Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929–75 A new book by Susan Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino


Modern in the Middle
Chicago Houses 1929-75
Susan Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino; foreword by Pauline Saliga

“Famed as the birthplace of that icon of twentieth-century architecture, the skyscraper, Chicago also cultivated a more humble but no less consequential form of modernism–the private residence. Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929-75 explores the substantial yet overlooked role that Chicago and its suburbs played in the development of the modern single-family house in the twentieth century. In a city often associated with the outsize reputations of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the examples discussed in this generously illustrated book expand and enrich the story of the region’s built environment.

“Authors Susan Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino survey dozens of influential houses by architects whose contributions are ripe for reappraisal, such as Paul Schweikher, Harry Weese, Keck & Keck, and William Pereira. From the bold, early example of the ‘Battledeck House’ by Henry Dubin (1930) to John Vinci and Lawrence Kenny’s gem the Freeark House (1975), the generation-spanning residences discussed here reveal how these architects contended with climate and natural setting while negotiating the dominant influences of Wright and Mies. They also reveal how residential clients–typically middle-class professionals, progressive in their thinking–helped to trailblaze modern architecture in America. Though reflecting different approaches to site, space, structure, and materials, the examples in Modern in the Middle reveal an abundance of astonishing houses that have never been collected into one study–until now.”

Praise for Modern in the Middle
“Modern in the Middle significantly expands our understanding of modern architecture in the Chicago area by bringing to light a number of lesser-known yet talented architects. The houses and interiors designed by IIT graduates like myself demonstrate that the Miesian legacy was more complex than it might appear at first sight.”

“Modern in the Middle looks beyond Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers to show us that this city’s residential buildings have also been paradigmatic in shaping modern architecture. The book’s scope goes beyond just ‘midcentury’ making the ‘Middle’ a signifier that explores Chicago’s central place in the nation’s geography and the essential role of the American middle class in defining the idea of ‘modern housing.’ Every piece of this carefully assembled volume is insightful and still resonant in our lives today.”

“This rich and fascinating compendium places the modern houses in and around Chicago in historical and philosophical context. In addition to the descriptions not only of the houses and architects but also the crucial role of the clients, the accompanying original photographs and plans are important parts of the thorough documentation. There is much to be discovered here!”

Purchase a copy at Monacelli Press

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New book explores Chicago’s best modernist homes; One reason midcentury homes are so hot now is they embody an optimism that some people would like to recapture in this gloomy era, one of the authors said, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 8/31/20


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