Once upon a time in mid-century USA, airports were neat places to see and experience. Not at all like today where you are subjected to a dreaded, purgatorian visit to the sterile lockdown. That gets you prepared for boarding the winged Greyhound bus…Oh well, I’m just getting wound up now, so let’s take a look at a trip around Idlewild (now Kennedy) Airport in New York back in 1961. These pics were taken by Dimitri Kessel for an article in LIFE magazine about Idlewild. Enjoy!
“Early in Haertling’s career he was commissioned by University of Colorado psychology professor Theodore Volsky to design a house for his family of four on a steep hillside lot extending from a mountain stream in west Boulder. The lot featured views in all directions, half of them slightly upwards to the mountains. The Volskys were interested in taking advantage of these views in a dramatic living room situation. The prominent upward views suggested the upwards curving catenary roof form open to the high view areas while still maintaining interior scale. One gets a 360′ view from the curtain-less living room of the mountains to the west and south, and the plains and cityscape to the east and north. The steepness of the site was accommodated by lowering the house into the earth as much as possible to the rear and allowing light in by way of large lightwells. For basic economy a circular floor plan was conceived, which allowed for increased circulation in the smaller area of the circle and for larger rooms with minimum access distance.
The living room sits atop the circular form blossoming at the highest point from the ground that capitalizes on the excitement of the terrain. The lower level contains a recreation room and the entry. Upon ascending the stairs one emerges into an interior garden which not only surprises and delights, but also is very functional in that it serves also as a short cut between living areas.
During the construction of the Volsky house a dozen of the neighbors collaborated on a letter of protest regarding its “sheer grossness”, and voicing their concern over “a definite though incalculable loss of property values.” Within a year of the completion of the house Life Magazine printed a 6 page article on it in their Ideas in Houses section. In the following years it appeared on CBS-TV’s show “21st Century” hosted by Walter Cronkite, Schonen Wohnen, and L’Architecture D’aujourd’hui magazines. Since that time the Volskys have made a hobby of maintaining the house in its original form.”
Here we have a home designed and built 63 years ago (1947) by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (designed by William Friedman and Hilde Reiss, Walker staff members, and local architect Malcolm Lein). It was part of a program to demonstrate the museum director’s “art-in-use” belief that a house should be art and that art could be functional.
In 1948, Life magazine selected an average American family to live in the house and provide feedback on modern living. The Stensrud family (Rockwell, Janet, Susan & Rocky Jr), moved from their conventional home to live modern for a week.
Even though they had issues with some elements of modernism, such as not enough decoration, it seems that they were taken by the openness and the connection with the outdoors. It made them realize that their traditional home was poorly planned with dark, boxy rooms.
What I like about this house is that there are no futuristic gadgets or unobtainable materials. It is a straightforward demonstration of what modern architecture in houses could be. It’s a shame that got lost somewhere.
I wonder if this could be done today? It seems strange, but an average 21st Century family living in a traditional home would probably have the same experience if they lived for a week in a modern house.
Enjoy the pictures and the articles below. The first set is from the Oct. 18, 1948 issue of Life with photos by Joseph Scherschel. The second set comes out of McCall’s Book of Modern Homes (1951).
Click on the pics for the whole set on Flickr, where you can view much larger versions: