Design: Fall of the Pit

Back in the late 1950s, there was hardly a blueprint around that did not include specifications for a large, shallow hole to be sunk into the living-room floor. That, as the architect told it, was the conversation pit. Its ostensible purpose: to create, in the vast tundra of the "living-dining-play area," a separate denlike arena that could either remain distinct or be absorbed at party time into the whole. There, while others went about frivolously at ground level, the more serious-minded could step down to form a sort of basement discussion group. Nontalkative families tucked pillows and blankets into...

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