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Year in Curbed: The 12 Best Longreads of 2015

Bachman Wilson House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image copyright Tarantino Studio; courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.
Bachman Wilson House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image copyright Tarantino Studio; courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

Once family time is over, that end-of-year holiday quiet period is a perfect time to catch up on some longreads. Curbed publishes longform features about architecture, real estate, design, and urban planning every week. Here, in no particular order, are a dozen of our favorites from 2015.

A Herman Miller pop-up. Photo courtesy of Herman Miller.

Why The World Is Obsessed With Midcentury Modern Design

Today, more than ever, the midcentury modern look is everywhere. Viewers obsessed over the final season of Mad Men. Half the homes featured in each shelter magazine include midcentury furniture. If you dine in a contemporary restaurant tonight, there's a good chance you'll be seated in a chair that was designed in the 1950s—whether it is an Eames, Bertoia, Cherner, or Saarinen. Writer Laura Fenton explains why midcentury design has made such a comeback.

The exterior of David Sellers's "Archie Bunker." Photo by Sarah Klock.

The Uncanny Valley: How a 1960s Architectural Experiment Is Still Thriving

Fifty years ago this year, a small gang of freshly minted architecture graduates decided to do something radical, something they'd been told they'd never actually do for themselves in the course of their careers: build a house with their own hands. It was the beginning of a modest revolution in the way that architecture and construction can coexist, and the launch of David Sellers's dizzying adventure of a career. From his base of operations in Vermont's bucolic Mad River Valley, he's designed everything from sleds to electric trains to towns, all following no other guide than his own curiosity and sense of play. Writer Joanna Scutts went to visit Sellers's ongoing architectural experiment.

Photo taken from video of the home's deconstruction. Image copyright Jon Roemer, courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

Frank Lloyd Wright House Is Rebuilt Anew, Piece by Piece, in Arkansas

This November, a house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for a New Jersey couple more than 60 years ago became the first Wright house in Arkansas when it opened on the campus of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. How the house came to be in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas, some 1,200 miles from where it was first built, is a story that touches on the unforgiving potency of Mother Nature, a couple's untiring effort to restore and preserve an unsung architectural gem, and the ambitions of the Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who founded Crystal Bridges in 2011 with an eye toward establishing it as a destination for fans of American art and architecture. Writer William Lamb explains how and why the Wright house was relocated and rebuilt.

Illustration by Suze Myers.

The ADA at 25: How One Law Helped Usher in An Age of Accessible Design
Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, writer Patrick Sisson looks at how the act has transformed the way architects approach the built environment. In the process of designing more accessible spaces for people with disabilities, many architects have discovered that more accessible design creates a better environment for everyone. By removing barriers, inspiring advances in accessible design, and asking architects to focus even more on the diversity of human experience, the act changed the way we think about and build public spaces.

The Library Whisperer: Can Architect Francine Houben Remake the Public Library?
Writer Karrie Jacobs profiles Francine Houben, the director of the Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo, which was hired in September to rethink and remake the New York Public Library's 42nd Street and Mid Manhattan branches. She has arrived in New York from the Netherlands just in time to be a pivotal figure in a culture war, an unwinnable argument about what libraries are, who they're for, and how they should best deploy their resources.

Trading Spaces and Finding an Unlikely Queer Icon in Hildi Santo-Tomas
Trading Spaces debuted on The Learning Channel in 2000, sparking both the DIY movement and a wave of home decorating TV shows. Of all the designers featured on the show, none has been more vilified than Hildi Santo-Tomas. But for writer Michael Ward, Hildi was a designer who knew how to play with space—and who brought to her designs a queer sensibility and a sense of liberation.

Illustrations by Paige Vickers.

Cranbrook's Golden Age: How a Freewheeling School Changed American Design

The legend of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and its role as a prewar petri dish for American modernism, revolves around the brief period of time from roughly 1937 to 1941. Ray Eames, Charles Eames, and a host of future architects and designers crossed in and out of each other's paths, studying and teaching at the wooded campus roughly 25 miles north of Detroit. But Cranbrook's singularity didn't just stem from its collection of talent. An experiment in education by founder George Booth, a wealthy industrialist, his wife Ellen, and Eliel Saarinen, an eminent Finnish architect who designed the campus and served as the first president, Cranbrook was a new institution, a modern arts colony that reflected the times. The philosophies that Ray and her classmates picked up there could be considered the DNA of modern design: cross-disciplinary thought, organic forms, and a fidelity to experimentation and research. In this story, Patrick Sisson unfolds the history of Cranbrook's most famous years.

Two sets of FEMA markings on this Lakeview house show separate instances when the house was searched. Photo by Michael Winters.

Spray-Painted FEMA X Still Marks the Storm in New Orleans

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA markings are still visible on houses around New Orleans. Writer Christopher Romaguera and photographer Michael Winters traveled around the city to see where the markings remain and why.

Dorothy Draper's signature black and white floor, shown here at the Greenbrier. Image courtesy of the Greenbrier.

Inside 1930s Designer Dorothy Draper's Riotously Colorful World

A century ago, your average Upper East Side society matron was not expected to do a great deal more with her day—or her life—than entertain other society matrons, support the odd artist or charity, and in a hands-off sort of way, raise a few heirs. Dorothy Tuckerman Draper was far from the average Upper East Side society matron. Tall, beautiful and unflaggingly confident, she set up her own interior design business in 1925 and a decade later was on her way to being the most famous decorator, if not the most famous businesswoman, in America. Driven purely by her own idiosyncratic taste—she was famous for the dictum "if it looks right, it is right"—she transformed down-at-heel apartment buildings into the most desirable addresses in town, and established the resort hotel as the quintessential 1930s space of leisure and see-and-be-seen glamour. Writer Joanna Scutts tells Draper's story.

Meet the Creationist Group Building a Life-Size Noah's Ark

For the past five years, the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis has assiduously planned, fundraised, and even battled with the state of Kentucky in its quest to create what it says is a life-size replica of the vessel Noah built. The $29.5 million boat, dubbed the Ark Encounter, will be the eventual centerpiece of a religious theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky. Writer Corinne Ramey dives deep into the design and construction process for the ark.

They Like Eich: How Midcentury House Designer Joseph Eichler Made a Comeback

In the past few years, the Bay Area real estate market has seen midcentury modern aficionados and homebuyers lining up for the chance to buy an Eichler. It's no coincidence that, more than 50 years after the construction of the original Eichler homes, the developer's houses are again in high demand. Eichler's original structures challenged what houses could be, how families could and should live, and what these residences should look like. Today, tech industry workers and sustainability-minded homebuyers gravitate to Eichler's work for the same reasons. Writer Leora Tanjuatco explains.

In Cuba, Architecture and Design Blossom Under New Laws

A decade ago, Havana's obsolete industrial buildings were moldering unused; now, after a raft of legal reforms issued in 2011, there are new possibilities for these buildings, and for designers in Cuba, writer Julia Cooke explains. Cubans can now legally, privately work as interior decorators, open restaurants and bars, or make and sell, say, tiles or furniture. In tandem with the legalization of private property—Cubans can now purchase and sell apartments and homes without government involvement—these two reforms have spurred a flurry of architectural openings on the ground.

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