American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture

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Alice T. Friedman


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The rise of luxury and sophistication in mid-century modern architecture and design

The sleek lines and gleaming facades of the architecture of the late 1940s and 1950s reflect a culture fascinated by the promise of the Jet Age. Buildings like Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport and Philip Johnson’s Four Seasons Restaurant retain a thrilling allure, seeming to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. In this work, distinguished architectural historian Alice Friedman draws on a vast range of sources to argue that the aesthetics of mid-century modern architecture reflect an increasing fascination with “glamour,” a term widely used in those years to characterize objects, people, and experiences as luxurious, expressive, and even magical.

Featuring assessments of architectural examples ranging from Mies van der Rohe’s monolithic Seagram Building to Elvis Presley’s sprawling Graceland estate, as well as vintage photographs, advertisements, and posters, this book argues that new audiences and client groups with tastes rooted in popular entertainment made their presence felt in the cultural marketplace during the postwar period. The author suggests that American and European architecture and design increasingly reflected the values of a burgeoning consumer society, including a fundamental confidence in the power of material objects to transform the identity and status of those who owned them.

Alice T. Friedman is Grace Slack McNeil Professor of the History of American Art and director of the McNeil Program for Studies in American Art at Wellesley College.

“[O]ne of the most intriguing and compelling studies to date on modern architecture.”—Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"One of the most intriguing and compelling studies to date on modern architecture. . . . Scholarly and highly readable, deeply researched and richly provocative. . . . A major accomplishment."--Robert Bruegmann, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Vivid and lucid. . . . Some of the finest writing about architecture the field has yet produced."--Sandy Isenstadt, Design Observer 

"Fully informed, richly illustrated, and presented in scholarly fashion, it likely will be a lasting epochal work for decades. Essential."—P. Kaufman, CHOICE

“A lavishly illustrated, detailed portrait of midcentury modern architecture [and] a brilliant account of the logic and appeal of "American glamour."--Patricia A. Morton, Journal of Architectural Education

"Intelligent, highly readable, and elegantly designed and illustrated."--Modern Magazine

“Yale has produced a volume … that's so spectacular-looking, it may even exceed the publishing house's usual high production standards. . . . A stunning book.”--Robert Leiter, The Jewish Exponent

"A brilliant study of post-war American architecture. . . . The images of sleek buildings and seductive advertising are reason enough to browse this book, but you should buy it for its provocative, compelling text."--Michael Webb, Form: Pioneering Design

"Friedman engages in a lively investigation of her subject."—Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Antiques

"Gorgeous."--Kimberly Timlick,

PopSugar's 100 Best Gifts for 2011
ISBN: 9780300116540
Publication Date: June 29, 2010
272 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
125 b/w + 40 color illus.