May 2011 E-News Brief

RECAP: FIRST TEXAS MODERN MONTH

April 2011 was the first annual Texas MODern Month, organized to raise awareness of the need to preserve locally, regionally, and nationally significant examples of modern buildings sites and neighborhoods in Texas. Texas MODern Month was organized by Preservation Texas and a number of partner organizations including the North Texas and Mid-Tex Mod chapters of DOCOMOMO US, and HoustonMod, the first Friend Organization of DOCOMOMO US.

Corpus Christi Memorial Coliseum during demolition. Photo credit: Stuart M. Johnson

The need for such an extended celebration of Texas modern heritage was vividly demonstrated by the recent demolition of the Corpus Christi Memorial Coliseum (1952, architect Richard S. Colley) despite repeated and prolonged calls for its protection by the Texas preservation community. Notwithstanding other preservation wins around the state (such as the Dallas Statler Hilton), the devastating loss of the Coliseum drove home the need to increase advocacy and awareness efforts.

A number of communities across Texas participated in MODern Month, hosting and organizing various talks, tours, and other events. Among these was a lecture series by DOCOMOMO US President Theodore Prudon, FAIA, which took place in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Prudon's topic was "Back to the Future: The Preservation of Modern Architecture", in which he provided a holistic view of the philosophical, technical, and cultural challenges (and opportunities) facing modern preservationists today, whether working internationally or locally. Lecture venues included the Magnolia Lounge in Dallas (1936, William Lescaze) and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (1958, Mies van der Rohe).

This lecture series was an encouraging example of cooperation among a number of sponsoring organizations, including North Texas and MidTex Chapters of DOCOMOMO US, Houston Mod, Preservation Dallas, Preservation Texas, Dallas Architecture Forum, Friends of Fair Park, UT Austin Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, UT Austin Student Historic Preservation Association, AIA Houston, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts Design Council. Additional support was generously provided by several private firms and individuals.

Building on the momentum of the 2011 MODern Month, many of these groups have already begun cooperative discussions about an expanded MODern Month for 2012, as well as more immediate activities, including participation in the fifth annual DOCOMOMO US National Tour Day this coming October.

Contributed by Robert L. Meckfessel, FAIA

 

BREUER'S WHITNEY LEASED TO METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
Model of the Whitney Museum at Gansevoort. Image courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

On Tuesday May 24th the Whitney Museum of American Art will break ground on its new location in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.  In light of the Museum’s planned relocation in 2015 to the new Renzo Piano-designed flagship, there has been speculation in recent months as to the fate of the original Marcel Breuer building, located on 75th Street and Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. An iconic example of Brutalist concrete architecture, the landmark Breuer building has housed a portion of the museum’s growing collection since opening in 1966.  Citing the need to expand, the Whitney had explored several designs to reuse the existing space before deciding to move downtown, including proposals by Rem Koolhaas, Michael Graves and Piano.  

Architect and historian Robert A. M. Stern has suggested the building be turned into a showcase of architectural archives; others a museum of photography.  Some questions were answered last week when the Whitney formally announced its intention to lease the Breuer building to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While the move into a Brutalist building may be seen as a stark contrast to the Beaux-Arts architectural style traditionally associated with the Metropolitan, over the years the Met has embraced modern art and architecture, expanding both its collections and architectural footprint in response to the growing movement.  

Expansion into the Breuer building speaks to the mainstreaming of Modernism, perhaps furthering acceptance of the Brutalist style that is often marginalized and the object of criticism, as seen in the recent dispute over Paul Rudolph’s concrete Orange County Government Center (1963), covered in the January edition of this newsletter.  While the longterm effects remain to be seen, the Met’s plans for the Whitney space include use as “an outpost for modern and contemporary art around the world,” and can be considered a step forward in the preservation of modern architecture.

 

INTERNATIONAL VIEWS: JAPAN

On March 11, 2011 Japan suffered an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude, followed by a devastating tsunami.  Our colleagues at Docomomo Japan recently shared this letter:

April 4, 2011
To friends and supporters of the DOCOMOMO community worldwide:

We would like first to express our heartfelt gratitude for all your sympathies, condolences and support messages extended to us in Japan concerning the massive devastations caused by the March 11, 2011 Northeastern Japan Great Earthquake and Tsunami.

Fortunately, DOCOMOMO JAPAN, headquartered in Tokyo, survived the quake as most of Tokyo, while we were well shaken, nevertheless, had received very little real damage. This earthquake of Magnitude 9.0 and the Tsunamis that followed defied even our heightened state of natural disaster preparedness, for, unlike the previous large earthquakes in our collective memory in history that mostly affected a rather singular and limited area (city), this one exceeded our predictions as not only by being so enormous but also by its overwhelming linear length of approximately 600km long which covered almost the whole northeastern Pacific coast, thus affected the entire region so vast in area. The results were apocalyptical as you must have seen the repeated images on TV. The relief efforts are underway in huge scale, and we too pledge our best for the cause, but the full recovery of the region will take years.

The stricken region boasted a collection of buildings and structures with architectural distinction including some that were listed in the DOCOMOMO JAPAN selections. Details of the status of those are uncertain at this time. We will make our effort to gather the related information.

