March Modness: Discussing Modern Phoenix Week with Rachel Simmons

March Modness: Discussing Modern Phoenix Week with Rachel Simmons

Posted By: Savannah Published: 03/15/2018 Times Read: 708 Comments: 0

If you couldn’t make it out to Palm Springs for the retro extravaganza of Modernism Week last month, fear not—you can still get your fix for all things mod much closer to home! Phoenix’s own Modern Week is starting up tomorrow, boasting a slew of events and attractions to delve into. In anticipation, we take a moment to talk with Rachel Simmons, co-founder of Designstein, part of the faculty of Interior Design at Scottsdale Community College, and an active part of the team behind Modern Phoenix Week 2018.


For those who have perhaps never heard of or experienced Modern Phoenix Week, what is it all about?

Modern Phoenix week runs from 3/16/18 to 3/25/18. It's full of workshops, lectures, and architecture showings all relating to modern design and modern design in Phoenix. The two largest events are the free Modern Phoenix Expo and the sold-out Modern Phoenix Home Tour. The Modern Phoenix Expo is a casual half-day event to find out what's new in modern architecture, interior design, and home renovation in Phoenix. Contemporary artists, interior designers, furniture designers, green builders, realtors, material showrooms, vintage furniture showrooms, accessory dealers, paint manufacturers, and local, historic preservation groups will be hosting exhibitor booths. The Expo will be located at Scottsdale Community College and their outdoor pavilion, Two Waters Circle. The SCC culinary team will be selling street tacos, there are workshops and performances throughout the day. You will find theater students performing a dialogue between Frank Lloyd Wright and his client, Rose Pauson, in SCC's Amphitheater; Interior Design Program Director, Chuck Cooper, teaching a workshop on hanging macramé planters, and an informative talk on mid-century school architecture and endangered buildings.

What do you think makes Phoenix a unique destination for Modernist design and designers?

Phoenix grew out of the post-World War Two midcentury era. Modern design is an important part of our development and character as a city and a useful tool for examining our past. Buildings of the modern style from the 1950s, 1960s, and early 70s are indicative of where we came from and who we are - a modern city developed by American ingenuity, technological advancement, and the postwar air of optimism. We have one of the largest collections of mid-century modern architecture in the United States and a thriving design community. When Alison King, the founder of Modern Phoenix, began the website and subsequent home tour more than a decade ago, much of our postwar building stock was threatened. The Modern Phoenix community (we call ourselves MoPho's), have done a lot to preserve modern architecture in the Valley, including sparking the preservation group, Phoenix Postwar Architecture Task Force. Modern Phoenix Week is a celebration and continuation of these efforts.

What draws you personally to Modernist architecture?

I could elaborate on this question all day! The term Modernist is a broad stroke, so let me talk more specifically about Desert Modernism, and the design here, in Phoenix. I believe that true Desert Modernist architecture is built to respond to the site on which its located. Make use of local materials, respect and respond to the sun, and encourage the relaxed, indoor-outdoor lifestyle of living in the Valley. The architecture is at once both its own, living sculpture, and a blank canvas on which the user can paint their desires. Empty, the building should speak to function and architectural expression, but filled with inhabitants and things, it should adapt to its user's wants and needs. Desert Modernist architecture is design with less— with just the perfect amount of human interference with the land and the building materials.

At least from my outsider’s perspective, it seems that Phoenix Modern Week is an example of how art and design communities are becoming more accessible and open to the public. How do you think the design world has changed in response to this?

Design has definitely become democratized in the Modern era. It began over 100 years ago, but with the advent of the internet and mobile technology (and I hate to say, HGTV), more community members are knowledgeable about design and have access to it. Modern Phoenix Week started with a quaint tour of midcentury homes and has grown into this spectacular event (the home tour sells out in a matter of hours), because people are more interested in design in general, but also in preserving the unique design within their own communities. 

Recently, there’s been a huge resurgence of interest in vintage and retro styles. How do you see that appreciation and nostalgia coming into play in the contemporary design community?

Designers looking for new inspiration always return to past styles. Throughout history, we see a resurgence and reinterpretation of historical design (take Colonial Revival, for example), and I believe midcentury modern is the current trendy vintage grab. This is great for shining a spotlight on some killer vintage architecture, but not good for doing so long-term. I hope that the love of modern doesn't fade here in Phoenix. Because so much of our architectural history comes from this time period, it makes sense to always nod to it (in some way) as we build for the future, and work to preserve the quality modern design of our past.

What are you most excited to share with the attendees of this year’s Modern Phoenix Week?

I am so excited that SCC has become involved in the Expo and Expo-day events. I think the relationship between the Interior Design program at Scottsdale Community College and Modern Phoenix shows the dedication our community has to increasing awareness of our unique historical design, but also in promoting the designers of the future. We have a strong design community here in Phoenix, members dedicated to our local architectural integrity, and the gathering at the Expo serves as a way to demonstrate that to the public. The Expo event I am most excited about is the performance of Words on Fire at the SCC outdoor Amphitheater on 3/24 at 10:30 am. The author will be there signing books at the event.

Words on Fire: The Letters of Rose Pauson and Frank Lloyd Wright is a one-act play faithfully based on the colorful correspondence between client and architect as documented in the book Building The Pauson House: The Letters of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rose Pauson. The dialogue smolders briskly from passion to animosity with a wit, thoughtfulness and crackling cadence rarely spoken today. Experience the original flame wars, 1940s style!

You could have the chance for Rachel Simmons to turn her expertise to the inside of your own home! Sign up for the Explore-A-Door Contest, give your front door a colorful facelift, and you’ll be eligible to win a $100 Sherwin Williams gift card as well as a midcentury color consultation with Rachel.

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