Possible New Life for Julia Morgan’s Pasadena YWCA

Very interesting news has come to us via Pasadena Weekly. California architect Julia Morgan’s 1921 YWCA Building in Pasadena, CA is under consideration for adaptive reuse. According to the article on the Pasadena Weekly Web site, “[T]he Pasadena City Council reviewed development plans for the long-vacant YWCA building, which is expected to be converted into a boutique hotel.”

The structure, vacant since 1997, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Read the article on Pasadena Weekly.

Read more on architect Julia Morgan.

Julia MorganJulia Morgan, Pasadena YWCA Building (1921). Photographer unknown.


Opening Day

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on March 31, 2011.

Since today is Major League Baseball's Opening Day, we thought we’d celebrate by sharing designer Mark Lamster’s experience as a baseball card collector, orignally posted on Design Observer. One of Lamster’s favorites is a 1972 Roberto Clemente card. What’s one of yours? Send us a link, and we’ll post it here.


Left: 1951 Bowman baseball #162 Larry Jansen, New York Giants.
Source: Source

Right: 1933 Goudey Big League Baseball Rogers Hornsby.

Second Homes for Leisure Living

Today most of us can barely afford one home, but back in the prosperous days of the Twentieth Century many members of the rising middle class had expendable income to spend on “leisure homes.” In a 2009 post, grain edit shared illustrations from a booklet published by the Douglas Fir Plywood Association entitled, “Second Homes for Leisure Living.” he brochure is a collection of 16 mid century modern cabin plans by various architects including George Matsumoto, Frederick Liebhardt, David George and Henrik Bull.

View the in its entirety on the US National archives Web site.

leisure home
Walter Widmeyer, Two Stage Expandable Vacationer Home (1960).


"The Font God" Mike Parker Dies

it is with great sadness that Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century has learned that legendary typographer Mike Parker died on February 23, 2014.  You can read Parker’s obituary on the Fast Company Design Blog, but we’re posting a video produced by the Type Directors Club so you can hear Parker telling his own story.

90 Years of Warner Brothers Logos

Since March is traditionally Oscars month, we’re sharing an interesting article originally posted on the Fast Company Design blog which looks at the evolution of the iconic Warner Brothers logo from the 1920s to the present day.

Not only has the basic form of the initials “WB” encased in a shield changed over the decades, but according to Co.Design, “Filmmakers have always been encouraged to tailor it to suit the individual tone of their films.”

Examples of iterations of the WB logo can be seen on Movie Title Stills Collection.

Warner Bros. Pictures Logo as depicted in Elia Kazan’s America, America (1963).

Art Deco Buildings in Greenbelt, Maryland

Our friend David Thompson of the Art Deco Buildings blog shared some terrific photos of his trip to Greenbelt, Maryland earlier this year. According to Thompson:

In 1936, Greenbelt … was built in Maryland between Washington DC and Baltimore. It was a bold experiment in co-operative living with all the town’s businesses and even the newspaper co-cooperatively owned by the residents. The homogeneous houses and flats where built around a city center that included shops, a theater and an elementary school.

Read more about Greenbelt, Maryland on Art Deco Buildings, and also read Thompson’s post on The Greenbelt Community Center.

For more on the community of Greenbelt, Maryland visit the city’s Web site.

Greenbelt, Maryland
Greenbelt Theatre and Supermarket, Greenbelt, Maryland (1937).

Silly Saturday: How Architects Sleep

Design and Desire found this image on Katie Umenthum's Architecture Humor Pinterest Board, which is a send-off of the universal communication symbols. Notice how architects sleep - if they get the opportunity - at the bottom of the graphic.

Visit Katie’s Pinterest Board for more humorous and unusual images.


Unknown Artist. How Architects Sleep.

Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal at MOMA

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is currently running Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal, an exhibition that explores the architect’s philosophy regarding the development of the American City during the period between the two World Wars. Wright’s iconic large-scale model for “Broadacre City" is the centerpiece of the show, which features drawings, architectural models and films that were included in the recent joint acquisition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s extensive archive by MoMA and Columbia University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

For details visit MoMA’s web site. The show runs now through June 1, 2014.


Frank Lloyd Wright. Drawings for Broadacre City Project, (1932).

Silly Saturday: Atomic City

A huge thank you goes out to our friend, Mid-century Modern Freak for turning us on to Hollywood visual effect artist Markus Rothkranz's Atomic City. Part Jetsons, part Rat Pack, part James Bond the show is like nothing you’ve seen on television! A spoof of a sixties style secret agent thriller, the show features all the futuristic designs that mid-century architects and designers dreamed of for our use in 2014.

Since Atomic City really defies any description we could hope to give it, you’ll just have to check it out yourself!

Atomic City
Markus Rothkrantz. Image from Atomic City (1997-2006).

On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi

Editor’s note: This post originally ran in January 25, 2011.