As for the damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the Tsunamis is another matter that requires a close attention. As of this writing, frantic and heroic efforts are continuing to contain the damaged reactors. The experts analyzed the situation we currently face to be critical and worse than the case of Three Mile Island in 1979 but not nearly as bad as it was in the case of Chernobyl disaster in 1986, that eventually it will be contained. While the cases of the radioactive contamination are detected in the environment, they are limited to the immediate neighborhood of the power plant site. Therefore, despite some media reports to the contrary, as Tokyo is some 230km south-west of the site, there is no real threat of any kind to those in Tokyo area at this time. But certainly we will need to keep our monitoring.

DOCOMOMO JAPAN will maintain our activity despite the disaster and shall select additional set of buildings to be listed in our register this year. In coming September, the UIA is planning the international convention in Tokyo. We are planning to hold symposiums and an exhibition of our 150 selections in the UIA event.

Words are inadequate to express, but once again, we would like to tender our deepest appreciation for all your concerns and goodwill extended to us in Japan. Thank you, Arigato.
Sincerely,

Hiroyuki Suzuki
President, DOCOMOMO JAPAN

Kenji Watanabe
Secretary, DOCOMOMO JAPAN

 

CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: NEW ENGLAND

In April 2011, with the input of DOCOMOMO US/New England, the Boston Landmarks Commission declared the Christian Science Center (CSC) a Boston Landmark.

The modern urban complex – begun in 1894 with the original Mother Church, extended in 1906, and augmented in 1934 with the Publishing House – was joined between 1965 and 1975 by a now world-renowned group of modern buildings designed by Araldo Cossutta of I.M. Pei & Partners, with landscape design by Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay. Located prominently at the edge of Boston’s Back Bay, South End, and Fenway districts, and connecting to the institutional landscape of Northeastern University to the South, the complex has been a topic of public interest for many years. The largest privately-owned open space in Boston, the plaza is well-used and well-loved, though in recent years suffered disrepair and came under criticism as being cold and unfriendly in the winter.

The Christian Science Center. Photo credit: Marie Sorensen

In July 2010, the Christian Science Church submitted a Draft Plaza Revitalization Plan to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) proposing the consolidation of the Church’s operations into the Publishing House building, while permitting lease of the Sunday School Building, Colonnade Building, and the office tower at 177 Huntington Avenue.  The Church aimed to seek permission for new construction above and adjacent to the Sunday School Building in the form of a single “slim” tower 291 feet in height, and additionally on an undeveloped parcel at the northwest perimeter of the property. Another controversial aspect of the Draft Revitalization Plan proposed a path or bridge crossing the 700 foot long Reflecting Pool – a central character defining feature of the complex – in response to criticism that it is inconvenient for pedestrians to travel around the north and south ends of the Pool to access the Mother Church and Publishing House buildings.

The incipient Draft Revitalization Plan submission initiated the action to landmark the entire CSC complex, triggering a series of nearly a dozen Boston Landmarks Commission hearings beginning in August 2010.

Representatives of DOCOMOMO US/New England – President David Fixler and Content Coordinator Marie Sorensen – were present at every hearing held by the Landmark Commission. Discussion of important elements of the Commission's report were discussed separately by DOCOMOMO in conjunction with partners from the Boston Preservation Alliance, as well as Dr. Keith Morgan of Boston University, architect Tad Stahl, and architects Chris Grimley and Mark Pasnik, authors of the documentary project “Heroic: Boston Concrete 1957-1976”.

DOCOMOMO’s role focused from the beginning on ensuring that the significance of the CSC was clearly understood and articulated within the Report, to ensure protection of the physical attributes of the buildings and site. This included bringing depth and precision to the descriptions of the Character Defining Features of the buildings and the site, clarifying their significance, and helping to craft Guidelines for future treatment of each element.

The Christian Science Center. Photo courtesy Pei Cobb Fried and Partners, Architects 6

Throughout this process, the Landmark Hearing participants discussed the issue of how to sympathetically accommodate necessary change, especially in such a large and complex ensemble of buildings with so many urban edges. In addition, a broad range of issues were raised relative to the Church’s status as a religious institution; these topics were thoroughly vetted in the course of the Hearings. In early March DOCOMOMO US/New England presented the following statement at the Boston City Council hearing convened in advance of a vote by the Council and Mayor to approve the Landmark Commission’s designation:

“The Christian Science Center is one of the most important and complete work of modern urban design in the world. Its significance stems from the quality, unity, and integrity of the buildings, landscape, and three-dimensional urban space. The architectural features of the complex – including the reflecting pool, hardscape, and planted areas – are interdependent as critical design elements in a manner that reinforces the relationship of the buildings to their site, and the complex as a whole to the city.

“The Christian Science Center Complex is not only important as a modern site, but also as an example of a uniquely Bostonian manifestation of modernism as it responds to and engages with historic buildings in a dynamic, contemporary, and sustaining way. Modern and historic meet and engage within the plazas, colonnades, and facades. For Boston, this complex is one of the most important examples of an historic institutional and urbane space that joins classical buildings with modern formality and public character.

