A Thriving Modernism

Title: A Thriving Modernism

Author/s: Grant Hildebrand, T. William Booth

Designer: Christina Merkelbach

Photographer/s: Benschneider, Benjamin; Booth, T. William; Bystrom, Arne; Friedlaender, Stephen; Hildebrand, Grant; Jensen, Michael; Krogstad, Greg; Lovett, Wendall; Purser, Robert; Shopenn, Michael; Simontov, Slava; Staub, Christian.

Photographs courtesy of: Art Hupy / University of Washington North-west Collection; MIT Museum; Paul Macapia / Seattle Art Museum; Paul Warchol Photography Inc.; University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning Archives; University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

ISBN: 0-295-98433-3

Size: 221mm by 260mm, 167p.

Date Published: 2004.

Publisher: University of Washington Press.

Publisher www: www.washington.edu/uwpress


A Thriving Modernism takes the reader through the lives and works of two of the preeminent architects in the USA today. Wendall Lovett (1922- ) and Arne Bystrom (1927- ) both come from Seattle and have been notable contributors to the Modernism movement in architecture, particularly in residential architecture. The book provides an overview of their careers and embarks on a close analysis of a significant project for each architect, noting the similarities between the two, the areas in which they differ and the impact that they have had on the landscape of architecture in America.

The first section details Lovett’s contribution, which has been extensive due to his teaching years, his highly awarded work in the north-west of the USA and his interpretation of Modernism. For those unversed in the history of contemporary architecture’s diverse movements and the figures within them, the book does an excellent job of including enough background to let an unfamiliar reader infer a lot of this information, and so Lovett’s take on Modernism in design is put in enough context to give it its full import.

Bystrom’s career began second; in fact he studied under Lovett at the University of Washington during the latter’s teaching years. His career followed a different path to Lovett and his design philosophy also differs significantly. That being said, they share the similarity of their extensive work in residential architecture throughout the towns and wilderness of America’s north-west, and both have created a distinct design voice for themselves that stands out from the architectural landscape.

The most apparent difference between the houses that Lovett and Bystrom design is the high use of wood in those of the latter as opposed to the former. While Lovett does use wood throughout his interiors and in some cases structurally, the houses of Bystrom always feature wood heavily; he has a large preference for this material due to its sustainability and capabilities to be worked by hand. It is very interesting to see an architect who is as heavily invested and engaged in the philosophies of Modernism as is Bystrom, and to learn how he draws from ancient woodworking traditions and architectural templates such as the Scandinavian stave church to inform his designs without placing them outside the context of Modernism, something that most other Modernist architects would baulk at.

The two buildings that are closely examined in A Thriving Modernism are the Villa Simonyi by Lovett and the Dennis House from Bystrom. Both very different from the other, the Villa Simonyi sits on the shoreline of Lake Washington in a highly central location for Seattle while the Dennis House sits in the Sun Valley of Idaho, a rural township. The first is a glistening steel-and-glass structure, while the second has a highly sustainable focus with wood construction and solar systems.

The case studies are highly in-depth, with twenty pages devoted to each house and the use of a vast number of photos, diagrams and insights from both the designers and the residents. Every facet of the houses is examined in detail, from the slope degree of surfaces to the designs of the treads on individual staircases, giving about the best possible understanding of the house that it is possible to get without being shown around the residences by the architects themselves. The houses both have enormous amounts of character and really showcase the design philosophies of Lovett and Bystrom.

A Thriving Modernism is an incredibly interesting book and, through examining two lesser-known architects and the context of Modernism that they exist within and contribute to, caters to a wide range of readers. The writing is concise and highly informative, the imagery is expertly chosen and the two subjects are fascinating figures that have a lasting legacy in the American architectural tradition. For those interested in architectural movements, this book is sure to please.

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