Your Home by Mail: The Rise and Fall of Catalogue Housing

Gordon-Van tine’s ready-cut homes (1918). Image Courtesy of Openlibrary.org

Housing is one of the most persistent challenges faced by the industry, and over the course of decades certain trends rise and fall, as entrepreneurial housing providers carve out new niches to provide for expanding populations and changing demographics. Originally published by BuzzBuzzHome as “The Rise and Fall of The Mail-Order House,” this article explores the craze of so-called “catalogue homes” – flat-packed houses that were delivered by mail – which became popular in North America in the first decades of the 20th century.

The testimonials make it sound effortless: building your own house is no sweat.

In the front pages of a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalogue for mail-order homes, a resident of Traverse City, Michigan identified only by the pseudonym “I Did Not Hire Any Help” wrote to the company: “I am very well pleased with my Already Cut House bought off you. All the material went together nicely. In fact, I wish I had another house to put up this summer. I really enjoyed working on such a building, and I do not follow the carpenter trade either.” It’s estimated that more than 100,000 mail-order homes were built in the United States between 1908 and 1940. It was the IKEA of housing, but instead of spending an afternoon putting together a bookshelf, buyers would take on the formidable task of building a house. Or, more commonly, get a contractor to do it. Homebuyers would pick a design of their choice out of a mail-order catalogue and the – from the lumber frame boards to the paint to the nails and screws – would be shipped out to the closest railway station for pickup and construction.

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“A Joy of Things”: The Architecture World Remembers Michael Graves

The Portland Building. Image © Flickr user camknows

This past Thursday Michael Graves, the famed member of the New York Five and one of the Postmodern movement’s great icons, passed away at age 80. With a legacy spanning more than 350 buildings and 2,000 product designs for companies like Alessi, Target and J.C. Penney, Graves will be remembered as a prolific designer, but for many within the profession his 50-year career will be memorable for so much more. Since news of Graves’ death broke on Thursday, tributes have been posted all around the internet, starting with his company’s official statement which said:

“Since founding the firm in 1964, Michael transformed the role of architects and designers, and even the place of design in our everyday lives. For those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend. For the countless students that he taught for more than 40 years, Michael was an inspiring professor who encouraged everyone to find their unique design voice.”

Read on after the break for more reactions and tributes to .

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Digitized Stone: ZAarchitects Develop “Smart Masonry”

Courtesy of ZAarchitects

When one hears the term masonry architecture, and automated processes are probably not the first ideas to come to mind. By its very nature, the architecture produced with stone masonry is often heavy, massive, and incorporates less natural light than alternative methods. However, with their research proposal for “Smart Masonry,” Zaarchitects are proposing to change masonry buildings as we know them and open opportunities for digital fabrication techniques in stone and other previously antiquated materials. Read on after the break to get a glimpse of what these new masonry buildings could look like and learn more about the process behind their construction.

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“Spanning the Future” Documentary Traces the Life and Work of Frei Otto

Aviary at the Munich Zoo. Image Courtesy of Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn

Frei Otto: Spanning the Future,” a documentary profiling the internationally renowned architect and engineer Frei Otto, has been in production since 2012. Otto, who was named the 2015 Pritzker Prize laureate on Tuesday evening (following his death on Monday night), first gained international recognition half a century ago as a pioneer in designing tensile structures using metal frames and lightweight membranes.

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Michael Graves Dies at 80

© & Associates

Michael Graves died Thursday at the age of 80. Famous for his bold, symbolic references to classical architecture and his use of geometry, Graves is also known as one of the New York Five. His work bridged the abstraction of Modernism and the Postmodernism of the current era.

“No one has made a bigger impact on the world of architecture, certainly from Mercer County, than Michael Graves,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said. “Some people think architects are just people who draw up buildings. They are artists in themselves, and Michael was clearly an artist. He will be greatly missed by the Mercer County community.”

A statement from his practice and an interview with Graves, after the break.

