Inside Modern Texas

By Martha Gonzalez

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Last April, during the Society of Architectural Historians 2014 Annual Conference held in Austin, the Architecture & Planning Library at The University of Texas at Austin opened “Inside Modern Texas: The Case for Preserving Interiors.” This exhibition offers insight on interior design during the period 1945 to 1975, touching upon the development of the profession and the issues faced today in historic preservation. Texas interiors from this period serve as case studies to illustrate emerging ideas in design and practice.

Emily Ardoin, a Historic Preservation graduate student, curated the exhibit through a new program that offers opportunities to School of Architecture graduate students to gain experience in research and curation using materials from the Alexander Architectural Archives and the Special Collections of the Architecture & Planning Library. “Inside Texas” includes photographs, original drawings and printed materials from these collections featuring architects and interior designers active in Texas such as George L. Dahl, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Karl Kamrath, Howard R. Meyer and John Astin Perkins.

Emily Ardoin at the opening of "Inside Texas"
Emily Ardoin at the opening of “Inside Texas”

Mid-twentieth-century buildings are gaining widespread acceptance as candidates for historic preservation, but few retain their original modern interiors. Because they are so closely connected to human activity, interiors can be especially important conveyors of historic significance, but they are highly vulnerable to changing tastes and functional requirements. The perceived impermanent nature of interior design components, and historic preservation legislation which often focuses on building exteriors, further complicates preservation efforts.

Repositories such as the Alexander Architectural Archive and the Architecture & Planning Library provide opportunities to study the history of design because they preserve historic documentation of interiors. In this case, these materials allowed Emily to create a window in to the richness of modern interiors across Texas.

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