“Everything is sculpture.  Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.” — Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was one of the Twentieth Century’s most important and influential sculptors. He “believed that through sculpture and architecture, one could better understand the struggle with nature”(1). Noguchi’s father was a Japanese poet and his mother, an American writer. Although the artist was born in Los Angeles (2), he spent much of his childhood in Japan. He returned to the United States as a teenager in order to attend boarding school (3,4). Noguchi would remain an “internationalist, [and travel] extensively throughout his life”(3).

Isamu Noguchi, Long Island City Studio with Akari sculptures, 1960s.
Source: © Isamu Noguchi Foundation Inc, New York courtesy designmuseum, London http://www.designboom.com/portrait/noguchi/bio2.jpg

As a young man, Noguchi began studying medicine at Columbia University. During this period he was also enrolled in sculpture classes and soon “realized that art, not medicine, was his true calling”(1). “When he was only twenty Noguchi had his first exhibition in New York City”(5). In 1927, “he received a Guggenheim Fellowship…that allowed him at age twenty-three to apprentice under Constantin Brancusi”(5). Brancusi’s influence is evident in Noguchi’s work throughout his prolific career.

Two years later, Noguchi was to meet another individual who would have a profound effect upon his life, “the visionary architect, futurist, and poet”(5), Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s “utopian outlook greatly influenced Noguchi”(5) and the two became life-long friends. Fuller’s ideas, no doubt, had an impact on Noguchi’s “increased social awareness”(5) that led the sculptor to establish “Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans”(3) in 1942. That same year, Noguchi endured “a voluntary stay in a Japanese interment camp for several months”(5). After the War, the artist returned to Japan to explore “the wrenching issues raised during the previous years. His ideas and feelings are reflected in his work of the time”(3).

Stage set elements from Herodiade (1944) choreographed by Martha Graham in Robert Wilson’s installation of Isamu Noguchi: Sculptural Design at the Design Museum, 2001
Source: http://designmuseum.org/media/item/4000/-1/12_10Lg.jpg

Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is another figure who greatly influenced Noguchi’s career. “As early as 1935”(3) he designed sets for her company and collaborated with other “dancers/choreographers Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, and George Balanchine [as well as] composer John Cage”(3). According to scholar Nancy Grove, with work such as this “Noguchi challenged Modernist prohibitions against commerce and genre-crossing”(2).

Isamu Noguchi. Akari Lamps, 1951.
Source:  http://blog.dwr.com/.a/6a00d8345173e769e20133f5e68b9a970b-450wi

Noguchi would blur the line between pure art and functional design with his iconic creation Radio Nurse for Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937 (2). In the 1940s George Nelson, design director for Herman Miller, wrote an article called “How to Make a Table” using one of Noguchi’s designs as an illustration for the piece. This design eventually “became his famous ‘coffee table,’ originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984”(6).  Noguchi’s 1951 Akari Lamps of “paper, bamboo, and metal”(2) borrowed their structure from traditional Japanese shoji lamps, yet these lamps’ “asymmetrical shapes”(4) were inspired by Brancusi’s work (4).

In the 1960s Noguchi and architect Louis Kahn collaborated on a design for a playground (3). “The Adele Levy Memorial Playground, intended to occupy eight acres of New York City’s Riverside Park”(7) was one of a series of “playscapes” the sculptor designed in which “the standard swing, slide, and climbing structure”(7) was replaced by “an array of geometric shapes”(7) that children could climb and play upon. Sadly, the project was eventually rejected by city officials and never realized.

Isamu Noguchi. Playscapes (1975-76). Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Photo by Isamu Noguchi
Source:  http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/stern/Images/stern1-27-8.jpg

“Noguchi died in 1988;…half his ashes are buried in the Noguchi Museum garden, the rest at his compound in Japan. In life as in death, Noguchi honored both his Japanese and American heritage”(4). For more insight on Isamu Noguchi’s his life and work and the remarkable people who shaped the artist’s career, visit  “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922–1960.” The exhibition runs now through April 24, 2011 at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.


  1. PBS. (2001). About Isamu Noguchi. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/isamu-noguchi/about-isamu-noguchi/675/
  2. Grove, N. (2005). Identifying Noguchi. Sculpture. 24 no. 9 26-31.
  3. Noguchi Museum.  (n.d.). Biography. http://www.noguchi.org/noguchi/biography
  4. Goldstein, D. (2006). Crossing Cultures. Art & Antiques 29 no. 2 42, 44.
  5. Carpenter, K. (2008). Organic Utilitarianism: The Sculptures of Isamu Noguchi. Sculpture Review v. 57 no. 1 30-33.
  6. Herman Miller, Inc. (2010). Isamu Noguchi. http://www.hermanmiller.com/Designers/Noguchi
  7. Exhibition Examines Noguchi’s Ties to Key Figures in Art, Theater, Design, and Architecture. (2010, November 18). ArtDaily.org http://www.artdaily.com/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=42629