modern maven: Antonio Sant'Elia

Part Sant-Elia in a multi-part series!

Who: Antonio Sant-Elia 
What: Early Futurist architect
When: b. 1888 d. 1916; active 1912-1916
Where: Italy
Why: Visionary drawings of the cities of the future

Antonio Sant-Elia was an Italian architect and early (and now the most remembered) adherent of  Futurism, an avant-garde movement started in Italy by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909. Between 1912 and 1914 Sant-Elia drew hundreds of futurist impressions for a Città Nuova ("New City") that is remarkable in predicting the general architectural setting of cities today. He presented the drawings at a show of the Nuove Tendenze group in May/June of 1914. Later that same year he authored* a manifesto titled Futurist Architecture that starts like this:

No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

He might not have been a whole lot of fun to drink espresso with...

Inspired in part by Adolf Loos' premise that ornamentation is crime, Sant-Elia stripped most ornamentation off his perspectives, revealing the bustling and efficient cities beneath, naked yet beautifully exposed. In a radical interpretation of shedding the previous generation's architecture, Sant-Elia envisioned each generation building their own city with their own architecture (something we see today in the slow but inexorably constant renewal in the footprints of our current cities, at least in the United States).

He joined the army in 1915 when World War I started and sadly perished in late 1916 in a battle at Monfalcone, Italy, leaving behind few built works. He was a mere 28 years old at his death.

Futurism later became associated with Italian Fascism when Marinetta merged his Futurist political party with Mussolini's Fascists in 1919. Several Futurist buildings were erected at that time, but the Fascists, including those in Germany, ultimately preferred a futuristic interpretation of Roman imperialistic architecture.

Sant-Elia's work surely influenced later hypothetical designs of skyscrapers (see Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's early designs) as well as hypothetical urban planning designs by Le Corbusier, Richard Nuetra, and Frank Lloyd Wright (with some of the latter's work looking remarkably similar to Sant-Elia's work). One could argue that Googie, that Jetsons-inspired Modernism, is neo-Futurism.

* There's some debate over exactly who wrote the manifesto, with some suggesting it was F.T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism. However, Marinetti was a poet rather than an architect, and it is Sant'Elia's name on the document, not Marinetti.

Below is a monument to Italy's WWI dead strongly inspired by Sant'Elia's visions of the future (see image immediately above). A fitting tribute to a man who predicted the future but didn't live to see much of it.


Austin has a Blu Dot!

Blu Dot is in Austin, right downtown! If you are ready to upgrade from IKEA but don't yet have an Italian import budget, Blu Dot is your kinda place. We have several pieces (a couple chairs, a desk, ottomans, and a side table and magazine holder from an early collaboration they did with Target), and we are pleased with them all.

In other Blu Dot news, while surfing info about that early collaboration with Target, it turns out they still collaborate with Target with a special online line called Too.


boardwalk Austin

We ambled down to the Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin last weekend to (finally) check out the Boardwalk. The photo above is the "iconic" view of downtown from one of the short spurs off the walk (I've included a photo father down of the spur).

The purpose of the walk was to connect the walking/running/stumbling/biking trails on the south side of the lake to the rest of the trail system and create a loop. It is now possible to loop completely around the lake at Longhorn Dam farther downstream. Design work was done by pals of ours at Limbacher and Godfrey (for some reason, their website doesn't hi-light the project). Not everyone was happy about this project, but it is a nice addition to the heavily used downtown trails.

The design is interesting yet unassuming. Based on the crowds walking the walk, basking in the sunnier and warmer weather, and enjoying the spurs, it is already a massively popular. We need to get back out there in the evening hours to enjoy reflections of city lights off the water and the LEDs underneath the handrails to light the path. 

If you plan on going (and don't live downtown), here are some tips on accessing the trail. We took the bus down to Republic square and crossed back to the northside on the walkway at I-35 (which allowed us to stop for fortifications along Raney Street).


