Modernist Designs Revisited: Don’t Worry Darling

Modernist design. You see it everywhere, from the sleek lines of towering buildings like Chicago’s 875 N Michigan Ave to your favorite coffee shop’s decor. We can’t escape it, and why would we want to? Museums celebrate it, architects can’t get enough of it and recently, movie makers have used it to help to tell stories of their own. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into the stylish world of the movie Don’t Worry Darling and its use of modernist design: 

Think back to a period spanning from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. It was a time when visionaries like Ludwig Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius were stirring things up in the architecture world. They championed a design style that was all about simplicity and functionality. It was all clean lines, smooth organic curves, and a deep respect for the materials used. 

Don’t Worry Darling, set in 1950s California, sought to embrace all that this era valued; using sets that included open floor plans, large windows and bold colors among other features. Katie Byron, the film’s production designer, looked towards other iconic architects of the time, including Albert Frey and Richard Neutra, for inspiration in her design. And with the help of the many mid-century modern homes that fill the neighborhood in Palm Springs, California, where the movie was shot, Byron’s vision came to life.


While most of the exterior scenes throughout the movie were shot at real locations, many of the interior scenes were shot at sets, excluding one scene shot within Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, one of the most iconic pieces of desert modernist architecture. Built in 1946, the home’s outlining modern features include a flat roof, pale coloring and shaded atmospheres. 

Byron took inspiration from architect Albert Frey by using his favorite color, ‘Frey Blue’ — a teal — as a theme throughout the film. From interior design elements like a bathtub and curtains to exterior elements like pool water. She also utilized Palm Springs City Hall, designed by Frey, an example of Frey’s playful approach to architecture and design. 

By seamlessly integrating real-life architectural masterpieces and carefully constructed sets inspired by iconic mid-century architects, Byron helped Don’t Worry Darling encapsulate the vision of simplicity, functionality, and respect for materials that characterized the era. This exploration of modernism through film emphasizes the lasting appeal and influence of this timeless design movement, which continues to shape our spaces and stories.

George Frederick Keck: How A Modernist Master Shaped the Chicago Skyline

Chicago has long been a hotbed for Modernist architecture, with the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Walter Gropius all calling the city home at various points in their careers. At Optima®, we are always delighted to showcase the groundbreaking work of Modernist architects who have left an indelible mark on our urban landscape. Today, we are opening the aperture to focus on George Fred Keck, an architect whose innovative designs and pioneering spirit greatly influenced the development of modern architecture in Chicago and beyond.

Born in 1895 in Watertown, Wisconsin, George Fred Keck was destined to become a trailblazer in the world of Modernist architecture. After studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Keck established his own firm with his brother William in 1926 — Keck & Keck. The siblings’ shared passion for Modernism and sustainability led them to create designs that were both environmentally-conscious and ahead of their time.

Keck-Gottschalk-Keck Apartments. Photo: Ryerson & Burnham Archives Archival Image Collection

Keck’s most famous work is undoubtedly the House of Tomorrow, a groundbreaking design he created for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Century of Progress Exposition. The house showcased innovative ideas such as floor-to-ceiling glass walls, central air conditioning, and even an attached garage with an electric door opener. These cutting-edge features not only made the House of Tomorrow a sensation at the fair, but also laid the groundwork for the modern home as we know it today. 

With Keck’s commitment to sustainable design came a fascination with solar energy. In the early 1940s, he and his brother William designed the first solar-powered house in the United States. Known as the Keck-Gottschalk-Keck Apartments and located at 5551 South University Avenue in Hyde Park, this remarkable dwelling relied on south-facing windows and a solar heating system to maximize the capture and use of solar energy. This early foray into sustainable design would pave the way for future architects to embrace environmentally conscious practices.

House of Tomorrow. Photo: Chicago History Museum, Hedrich Blessing Collection

As we celebrate the life and work of George Fred Keck, we at Optima® are once again reminded of the transformative power of Modernist architecture. Keck’s innovative designs, environmental consciousness, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of architectural form have left an unforgettable mark on the city of Chicago and on the world of architecture.

Women in Architecture: Anne Tyng

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting someone who was at the forefront of architectural experimentation in the mid-twentieth century, Anne Tyng. Tyng pioneered the inclusion of complex geometry as a source for form in architecture and design and became an expert in the field. Learn more about her extraordinary life and work below: 

The Life of Anne Tyng

Anne Griswold Tyng was born in Lushan, Jiangxi province, China, on July 14, 1920. Although her family lived in China at the time, their roots traced back to the Massachusetts Bay colonies, and they frequently visited the United States for family trips. Tyng’s love for design sparked when she was just a child, and she often recalled how she would carve whole cities out of the soft stone surrounding her family’s properties. 

At 18, Tyng moved permanently to the U.S., where she attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA, to study fine arts. During her final year, however, she discovered the Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture — the first institution to provide design training to women only — and began taking classes there. 

