What exactly is “mid-century modern?” Wire furniture, egg lamps and the Jetsons? The designation refers to a particular style that changed urban architecture and design between 1935 and 1965. Mid-century is itself part of a larger art and industrial design movement that influenced everything around us in both residential and corporate design, manifested in dramatic building shapes and innovative construction materials, unusual furnishings and interiors, and a complete rethinking of the way our most utilitarian household items looked, even influencing automobile designs and fashion.
This dramatic shift in design didn’t happen overnight. It began earlier with the turn-of-the-century Prairie School, a distinctly American brand of architectural design employing the principles of architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. The Craftsman style and the Texas Ranch House style, both popular in Texas, were derived from the Prairie School where native building materials and the incorporation of the landscape played major roles as design elements. Although important influences, the natural world gave way to industry and technology in design inspiration, expanding in Texas with the many sleekly designed Art Deco and Art Moderne-style commercial and civic buildings and even courthouses. International Style’s emphasis on functionalism is demonstrated in Philip Johnson’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza in Dallas, Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the Richard Neutra designed Kraigher house in Brownsville. Styles paving the way for the modern architecture revolution took hold with the prosperity of a post-World War II Texas. Times change, of course, and the old always finds its way back to new. Today, we have begun to make an effort to recognize, appreciate, and preserve the best of our early and mid-century modern works, examples of which can be found throughout the residential and commercial districts of our state’s towns and cities.