My path to preservation by Exploring Modern


Joseph Gravius


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Docomomo US Intern, Joseph Gravius, shares how he came to love modern architecture, preservation, Docomomo US and what to see when exploring the new Docomomo US website and register.


My name is Joseph Gravius and I am currently an intern with Docomomo US. After completing my first year at Pratt Institute in the Historic Preservation program, I began my summer internship with Docomomo US where I have been researching buildings to add to the newly designed Explore Modern project. My focus has been centered on researching and adding buildings and sites relating to the 2017 Advocacy Theme: Shelter, along with those by lesser known/regional architects, and Mid-Century buildings on Long Island. But before we get to the list of buildings, my interest in modern architecture began with my first case study in architecture school on the Gropius House and has continued over time as I have moved and traveled across the country.


Attending school in Southern California gave me an opportunity to study influential modern design, from art to furniture to architecture.  Just a few of the historic Mid-Century homes I was able to visit were Case Study House 23C and the Bobertz Residence. At Case Study House 23C, designed by Killingsworth, Brady, Smith, and Associates and sponsored by Arts & Architecture, I was able to talk to the owners about their experience living in a historic home and going through the process of having the home placed on the National Register. At the Bobertz Residence, designed by Craig Ellwood in 1953, here the owner spoke about how the home had been modified and the process of returning the house to its original form.


While in grad school I had the opportunity travel abroad a number of times. My first trip out of the United States brought me to Buenos Aires, where I was able to see the Brutalist architecture of Clorindo Testa. I spent a summer semester in Berlin, where I finally had the chance to visit the Bauhaus. Having wanted to visit since my case study of the Gropius House, as well as visiting buildings from the Interbau in 1957, this all further strengthened my interest in Modernism. The fall following my summer in Berlin I again had the opportunity to study abroad, this time spending a semester in Rome. It was at this point I really began to think about preservation.


After graduation, I moved to Portland, Oregon and the first thing I did when arriving in the city was visit the Portland Building, a piece of iconic Post-Modern architecture all architecture students learn about in school. However, my time in Portland was brief, and I decided to move back to New York to pursue my interests in preservation.  


Now onto the buildings…

1. Raymond Hilliard Homes


The Raymond Hilliard Homes by Bertrand Goldberg were designed and constructed for the Chicago Housing Authority between 1963 and 1966 with two round towers for elderly housing and two curved towers for low-income housing. There were a total of 756 units surrounded by lawns, playgrounds, and an outdoor theater.  Goldberg designed these buildings as spaces where the residents could be proud to live in as he believed that much of the public housing designed at the time punished poor people for being poor. The tower designs maximized space and openness on the site creating a sense of community. Today these units have been renovated and turned into mixed-income housing, however they are still home to a large amount of lower income residents.

2. Ferry House

The Ferry House by Marcel Breuer opened on the Vassar College campus in 1951 as cooperative housing for twenty-seven students and today exists as the only cooperative housing on the campus.  Sarah Gibson Blanding, the first female president of the college, supported and brought modernism to the otherwise traditional, gothic campus. This building was constructed in a “binuclear” layout, where the ground floor and upstairs were laid out in a T-pattern, where the noise from downstairs would not travel into the private living areas upstairs. The ground floor consisted of moveable panels and sliding doors to create a flexible floor plan along with ground to ceiling windows in public spaces to let light in. The stone and wood materials used bring the building back to the natural landscape.

3. Emma Hartman Noyes House

In 1954, Mrs. Blanding would later ask Eero Saarinen to develop the master plan for the north end of the campus, where he would design two crescent shaped buildings, but only one of these residential buildings would be built in 1958. This again was another building that was different from the traditional, gothic style on campus, constructed of poured in place concrete with vertical brick piers between projecting window bays. The ground floor has a sunken seating area in the floor slab, similar to the seating area in his Miller House, has become a space for public entertainment over the years.

4. Timken Museum

The Timken Museum by Frank L. Hope is five-room art gallery at Balboa Park, in San Diego, California that was completed in 1965. The use of travertine and bronze was not a material that had been used in San Diego at the time, and this structure is very different from the rest of the architecture in the park. Sunlight is filtered through skylights throughout the building that considers the art on display as well as the position of the sun in the sky. Garden courts in the center of the building blur the lines between the interior and exterior, bringing the outdoors inside.

5. Charleston Branch Library

The Charlestown Branch Library by Eduardo Catalano was completed in 1970 and is another example of concrete and glass architecture in Boston, however uncommon in the Charlestown area.  The concrete folds over an expansive glass façade, with the reading room in the front of the building allowing for natural light to enter.

6. Endo Pharmaceutical Laboratories

In Garden City, Long Island, Paul Rudolph designed a building that I have driven by numerous times and has always interested me. Designed and constructed between 1962 and 1964 for Endo Pharmaceutical Laboratories, this is a great example of one of his lesser-known works. This structure uses four of Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture, and the reinforced concrete on the building is fluted, which can also be seen on the architecture building at Yale. Turrets on the exterior building act as skylights with translucent plastic to let natural light in the building, where others act as circulation or house the mechanical systems.  Ribbon windows exist in the space between the turrets, but otherwise the façade is windowless.  Rudolph designed something different when at the time mostly what was being constructed were “box-like commercial buildings of brick, glass, and steel.”

Explore the register and beyond.


The Explore Modern tab is a great place to start when visiting the new Docomomo US website, but be sure to check out the other cool pages and features. There are a number of ways to stay informed and engage in what Docomomo US is involved with! Start with the three listed below.