June 2010 E-News Brief

SAVED!: HERITAGE PARK PLAZA/FORT WORTH, TX

Heritage Park

FORT WORTH'S HERITAGE PLAZA PLACED ON NATIONAL REGISTER
by Robert L. Meckfessel, FAIA 
Photos by Mark Gunderson, AIA

North Texas modern architecture enthusiasts and preservationists were encouraged when Fort Worth's Heritage Plaza, designed by noted landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 10, 2010. Although Heritage Plaza remains endangered, the inclusion on the National Register is viewed as a potentially significant milestone along an ongoing, lengthy process towards the park's ultimate preservation and revitalization.
 
Heritage Plaza was dedicated on July 4, 1976, as Fort Worth's official contribution to the American Bicentennial and officially opened to the public in 1980. Located in Heritage Park on a bluff above the Trinity River, the plaza celebrates the original founding of the city and was conceived as an abstract interpretation of the ruins of the city's earliest days. According to the nomination to the National Register
(submitted by the Texas Historical Commission):

Heritage Park  Heritage Park Plaza is a half-acre of
  “interconnected rooms constructed
  from concrete and activated  
  throughout by flowing water walls,
  channels and pools; each room
  contains plant materials in a
  structured grid that includes upper
  and lower lawns. An elevated
  walkway over the bluff grants access
  to vistas across the Trinity River
  valley.

 

 

 

 

The design of Heritage Plaza was a seminal work within Halprin's long and distinguished career as the United States' most significant modernist landscape architect. Halprin's work ranged from coast to coast and included such influential works as the Sea Ranch of Northern California, Seattle's Freeway Park, Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall, New York City's Jacob Riis Plaza, and the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. As Charles A. Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation stated:

Heritage Park  "In addition to its significance to Fort Worth,
  Heritage Park Plaza is of national significance
  as the design precursor to the FDR Memorial
  in Washington, DC. All of the contributing
  design elements Halprin employed in Fort
  Worth – the sequence of outdoor rooms, the
  application of narrative art, and the use of
  water to move you through and animate the
  public spaces – are refined and incorporated
  into the FDR Memorial, which opened to the
  public 17 years later."

 

 

 

 
 
Unfortunately, the City of Fort Worth has paid scant attention to the maintenance of Heritage Plaza in recent years and each component of the design - fountains, landscape, and architecture - has greatly deteriorated. This neglect, and other factors (such as the plaza's non-compliance with modern accessibility standards), caused certain civic leaders to view Heritage Plaza as a potential liability to Fort Worth's increasingly vibrant downtown. This concern was certainly heightened by the 2004 deaths of four people in the city's Water Gardens (Johnson/Burgee, 1974), located at the other end of downtown. Heritage Plaza was closed in 2008 and has remained so since.
 
Concerned preservationists and downtown activists, however, continued to lobby for a new vision and future for Heritage Plaza. In March 2009, a workshop was conducted by Projects for Public Spaces to explore options for the future of the plaza and of the surrounding Heritage Park and the Trinity River waterfront. This was followed up in May 2009 with a second workshop conducted by Laurie Olin, landscape architect and long-time friend of Halprin. Attended by more than 100 stakeholders, a general consensus was reached for a new vision that would restore, revitalize and reprogram Heritage Plaza and Park, maintaining the essence of Halprin's original vision, while addressing concerns of maintenance, accessibility, and security.

Heritage Park

  At the present time the Heritage Park
  Restoration Steering Committee, consisting of
  27 concerned citizens and activists (including
  Mark Gunderson, AIA, member of the North
  Texas chapter of DOCOMOMO US), is guiding
  further efforts regarding the plaza's future.
  And fund-raising is ongoing to allow this
  momentum to continue with detailed design
  by a team led by Laurie Olin with more than
  $550,000 raised to date from the Carter
  Foundation, the Sid Richardson Foundation,
  and others. However, far more is needed to
  see the project through design and
  construction until it is finally reopened to the
  public.
 
 
 
 
 
Heritage Park  While their optimism has been bolstered by
  the success of workshops, fund-raising, and
  inclusion on the National Register,
  preservationists remain convinced that years
  of more effort lie ahead until the future of a
  renewed Heritage Plaza is truly secured.

  For more information visit:
  http://heritageparkfw.com

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

THREATENED: POSTWAR SCHOOLS & CHORLEY ELEMENTARY 


Chorley Elementary School
Photo Courtesy of the Paul Rudolph Foundation

by Theodore H. M. Prudon, Ph.D., FAIA

The theme of much of the discussion about education today is about curriculum and teaching process. There are also references to ‘dilapidated classrooms’ or ‘leaking school buildings’ as reasons why educational achievements have been lacking. This has resulted in a focus on existing school buildings. Many of these schools are pre-1925 or post World War II and the modern postwar schools are argued to be the worst.
 
The postwar period saw the design and construction of numerous school buildings particularly for primary and secondary education to accommodate a flood of school age children born immediately after the war. The lack of adequate classrooms was not only the result of a sudden rise in the school age population but was also caused because not many new schools had been built since the mid 1920s. While the initial post war efforts may have focused on providing as many classrooms as quickly as possible, once the initial needs were accommodated the focus quickly returned to creating schools that were more than just a collection of classrooms strung together.   In many ways this parallels the developments in the postwar housing market where also attention quickly shifted from basic and minimal shelter to incorporating more amenities.
 
