Celebrating 20 Years of Dwell

We look back on two decades of covering cutting-edge design—and ask big questions about homebuilding, community, and technology that will resonate for years to come.
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This year, we’re celebrating Dwell’s 20th anniversary. To mark the momentous occasion, we’re going back into the archives to revisit some of our most prescient stories. 

Below, we also revisit the predictions we made in our 10th anniversary issue to see how developments in everything from urban density to groceries have shaken out, and make our forecast for how homes and cities will look in the next decade.

From the Archives

From our first mention of prefab to once-emerging designers who are now household names, these stories from years past trace the evolution of modern architecture.

The Fruit Bowl Manifesto

Forget the perfectly staged, airless photography that dominated architectural magazines for generations. In our first issue, editor-in-chief Karrie Jacobs explained that we would cover extraordinary homes by covering the people who inhabit them. We live by that principle to this day.

First published in the premier issue of Dwell Magazine (October 2000), "The Fruit Bowl Manifesto" articulates our vision of what great design should be.

The Lofting of America

Converted industrial spaces were once the province of coastal bohemia (that’s Robert Motherwell in his Manhattan home in the 1960s). But as America rediscovered its cities in the 2000s, the loft became the go-to housing type all over the country. Here’s the moment we predicted it.

"It seems that everyone is vying for a bit of exposed brickwork," writes Mimi Zeiger in our October 2000 issue.

What if Green Design Were Just Good Design?

What was the state of green design in 2001? According to contributor Bruce Sterling, it involved a lot of feel-good fluff that paid the idea lip service—but hadn’t become part of design DNA. Twenty years later, sustainability has come to the forefront in homebuilding, and the need for forward-thinking, integrated solutions is more pronounced than ever.

"People need to use green technology and green design every single day. It has to be more than politically correct, or even user-friendly; it has to be taken for granted," writes Bruce Sterling in June 2001.

We Dream of Prefabs

The possibilities of prefabrication have long captured our imagination. These six examples, published in April 2001, were projects that fulfilled the potential of mass-produced housing.

Architect Jennifer Siegal’s Portable House used materials like glass, aluminum siding, Homasote, and P95 plastic, and was designed to "exist in any situation."

Inspecting Gadgets

Way back in March 2004, the latest technology manifested itself in the form of cell phones and PDAs—that’s Personal Digital Assistants, or Palm Pilots, for the young ones out there. With help from private eye Miriam Ponzi, we tested out a few "converged devices." 

Miriam Ponzi, whose father Tom Ponzi, was a famous private investigator, has always been on the cutting edge of technology. "I grew up playing with gadgets," she says. Ponzi now runs Tomponzi investigations, an international outfit with over 2,000 employees. She is a fan of PDA-phones. "Their two-in-one capacity is irresistible," she tells us. Her profession sometimes requires more devious communications equipment, which she didn't tell us much about; suffice to say, she's "always in search of the latest infernal gadget."

Halving It All

Our write-up of David Sarti’s little red house in Seattle’s sleepy Central District signaled our embrace of small-space living. Though, at 1,100 square feet, the Sarti home was far from tiny, it did call forth themes that have by now become endemic to the tiny house movement: dwellings born of situational necessity that are frequently DIY in nature and showcase bespoke, creative furniture that maximizes efficiency without sacrificing aesthetics.

The Sarti house—like much of the furnishings inside—is neatly hidden amongst its more established counterparts. In the early evening, Sarti’s studio takes on a lanternlike appearance.

Let’s Be Frank

In December 2007, we interviewed Frank Harmon, a North Carolina architect who had been designing sustainably for almost three decades. His emphasis on regionalism and vernacular architecture marked a new take on sustainability that was rooted in responding to the particulars of a climate, site, or materials.

"The single biggest impact we have energy-wise is our buildings, not cars, and our clients get that," says Frank Harmon. "I think there is general unease about how we treat the world, and people want [to] build in a sustainable ways."

