The History of Modern in the Northwest


Modernism is a broad term given to a variety of design approaches in architecture, with common characteristics being the simplification of form and elimination of ornament. Throughout the Northwest, the Modern home has evolved, combining the Modern aesthetic with the natural beauty of the surroundings.


Many consider Paul Thiry the progenitor of Modern architecture in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1928 and his small but influential firm brought the European International Style of architecture to the area. At about the same time Lionel Pries arrived at the University of Washington to join the faculty.


The end of WW II, the “GI” Bill, the baby boom, a general sense of optimism, and a shortage of housing in the American west set the stage for a Modern architecture housing boom. Thiry and Pries along with Pietro Belluschi and John Yeon in the Portland, Oregon area influenced a whole generation of young Northwest architects interested in Modernism. This influence combined with the factors listed above gave us a “Northwest Regionalism” and a specific identity in the Modern architecture movement.


Modern’s Dark Ages. With only a few wonderful exceptions, the Modern aesthetic was hit hard by Post-Modernism. Modern was redefined as cold. We believe much of this was caused by the poor use of Modern concepts in the institutional setting, most notably in the public housing projects of the old Soviet Union and Eastern Block but also in North America and parts of Asia. The proverbial baby was thrown out with the bathwater and all Modern was affected no matter how great or timeless the architecture.


The Re-embrace of Modern. About this time a new generation of young, smart people began to come into their own. Many of these folks had grown up in the homes of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s watching James Bond movies and living in and around Modern architecture. They had a sense for it. Popular culture began to shift; magazines started using primary colors, more angular designs. Vintage Modern furniture became popular moving many manufactures to reissue Modern designs, and a mid-century classic Modern preservation movement began to take root. Architects took note and we started seeing Modern design concepts again often with new materials utilizing newer building techniques.


Modern is Green/Green is Modern. Modern architecture is uniquely suited for the green consciousness of today. Most talented architects have embraced Modern design incorporating green materials in innovative ways. Architects are now designing homes to capture both active and passive solar energy, including water catchment systems, where practical, and so much more to raising efficiency standards. Modernism is now in a time of growth and innovation. Locally, architects like Eric Cobb, Tom Kundig, Heather Johnston, John DeForest and Jim Burton are carrying the modernist vision forward.

This entry was posted in Articles, Contemporary Modern All Areas, Mid-Century Modern and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • dwell

    I’ve always been a huge fan of the MCM architecture. I’m often amazed how much of Mid century neighborhood homes are sprinkled throughout the Northwest. Having a site like 360 modern provides and leads the front for individuals to actually obtain a home of this culture! Way to go guys! In fact, having so many great homes here in the Seattle area and all the “kitchen-home remodeling” tours throughout Seattle, I would love to see 360 modern sponsor with home owners a specific Mid Century Modern homes tour? As far as I know there has not been a tour like this? I can guarantee with all the homes up here and a growing popularity of these homes, it will be a huge turn out…. I’ll even include my home..lol! PS– hey Heidi!