The Modern Mavens

[Note that I've "elevated" this post to page status, which appears at the top of the blog {Look up! Look up!} under a tab. I will be hotlinking that page to the various posts]

I'm starting a new series of brief this-is-what-you-need-to-know posts called Modern Mavens with an emphasis on the big names in historical modernism. I see five primary categories: (1) protoModernists, (2) Modernists, (3) Afterwavers, (4) The Suckfest Called Postmodernism, and (5) mod modern Modernists. Below is a living list (in other words, the names will change with time and I will hotlink names to posts as I write 'em up) of who I plan to cover in this series. I'm looking at key folks, but if you think I've left someone out (and I know I have...), please let me know! I plan to also repost this page as a tab.


These are the folks who set the stage for Modernism, either through theory and/or actual structures, but didn't actually build true Modern in these earliest of days. Although the roots of inspiration for Modernism go deeper than this, I stayed within the most-recent rich topsoil of 1890 through 1920.

Peter Behrens
Irving Gill
Josef Hoffman
Adolf Loos
Konstantin Melnikov
Erich Mendelsohn 1.0
Antonio Sant'Elia
Louis Sullivan
Otto Wagner
Frank Lloyd Wright 1.0


These are the folks who truly started the new architecture. In my estimation, Modernism started during the roaring 20s.

Alvar Aalto
Marcel Breuer
Le Corbusier
Eileen Gray
Walter Gropius
Erich Mendelsohn 2.0
Farkas Molnár
Richard Neutra
J.J.P. Oud
Charlotte Perriand
Lilly Reich
Gerritt Reitveld
R.M. Schindler
Robert Mallet Stevens
Bruno Taut
Mies van der Rohe


These are folks that came to prominence after the roaring 1920s up through 1950.

Gregory Ain
Charles and Ray Eames
Craig Ellwood
Bruce Goff
Harwell Hamilton Harris
Philip Johnson 1.0
Louis Kahn
John Lautner
William Lescaze
Eero Saarinen
Raphael Soriano
Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright 2.0

The Suckfest Called Postmodernism

I'm not sure I can bear to write about more than these three yahoos...

Michael Graves 2.0
Philip Johnson 2.0
Robert Venturi

modern Modernists

Today's (more) prominent practitioners since 1950.

Tandao Ando
Herzog and de Meuron
Richard Meier
The New York Five neoModernists
    - Peter Eisenman
    - Michael Graves 1.0
    - Charles Gwathmey
    - John Hejduk
    - Richard MeierI.M. Pei

neoExpressionists (or neoWhatTheHellists) confused with Modernism:
    - Santiago Calatrava
    - Frank Gehry 2.0
    - Zaha Hadid
     -Rem Koolhaas
     - Renzo Piano


Modern Music for a Modern House: Downbeat tracks from 2014

I previously posted our top upbeat tracks from 2014, so here are our top downbeat tracks from 2014. This is actually a pretty dang good and coherant playlist even though I listed the tracks alphabetically by track title.


"Ain't got nobody" by Sísý Ey

An Icelandic act associated loosely with gusgus. A straight-ahead mellow thing with some beats. Nice.

"Automaton (feat. Braids)" by Max Cooper

Glitchy, moody, and full of ginger ale hiccups. Burp.

"A brain in a bottle" by Thom Yorke

The brain (in a bottle) behind Radiohead, Mr. Yorke suddenly dropped an album of moody little tracks that shuffle guiltily along the dusk line. This is my fave of the lot.

"Eleven (feat. Mohna)" by Christian Löffler

Another moody track (a theme in this list?). Sweetly moody.

"Fading nights (feat. Anna Naklab)" by Parra for Cuva

A straight ahead mellow and moody thing. Yawn. (But a good yawn.)

"Góða Tungl" by Samaris

Actually from a couple years ago but didn't hear it until a couple weeks ago while perusing a record shop in Reykjavik. Heard it. Bought it. Mesmerized...

