Modern fans bask on butterfly roof

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“I loved the light and the trees,” said Elaine Blank in response to the question of what she enjoyed the most of her 60 plus years in the house at 2133 Owens Lane. In 1951 Elaine and her husband, local photographer Robert Blank, purchased plans from House Beautiful magazine. Their desire to live in something new and adventurous led them to build this unique butterfly roofed structure. They moved into the completed home in 1953. Last Sunday (June 7) the new owners of the Blank House, KU philosophy professor Dale Dorsey and family, hosted a Lawrence Modern open house reception. After an introduction to the history of the house by Tom Harper, the 75 attendees were treated to an eloquent soliloquy by our resident architecture historian and modernist guru Dennis Domer. Dennis described the 1950’s context that pushed young couples like the Blanks to seek out modernist design. The country was optimistic about the future and the future was all about the new. Dennis reminisced about his own father’s attempt to modernize their home by installing the same type of mahogany paneling as in the Blank House. The paneling in the Blank House is indeed gorgeous, but the question on the minds of most in attendance concerned the roof and its drainage (especially due to our abundance of recent rains). Dale explained that the roof drained into a large center drain that carried the water off the property. A system that many seemed to question, but Dale said it has continued to work successfully. As visitors walked through the house admiring the architecture, observing the light and the views to the exterior trees, Mrs. Blank, our guest of honor, stood in the kitchen and remarked how beautiful the house looked. Although she came mostly to see the wood floors that had been covered with carpet since the mid 1950s, she left with high praise for how the new owners have preserved the house that had been such a part of her life.

Lawrence Modern would like to thank Dale Dorsey and his family for opening up their home and letting our members experience this wonderful example of mid-century modernist architecture.

-Tim

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DIY modernism June 7th

Lawrence Modern event poster

Design: Aimee Wray

Back in the days before Eisenhower was president, Bob and Elaine Blank were a typical young couple driving around Lawrence looking for a place to build their dream house when they found a barren-looking lot south of the KU campus for $2,000. At the time, Blank was a professional photographer who admired the architectural photography featured in House Beautiful magazine, which highlighted the seductive appeal of southern California modernism. After seeing plans for a modern house with a butterfly roof advertised in the magazine, they decided to go for it and build such a house themselves to save money. Blank purchased the plans in 1951 for $100, plus postage, and got to work.

After adding a basement and more windows to the original design, they completed the house with the help of Blank’s father-in-law and local contractors. Later on they added a covered breezeway and a double carport, punctuating the laid-back California contemporary feel of the property. The Blanks made all the right moves with their DIY project, including hiring a young modernist architect named Dick Peters to design their renovations, resulting in one of the most distinctive modern houses in Lawrence. The house is on our Baker’s Dozen list of top midcentury houses in the city. The Blanks lived in the house until Bob passed away a couple of years ago at age 83. We are fortunate that the new owners respect the integrity of the house and wish to share it with us. We look forward to seeing you June 7th.

PS: Please do not park on Owens Lane. It is a cul-de-sac and difficult to navigate with parked cars. Please park on 21st and Alabama.

-Tom, Bill, Dennis & Tim

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Lawrence Modern in association with KU’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning presents Mon Oncle, the second film in our mini series that explores modern architecture’s role in cinema. The venue will again be the new Forum at Marvin Hall, the light-controlled glass box designed by students in Prof. Dan Rockhill’s Studio 804 class. Sit back, relax and enjoy the space. Be prepared to be entertained as Monsier Hulot struggles to understand modern architecture, mechanical efficiency and consumerism in postwar Paris. The great film critic Roger Ebert listed Mon Oncle as one of his top 100 movies of all time. Of the film’s director Ebert said, “Jacques Tati is the great philosophical tinkerer of comedy, taking meticulous care to arrange his films so that they unfold in a series of revelations and effortless delights.”

Please join us at The Forum on Wednesday, May 6th. KU Professor of Architecture Stephen Grabow will introduce Mon Oncle at 7 p.m. A short discussion will follow the screening. (The flyer can be enlarged for high-resolution viewing by double-clicking.)

Again we wish to thank the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning for collaborating with us on this exciting film series and generously providing use of The Forum.

All films are free and open to the public, seating is limited.

Trailer for Mon Oncle | Roger Ebert’s review | Studio 804: The Forum | KU Parking Info

– Bill, Dennis & Tom

Shibui: ‘Easy to live with beauty’

Author Patricia Graham discusses her book, Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics, and Culture at the Lawrence Public Library Jan. 11.

Author Patricia Graham discusses her book, Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics, and Culture at the Lawrence Public Library Jan. 11.

It would be hard to overemphasize the influence that Japanese design has had on the development of modern architecture in the West. Nearly 400 years after the Katsura Imperial Villa was constructed in Kyoto, for example, modern architects are still in awe of the precise geometrical forms of its sukiya-style buildings and the abstract beauty of its gardens. Indeed, as local author Patricia Graham reminded a group of more than 100 who gathered on January 11th at the Lawrence Public Library, much of what we now view as modernist architecture has its origins hundreds of years ago in Japan. This truth has not been overlooked—the great German architect Bruno Taut wrote three incisive books about the contributions of Japanese architecture to modernism a century ago—but it bears repeating and humble respect.

Graham’s talk, which was coupled with the recent publication of her book, Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture, celebrated not only Japan’s architecture and fine art but how Japanese refinement extends to even the most mundane objects, such as utensils and snack food packaging. She explained the origins of this refined aesthetic sense—clarifying the meaning of words like wabi, sabi and shibui, which are often carelessly used to describe it—in the context of Japan’s religious and cultural history. As an art historian and appraiser of Asian art, Graham also gave a bow to curators of Japanese art such as Langdon Warner, an art historian who traveled extensively throughout Japan in the early 1900’s, purchasing rare objects that are now preserved in museums. Another, of course, was Frank Lloyd Wright, who collected more Japanese woodblock prints than anyone in history and also was obsessed with Japanese art, design, and architecture. What goes around comes around.

It was an interesting presentation by Dr. Graham. Lawrence Modern appreciates her work and wishes her success with her new book. Arigatou Gozaimasu!

Lawrence Public Library, Jan. 11th:

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Emerging from the devastation of World War II, Japan entered an intense period of reconstruction in the 1950s, propelled in large part by international successes in design-related industries. These attracted the interest of foreigners in residence and soon came to the attention of Elizabeth Gordon, editor-in-chief of House Beautiful magazine from 1941 to 1964, who set out to explain the beauty of Japanese design and its relevance to the modern American lifestyle in two issues of the magazine (August and September 1960). Both were highly influential among American architects and designers. A staunch advocate of a more comfortable alternative to the rigid anonymity of orthodox modernist architecture, Gordon admired the humanistic and livable qualities of Japan’s design aesthetic. This talk will explore what this aesthetic is all about, as discussed in Patricia Graham’s new book, Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics, and Culture (Tuttle), and how it helped shape the appearance of mid-century modern design in America. Come join us for a stimulating conversation about this fascinating topic. The event is sponsored by Lawrence Modern and KU’s Center for East Asian Studies.

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