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21 Ways Architects Can Work Smarter, Not Harder

Courtesy of Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

In their day-to-day work, architects face a lot of distractions and challenges: managing clients, collaborators and contractors; keeping up to date with the latest software and technologies; drafting planning applications and paperwork; and if you’re lucky, even getting to design some things in between. Originally published by ArchSmarter, this post offers 21 tips on how to maximize your productivity and minimize unnecessary work.

Project schedules are getting shorter and shorter. Building types are getting more complex. We already work hard but there are only so many hours in the day. As architects, we need to work smarter, not harder. How can we maximize our effectiveness and our efficiency? How can we manage the increasing flow of information? How can we design better, faster?

Here are 21 ways you can work smarter, not harder:

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12 Things You Didn’t Know About Pritzker Laureate Frei Otto

Hall at the International Garden Exhibition, 1963, Hamburg, © Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn

Frei Otto passed away this past Monday, a day before being internationally celebrated as the Pritzker Prize’s 40th laureate. The first architect to ever receive the Prize posthumously, Otto was a brilliant inventor, architect and engineer who pioneered some of history’s most ambitious tensile structures.

In honor of his legacy, we’ve complied 12 fascinating facts about Otto’s life that influenced his career and shaped the profession. Read them all, after the break.

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Material Minds: Digital Ceramic Printing in MVRDV’s Glass Farm

© Persbureau van Eijndhoven

If you search the web for information on MVRDV’s Glass Farm, you’ll find plenty of people writing about the project’s 33-year history, and about its context in the small town of Schijndel. You’ll even find plenty of people theorizing on the nature of those glass walls, and the relationships between image and authenticity and between modern technology and modest tradition. But strangely, you’ll find almost no information on how the project made use of Digital Ceramic Printing, a relatively new process which was able to handle the many colors, variable transparency and fine tolerances required to display an entire farmhouse facade across a thousand glass panels.

In this new installment of our Material Minds series, presented by ArchDaily Materials, we spoke to MVRDV‘s project leader on the Glass Farm Gijs Rikken, and to Niv Raz, an Architect at Dip-Tech – the company who produces the printers, ink, software and support required for the process.

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Frei Otto Posthumously Named 2015 Pritzker Laureate

© Ingenhoven und Partner Architekten, Düsseldorf

Frei Otto has just been named the 40th recipient of the Pritzker Prize - two weeks prior to the expected official announcement. The abrupt news has been released early due the unfortunate passing of the German architect and structural engineer, who was best known for the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium. The pioneering tensile structure, which stood in considerable contrast to the strict, authoritarian stadium that was its predecessor, was meant to present a different, more compassionate face for .

“Throughout his life, has produced imaginative, fresh, unprecedented spaces and constructions. He has also created knowledge. Herein resides his deep influence: not in forms to be copied, but through the paths that have been opened by his research and discoveries,” says the Jury.

“His contributions to the field of architecture are not only skilled and talented, but also generous. For his visionary ideas, inquiring mind, belief in freely sharing knowledge and inventions, his collaborative spirit and concern for the careful use of resources, the 2015 Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded to Frei Otto.”

Though he sadly passed away before the award ceremony, Otto was informed of his win by the Pritzker Prize’s Executive Director Martha Thorne, who traveled to his home in Warmbronn to inform him of his prize. Speaking shortly after her visit, he said: “I am now so happy to receive this Pritzker Prize and I thank the jury and the Pritzker family very much. I have never done anything to gain this prize. My architectural drive was to design new types of buildings to help poor people especially following natural disasters and catastrophes… You have here a happy man.”

Read the Jury’s full citation after the break…

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Unreal Visualizations: 3 Pros and 3 Cons of Rendering with a Video Game Engine

YouTube Preview Image

In recent years, we’ve reached a point where visualizations have become all-prevalent in the architectural profession. Whether we like it or not, stylized imagery is seen as a commodity, and ultimately, renderings win competitions and commissions. Architects have become enamored with beautiful renderings because clients understand pictures better than plans, and yet, the tools used to produce these glitzy images are changing faster than our industry can keep up. But with technology constantly evolving, we may face a new wave of visualization techniques, as the same render engines used to produce the tantalizingly realistic visuals in movies and games are, for the first time, easily within our reach.

