According to ARCHITECT's Eric Willis, writing a definitive history of architecture in the second half of the 20th century is no trivial undertaking, but Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, an associate professor at the Yale School of Architecture, has found a rather nifty shortcut. She has produced a thorough accounting of this period, not as some overstuffed scholarly survey of built work, but rather through the lens of that now-ubiquitous medium, the architectural exhibition.
Exhibit A: Exhibitions That Transformed Architecture 1948–2000 (Phaidon, 2018), reviews the most influential shows of the postwar era. Unlike their landmark prewar counterparts, which Pelkonen argues focused more on completed work, exhibitions in the second half of the century increasingly challenged the established orthodoxy and heralded new frontiers and avenues of research. Here we spotlight some of the most provocative installations that Pelkonen features, which together reflect the rise and fall of the movements and ideas that defined architecture’s postwar period.
1948: Case Study House Program
As the need for middle-class housing surged during the postwar boom in California, the Case Study House program offered a sleek and inviting solution. Sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine and launched in 1945, the program in its initial three years had attracted more than 350,000 visitors to the first six model houses that had been constructed in Los Angeles. Julius Shulman’s photograph of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22, the living room appearing to levitate over the nighttime megalopolis below, would prove to be the program’s most indelible image. But this was not some traditional gallery exhibition, largely captured in two dimensions. Visitors could step inside the actual structures, in their actual locations, and see for themselves how these surprisingly affordable designs heralded a new age of modern living.