How Modern Architecture Actually Promotes Mindfulness
No distracting design here.
I was raised a modernist, but it was lost on me until I was an adult. In 1959, my grandparents had a house built for their growing family. It was a glass-and-steel structure designed in the International Style: open plan, low-slung roof with overhangs for shade, a glass curtain wall on the outside. On weekends as a kid I’d play with my cousins in this modernist box we jokingly referred to as the hotel. It could take a hit: It had built-in furniture, a brick indoor fountain we called the grotto, linoleum floors that no amount of pool water tracked in from outside could damage. In this handsome purpose-built home, we ran free.
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The minimalist structure framed our days there as a family, as we lived a life full of warmth, the oak groves of central Illinois visible through that glass curtain wall. Little did we know then that the house would eventually make its way onto the National Register of Historic Places. It makes me happy to think that what we kids thought of as the ultimate playhouse was worthy of preserving.
Today, when I walk into a vintage modernist home, I feel somehow more myself than when I’m in, say, a Spanish revival or English cottage that references places and times past or far away. Without distracting design, modernist houses allow us to be more aware of who we are in the moment.
It’s a feeling I had while visiting architect Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House in Palm Springs. You know it from the classic Slim Aarons photograph “Poolside Gossip,” in which groovily dressed people linger at cocktail hour by the pool. It’s the quintessence of midcentury living: indoor-outdoor life, a sleek yet inviting modernist house, beautiful people at ease, a pristine pool. The house is striking, with dramatic desert mountains in the distance, but it’s the people that draw us in.
One of those people is Nelda Linsk, whom we had the honor of photographing thanks to my friend and colleague, creative director Stephen Kamifuji, who met the indefatigable Linsk at an event and persuaded her to pose for a photograph at the house she helped make famous.
Palm Springs is also the spot where exciting things are happening right now, especially when it comes to modernism—like an architecturally significant housing development, new and retro restaurants, hot hotel and resort openings, and Modernism Week, the epic mid-February event devoted to modernist architecture and culture. It’s a unique opportunity to step inside the homes that some of the world’s most talented architects envisioned when they were fashioning the Western lifestyle we celebrate in these pages. I’m thrilled to report that this year I and Sunset will be at Modernism Week for the first time since the pandemic. Come find us and say hi. For a schedule of events, and to buy tickets, go to modernismweek.com.