"I feel safe" by AxH

Based on the low end, I don't feel safe at all. Drub-step.

"L" by Tyco

The entire album this track came from is rather wonderful, a sensual mix of guitars and electronics.

"Long Time (feat. Laëtitia Dana)" by La fine équipe

Soul music locked in a cave with David Lynch.

"Love is to die" by Warpaint

Ethereal guitars, shaky drums, and whispers... If you are vexed, Disco/Very from the same album is a great upbeat track.

"Notes" by Christian Löffler

This is a remarkable track, cinematic in that it vividly tells a story. I'm not sure what the story is, but I suspect it's about a pumpkin farmer.

"Parallel Jalebi" by Four Tet

chickachickachicka with ooo ooo ooo ahhh ahhh ahhh.

"Projects" by A/T/O/S

The entire album by A/T/O/S (aka A Taste of Struggle) this track comes from kicks the big butt. Sophisticated, smooth, and the farthest thing from a struggle to listen to.

"Shortcuts (Lulu Rouge remix)" by Trolle//Siebenhaar

I don't know what the original sounds like, but it doesn't matter since there's no way it could sound better than this. Slow, plodding, and enough low end to cause J-Lo to turn around and face you in shame.

"Teacups" by Sorceress

Smokier than a vape addict; smoother than melted butter.

"Water Me" by FKA Twigs

Oh no! You got Coco Rosie in my Sade!!!

"Youth" by Daughter

Quiet and nice, a girl and her guitar...


The 2015 Austin Modern Home Tours is coming on February 7th!

This is our favorite home tour in town: great Modern homes at a variety of price points with photography allowed at many homes. More info and ticket information here!

Below are some tasters from their web site...


We have the power: Our solar system is up!

It's been overcast round these parts for a few weeks, so it was only appropriate that the day the sun came back is the day our solar system was finally turned on. This was an adventure that started back in early August when we signed a contract, the system was then installed in early September, we then got red-tagged by having the rainwater tank too close to the electrical box, got the tank moved in mid-December, and finally (finally!!!) got the green light from the city to turn the whole thing on last week. 


It's terribly exciting. We've been out every evening to see how much sun we're soaking in.


Did we move into the wrong neighborhood?

Oh, my! What a difference a road makes!

Earlier this week I attended something of a debate of three folks, one from the Brentwood Neighborhood, one from Sustainable Neighborhoods, and one from our neighborhood, Allandale. Brentwood is east of Burnet Road; Allandale is west. The Brentwood Guy was an architect (I could tell right away by his glasses...) as well as a steering committee member of their neighborhood association. The Sustainable Neighborhoods Guy is a family-friendly neighborhood advocate (and the dude behind the Burnet Road tree plantings). The Allandale Guy is a longtime Allandale Neighborhood Association advocate and small business owner in the hood. The title of the discussion was "Three Visions for Burnet Road".

The Sustainable Neighborhoods Guy had some interesting stats, namely that there are fewer and fewer kids in the hood (the local schools are at 60 percent capacity with the remaining 40 percent brought in), telltale demographic signs of urbanization (i.e., fewer and fewer kids, although I wonder if this is skewed slightly by the aging-in-place-and-too-old-for-procreation-[but-not-too-old-for-Viagra-infused-recreational-attempts-at-procreation] crowd...). His primary point was that the city needs to treat the new MetroRapid bus stations as growth/support centers and that city resources (such as sidewalks, beautification, planning) need to be focused at these locations. He sees mixed use and apartment buildings radiating out from these transit centers.

The Brentwood Guy noted that they were pragmatists with respect to growth and change (it's coming whether we like it or not), so they embraced the neighborhood planning process the city offered to address growing urbanization. Along those lines, they used neighborhood planning to protect the residential core (protect = zoning) and allowed vertical mixed use along neighborhood edges, namely Burnet Road and Lamar Blvd.

