Sunday, February 19, 2017


Boy, the 50s was a great time for architecture.

 I suspect though, that few thoroughly modern houses were built in that period. Most were hybrids.

There was a transition period where modern design was simply incorporated into traditional houses. That's okay. It was a great combination. 

That transition is still going on. Still targeted for conceptual demolition is the traditional living room (above). It hasn't exactly been replaced yet, but it's gradually being "nudged" out to the margins.

Newer architects prefer to emphasize the kitchen. Fireplaces and sofas are retained but are increasingly seen as comforting symbols rather than workhorses that pull their own weight.

Foyers and entrance points also have less emphasis now. They're not seen as an art form in themselves but rather as an introduction to the  puzzle presented by the odd angles in the living room and kitchen.

Living rooms are the sites of endless experiments now. Here (above) Frank Lloyd Wright toyed with idea of putting bleachers in the living room. Yeah, the ones in your high school gym... and they work, at least I think they do. I've never actually been in a room like that.

Even staircases are being re-evaluated. Here's (above) an interesting staircase that looks traditional and modern at the same time.

The new idea (above) is to de-emphasize stairs. Maybe that's a carry-over from the tiny house movement. It might also have come about through the influence of film.  Set designers always like to stage action in front of deep perspective or glimpses into other rooms.

Well, there's lots more to say about this but I'll save that for another post. Geez, I hope all these architectural posts won't scare away all my cartoonist readers. I'm moving and will almost certainly have to remodel a bit. For someone like that thoughts about architecture are inevitable.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I have lots and lots of pictures I want to put on the walls of my new house...too many, really. I might be heading for a nightmare of clutter.

It occurred to me that maybe I should minimize what's framed on the wall and let the architecture speak for itself. Maybe I should aim for a just a handful of emotionally neutral pictures that recede into the background. Something soothing and relaxing. Some subject like.... fishing.

When I looked up fly fishing posters on the net I discovered that they're anything but relaxing. They're all pictures of stressed out manly men, men who are pitted against horrific, titanic forces.

Who'd have thunk? It's odd because the fish most Sunday fisherman catch are tiny things no bigger than your hand. 

I was surprised to find so many posters dealing with fish grabbing. That's a relatively new sport.

Fish grabbers see themselves as more humane because they release the fish after they catch them. I don't know, though.  I don't think fish like to be manhandled.

I was amazed to find posters of...of all things...bait!!!  Yes, worms and bugs! Fisherman are a breed apart, no doubt about it.

I even found lots of abstract, Cliff Sterrett/Picasso-type fish posters. Who'd have thought that fish people would go for artsy stuff like that?

Well, eventually I found the sedate pictures I was looking for, but... I dunno...maybe I'll try something else.

Chess posters?  Here's the world famous Nimzo Indian Defense (or maybe Nimzo is the name of the poster company).

Or a lucky poker hand.

Or a picture of a singing cowboy. Aaaargh! I don't know.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Like most people I'm a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, but he's not above making mistakes.  Nobody is.  I thought it might be fun to review some of his faux pas.

Let's face it. A lot of his chairs don't look very comfortable.

Some of the worse offenders are his plywood chairs, like the one above. This chair is missing its cushions, but even so....

For a time Wright fell in love with plywood and used it to make visible walls even in his upscale houses, something few modern architects would do.

A more serious problem is his lack of interest in bedrooms and kitchens.

Here's (above) a Wright bedroom. It's a living room with a bed in it.  Taken alone it looks great but imagine a whole house where every room is a living's just too much of a good thing. I see homes as a confederacy of different moods and purposes, the way nature itself is.

Here's another bedroom. It feels like a family room or a study that's doing double duty.

Here's a kitchen that also looks like a study. You get the feeling that the man never spent much time in kitchens.

Lots of people think of landscaping as an art form but the subject seemed to bore Wright.  All he seemed to want around his houses (above) was a nicely mowed lawn. 

His low-budget Usonian houses seemed all the more stark and unappealing on the plain lawns. 

Does anything I mentioned diminish the architect's stature in my eyes? Nope. Not a jot.  He's still the greatest builder of homes that I'm aware of.  I only mean to point out that nobody's ever perfect, not even the greatest geniuses.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Architecture is on my mind these days, and I thought I'd talk about another favorite film house...this one from the 1945 thriller, "Leave Her to Heaven."  The stars: Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde.  The director: John M. Stahl.  The location: Arizona.  Gee, I wish I knew the art director's name because this post is really about his work. 