After her graduation in 1942, she went on to further her architecture studies at Harvard, studying with renowned architects like Marcel Breuer and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. In 1944, Tyng was among the first women to complete their studies at Harvard, and later she became the only woman to enter the architecture licensing exam in 1949. Tyng finished her education nearly 30 years later when she was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Anne Tyng and Louis Kahn, at his architectural practice, 1947.
Photo courtesy of the Anne Griswold Tyng Collection and the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania

In 1945, Tyng moved to Philadelphia and began working for Louis Kahn’s architecture firm, Stonorov and Kahn. Khan and Tyng became close collaborators, and her passion for geometric form influenced many of the firm’s designs of the time. In 1964, she left the firm, where she had been a partner, and began developing more solo projects until the end of her career.

Notable Work and Achievements  

Although she became a successful architect, Tyng was also passionate about mathematics. Thanks to the versatility and flexibility of architecture, this allowed her to conflate her interests  and focus on space frame architecture — creating light-filled spaces using interlocking geometric forms of architecture.

City Tower for Philadelphia
Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng, Model of the proposed City Tower for Philadelphia, 13 x 17 cm, 1953, ” Visionary Architecture, ” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “The Changing Concept of Proportions”: Architecture, Mathematic and Geometry from Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism to the Techno-Organic Movement. The Journal of Art Theory and Practice. 18. 123-144. 10.15597/17381789201418123. 

Many of Tyng’s earliest works can be traced back to the influences she left in Kahn’s designs, including the Yale University Art Center (1953), Philadelphia City Tower (1957) and the Trenton Bath House (1956), all of which included triangles or cubes in their forms. However, her former residence, the Tyng House, is where her personal style is most celebrated. 

Built in the 1950s, the single-family home features slotted windows, a pyramidal timber-framed ceiling and metal screened openwork staircases. And although the exterior of the house appears ordinary at first, a closer look reveals a mansard roof and large parlor-floor windows. 

In the late 1960s, after falling in love with Maine’s Mount Desert Island, Tyng designed the Four-Poster House. In her design, Tyng took inspiration from the surrounding ecology, and she strived to make the home an organic outgrowth of the wooded area. Using logs, cedar shake and tree trunks, the house was framed similar to a four-poster bed with four central columns.

Alongside her transformative work, Tyng has been a recipient of many architecture awards and achievements, including: 

  • First woman licensed as an architect in the state of Pennsylvania
  • Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, 1975
  • Academician of the National Academy of Design, 1975
  • Selected by the United States to participate in the First International Congress of Women Architects, 1976 

Tyng’s career was devoted to understanding the synthesis of geometrical shape and human consciousness within architecture, and because of her extraordinary contributions, the spatial potential of architecture was pushed further than ever before.

The Subsects of Moderist Architecture Part III

As part of our “Subsects of Modernist Architecture” series, we’re continuing to explore the many trickle-down pockets of Modernist design throughout the years. Picking back up where we last left off in Part II, European Modernism continued to spread globally and set the precedent for the next wave of architectural movements that emerged. Here’s what followed:

International Style

The International Style (sometimes also referred to as internationalism) emerged in the 1920s and 30s. Originated in post-World War I Holland, France and Germany, the style quickly caught on worldwide, eventually becoming the dominant architectural style in the 1970s. According to the Getty Research Institute, “the style is characterized by an emphasis on volume over mass, the use of lightweight, mass-produced, industrial materials, rejection of all ornament and colour, repetitive modular forms, and the use of flat surfaces, typically alternating with areas of glass.” 

Major figures in the International Style movement include Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius, as well as Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Both Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were instrumental in introducing the International Style to Chicago’s architecture — leaving a lasting impact on the city’s skyline that can still be seen and appreciated today.


Like many subsects of Modernist architecture, Metabolism emerged in response to the post-war period in Japan. First introduced during a Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (International Congresses of Modern Architecture, or CIAM) meeting in 1959, the movement became fully-fledged just a year later when young architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki released the Metabolism manifesto during the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference.

The style was marked by its dynamic fusion of megastructures and organic biology. Metabolism was also heavily influenced by the Marxist philosophies of the time. The architects behind the movement envisioned a more flexible form of urban planning, one where modular towers could be easily installed. They even went so far as to propose vast cities that could float on the ocean, with these modular structures as their foundation. The most successful examples of Metabolism include the site of the 1970 World Exposition, designed by Kenzō Tange, and the Nagakin Capsule Tower, designed by Kisho Kurokawa.


Brutalism, also called Brutalist architecture or New Brutalism, emerged in the 1950s in the UK during post-war construction. The word Brutalism is derived from the Swedish phrase nybrutalism, as well as being associated with the French phrases béton brut (“raw concrete”) and art brut (“raw art”). It’s easy to see the connection: the style is characterized by monolithic forms, rigid geometric styles, and unusual shape, and commonly makes use of bare or raw materials being exposed in monolithic color palettes. 

Influenced by socialism, Brutalist architecture was often employed in the UK to create utilitarian, low-cost housing solutions or government buildings. Perhaps for this reason, the style received widespread criticism and was often regarded as “cold” or “soulless.”  Nevertheless, many Brutalist structures have left a strong impression on architecture today and remain the cornerstone of universities and public institutions worldwide. 

