Modern architecture, like modern art, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Though I can appreciate the clean lines and minimalist, uncluttered spaces, they’ve also never been spaces I’ve wanted to live in but on a tour through West Vancouver a few years ago, I had a realization that “modern” architecture, as applied to Vancouver, means something much different than what I had envisioned in my mind. In many aspects it is still about minimalism and open spaces but it’s also about communing with the nature around you and living in a space where the outdoors feels like an extension of your living quarters. Turns out this approach to modern architecture, though not exclusive to the west coast, has really taken a hold here and Coast Modern explores the architecture and ideas that have developed from LA to Vancouver.
Peppered with interviews of prominent modern architects, writers and the individuals that call some of these spaces home, directors Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome have pieced together a fascinating and beautiful account of the movement, its importance and why it never quite took hold. With the sentiment that “Modernism is a beautiful failure,” Bernard and Froome introduce the pioneers of the movement, the Case Study Houses that caused such a stir of attention but never quite took off and explore the modern ideal with a focus on the human connection. It’s not just about the beautiful homes but what they instil in the people that live in them. There’s a feeling of wanting to be part of nature, of living a healthier life when you surround yourself with so much nature and tranquility.
Like a walking tour of a neighbourhood, Bernard and Froome take us from Los Angeles to Vancouver, into homes that feel more like museums than living spaces but once inside, they’re cozy and warm and there’s a feeling of peace when you look out 12 foot high glass walls to overlook the water or when one comes through what appears to be an old farmhouse only to reveal a tranquil garden. It’s almost as if these are spaces of meditation where the loudest noise one would expect to hear is a beeping microwave. Though in some instances the spaces are clearly lived in – on two occasions we see children running around, jumping on furniture – others, even when crammed with papers and books, feel more like museums than homes; it’s their scarcity that makes them unique and foreign, objects of attention in many cases even decades after construction.
I was thoroughly engrossed by Coast Modern, it’s gorgeous vistas, beautiful homes and the history and ideas encapsulated within it, particularly the notion that these aren’t just places to live in for a few years, sell and then move on. They’re homes, extensions of the people that designed them and those that live in them, the kinds of places that stay in the family for generations. Considering the current love for reality TV, I’m surprised no one has thought to create a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” type show dedicated entirely to modern architecture. I’d watch it and considering the buzz around this documentary, I’m not alone in my enthusiasm.
Coast Modern screens tonight. Online tickets are sold out and Rush line in effect. Second screening has been added. Details and tickets at DOXA.