Monday, July 17, 2017

Architecture Mid-Century

The Virginia Village Mid-Century Modern Home Tour took place yesterday in Denver. The featured homes were buiilt as the Krisana Park neighborhood, a small development comprised of 176 hgomes within Virginia Village in Southeast Denver.

The official tour brochure describes the origins of Krisana Park.
In the late 1940s, Brad Wolff and his father, developer H.B. Wolff, acquuired an alfalfa field in southeast Denver. Responding to Denver's post-war housing shortage, they planned the construction of a new subdivision. The design of Krisana Park, however, stood out. Unlike the more common cul-de-sacs of ranch-style houses under development across metro-Denver, the Wolffs were inspired by the modernist designs of California developer Joseph Eichler. They named their development Krisana Park, and began construction on its 176 homes in 1954. Marketing their homes as '3-D Contemporaries,' prices started at $15,950. Financing was offered. With the GI bill, returning soldiers could pay $50 down payment and monthly payments of $104.02. 
The brochure for the tour features architectural inllustrations of each home by Denver artist Chris Musselman. Musselman's work has been previously featured in this blog.  His website is worth a visit at

The homes on the tour have been lovingly restored and, in many cases, augmented in the spirit of the original designs.  The openess and efficiency of the plans explains why mid-centtury modern architecture is enjoying a resurgence in newly constructed projects thoughout the city and, indeed, the entire country.

  • Illustrations from the tour brochure by Chris Musselman. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Grand Opening: Venue 221

This week saw the official grand opening for Venue 221 in Denver's Cherry Creek North district.

My office worked for three years with the owner/developer Cindy Wynne to create a luxury multi-use venue. The design is influenced by mid-century-modern architecture with 21st century amenities: folding doors open to a sidewalk patio, a white onyx bar with LED illumination, linear fireplace, caterer's kitchen and state-of-the art A/V system. The interior design consultant was Studio 10 of Denver. The general contractor was Coe Construction of Fort Collins, Colorado.

From their website:

Venue 221 is intended for all types of corporate, non-profit, social and community events such as: Sales Meetings, Conferences, Training Events, Executive Retreats, Employee Recognitions, Product Launches, Media Releases, Holiday Parties, Employee Picnics/Receptions, Volunteer Appreciations, Galas, Fundraisers, Award Dinners, Board Meetings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Anniversary Parties, Birthday Celebrations, Weddings, Graduations, Reunions, Proms, School Fundraisers, Academic Competitions, & Shows, Religious Gatherings, Club Meets, HOA Meetings & Presentations and Political Meetings or Receptions.

They have also added pop-up retail events to their offerings. Detailed information is available here: Venue 221.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Credit to Architectural Artists

Some time back I blogged about Bruce Goff's Crystal Chapel project and included a stunning image of the proposed building. I neglected to give credit to the very capable illustrators;  "Perfect Prisms: Crystal Chapel" was created in 2009 by Ellen Sandor, Chris Kemp, Chris Day, Ben Carney, and Miguel Delgado of (art)n. Click on their link to see additional architectural images. The artists have also produced very creative architectural art as GIFs. Here are a few examples of their GIFs to pique your interest:
Mies-en-scene: The Farnsworth House by (art)n
Second Illusion About Antonio G. in New York by (art)n.
Reconstructing the Wright Space by (art)n.
Punta Pacific: A Deconstructed Vision by (art)n.
The above images remind me of some Salvador Dali paintings. He often extracted abstract structures from literal images. As an example, consider Galatea of the Spheres:
Galatea of the Spheres by Salvador Dali, 1952.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Capturing Architecture in Art

Every once in a while someone comes along with a fresh, invigorating approach to art and architecture. Chris Musselman is carving out an artistic niche with a unique rendering style that will be of interest to architects, builders, and marketing professionals.

I became aware of Chris through a series of renderings published in Modern in Denver magazine. His illustrations focused on the Denver neighborhood of Arapahoe Acres. This 1950s-era community is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a beautiful example of mid-century modern architecture. I decided to track Chris down to commission a rendering of my own home. His phone contact  contained an out-of-state area code and his tracks ran through Chicago and Santa Fe.  But it turns out he now lives and works in my town, Denver, Colorado.

Chris applies a spare graphic approach to architectural renderings, with lots of atmospherics and a lively sense of color. His technique is highly stylized but approachable. Here is a link to his website: And here is the rendering he produced for my house.

Architectural rendering by Chris Mussellman. 
Thanks, Chris!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Architecture Podcast

Our friends at Mountain View Windows and Doors run a regularly schedule podcast about architecture, design, building, and business. The Art of Construction podcast continues to grow and develop and has become the #1 podcast on iTunes for contractors and architects.  With their increased success they have decided to give it is own home/website: the art of

With this is mind, the link to their interview with Michael Knorr has also changed:

Podcast hosts Kevin Keefe and Devon Tilly.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is Donald Trump an Architect?

