Two Jewish architects who left an indelible mark on the Bossier and Caddo Parish landscape will be celebrated in a new documentary premiering on Nov. 12.
Samuel G. Wiener and William B. Wiener were brothers, Shreveport natives, and pioneers of modern architecture in the United States. The film is to reintroduce the Wieners to new audiences worldwide and celebrate their designs often overlooked in the Shreveport community and in architectural history.
“There are places where their name should be but it’s not. The hope is that ‘Unexpected Modernism’ puts their name back into all of the records and helps let people know these guys helped bring modernism to the United States,” said director and producer Gregory Kallenberg.
“Unexpected Modernism: The Wiener Brothers Story” will debut in a virtual screening at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12. The cost is $10 to view the film online. The runtime of the film is 43 minutes.
A film still from “Unexpected Modernism: The Architecture of the Wiener Brothers” documentary showing the home of Ed Wile in South Highlands, Shreveport. (Photo: Courtesy Photo)
The documentary includes interviews with members of the Wiener family, architecture experts, and the authors of “The Modernist Architecture of Samuel G. & William B. Wiener,” Karen Kingsley and Guy Carwile. An online panel discussion featuring special guests and the filmmakers will follow the screening.
“Unexpected Modernism” is presented by the Louisiana Architecture Foundation (LAF), in partnership with the North Louisiana Jewish Federation. It is a production by Rational Middle Media.
In 1931, the Wiener brothers traveled across Europe studying the international style of modern architecture. They were greatly influenced by a visit to Europe’s most prestigious design school, the Bauhaus.
They brought the avant-garde style across the Atlantic and introduced it to their hometown, making Shreveport “an early hub of International Modernist design in the U.S.”
“When you look at the density of these buildings we have in Shreveport, it’s one of the densest collections in the United States,” Kallenberg said. “For us to appreciate what we have in the city and to see what a glorious example of modern architecture we have right in our backyard is equally exciting to me.”
The Wieners’ portfolio includes designs for residential, institutional, and commercial properties constructed from the 1930s through the 1960s. Many of the residential homes and institutional and commercial buildings remain intact and in use across the city and the South.
“Most of these houses still exist and are completely entuned and exist in the international style of modern architecture that existed after World War I,” said Christopher Coe, architect.
A film still from “Unexpected Modernism: The Wiener Brothers Story” documentary showing the Mayer house in Shreveport. (Photo: Courtesy Photo)
In addition to the homes, the Wieners designed Bossier High School, Haughton High School, J.S. Clark Junior High, Woodlawn High School, regional airports, and more.
The Wieners could have lived and worked anywhere in the United States or the world but chose to share their expertise and vision with their community, Coe said.
“The real heart and meaning of the story of them and their work: they were able to do that in a time when the citizens of Shreveport, the commerce people of Shreveport and the civic leaders of Shreveport saw Shreveport as a place that was growing and they invested in what the city looked like. They cared about what their city looked like,” Coe said. “They wanted buildings that were representative of the progressive nature of Shreveport at that time and that is a fundamentally important lesson because we have lost that.”
The modern designs were simplistic and functional without all the frill of old traditional styles. Several characteristics that defined the era’s modern architecture style included structures that were cubic and boxy, often white, featuring more glass windows and flat roofs, devoid of ornamentation—steering away from traditional bourgeoise stylings—and meant to be functional, Coe said.
“They started practicing architecture in this modern way that was a social art—an urban public art,” Coe said. “The buildings needed to respond to their uses and somehow touch their spirits. The film is about showing a lot of that early work.”
The modern era was an opportunity to rethink how cities were made, how buildings were designed, and how buildings could be built so that they could contribute to society, he said.
“It was the first time that finally form and function got married together in architecture and that more than anything is the defining characteristic of modern architecture—the manifestation of function within the exterior of a building,” Coe said.
The Wiener brothers’ works began to garner international recognition. Their innovations were marked in books and magazine publications, including in the United States, Germany, and Japan. They became Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.
Yet, their names and accomplishments are unknown to many today.
“The primary goal of ‘Unexpected Modernism’ is to show people all over the world how important our infrastructure is in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attract them to this place to explore what the Wiener brothers did in a very unlikely place,” Kallenberg said. “The prospect of this film being seen all over the world and for people to be able to appreciate the Wiener brothers’ work is incredibly exciting.”
“ Unexpected Modernism: The Wiener Brothers Story” will premiere Thursday, Nov. 12 online at unexpectedmodernism.com. (Photo: Courtesy Photo)
The documentary’s premiere, initially planned for spring, was pivoted to an online venue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The streaming platform will allow the story of the Wiener brothers to reach more viewers, he said.
“Unexpected Modernism” invites local and global audiences to view Shreveport from a new and different perspective and make the area a destination for architecture tourism. A goal is to show the special elements the city has from an architectural standpoint.
“This is something that people in Shreveport should be incredibly proud of—that we had two of the preeminent modern architects in the United States doing work here,” Kallenberg said. “It’s just as important for Shreveport to understand what it has and the true gift of having these two geniuses work so diligently and prolifically in our community.”
“Unexpected Modernism” is presented and sponsored by the Louisiana Architecture Foundation, North Louisiana Jewish Federation, Beaird Foundation, Evolve, The Louisiana Office of Cultural Department, and Rational Middle Media.
If you watch
What: Unexpected Modernism: The Wiener Brothers Story
Where: Watch online at unexpectedmodernism.com
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12
Info: For more information and to purchase tickets to the virtual premiere screening, visit unexpectedmodernism.com or louisianaarchitecture.org/wiener-film.
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