you can to carry the torch for good design in any way you can.

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By Ryan Smith

The founder and president of Mid Mod Phoenix, Ryan is passionate about mid-century modern architecture, real estate, modernism, restoring homes, designing beautiful living spaces, ASU, and enjoying life in the Valley of the Sun. To learn more about any of these topics, get in touch with him at ryan@midmodernphoenix.com.

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