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Modern again

California revives its love affair with Modernism and the sleek American home.

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It was the dawn of the Space Age. A post-World-War-II era brimming with technological optimism, bursting with new ideas, racing to embrace the future. And it took form in an explosion of creativity, in art, furniture, design - and perhaps most noticeably, in architecture.

Forget about Cape Cod and mock-Tudor. From the late 1940s into the early 1960s, Modernist architecture came into its own in this country - all glass and steel, clean lines, open floor plans, organized simplicity. These homes opened the indoors out and welcomed the outdoors in.

It wasn't long, though, before the cultural fascination with the future began to wane amid the all-too-present social turmoil of the 1960s, followed by cold-war saber-rattling and economic recession. The interest in Modernist houses and architecture waned, too, with many buildings falling into neglect or disrepair or, worse yet, becoming victims of insensitive remodeling or destruction.

But the story doesn't end there. Half a century on, in the early years of a new millennium, Modernism is looking good again. In fact, it's looking great. Museums are staging exhibitions of influential architects of the period, biographers are detailing their lives, community preservationists are restoring their buildings, and young celebrities and baby boomers with money are snapping up the homes they built.

Pop culture pays attention

"Interest in this period has definitely been explosive in the past five years," says Peter Moruzzi, a preservationist who's fought to save many Modernist buildings in southern California, where examples of the architecture abound. "It's sort of permeating the popular culture now."

Experts say there are a number of reasons for the resurgence of interest in Modernist architecture. Part of it is a baby-boomer lifestyle nostalgia for the kind of homes many boomers grew up in. Part of it is the longing among some people for simplicity of living in an age bristling with information. Another factor is increasing activism among community preservationists who see the architecture as embodying a definitive point in time and culture. Yet another reason is the purely acquisitive nature of people who want to find the latest hip, collectible style.


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