“For the benefit of those where were not present at the designation hearings: it has been an excellent and thorough process of understanding, discussing, and describing the nature and history of the complex – documenting and agreeing upon the importance and integrity of the basic relationships of landscape, buildings, and urban space – and of foreseeing the opportunities and possibilities of change, and the meaning of change within this internationally and locally significant urban site.

“DOCOMOMO US/New England, DOCOMOMO US and Docomomo International fully appreciate the importance of sustaining the quality and integrity of this world-class complex into the future, and heartily endorse the recommendation to designate the Christian Science Center Complex as a Boston Landmark.”

Contributed by David Fixler, DOCOMOMO US/NE President, and Marie Sorensen, DOCOMOMO US/NE Content Coordinator

 

DOCOMOMO US ANNUAL BOARD MEETING: Visiting Case Study House #22 (Stahl House)


Photo credit: Stahl House, Inc.

For two days in early April the DOCOMOMO US Board convened in Los Angeles to both investigate and promote the organization’s national growth. Joining the Board were DOCOMOMO US interns from both the Columbia University and Pratt Institute Historic Preservation graduate programs.  Following the Day Two open session at Richard Neutra's VDL Research House II, the group visited Case Study House #22, also known as the Stahl House

The Stahl House, located in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Los Angeles, was completed in 1959 by architect Pierre Koenig for Buck Stahl and his family as part of Art & Architecture's Case Study House Program, which ran from 1945-1966. The houses built during the Case Study Program were conceived as low-cost, experimental modern residential prototypes, using new materials and new techniques in construction.

The visit was guided by Andrew Edelstein, docent for the Eames Foundation, who provided stories and personal photos of the Stahl family's experience building and living in a Case Study House, as well as the history of the Case Study House Program.

Visit the Stahl House online at www.stahlhouse.com or join their Facebook group.

Photo, right: DOCOMOMO US Board members and interns pose under the stock steel cantilevered roof.

 

 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: AMERICAN GLAMOUR

 
American GlamourAmerican Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture
Alice T. Friedman, Author. Published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2010
 
This fascinating book by Alice Friedman provides new insight into the development and acceptance of what we now so often and somewhat erroneously call "mid-century" modernism. She discusses not only different building typologies and some of the "starchitects" of the time but also, more importantly, places them in the social and cultural context of the postwar era. While preservation is not specifically discussed, the "glamour" of the architecture as Friedman presents it may explain why high-style magazines and publications continue to be captivated by the period.
 
 
 
 
 
     
 

UPCOMING EVENTS

DOCOMOMO US TOUR DAY 2011
October 8, 2011

DOCOMOMO US is excited to announce the fifth annual National Tour Day, to be hosted on October 8, 2011. Events are scheduled all Columbus Day weekend long with tours hosted by DOCOMOMO US regional Chapters, Affiliates, Friend Organizations and special partnerships...to be announced!  Confirmed 2011 tour locations include Los Angeles, Minnesota, New Haven, Riverside, Palm Springs, Philadelphia, Providence, Washington DC, and more!

Stay tuned for additional event locations and tour specifics.

 

The Glass House: Conversations in Context
Through November 17, 2011

Join a leading mind in architecture, art, landscape, history, design, or preservation and experience the Glass House campus through an entirely new lens. Listen to a personal narrative, interpretation, or inspiration by a special guest while walking the site with an intimate group of visitors. Continue the dialogue during a reception at the Glass House following the tour. DOCOMOMO US chapter president Theodore Prudon and Shashi Caan, president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers will host an evening tour and reception on July 21. For a full list of hosts and to buy tickets, visit the Glass House website.


9th Annual Docomomo Brazil Conference
June 7 - June 10, 2011
Brasília, Brazil

The purpose of the 9th DOCOMOMO Brazil Conference is to gather and share knowledge and consolidating principles, contributing effectively to the preservation of recent cultural heritage.  Themes for the conference include:

Reflections on recent heritage
Documentation of recent heritage
Preservation of recent heritage

For more information, visit docomomobsb.org

 

 

CAH 20thC Conference
June 14 - 16
Madrid, Spain

The ISC20C - International Scientific Committee on 20th Century Heritage of ICOMOS in association with the Campus Internacional de Excelencia Moncloa - Cluster de Patrimonio, with the collaboration of the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM) organize the first International Scientific Conference celebrated in Spain regarding Approaches for the Intervention in the Architectural Heritage of the 20th Century.

The aims of the conference are to call the attention to the growing recognition of the value of the 20th Century heritage and to consider the resulting conservation, protection and management issues relating to this important heritage resource.  For more information, visit www.madrid2011.eu.com.

 

SCUP Campus Heritage Symposium
November 3 - 4, 2011
Washington, DC

This symposium brings together together renowned experts to discuss the state of campus heritage planning in light of the lessons learned from Getty Foundation-funded research on 86 campuses.

The intimate, one and a half day event is designed for professionals engaged in planning related to campus heritage, cultural landscapes and the importance of mid-century campus buildings.

For more information and to register, visit the SCUP website.

 

 

 

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