If you’re a regular Atomic Ranch reader, you probably know plenty about mid century modern residential architecture. But when was the last time you learned about mid century modern municipal architecture? After all, not all the structures built in the 50s and 60s were Eichler or Neutra homes. New city halls, schools and other government buildings were being constructed all across the country— and a lot of them have that classic ‘municipal look’ you’ve certainly seen before.
The post-war population boom brought about the growth of one important demographic group: children! And where there were more children, there needed to be more schools. So, architects all across the country got to work designing new places to learn and grow.
One of the most popular styles of these mid mod schools was the California school, especially in the Southwest. The California school took key elements of international style (think long, sleek lines, bands of windows and flat roofs) and applied them to elementary, middle and high schools across the country.
These schools often used open or covered breezeways in lieu of walled-in hallways and included plenty of open outdoor space. These design choices reflected a growing trend that believed schools should encourage movement and exploration of the spaces around them.
City halls were another area where municipal mid century modern architecture stood out. From the low-rise city halls of the desert (think the iconic Palm Springs City Hall) to the mid-rise city halls of middle America, growing towns built modern city halls fit for the 20th century and beyond.
These buildings often feature the classic municipal font mentioned earlier and are typically rectangular in shape. Some feature breezeblocks on the exterior (especially in the Southwest) and some have exteriors of gridded glass and steel. The grid design allowed for easy interior curtain walls, a boon to a structure that often held many departments and divisions.
If you think many of these municipal buildings imitate international style office buildings of the same time, you’re not wrong! These blocky, simple styles were cheap and easy to build, and governments (be they local or Federal) wanted there to be a connotation between office buildings and municipal ones. Governments wanted people to associate them with ‘big business’— a useful and beneficial necessity in a postwar world.
But not all government buildings wanted to look so conservative— take, for example, the Boston City Hall. Built in 1968, the building’s brutalist style was chosen for its democratic and egalitarian connotations. The city hall’s multiple entrances were planned to reinforce the idea that it was open, public space for all. There’s also a large, flexible courtyard that can be used for a number of events.
Brutalism continued to be used in other government buildings for the same reasons that Boston chose it: it was seen as an accessible, democratic style (though it may not have those same connotations now!) and its use of concrete also made its structures feel more permanent than anything made of glass and steel.
Want to learn more about unique mid century modern architecture? Check out these mid mod spring break Airbnbs! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!