The Allandale guy was essentially against everything. Against busses, against vertical mixed use, against apartment buildings, against redevelopment, against neighborhood planning. You name it. And he had a lot of support at the meeting: folks concerned about traffic, property taxes, noise, and crime.

I understand those concerns. They are legit. We all have those concerns. But here's the problem: Being against change doesn't prevent change. The only way we prevent change to the city, including our neighborhood, is to keep people from moving here. Good luck with that. By being against everything, the neighborhood is ironically creating a worse environment for the people that live here. We are pissing away our chance to influence outcomes and address the neighborhood's concerns.

Case in point. Around the corner from our house the auto dealership is building a four-story parking garage to store their excess inventory. Does the neighborhood support this construction? No. Am I happy with this construction? No. The neighborhood fought (and quickly failed) to prevent the parking garage from going in. But they missed an opportunity.

There's tension between what I (or you) think about what someone does on their property and what they are allowed to do on their property. I may not like it, but it's their property, and they have the right to do with it as they want as long as what they are doing fits within the messy little box called the city code (as well as certain deed restrictions, if any). Here's the thing: If someone is completely inside that box, there's nothing we can do as neighbors to forcefully influence what that landowner does.

I'm not overjoyed about it, but I'm OK with the dealership building a parking garage there. It's their right. What I don't like about the project is that there will be a parking garage facing Burnet and the neighborhood. Unfortunately, by fighting the project we missed an opportunity to improve the project.

The leverage a neighborhood association has with developers is on variances, permissible actions outside the gray lines of city code. If the neighborhood was reasonable, we could have gone to the developer and said "Hey, we understand you are building a parking garage on your property. We respect that you have the right to do this and that you can legally do this under the existing code. However, as neighbors, we have three concerns about your project: (1) Its appearance toward the neighborhood, (2) how it relates to Burnet Road, and (3) construction management. We'd be willing to support variances for your project to allow it to be closer to the neighborhood, closer to Burnet, and taller on the Burnet side if you would be willing to have (A) a solid wall with vines on the neighborhood side of the project, (B) some retail or offices on the ground floor facing Burnet, and (C) construction kept between 7 am and 7 pm. Would you be interested in that?"

That's how you start a discussion with a developer. That's Mediation 101: Recognize the interests of your "opponent", share your interests, and find a solution that's win-win. Instead, we fought the project on minor technicalities that were simply ignored by the city or only caused minor delays. Yay us! These actions feed the outside narrative that our neighborhood is unreasonable (see Walmart), so developers stay completely within the code, removing all ability for us to influence projects. We have no credibility; therefore, we have no influence.

As a radical moderate listening to the discussions, I found myself wishing we lived in forward-leaning Brentwood (east of Burnet Road) instead of backward-leaning Allandale (west of Burnet Road). This modern-day propensity for political purity works against your interests, not for them. However, there's hope. Brentwood is younger and hipper (and more reasonable) than Allandale. Demographics suggest Allandale is heading that way. It's only a matter of time...

Note that this post is more declarative than I normally like to be (for example, "...nothing we can do...", "The only way..."). I did this for clarity-of-writing purposes. There are always other options (lawsuits, nuclear war). Also note that we sported a "No to the Maund Garage" yard sign for a time. We did this in solidarity with our neighbors once the path had been set (one of the many reasons people dislike moderates...). 


our rooms in Dwell?

Probably not, but who knows? Dwell had a deal where you submitted photos of the interior of your Modern house, and they would consider publishing your photos in the March issue. Cool!

They sent out some of the photos that had already been submitted, and they are pretty dang good. Probably too good to compete, both with respect to the houses (our house is cool, but it ain't $400-a-square-foot cool) and the photography (looked pure professional). Nonetheless, I took a set of photos, dabbled with HDR, and submitted ten of the photos below to the "contest" (I need to post about taking photographs of your house: it is WAY harder than it looks [And I'm not saying I did it good, either. I have newfound respect for indoor architectural photography.]).

We shall see...