This (above) is the best view of the exterior I could find, but it doesn't quite match the log cabin look of the picture at the top. I think the film presented these as different views of the same house, though. Anyway, this view kinda' makes you want to take a dip, doesn't it?

And here's an indoor shot highlighting one of the best staircases in all of film. It's only my opinion... is the Czar's staircase in Von Sternberg's "Catherine the Great."

This interior was built on a set in L.A. If I understand right
it was inspired by a real house in Arizona, but lots of alterations were made by the set designer.  Not bad, eh?

Above, a slightly different angle.

This house (above) is cozy as well as modern. That's a trademark of architect Cliff May. You don't suppose he had a hand in this film, do you?

The dining area (above) is raised two or three steps above the living room. Nice.

Of course, it helps to have Gene Tierney serving up the meal.

Above, the area in front of the dining table.

Here's (above) the set of another house in the film.

How do you like the Dutch door and the large windows that go all the way down to the floor?

BTW: Most of these pictures were found on a site called "Hooked on Houses."

Thursday, February 09, 2017


Here's (above) a view of Parisian rooftops by the underrated (underrated in the USA, that is) Paris Match and New Yorker cartoonist, Jean-Jacques Sempe.  I imagine that Sempe's work has special appeal for architects. In addition to his own great ideas he has a knack for stimulating ideas in others... a valuable man to have around.

Take these Parisian rooftops for example.  They're so beautifully caricatured that they stick in your mind. Over time you find yourself wondering why ground architecture is so frequently inferior to what's on roofs and why can't we make better use of rooftops than we have so far?

Sempe's full of architectural ideas. In this case (above) he seems to believe that if we're going to light up business buildings at night then we should really light them up, with big windows and strong lights. "Sure," I say to myself, "why not?"

I could write pages on the thoughts that spring to mind when I see the city scene above. On Sempe's small street the traffic congestion is actually picturesque. You'd expect the cramped drivers to be stressed out but maybe they're soothed by the people watching opportunities. Is the answer to traffic congestion smaller one-way streets rather than big two-direction boulevards?  Probably not, but you have to admit that the idea is provocative.

BTW: what a seat that guy behind the big window has! It's a people watcher's dream.

While we're on the subject of people watchers, what do you think of this restaurant scene (above)?  You look at this picture and you're instantly transported to a time and a place where you spent time with a friend in a quiet restaurant while humanity paraded along outside the window. But wait, this is about people watching....

Notice we're looking down at the diners, as if from a higher level. The diners can push aside the curtains and look out and maybe down at the passersby, and people on the higher level can look down at the diners. Do you get it? In other words, the Peoplewatchers themselves can be peoplewatched. It's an interesting idea.

Here's (above) a Sempe outdoor coffee house. Isn't it great? It takes so little to make people happy. Why, oh why, do we torture ourselves with inferior spaces?

I also like what Sempe has to say about the simple pleasures of life, like splashing through rain water.  Is there a way that architecture can improve the splashing experience?

Adults like to avoid the rain and kids like to play in it.  Sempe seems to ask if there's some way architecture can satisfy both types.

I wish architects would spend more time imagining how cities can be made for fun.  Wind, rain, snow and lightning are too often treated as obstacles. Maybe architects and engineers can transform them into opportunities for pleasure.  A first step might be for them to read Sempe.

Monday, February 06, 2017


What's the latest trend in art? That's a good question!

We're departing from previous 50s-type Modern Art, no doubt about that.  50s art was often about weird organic shapes. Here's (above) a piece by Jean Arp who was fascinated by bread mold and lava lamps. I like it because its funny, but I guess it's not for everybody.

At least Arp was neat. You could eat off the floor in his studio.

Most artists aren't like that. We're a landlord's worst nightmare.

I don't know why but a lot of us just can't think unless we're surrounded by clutter.

If you're a landlord and this puts you off, then you'd better not talk to your artist friends about it. We're a volatile bunch, easily offended.

Maybe that's because we're full of anxiety. We're required to comment on hard to pin down things like what's "in the air."

Critics expect us to be the early warning radar of what's coming next.

Yikes! I don't know what's in the air. I have enough trouble finding my car keys. That's a big responsibility they're laying on us.

Oh, well...we'll do our best.

So what's in the air? My best guess is sentimental dog paintings. Dog slippers, dog pens, dog Kleenex...anything dog. There. You can bank (bark) on it.

[BTW., none of the art portrayed here is mine.]