Open floor plans, intercoms, air conditioning, hi-fis in the home: we take these things for granted today, but back in the ‘50s, they were cutting edge. Architecture and design fans can now relive the kind of breathless coverage given to favored midcentury signifiers with Colossus, a massive online database putting decades worth of architectural periodicals and journals just a click away. Created and maintained by volunteers, the archive offers a treasure trove of articles detailing the growth and development of midcentury architecture, as well as numerous trends and the careers of designers throughout the 20th century.
"Our overall goal is to preserve modernist architecture," says George Smart, who runs the North Carolina Modernist Homes website and started the archive as a side project three years ago. "I kept running into references to magazines that were published in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I couldn’t get access to them. They do exist, but who wants to take the time to run down to libraries and scan them?"
Smart and his team of volunteers have scanned thousands of pages from publications printed throughout the last century, from the ‘20s through today. Donations from collectors, architecture offices, and estate sales have seen the searchable online archive swell, encompassing official journals from the AIA as well as niche publications such as Southern Architect.
Smart says that he hasn’t seen much difference in the way architecture is covered today versus the golden era of a publication such as Progressive Architecture, which he calls the "Rolling Stone" of midcentury design magazines. With Colossus, researchers can find articles and excerpts on favorite architects, or just thumb through vintage ads. Smart says the group plans to expand the archive to more than a millions pages; those who have stacks of old magazines, or who can help provide missing issues, can even send them in and get postage covered.
"We’ve got a team of what I call deranged monks at work," he says.