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Built: Mod Squad

Phoenix follows form and function

 by Lisa Przystup
 published on Thursday, April 6, 2006

AZ 88, a popular bar in Scottsdale, is the perfect example of modernist architecture.  /issues/arts/696532
Tiffany Tcheng / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
AZ 88, a popular bar in Scottsdale, is the perfect example of modernist architecture.
 

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The modernist movement is alive and kicking in Phoenix. It's a sneaky little thing, but if you know what you're looking for, you see it everywhere. Modern design is a 20th-century movement. Its mission statement, according to the Design Within Reach Web site, is "to utilize current technologies and production methods to create more useful products for a broad audience."

From the newly-renovated Valley Ho Hotel to the Design Within Reach store that sells reproductions of classic modern furniture pieces in Scottsdale, modernism is happily experiencing a resurgence of sorts. And it's with good reason, says Alison King, founding editor of Modern Phoenix (www.modernphoenix.net), a comprehensive and thorough source for everything "modern" in the Valley.

"Classic modernist principles never go out of style," says King. "I enjoy seeing the faces of people at big-box stores like Target light up when they see a neo-modern mass-marketed toilet brush that engages them on both a functional and aesthetic level."

And King should know. As a graduate of Parsons School of Design, King created Modern Phoenix as a virtual scrapbook to document the research she and her husband were doing to decide which neighborhood they wanted to live in.

King says she turned the site into a quarterly magazine when "the sheer flow of information coming through was flooding too fast."

Early examples of the modern style date back to the 1920s. The modernist design aesthetic is a cross between the Jetsons' practical and sparse one-level future home, and the Brady Bunch's split-level ranch with its open floor plan.

King says it makes sense the trend would strongly assert itself in Phoenix, as the city already has a rich architectural past.

"We have reached the critical mass necessary and have a robust enough modern-era history to cultivate this trend into a substantial, lasting legacy," King adds.

David Tyda, editor of Desert Living Magazine, says that one has only to look at the ASU campus, home to Frank Lloyd Wright's Gammage Auditorium and its neighboring Music Building, designed by Wesley Peters, Frank Lloyd Wright's son-in-law.

"The Frank Lloyd Wright influence here has spun into many fascinating directions. We're lucky to have legendary architects from the old school still practicing out here," says Tyda. "And ASU's College of Architecture turns out some of the most talented young architects on the scene."

However, he adds you must take the good with the bad. "The modernism trend is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is a trend -- or at least the revitalization of it is a trend. However, there were a number of principles held by the original modernists that we as a culture are revisiting, waking up on a larger scale to how our lives can be improved through good design," he says. "It's being commercialized, but the good side is that Americans are now paying attention to design."

If you happen to have caught the hankering for the modern look, there are plenty of furniture stores willing to grant you your fix. Many of them are located in downtown Phoenix. Red Modern Furniture, Phoenix Metro Retro, Retro Redux and Shirley Mae's are just a few.

Some names to drop while shopping for modern pieces include Eames, George Nelson and Heywood Wakefield. These will surely find you something you will fall in love with, for the clean lines, the "form follows function" aesthetic and the sheer uniqueness of the piece.

If you go to the Design Within Reach Web site, it will tell you that the reason you are so enamored with your new find is because of its, "simplicity, originality, intelligent use of materials, quality and longevity and the avoidance of superfluous ornamentation or period styling."

And that's what you can tell your friends if you want to sound like an expert.

Reach the reporter at lisa.przystup@asu.edu.



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