Is Donald Trump an architect? Or an interior designer? He is neither, of course. But he seems to think he has some authority in matters of design; last week he criticized the materials used in the venerable United Nations hall of the General Assembly. President Obama addressed the General Assembly, speaking in front of a familiar backdrop of green marble tiles. Trump opined that the tiles looked cheap and, if elected, he would replace them with big beautiful slabs of marble that would be great. This is an unsurprising thought coming from a rich man.  Large slabs of stone are more expensive than covering the same area in smaller tiles. Trump, being rich, is probably used to the more expensive version of materials. I doubt that the U.N. made the choice based on budget (the room is quite nicely appointed throughout). It is surprising that Mr. Trump is reticent about details of international policy, but does not hesitate in a call to action to redecorate the U.N. First of all, he is not (and has never been) in elected office; second, even if he were to be elected President of the United States, the U.N. would not be under his direction. Finally, aren't there more important issues to be discussed than the size of the tiles in the General Assembly?  Of course, Trump has been obsessed with size throughout his campaign. And he does purport to be an expert on walls.
President Obama at the U.N.
As if there aren't enough things to worry about when contemplating a Trump victory, we now have to consider his decorating talent. Based on what we've seen of his taste so far, I worry about what he would do to the White House if elected. The White House has always been a house, not a palace. We have deliberately and consciously treated our presidents as men of the people, not royalty sitting on a throne.  But Trump's style can only be described as early dictator. He likes guilded surfaces and baroque embellishments. It is the type of domestic pomp also favored by Sadaam Husein, Vladimir Putin, and other ne'er-do-wells.

Trump's New York apartment at Trump Tower.
Trump in his gold chair (with an uncomfrtable looking Mike Pence).
Vladimir Putin upon his gold throne.
Ditto for Sadaam Husein.
Melania Trump interviewed by Mika Brezinski.

Trump's Miralago estate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Architecture of Power 1: The Capitol Building

The Capitol of the United States.
Buildings are often symbols for something beyond the structures themselves.  Kevin Lynch famously made this argument in Learning from Las Vegas (Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour; MIT Press 1977).  Lynch's book praised gigantic neon signs as an appropriate architecture for a fast-moving car culture that has no time for diminutive details. In Las Vegas the buildings themselves become signs, using architecture to attract gawkers and gamblers.

Buildings may blatantly telegraph their function. Hot dog stands in the shape of hot dogs. Ice cream shops as oversized canisters of cream. Motels as concrete teepees. These examples are kitsch; they hardly qualify as architecture. Buildings with more august functions usually employ subtle cues to communicate their function. This is when design transcends structure. It is particularly fascinating to contemplate the architecture of power. Can architecture be used to support the very idea of political power? There is no better place to look for an answer than the capital of the free world, Washington, D.C.
Little Man ice cream stand in Denver.
Roadside hot dog in Colorado.
Washington abounds with buildings designed to communicate power, authority, strength. The Capitol building itself is a leading example. An vague image of the Capitol is potent enough to signal power around the world. Whether as a photograph or an abstract logo, the Capitol is universally recognized as a symbol of power. The Capitol is so familiar that even a lean graphic suggesting the capitol dome provides instant recognition and authority. Letter heads, campaign stickers, or government edicts frequently employ the abstraction. It is used as a logo for political talk shows and to market patriotic merchandise of all sorts. Images of the capitol are ubiquitous.

Iconic images of the U.S. Capitol. 
The first Capitol dome, designed by Charles Bulfinch, a Boston architect, was finished in 1824. After Capitol expansions it was considered too small (and a fire hazard). A new dome was constructed to a design by Thomas U. Walter in the 1850s. Eleven Capitol architects have contributed changes and additions over the years. The building has morphed over time; it is impossible to credit authorship to any individual. The accretion of additions has also resulted in the dome looking somewhat like a decoration plopped atop a sheet cake, connected less than elegantly to the elements beneath. Such criticism may seem churlish to some. The symbolism of the Capitol bears almost as much emotional weight as the nation's flag. To criticize it seems unpatriotic. Which brings up the central problem in writing a serious architectural critique of the Capitol: the building is so familiar that it is more of an icon and less of a building. Still, it is architecture and can be viewed as such.
A cake.
How does it stack up as architecture?  To my eye, the proportions are less than graceful. It looks like what it is: an accretion of add-ons and improvements over time by different people for different purposes. The cohesion of the separate elements is tenuous. I once voiced this criticism to a Washington, D.C. resident. He was horrified. What an affront to the city and it's most iconic building! Well, there you have it: the Capitol is an icon... it can hardly be criticized as architecture. As a symbol of power, it is unparalleled in the world. Perhaps it succeeds as architecture in spite of the architecture, because the building successfully communicates its role as the ultimate seat of power.  But a hot dog stand does the same thing in its realm; nobody would seriously call it architecture. This is a discussion that goes in circles without resolution. The Capitol is a prime example of the architecture of power, but it may or may not be good architecture. I believe it is nearly impossible to objectively see the Capitol, hidden behind its veil of political preconceptions and symbolism.

Finally, the interior of the Capitol building is, put plainly, a let down. Without question, other domed spaces are more impressive than the hall under the Capitol dome. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, St. Peter's in Rome, the Duomo in Florence - all stand superior. Then we have the Senate and House chambers. When I visited, neither house was in session; it was easy to stroll through and get a sense of the architecture. Many state capitols are better designed than this national assembly. The Senate and House chambers are stuffy rooms, mechanically de-odorized as if there is some stench that needs to be masked. The windowless spaces, festooned with heavy velvet swags, felt like a funeral home. It was depressing to think that some of the most important decisions in the world are made in this environment. On a scale of one to ten, the Capitol interiors rate three.

Please don't think I am unpatriotic.

Aerial view of U.S. Capitol.