The design of the postwar school was very much influenced by several fundamental underlying principles primarily concerned with light and air and the process of teaching. While the perceived beneficial health effects of light and air had begun to play an important role in design of schools at the end of the 19th century, it found its maximum expression in the open air and pavilion schools of the decades before the war. Organizations like the Open Air Crusaders in the Midwest influenced indirectly school design and its openness to the outside. The rise of progressive education on the other hand looked at the classroom as more than a box with neatly lined up desks but as a place where different activities could take place at one time. This development culminated in the concept of the open classroom, which initially in the UK and later in the US gained considerable if controversial popularity.
 
Considering these developments it is not surprising that school design like housing began to attract the attention of younger and modern architects not just in the postwar period but also in the decades prior to the war. The result was the design and construction of a large number of modern and modernist schools by prominent architects. It is these schools that have come under attack partially because they are argued to be too small, too poorly designed and constructed, no longer supporting educational goals (the latter is often not voiced but implied nor is the fact that the buildings frequently were not well maintained).
 
Phillis Wheatley Elementary School  While the demolition of the Paul Rudolph designed
  Riverview High School in Sarasota is today probably the best
  known example, it is by no means the only one nor is this
  development limited to the United States. Many of the modern
  schools in New Orleans are under threat (Phillis Wheatley
  Elementary School by Charles Colbert, 1955; the Thomy Lafon
  School and Carver High School by the firm of Curtis and
  Davis, respectively of 1954 and 1958, to name only a few) or
  in Detroit where the 1960s Augusta B. Woodward Elementary
  School designed by Minoru Yamasaki, which had been vacant
  since 2005, was demolished as recently as last month because
  this school and others, vacant because of dropped enrollment
  were considered a ‘blight’ on their neighborhoods.  
 
 
Schools that have distinctive designs (that is they diverge from the predictable red brick school house with central entrance that typified so much of the schools that are so fondly remembered by so many) are particularly vulnerable. The battles surrounding other Brutalist buildings also take place around schools. In the UK the Pimlico School, the work of the Department of Architecture of the Greater London Council and which won a RIBA award in 1972, was demolished to be replaced with a new school, while the Marchesi School Complex in Pisa, Italy, by Luigi Pellegin of 1972, had to make way for a residential development. In the US the most recent case is the Chorley School, the only elementary school designed by Paul Rudolph, is scheduled to make way for a parking lot next to a new school building. While in the last decade we have focused on the demolition and disfigurement of the private modernist residence, our schools have befallen a similar fate. It is time to pay attention to our postwar educational heritage.
 
The most recent school in danger of demolition is the John W. Chorley School in Middletown, NY, designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1969. Constructed of his signature fluted concrete block, the plan reflects the influence of Scandinavian school design. Such famous schools as the Munkegärd School outside Copenhagen designed by Arne Jacobsen or the Crow Island School designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen together with Perkins & Will in Winnetka, Illinois come to mind. In its flexibility of class room configuration the Chorley plan also recalls the open classroom concepts that were widely accepted in the 1960s. The distinct sawtooth roof not only recalls earlier industrial buildings but also the desire throughout school design in the 20th Century to provide as much natural light and contact to the outside as possible, a feature the building shares with both Munkegärd and Crow Island. The fate of the school building is currently uncertain because of its planned demolition to make way mostly for parking. The building has been placed by the Preservation League of New York on its endangered list, Seven to Save. For further information visit the Preservation League of New York website.
 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS: DOCOMOMO IRELAND

DOCOMOMO Ireland will be re-launching next month at Busáras in Dublin, Ireland. DOCOMOMO Ireland succeeds and replaces the Irish DOCOMOMO Working Party, established in 1991. DOCOMOMO Ireland is open to all who are interested in modern movement architecture in Ireland. Applications for membership are now being accepted and should be made in writing to DOCOMOMO Ireland:

The Secretary
DOCOMOMO Ireland
8 Merrion Square, Dublin 2

 
INTERNATIONAL NEWS: DOCOMOMO ITALY

DOCOMOMO Italy has announced the launch of their new website. The DOCOMOMO Italy website can be found online by visiting: www.docomomoitalia.it.

 
UPCOMING EVENTS: MEXICO CONFERENCE/WORKSHOP
 
DOCOMOMO Mexico  The 11th annual International DOCOMOMO conference: Living in the Urban
  Modernity has announced additional details regarding the upcoming student
  workshop. The workshop will take place in the Colonia Cuauhtémoc section of
  Mexico City from August 19 to 23.  DOCOMOMO Mexico has secured the studio of
  Luis Barragan, just in front of the Luis Barragan House as the workshop site. This
  UNESCO World Heritage site built in 1948 and listed in 2004 is now a museum to
  Barragan and is a celebration of his life and work and his contributions to the
  Modern Movement.
 
  The opening day of the workshop will include the configuration of teams and
  tutors, lectures on the history and of the urban site and the present urban
  problems of Mexico City. There will be a tour of the Barrragán House as well as a
  visit to the site sector.  The workshop will conclude on August 23rd with final
  presentations, commentaries and conclusions from the participants.
 
  The jury report and prize for the most inspiring proposal will be held on August
  26th in the Faculty of Architecture lobby of the UNAM.
 

SAVE THE DATE: NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DAY

DOCOMOMO US Tour Day  Save the date for the fourth annual DOCOMOMO US Tour
  Day to be held on Saturday, October 9, 2010.  Nearly
  thirty modern architectural tours will be given across the
  United States, Canada and Mexico!

  Join DOCOMOMO US, its regional chapters and select
  local preservation organizations for a day of significant
  buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern
  Movement.
 
  Detailed information coming soon!
 
  AIA CES credits will be available for select tours.

 

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