The lines across industries are blurring and companies behind the rendering engines for the most popular video games are now marketing their software directly to architects. This year, the original developers of the game Gears of War have made their proprietary rendering software Unreal Engine 4 free to architects, and many other video game render engines are available for less than the cost of those used by architects. Founder Tim Sweeney believes that the world of visualization is changing, telling The Verge “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Creating a common language between the presently disparate fields of architecture, film, and video games, for example, suggests that the industries themselves may begin to hybridize and learn from one another. For instance, video game developers may look to architects to understand how to construct 3D buildings, while architects may learn from the navigable virtual environment of video games in order to discover new means of . Add to this the fact that these software packages are capable of producing lifelike animated walkthroughs and we are left wondering, why is this not an industry standard? Read on after the break for the pros and cons of being an early adopter.

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AD Classics: Robarts Library / Warner, Burns, Toan & Lunde

© Wikipedia User Dr. K

If the architectural volte face of the late 1960s heralded the genesis of postmodernism, deconstruction, and a golden age of theory, it came at an equally destructive cost. Escaping the totalizing regime of modernism demanded from architects more than the promise of new ideas; it required the falsification of modernist axioms and the wholesale annihilation of its spiritual eidos. In this critical moment of death and rebirth, some pieces of the modern project survived only by hiding under the cloak of the technological progress, while others—like modern city planning—persisted only because there was no way to turn back the clock.

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3 New Films Showcase 7 Architects Redefining the Role of Women in Architecture

E1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin by Eileen Gray. Image © Julian Lennon 2014

“I cannot, in whole conscience, recommend architecture as a profession for girls. I know some women who have done well at it, but the obstacles are so great that it takes an exceptional girl to make a go of it. If she insisted on becoming an architect, I would try to dissuade her. If then, she was still determined, I would give her my blessing–she could be that exceptional one.”
– Pietro Belluschi, FAIA from the 1955 New York Life Insurance Company brochure, “Should You Be an Architect?”

With great fanfare, in mid-October 2014 on the opening night of the 6th annual Architecture and Design Film Festival in Manhattan, Festival Director Kyle Bergman announced that the festival’s special focus this year was on women in architecture. “We’ve been wanting to feature for a while now,” he told me, “and this year we finally have the films to make that happen,” referring to three new documentaries: Gray Matters (2014), Making Space: 5 Women Changing the Face of Architecture (2014) and Zaha Hadid: Who Dares Wins (2013).

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Why “Young Architecture” is a Detriment to the Profession

The Artworks Elephant by Harper Downie. Image Courtesy of The Architectural

As one of the first organizations to implement a regular award for , The Architectural Review has had its eye on youth for over a decade and a half. But with awards, exhibitions and media coverage of those conspicuously labeled as “” proliferating in the years since, has the concept now been co-opted by those who merely seek to monetize and exploit architecture’s most precarious practitioners? In this polemical article, originally published by The Architectural Review as “The problem with ‘Young Architecture’,” AR Assistant Editor Phineas Harper and Phil Pawlett Jackson unpick how the cult of “Young Architecture” has been absorbed into the profession, with potentially harmful ramifications.

When the romantic notion of the architect as auteur, a high priest in the cult of culture, is married to the virginal myth of untainted youth, a potent marketable commodity is brewed: the “Young Architect”. All but invisible when the AR launched its Emerging Architecture prize at the end of the 20th century, this breed is now celebrated in numerous awards, exhibitions and published collections. But beware the cult of youth − there is a broad landscape of risks as well as opportunities facing designers who choose this identity willingly or have it thrust upon them.