Stay tuned for more features on the subsects of Modernist architecture.

The Legacy of Walter Gropius

The legacy of the Bauhaus is an essential thread in Modernism, past and present. But the Bauhaus — both the movement and the school — never would have been possible without the man behind it all: Walter Gropius. Today, we’re paying our respects and exploring the legacy of the Bauhaus founder, also known as one of the the pioneering masters of Modernism. 

Fagus Factory (Faguswerk), designed by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer in Alfeld, Germany. Photo: Matthias Süßen on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A Promising Start

Born Walter Adolph Georg Gropius in May of 1883, the German architect was destined for great things from the start of his earlier career just 25 years later. In 1908, after studying architecture in Berlin and Munich, Gropius began working with renowned architect and industrial designer Peter Behrens, alongside other powerhouses: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. From that point onward, Gropius’s career accelerated at an upward trajectory, with accomplishments such as Faguswerk, the Fagus Factory that truly put his name on the map in 1913. 

The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany, designed by Walter Gropius.

The Bauhaus

In 1919, Gropius succeeded the previous master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar — and Gropius then transformed this academy into the Bauhaus. Gropius’s founding philosophy behind the Bauhaus was revolutionary. On a flyer from that time, he stated: “Art and the people must form an entity. Art shall no longer be a luxury of the few but should be enjoyed and experienced by the broad masses. The aim is an alliance of the arts under the wing of great architecture.” The Bauhaus’s legacy became the extension of beauty and quality to every home, through well-designed, industrially-produced products. Though Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1928, the impact of the school remains prevalent across Modernist design today. 

Story Hall at Harvard University, part of the “Gropius dorms” designed by The Architects’ Collaborative.
Story Hall at Harvard University, part of the “Gropius dorms” designed by The Architects’ Collaborative. Photo: John Phelan on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

American Footprint

Facing threats under the Nazi regime, Gropius first landed in England and then made his way to the U.S. in 1937. There he became a professor at Harvard and eventually, the Director of the Department of Architecture. In 1946, he founded The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC), another manifestation of his belief in collaboration and teamwork. Alongside the likes of other young architects in Cambridge, the group rose to prominence (with their most well-known work being the Graduate Center at Harvard) and they quickly became one of the most well-known and respected architectural firms in the world.

Today, the legacy of Walter Gropius remains in each structure he created during his lifetime, as well as in the profound impact he had on the architectural world. 

100 Years of Bauhaus

This fall, we honor the historical significance of 2019, which marks 100 years since the Bauhaus movement was founded. 100 Years of Bauhaus, a centenary exhibition, gives us the opportunity to look back on a school of thought that has not only influenced our own design, but the design and thinking of the world for over a century. 

The Bauhaus School of Design was borne out of necessity 100 years ago during the harsh political climate of post-World War I Germany. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the school sought to combat the rise of industrialist manufacturing that was swiftly outpacing human craft and comfort. The ease and speed at which product was created at that time had greatly diminished aesthetic value and the way that design affect those that interacted with it. Things were, quite literally, looking bleak.

The Bauhaus solution was to bring back craftsmanship, combined with fine arts to make it stronger. The school aimed to combine all art forms in order to create one unified piece of art that could bring a sense of beauty and wonder back to the viewer. The Bauhaus did this through a sharp focus on form, function and aesthetic, ultimately creating art products that were abstractly beautiful and evocative. 

Stacking Tables designed by Josef Albers.
Stacking Tables designed by Josef Albers. Credit: Florent Darrault on Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed.

Most notable products of the Bauhaus school were furniture and wallpaper — including Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel “Wassily Chair,” inspired by his bicycle, and Josef Albers’ stacking tables.

In 1933, the school was closed due to the increasing pressues of Nazi Germany, causing its students and members to disperse across the world. As the disciples of Bauhaus spread, so too did its unique theory and ways of thinking and creating. The last director of the Bauhaus before its closing, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, came to Chicago, where he rethought and revitalized the architecture program and campus at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Mies’ vision for IIT earned the school the title of “the second school of design,” with the Bauhaus being the first. His involvement at the Bauhaus heavily influenced the new architecture program at IIT, and therefore influenced David Hovey Sr., co-founder of Optima, as he studied there years later.

One can see the influence of the Bauhaus, Mies and the Modernist masters that came before us in the designs of Optima. Like the Bauhaus, we place a heavy emphasis on form and function in all that we design; and like Mies, our work places emphasis on open space and revealing materials. When Gropius first decided that the Bauhaus School of Design must involve all processes into the creation of one, higher art form, it set in motion the ideologies and design principles that have shaped who we are today.

Today, Bauhaus thoughts and designs continue to influence all fields of design — and if something isn’t made in the Bauhaus school of thought, it was probably made in counter-response to it. At Optima, we continue to be influenced by, and inspired by, the fascinating, careful and unique emphasis that the Bauhaus has brought to the way we create. 

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