That's a Wrap Houston!


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By Jessica Smith

Preservation professionals and modernist enthusiasts from all over the country journeyed down to the Lone-Star State last month to celebrate Docomomo US’ second annual National Symposium where everything is big from the hats, hair, and modern architecture. Co-sponsored with Houston Mod, the Symposium took place at Houston’s University of St. Thomas, designed by Phillip Johnson in 1958, a location that facilitated the weekend’s discussions about modern architecture’s significance and role today. The jam-packed, three-day event offered guests a birds-eye view of modernism in Texas, the current state of preserving modernism, the ground-breaking work of architectural archivists and challenge to preserve the ephemeral. 


The symposium kicked-off Thursday morning with the annual Docomomo US Board of Directors and Chapter Leadership Forum meetings in the iconic Alley Theatre. The theater, designed by Ulrich Franzen and opened in 1968, has played a significant role in the life of Houstonians, as well as the nation, and is currently waiting to undergo a major restoration project that will revamp the interior and exterior, breathing new life into the building. The view of the Houston skyline created the perfect backdrop for the morning’s conversation. During the meetings, the Board of Directors welcomed three new board members, Jennifer Magnolfi (New York), Robert Thomas (Boston), and Robert Pullum (San Francisco), as well as the newly formed chapters of Washington DC and Michigan. After a walking tour of significant modern architecture in the downtown area, the symposium formally began at the First Church of Christ, Scientist with opening remarks by Docomomo US President Theodore Prudon and Houston Mod President Steve Curry and the presentation of the inagural Modernism in America awards. 

Image (above): Andrew Phillips founder of Docomomo US/WeWa and Katie Horak and Christine Lazzaretto co-founders of Docomomo US/SoCal during the opening reception, (below) Prince Chavis and James McLane accepting the Design Award of Excellence

Docomomo US was thrilled to present the following Modernism in America Awards to those recipients in attendance: James McLane, Associate Principal of Architectural Resources Group, Inc. and Prince Chavis of AMEC Environment & Infrastructure Inc. accepted the Design Award of Excellence for their restoration of the Furnace Creek Visitors Center at Death Valley National Park in California; Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Services and Programs Manager of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and Todd Grover, President of Docomomo US/Minnesota (in partnership with the Cultural Landscape Foundation) accepted the Advocacy Award of Excellence for their efforts on behalf of Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Katie Horak, Senior Associate of Architectural Resources Group, Inc. and Christine Lazzaretto, Principal of Historic Resources Group accepted the Survey Award of Excellence on behalf of the Los Angeles Conservancy for their documentation of modern resources through the Curating the City: Modern Architecture in L.A; Meredith Bzdak, partner of Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC accepted a Design Citation of Merit for the restoration of the Trenton Bath House and Day Camp Pavilions in Trenton, New Jersey; Jim Wirick, principal of LPA accepted a Design Citation of Merit for the restoration of the Arboretum on the Christ Cathedral campus in Garden Grove, California; Ken Sena accepted a Design Citation of Merit for the restoration of the Stillman and Huvelle Houses in Litchfield, Connecticut. 
As the momentum continued into the presentation sessions on Friday and Saturday, attendees participated in seven sessions that covered a wide range of topics on local and national preservation issues facing modern architecture. Armed with in-house espressos, Anna Mod and Ben Koush focused on the significance of modernism in Texas and its role in Houston’s development and current preservation efforts. Concerning the present situation surrounding Houston’s Astrodome, Beth Weidower of the National Trust for Historic Preservation expounded upon their efforts to connect with local residents by transforming a 16' truck into the “Astrodome Experience” that then took to the highways and byways, bringing a piece of the dome for all ages to enjoy. It was interesting to learn that instead of emphasizing the architectural significance of the dome, these efforts sought to connect with people’s memories and emotions in relation to their experience with the world’s first major sports stadium in hopes of spurring community action towards saving the dome.
Image (right): Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation 
“The Modern Archive” session on Saturday brought everyone’s attention to the significant role in which archives are playing in preservation efforts. Janet Parks from Columbia University, William Whitaker from the University of Pennsylvania, and Christopher Alexander from the Getty Research Institute too part and presented on recent projects and exhibits responsible for garnering more public awareness and interest in modern architecture. William Whitaker described himself as an “activist archivist,” and took us through the process of discovering new documentation of Louis Kahn’s design of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York that significantly aided in the realization of the site. An added highlight included a photograph, of Louis Kahn giving a lecture in the very hall we were now all seated in, a further connection with the meaningful role the University of St. Thomas has played in both the past and today.
Image (above): Bill Whitaker of the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives
In addition to the wealth of knowledge provided in the sessions, attendees had the opportunity to participate in various tours that allowed for a tactile interaction with Houston’s significant modern architecture. The sights ranged from renowned locations such as the Rothko Chapel and the Menil Collection, to local gems like Brochsteins, a millwork company that has been in operation for more than 75 years, and who has partnered with many noteworthy architects and firms such as Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.
Image (right): Guests enjoying a tour of the Rothko Chapel and exteriors, (below): Sustainable catering (including locally sourced food) was provided by Pat Greer's Kitchen during the Friday and Saturday sessions 
The success of the symposium could not have been accomplished without the help of all of our sponsors, supporters, and volunteers who worked tirelessly to see to each and every detail. Docomomo US thanks Houston Mod, AIA Houston, Debner and Company, DSGN, Kuhl-Linscomb, Lantz Architects, Minnette Boesel Properties, Mitsubishi Electric, Susan Vaughan Foundation, SWCA, and Texas Architect for their sponsorship, as well as The First Church of Christ, Scientist, University of St. Thomas, the Menil Collection, Brochsteins, and the Alley Theater for their generously in hosting us. It is because of their efforts and the strong support of our chapters, members, and friends that the interest and efforts in the preservation of modern architecture continues to grow. Remember to save the date (June 3-7, 2015) for the third annual Docomomo US National Symposium taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jessica Smith is a first year Historic Preservation graduate student at Pratt Institute in New York and the current Docomomo US intern.