Modernism just won’t die. Having appeared in its first forms at the turn of the 20th century, it’s no longer modern at all – even its most popular strand, mid-century modern, is now positively geriatric. The clean lines and functionalism of the design have an obvious appeal, but in the age of Tinder and self-driving cars, nostalgia can come on thick and fast, bringing with it a yearning for all things lo-fi and uncluttered. The digital age has spawned a new character: Le Snobusier, who turns their nose up at anything that isn’t modernist. Here, we take a look at four destinations that would please Le Snobusier (or anyone interested in modernist architecture and design). And it’s not all mid-century, either: whether you’re partial to monolithic Brutalism or sculpture-like Futurism, these places have it all.
Established in 1909 on the sand dunes just outside of Jaffa, Tel Aviv was fated to become a modernist’s playground. Just as the ideas behind the Bauhaus were being hatched in post-World War I Germany, the fledgling Middle Eastern city was spreading her wings, creating demand for buildings that could be put up post-haste. Then the 1930s arrived, the Nazis took power and the Bauhaus was forced to close. Jewish Germans began emigrating, among them many disciples of the new design movement. Shunned by their government at home, the modernists that arrived in Tel Aviv found that they were suddenly in hot demand. Bauhaus-style buildings shot up throughout the city, with the ‘White City’ quickly becoming a jewel in the Bauhaus crown; today, this Unesco-protected site is home to around 4,000 Bauhaus buildings – more than any other city in the world.
Where to stay The Norman
Sat in the White City, the Norman is spread across two lovingly restored 1920s Bauhaus buildings. Inside, things are no less pleasing for beady-eyed design devotees, as every stick of furniture – whether it’s Jazz Age, mid-century modern or something else entirely – has been matched with its surroundings. Throw in a fragrant citrus garden, a 1940s-style bar and a rooftop infinity pool, and you’ve got a hotel fit for even the most demanding aesthete.
Footage of Berlin in 1945 is a sombre sight, showing the ghostly husk of a city in which there’s barely a building left with four walls. Once the rubble was cleared away, the city was full of vast open spaces, presenting an opportunity for new kinds of building. The reconstruction project was so immense that it lasted into the 1980s, cycling through various architectural styles as they emerged onto the scene. The result is a city of contrasts, in which traces of the old, decadent capital face off with bold and futuristic designs. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Breitscheidplatz, where the scarred remains of the 19th-century Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – nicknamed ‘the hollow tooth’ – stand next to their successor, a Brutalist twin built in the 1960s. All over the city, buildings play out this drama of demarcation, drawing lines between Berlin (and Germany) old and new. Some of the more outlandish creations include the Star Wars-esque Bierpinsel, the lean church of St. Agnes and that icon of East Berlin (and Communist power), the Fernsehturm.
Where to stay Das Stue
Das Stue is a hotel with two faces. Half the building is neoclassical, built in the 1930s to house the Royal Danish Embassy; the other part is much more modern, completed by Potsdam-based architects Axthelm & Rolvien in 2011. The interiors, the work of Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, feature plenty of modernist-inspired furnishings, including many of her own designs. Most rooms have windows overlooking the zoo or surrounding Tiergarten park, which helps to explain why there are so many animal-themed artworks on display.
Many champions of mid-century modernism will tell you that the style is best served on the rocks of the Coachella Valley, with a slight dusting of desert dirt around the rim. Yes, we’re talking about the homes of the cocktail-swilling community of Palm Springs, California, often referred to as a ‘modernist paradise’. This tract of land to the northwest of LA is home to some of the most celebrated mid-century modern buildings in the world, many of them commissioned by individuals with lives that shimmered with money and glamour – Hollywood moguls, film stars and industry tycoons. Stylistically, the houses are often low-slung, crouched amid rocky scrub and desert palms. The genius of many of the designs is that they manage to be so distinct – with jutting angles like nothing in nature – yet fit quite naturally with the starkly beautiful landscape.
Where to stay L’Horizon Resort & Spa
Built in 1952 for oil tycoon and Hollywood mogul Jack Wrather, L’Horizon is made up of a central private residence and two dozen clustered guesthouses, originally built so that tinseltown’s finest could join Wrather at the weekends. Had you had an invite in the 1950s or 60s, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see rising starlets (Marilyn Monroe) lounging poolside with politicos (Richard Nixon). The hotel still abounds with iconic mid-century flavour, but a multi-million dollar renovation has kept this slice of the American dream from feeling dated. For the ultimate mid-century experience, book your stay to coincide with Modernism Week, running from 15-25 February 2018.
Antoni Gaudí’s shadow falls thick and far across Barcelona – and what a shapely shadow it is. But for all their brilliance, Gaudi’s buildings are really only part of what makes the city so enticing for modernism tourists. Take Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s so-called Barcelona Pavilion, Germany’s entry for the 1929 International Exposition. The pioneering structure of polished onyx, square-cut marble and floor-to-ceiling plate glass looks modern even by today’s standards, so you can imagine the reaction when it was unveiled 88 years ago. Since then, Barcelona has played host to a growing list of avant garde creations; highlights include Jean Nouvel’s catkin-like Torre Agbar, The Design Museum of Barcelona and Frank Gehry’s fish-shaped folly.
Where to stay Mercer Hotel Barcelona
Found at the heart of the historic Gothic Quarter, Mercer Hotel Barcelona is a place of pleasing contrasts, with modernist furnishings sitting alongside a historic stone facade and original 12th-century artworks. If you can swing for it, book the suite, which has mediaeval archways set into one wall and floor-to-ceiling windows making up the other. Between them sit a fine collection of modernist-informed furnishings, including fiery-red lounge chairs, low-lying coffee tables and slender-necked lamps.