Modernist Pedagogical Spaces

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Many millennials (myself included) will drool over the pages of Dwell Magazine, or overdose on mid century chic curated on Pinterest. For those of us who live in smaller cities and towns of British Columbia, it is difficult to find functional and minimalist inspiration in the aesthetic of modernist furniture, architecture or landscaping. There simply isn’t much of it around.

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This is not to say that the spirit of Gropius, Aalto, or van der Rohe never touched the genius of the women and men who gave shape to our city scapes. To the contrary, a quick bit of local inquiry reveals that several architects in central British Columbia were forging their own West Coast ways in applying International and other modernist styles just a few decades ago. Some of it is now gone.

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What remains is not always celebrated. The straight, inorganic, Euro-centric line is not only a symbol of Old World aesthetic imposition. It also reeks of white male privilege and of unadventurous middle class dictate. After all, the majority of our surviving glass-concrete-steel examples were built as fortresses of public administration and education.

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Yet it is a misconception, I believe, to reduce the straight line of modernist architecture to callous mid-century optimism with its despicable stance toward environment, women, and Indigenous peoples. Perhaps there is to be rediscovered, in the modernism that remains, a humbler and more sincere beginning. Can we glean from its ruins the desire to break old moulds?

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By alexoehler

I am an environmental anthropologist at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.