Sunday, February 10, 2019

Vintage Valentines

Valentines from the early 20th century are a visual feast. Some are cleverly engineered with children or cherubs standing in front of free-standing arbors or entire gardens of too-large flowers. Others hearken back to the style of the mid-19th century. You could buy these confections ready-made in stores. Armies of women assembled the layers of colorful cards, intricate paper lace and carefully positioned scraps, working in what started out as cottage industries. It was one of the few ways a woman could earn some money. I think of the hands that, long ago, touched the lace and brushed the glue on the little embellishments. Sleekness and minimalism may be more modern but do frilly, lacy valentines ever go out of style?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

HUD Building, West Facade

Wander just a block or two off the tourist-populated National Mall and you will find yourself in the Washington DC of the government worker. On a weekend (or during a government shutdown) it can be a lonely, almost unfriendly place. One of the unfriendliest may be the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1968, it's an example of what is known as Brutalist architecture. The curving facade was the first federal building made from pre-cast concrete. While it is undoubtably dramatic, it has never been a people-friendly structure. The plaza was redesigned in the 1990s to include curved seating areas with canopies like hovering spaceships. The canopies were supposed to be in bright colors but this was just too much individuality for the government decision-makers. Now the plaza must depend on human beings to add color and, yes, humanity, to the design.