Steve Chambers, Architect: My Mid-Century Modern Dallas Home

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My boyhood home in East Dallas, today.

When I heard that Preservation Texas inaugurated its first ever Texas Modern Month, being celebrated the entire month of April 2011, I wanted to share my experience in the Mid-Century Modern home in which I lived from the age of six until I left home for college. I grew up in Dallas in a Mid-Century Modern home built by my parents and designed by the late Dallas architect, Joe Gordon, in 1952. I called the land on which it was built, Cowboy Land, because at this time in East Dallas, there were few houses and wide expanses of open spaces. We had over 50 pecan trees on the lot and plenty of land to dig a maze of tunnels in which I got lost in my imagination.

On long summer days, my mother packed a lunch for me and I didn’t see her again until it was almost dark. Our home was perfect for our family of four: informal, few walls, lots of light, several changes in ceiling height. This home was unusual in that it was designed by an architect and was very modern for its time. I remember looking over the blueprints and being amazed that a person could communicate with flat drawings and create a three-dimensional object in which people could live so efficiently, yet remain comfortable. Still, for me, it was just my house. I did not understand the influence it had on my life until much later, both in the selection of a career as an architect and the development of a personal aesthetic and visual vocabulary of design.

The home is still in our family, and though my parents kept it in good shape, it required loving restoration by my sister and her husband. They removed what my mother called “wall to wall” carpet and refinished the beautiful oak strip flooring below it. It still has the original trim details, floor-to-ceiling glass (something that seems difficult to execute today), steel casement windows, generous redwood overhangs and the salmon colored common brick. Even then, architects somehow understood the shading effect that generous eaves could provide to reduce the heat load of hot Texas sun. This was prior to the “new” sustainability movement; it was just intelligent sensitive design.

Inspired by Houston Mod, Preservation Texas and partners organized the Texas MODern Month concept to raise awareness of the need to preserve locally, regionally, and nationally significant examples of modern buildings, sites, and neighborhoods in Texas. PT hopes all communities take time in April to celebrate architecture and landscape design of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Much of this unappreciated architecture is often torn down to make way for bigger developments and larger homes.

Goals of MODern Month:

* Raise awareness of the importance of mid-century modern architecture and landscape design in Texas

Dining room.

* Support for their value. Landscapes and buildings designed and constructed since 1950 are often destroyed before the public understands their significance or realizes these resources exist. Several communities including San Antonio and Dallas have broadened the definition of historic to take in account buildings built in the last 50 years and;

* Inspire advocates at the local level. All politics are local and so is preservation. PT hopes communities see the wonderful efforts taking place around Texas and are motivated to learn about the recent past of their hometown.

2011 is the inaugural year for MODern Month in Texas. Organizations in three cities have partnered to host lectures in Houston, Austin and Dallas on April 11-13. These lectures are being held to support the statewide effort. Link to dates and locations for all lectures on Preservation Texas website.

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