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From Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan temple–inspired Ennis House to Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s sleek, steel-frame Entenza House, California is home to some of the finest examples of midcentury modernist architecture. Though world famous, many of these buildings are closed to the public. In order to see them, most of us have had to rely on the few official photographs available or search for them in films (John Lautner’s Arthur Elrod House stars in the James Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever; Ennis House features in films from House on Haunted Hill to Blade Runner).
Now, though, anyone can take an extensive free online tour of some of these elegant architectural examples: the University of Southern California Libraries have digitized roughly 1,300 rare photographs of midcentury modernism in the American West, as documented by two of its insiders. The sets in the Architectural Teaching Slide Collection were shot mostly in the 1940s–60s by German architect Fritz Block, founder of a color slide company, and American architect Pierre Koenig, most famous for his work with the Case Study House program.
Instead of the polished tableaus you might find in the pages of Architectural Digest, these spontaneous snapshots capture quirky and more intimate views of buildings by the likes of Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Frey, William Lustig, and John Lautner. Block and Koenig also depicted some of their own designs, like the latter’s Stahl House, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic views of LA. Both photographed buildings with an architect’s geometrically minded and detail-oriented eye, never presenting them as mere real estate: a close-up of a blue and yellow porthole skylight at the Palm Springs Frey residence resembles an abstract composition, while a shot of Wright’s Taliesin West highlights the interplay of shapes between the red-and-white checked canvas roof and surrounding mountains.
Built between the 1930s and ’60s, these geometric structures made up an American response to Europe’s Bauhaus movement. They were characterized by flat geometric planes, an extensive use of glass, and open spaces meant to integrate them with the surrounding landscapes. Koenig and Block’s sun-drenched trove of shots offers unique digital access to the movement’s private homes, housing developments, and corporate offices, from inside and out. And for the hardcore architecture nerd, the digital archive also includes blueprints, artists’ renderings, and photos of models of the represented buildings.
Browse the full collection USC Architectural Teaching Slide Collection here.