Loving MCM Screens (not the ones that keep bugs out)
by Barbara Schwab·
The uses of screens serve various design functions: to create privacy, to divide space, to frame a view, and to control light.
Block tile walls (also referred to as "breeze blocks") used on the exteriors of mid century modern homes. Sources: Top: unknown. Bottom: Garden privacy screen.
While architectural screens created to filter harsh sunlight have early roots in Islamic architecture, we also see screens used in early Churches to create private areas that allow for secluded views.
One of the key aspects of the screen is the quality of being both open and closed at the same time. The openness allows air and light to move through it. The spacing intervals determine the amount of privacy obtained.
The most common screens that we associate with MCM are the block tile walls used on exteriors. There are many examples of modular geometric patterns in cast concrete, many of them are still made today. I have picked out several applications that I find express my personal taste.
One of the beautiful aspects of the screens is the pattern of light and shadows they create. Modern architecture has embraced the use of screens and louvers to control light and provide energy efficiencies in large buildings. With the use of lots of architectural glass the invention of the modern venetian and vertical blinds became popular, providing solutions for privacy and light diffusion.
Using the screen as a decorative division of space in MCM interiors has endless permutations. Freestanding see-through furniture pieces are used to hold objects and books and to create the division of space. Freestanding accordion folding screens, custom built-in screen walls, and hanging pieces, all use endless varieties of designs in woods, metal, colored glass, wire and poles. Often shelves are featured in the designs, but, many are created purely as abstract art pieces (see pictures at the top of the page).
Screens used to frame a view and garden applications. Sources: Top: Wood screen to the garden. Bottom: Image by: mscape design
The use of the screen in the garden is one of my favorite applications. The desired functions are the same as the use of the screen in other areas but the need for privacy is often paramount in the outdoor spaces. Today the screen often contains green (growing) elements. The earliest versions are simply the hedge and fence, but mid century modern treatments for the privacy screen transcend the ordinary and define the boundaries of courtyards, patios, lounging and dining areas.
The screen also is used effectively to obscure what we don’t want to see: The carport, garbage cans, pool pumps, power boxes, etc. This is design at its best, as it makes the ugliness of the house utilities go away.
Fortunately, architectural screens are continuing to be used and reinvented in our time- the need to create privacy, divide spaces and control light may now incorporate automatic controls but the purpose and aesthetic desirability makes it as popular today as it was in MCM buildings. I expect screens will be desired and designed endlessly, as long as there is man and materials.
Header photos at top of page. Sources: Top- left: unknown. Middle: unknown. Right: furniture used as room divider. Bottom- left: Gossip Girl, interior set, Design by Christina Tonkin. Middle: Hanging screen. Right: Wood screen room divider.
The play of light and shadow through the architectural screen. Sources: Left: by Andre Martin Architects. Middle: Screen to the garden. Left: Source: Modernize.com