The Evolution of a Unique Architectural Landscape

The Mid-Century Linen Post Card evolved as a hybrid art form, an early form of social media that provided not simply a document of the forms of landscape, architecture, urban design and people that they pictured, but a unique perspective onto the urban development of the American West.

Almost a form of advertising for this young part of the country, they captured and celebrated both the preexisting natural beauty of the landscape as well as the high speed transformations of it to suit man’s need for growth, commerce, transportation, industry, entertainment, business, education, and public institutions. This created a new and modern way of framing American life, which, in turn, created new ways of experiencing it.

Mid-Century Linen Post Cards were the equivalent to today’s social media fascination of Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook. Close to a billion cards were printed, mailed, and shared from the 1930s to the 1960s with mail delivery several times a day. This created a visual history of everything at one of the most dynamic economic, social, and environmental transformations of the 20th century United States. The documentation of these evolutions of human experience and urban growth are captured and distributed by the remarkably valuable and heretofore underexplored resource of the Mid-Century Linen Post Card.

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Animation of Mid-Century Linen Post Cards. Source: WOWA WEST, 2017.

New West

The American West is renowned for its spectacular natural scenery. For decades it has continued to draw Americans and international visitors alike. One popular stereotype imagines the West as a vast expanse of almost empty land populated by cowboys, farmers, cattle, and horses. Yet today, this region of wide-open spaces is very much a place of cities. Westerners are far more likely to live in a city than not. The West is the most urbanized part of the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 50% of the western population was already concentrated in cities. By the beginning of the 21st century, the urbanized population approximated 95%.

U.S. Map of Urban Areas. Source: The United States Census Bureau, USDA Forest Services, 2012.

U.S. Map of Urban Areas. Source: The United States Census Bureau, USDA Forest Services, 2012.

The growth of western cities has, from the outset, been dependent on their proximity to natural resources, coaxing not only an intimate connection to nature, but an integration within it. Many western cities have continued to prosper in recent decades because of the increasing value their inhabitants place upon the quality of life that integrated access to nature provides.

Like no other place in recent history, the American West is a pure form of modern city development. Innovative industries, public institutions, and urban lifestyles have emerged and grown in conjunction with the discovery and exploration of wide-open land. Contrary to Eastern and European cities, where industrialization and urbanization evolved as radical transformations of agricultural societies, the unique architectural landscape of the American West was shaped by following four waves of technological innovation:

- Age of Steam, Railway, and Mechanization

- Age of Steel, Electricity, and Heavy Engineering

- Age of Oil, Automobile, Airplane, and Mass Production

- Age of Information, Communication, and Big Data

These platforms drive economies, social organizations, as well as the physical form of land, architecture, and cities themselves. Each wave of innovation creates a new opportunity to extract and exploit additional value from that which already existed. For cities to thrive, they have adapted to the introduction of transportation, energy grid, logistics, and internet platforms, until we land at the threshold of the 21st Century, where the New West is moving towards a balance of human potential, technological innovation, and nature.  

City Adoption of Technological Innovation. Source: WOWA WEST, 2017.

City Adoption of Technological Innovation. Source: WOWA WEST, 2017.

New West explores - from a client, owner, investor and user point of view - the architecture, cities, innovation, nature, and real estate that are shaping the evolution of the architectural landscape of the West. Innovation is found where traditionally opposing forces converge; at the intersection.