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“A Truman Show-Style Nightmare”? Critics React to BIG and Heatherwick’s Designs for Google

© / BIG / Heatherwick Studio

In their designs for Google’s new headquarters, released last week amid much excitement, Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick have taken cues from the utopian visions of the past to create a radical solution for the sprawling tech campus in Mountain View, California. Citing the lack of identifiable architecture in the sector, a promotional video on Google’s own blog reveals how the company plans to embrace nature, community, and flexibility with the new scheme.

Chief among the company’s concerns was creating a building capable of adapting to future uses in addition to serving as a neighborhood-enhancing environment to welcome visitors from the surrounding community. As with any news related to Google, the design has already attracted the attention of the media – read on after the break for our rundown of the most salient reviews so far.

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Walter Netsch: The “Radical Mind” That Designed SOM’s Air Force Academy Chapel

© Hedrich Blessing

Having joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill after World War Two at the age of 27, was promoted to become a partner at the age of 31. Netsch entered the firm during what was arguably its defining era, when the reputation of Gordon Bunshaft and the image of a corporate-driven, teamwork-minded made SOM one of the most recognizable practices in the US. He was also, at the age of just 34, responsible for one of SOM’s most recognizable projects of the decade, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and its striking geometric chapel.

To honor what would have been Netsch’s 95th birthday, SOM recently republished an interview between Netsch and architecture theorist and writer , which had originally been published in 2001 in SOM Journal 1. In the following extract from this interview, Netsch discusses the story of how he developed the design, and what it was like to participate in one of America’s most influential practices among a host of strong characters.

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The Robot Revolution: Coop Himmelb(l)au Founder Wolf D. Prix on the Future of Construction

With a recently released animation entitled “We Start the Future of Construction,” Coop Himmelb(l)au announced their intention to take digital fabrication to a radical new scale, demonstrating how  is impacting almost every aspect of the architectural profession. The advent of building information modeling and other modeling software has transformed how architects and engineers navigate the construction process, allowing us to achieve increasingly complex forms that can be modeled with the aid of CNC machining and 3D Printing, but still there remains a wide gap between the technologies available to architects and those employed by builders. When it comes to a building’s actual construction we have been limited by the great costs associated with non-standard components and labor – but now, the automated practices that transformed manufacturing industries could revolutionize how we make buildings.

Last week, ArchDaily sat down with co-founder, Design Principal and CEO of Wolf D. Prix for his thoughts on the future of construction and the role of the architect in an increasingly technological practice. Read on after the break to find out how robots could impact architectural design, construction, and the future of the profession.

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Vienna to Build World’s Tallest Wooden Skyscraper

© OLN/office le nomade

Rüdiger Lainer and Partner plans to construct the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper next year in Vienna’s Seestadt Aspern area. 76 percent of the 84-meter tower is expected to be made from wood rather than concrete, saving approximately 2,800 tonnes of CO2 emissions (equivalent to driving a car 25 miles a day for 1,300 years).

“I think it is important everyone now in 2014 thinks in different ways. We have , which is a perfect construction material for building,” she said. “It was used 200 years ago and it was perfect then and is perfect now,” says Kerbler project developer Caroline Palfy, commenting on the architects’ decision to use wood due to its environmental benefits.

An interior loft view and more details, after the break. 

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AR Issues: Architects Don’t Invent, They Transform

Courtesy of

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s February 2015 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor reflects on Álvaro Siza‘s ouevre, from his early work in Évora to his latest effort in China. Though the latter is admittedly elegant, Slessor concludes that in comparison to his older transformative designs the recent incarnation of “brand Siza” is a “predictable triumph of style over content.”

The great Portuguese Modernist Fernando Távora once remarked “Style is not of importance; what counts is the relation between the work and life, style is only the consequence of it.” His friend and protégé Álvaro Siza echoed this sentiment when he said: “Architecture does not have a pre-established language nor does it establish a language. It is a response to a concrete problem, a situation in transformation, in which I participate. In architecture, we have already passed the phase during which we thought that the unity of language would resolve everything. A pre-established language, pure, beautiful, does not interest me.”

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