The Shipping Muse

The first shipping container home to grace our pages appeared in our October 2009 "Made in America" issue. Houston developers Katie Nichols and John Walker wanted to create "affordable, design-intensive housing for creative, urban people"—and accomplished just that with easily acquired, incredibly durable containers.

To the right of the house, the couple had a Geosystems FilterPave porous pavement driveway installed. Made of post-consumer recycled glass, the driveway lets water pass through it at an astonishing speed and, in the sun, adds a little sparkle.

The Next Decade

For our 10th anniversary issue published in 2010, Dwell departed from its regular programming to address topics that we felt would be of significance in the decades to follow—from groceries and design education to density and community. "We have tried to stay away from the type of garish predictions that look silly in 20 years’ time," wrote editor-in-chief Sam Grawe.

This year, we asked our writers to consult the experts to not only respond to inquiries raised a decade ago to see where we stand now, but also pose the important questions that will guide design in the years to come. 

Can Co-Living Survive in a Socially Distanced Future?

Over the past decade, soaring rents and urban loneliness have been driving people to live closer together. Then the pandemic hit, and sharing was no longer caring.

One of the initiatives reflecting coliving provider Common’s plans for the new normal is a call for proposals for its new Remote Work Hub, launched to explore the question: If people don't need to go to a fixed place for their jobs, what does housing look like?

How Can Higher Education Build a Better Architect?

In the 2010s, design-build programs were the cutting edge of architectural education. Today, young architects must master empathy as much as any design software or construction know-how.

University of Kansas’s Studio 804 is a design-build program headed by Dan Rockhill. At the Midwestern school, students have designed buildings for the university itself, and created housing for the homeless; 14n of these have been LEED platinum, each designed, planned, and built within nine months.

Whatever Happened to the Ecohouse?

First profiled a decade ago, we checked back in with the adventurous architect of Biosphere 2 and his plans for his massive, sustainable prefab.

In Dwell’s Dec/Jan 2010 issue, which tackled all manner of speculations about the future of design, former editor-in-chief Sam Grawe's story, "Piece by Pearce," introduced readers to the Pearce Ecohouse, a mountaintop residence in Malibu proposed by designer Peter Pearce. The idea behind the project was that, when built, it could become "a prototype for a fully sustainable prefab home."

How Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Change the Way We Eat?

Over the past 10 years, the troubling realities of the food supply chain became apparent. The coronavirus pandemic has made them impossible to ignore.

"Farmworkers have often felt like the silenced, ignored workforce in this country," explains Leanne Ruzzamenti of Equitable Food Initiative. "And yet, when our food supply came into question, the reaction was that they're essential and they need to keep working to keep the food supply going strong. I think there is great potential for the consumer to build on that recognition and educate themselves."

What Happens to Cities When We Are Free to Roam?

Despite lockdowns and quarantines brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the question of how to shape public space has never felt more relevant.

One of the most eye-opening experiences of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has forced many of us to see what our cities and public spaces feel like without the constant need to commute to work and to buy things. For many, these functions have been digitally sublimated, and the city and its public spaces have become backdrops for repose and political action, not consumption. This presents designers and communities with an opportunity to reassess their priorities in the public spaces they share.

How Will Architecture Merge the Digital and Physical Worlds?

Artificial intelligence is not only changing how we design buildings—it’s also influencing how buildings shape our behavior.

The Cactus MIRA system tracks and photographs a museum visitor. According to Noah Waxman, head of strategy at Cactus, the two worlds of digital and physical public space will soon converge, thanks to 5G connectivity, surveillance technologies, and AI–enabled computer vision.

Is a Sustainable Suburbia Still Possible Post-Pandemic?

In 2010, Dwell took a look at four radical plans to reshape and retrofit spaces outside of our cities. Ten years later, we asked experts if those plans were possible or pie-in-the-sky.

At Serenbe, an eco-friendly community outside Atlanta, New Urbanism planning principles were applied to create a live/work community that revolves around a variety of green spaces, including open fields, farmland, and forests.  


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