Imagining Home: Selections from the Heinz Architectural Center

This exhibition runs from February 27–May 30, 2010 at the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art.


“Home” is a word dense with personal and social meaning, and one that conjures images of everything from a stately mansion, to an apartment building, to a child’s treetop refuge. More than simply a house, a home is at once the focus of domestic aspirations and the outward expression of them, however modest or grand.


Tracy Myers, curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art, realized that the Center is home to a remarkably rich collection of material that, when examined and presented together, provides a survey of the evolution of home design from the 19th century to the present. Imagining Home: Selections from the Heinz Architectural Center – curated by Myers and on view at Carnegie Museum of Art from February 27 to May 30, 2010 – presents more than 125 drawings, models, books, and games from the Heinz Architectural Center’s collection that reveal ways in which the home has been envisioned over the last 200 years. Imagining Home is the first exhibition ever mounted of the Center’s home design collection.


Among the subjects Myers explores are the range of styles in residential architecture, innovative construction technologies, interiors, company-built housing, and how the modern and contemporary house has evolved over time. Architectural models, drawings, and other objects from the collection are supplemented by photography, video, and two new works of installation art.


“While the need for shelter is fundamental and universal, the ways in which that need is met are enormously varied. Our attitudes toward, and relationships with, the places in which we live are wonderfully complex,” said Myers. “The exhibition Imagining Home encourages us to contemplate the question of what ‘home’ means to each of us, and how our answers influence the ways in which we fashion our personal environments.”


Imagining Home reviews residential typologies and styles since the 19th century, primarily in the United States. The exhibition explores, through presentation of significant works in the Heinz Architectural Center’s collection, how the house has served as a laboratory for architectural experimentation in the 20th and 21st centuries. These key works include drawings or models of projects by innovators like Kadambari Baxi and Reinhold Martin, Winka Dubbeldam, estudio teddy cruz, Steven Holl, William Lescaze, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Samuel Mockbee, and Richard Neutra.


The exhibition includes a group of 15 plaster models of houses from around the world that were produced by the Museum Extension Project, a Depression-era work-relief program that originated in Pennsylvania. The program created a wide variety of visual materials for distribution to the public schools. The architectural models produced by the program raise questions about who decided which houses were considered worthy of reproduction, and what kinds of assumptions and messages the models reflect. The Center’s collection of MEP models was donated by Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which received them from an anonymous donor in 1960. Drawing on the Heinz Architectural Center’s collection of trade catalogues and promotional books, Imagining Home also looks at innovative construction strategies devised by several building materials manufacturers, such as the National Fire Proofing Company and the Aladdin Company, producer of “kit homes.”


Imagining Home also features a section on the Draper Company, a 19th-century manufacturer of equipment for the textile industry, which planned an entire town for its workers in Hopedale, Massachusetts. Unlike many company towns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Draper Company’s housing was designed not by building contractors but by architects, who offered nearly 20 different home designs.


The influence of house-design competitions sponsored by materials manufacturers and architectural journals is also examined. Winning designs from these competitions were published and distributed nationwide, providing architect-designed plans to homeowners who might not otherwise have had access to them and bringing national attention to architects who otherwise might have had no such platform for their work.


Imagining Home is rounded out by a section on interiors that includes two newly created installations. The first is a habitab
le sculpture of layered draperies created for the exhibition by Sheila Klein. The second is a project by local artist Wendy Osher, who employs embroidery and digital photography to investigate the seductive convenience of prepared foods and the way in which they erode the symbolic value of home cooking and dining. Four interior views by American photographer Sarah Malakoff pointedly speak to the central objective of the exhibition: provoking thought on the places we call home. Shot between 2003 and 2008, the photographs document exceptional and eccentric home interiors, including a nautically themed basement wet bar designed to mimic the prow of an actual boat, and a dining area furnished with a diner booth in lieu of a conventional table and chairs.