Concrete and Modernism: Technology and Conservation Dossier


Docomomo US Staff


Newsletter, Technology, Preservation, Concrete, docomomo
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Of all the building materials associated with modern architecture, concrete is the oldest and most ubiquitous material worldwide and technologically both simple and complicated as evidenced by its use in developed and developing countries alike. Its material conservation continues to present us with philosophical, aesthetic and technical challenges. The presentations at a recent Docomomo International Specialist Committee on Technology (ISC-Technology) workshop highlighted a number of these material conservation issues.


In 2015, in the context of its third annual symposium entitled, “Modernism on the Prairie,” Docomomo US together with Docomomo International ISC-Technology hosted a workshop with a series of lectures on concrete, including its technology and approaches for conservation. The lectures and presentations took place on the second and third days of the symposium respectively at Rapson Hall of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and at the magnificent (concrete) St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota designed by Marcel Breuer.

The program for the ISC Technology was divided in two days and included a total of seven presentations by both international and US specialists. On the first day of the workshop, the program was dedicated to Schokbeton, the Dutch precast system, which during the three decades immediately after WWII found application worldwide including the US. The lecture by Lucas van Zuijlen and Ronald Stenvert appropriately titled “Schokbeton: Zwijndrecht” dealt with the history of its development at its facility in Zwijndrecht in the Netherlands. Jack Pyburn in a paper entitled “Schokbeton in the USA,” explored the relationship between precast concrete and design including the application of the Schokbeton system in the US by well-known American architects like Marcel Breuer, John Johansen and Philip Johnson.


On the second day of the program, the keynote presentation entitled “Modern Religious Icons: Le Corbusier’s Religious Heritage” was given by Pierre-Antoine Gatier. This presentation discussed the design and the conservation of Le Corbusier’s concrete churches and other buildings presented against the backdrop of Breuer’s concrete St. John’s Abbey. The setting and presentation provided a broad technical and philosophical context for the conservation of significant religious and secular concrete buildings.


The final part of the program addressed conservation issues related to specific case study projects. Jadwiga Urbanik, a member of ISC-Technology from Poland, presented  “Renovation of Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland”, a World Heritage site since 2006. This magnificent reinforced concrete building designed by Max Berg between 1911 and 1913, just before World War I, has been the center of considerable concrete conservation efforts. Fernando Diniz Moreira and Fernando Herbster Pinto examined the restoration and conservation efforts for the headquarters of the Companhia Energetica de Pernambuco (CELPE) in Brazil. Moreria and Pinto focused this case study on the philosophical and practical conservation issues to be considered and choices to be made when addressing heritage buildings with exposed concrete. Their paper was entitled “Restoration Procedures on Surfaces of Exposed Concrete and Values of Modern Architecture: The Case of Headquarters CELPE Building – Energy Company of Pernambuco”.


The two final presentations were entitled: “Concrete Conservation of Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Yale University” by Paul Gaudette, David Patterson, and Deborah Slaton, and “Durability Assessments of Modern Concrete Icons: Predicting Performance for a Pro-Active Repair Approach” by Gina Crevello. The Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges project was an example of a careful and conscientious conservation of the exposed concrete work as envisioned by Eero Saarinen, the original architect. The paper by Gina Crevello presented a systematic approach to investigating and predicting the lifespan of modern concrete structures as an aid towards conservation and repair.


In this Dossier 14, four of the presented papers are included. As noted in the table of contents, three are available digitally through their listed URLs.


Docomomo US wishes to acknowledge the remarkable papers and presentations of the ISC-Technology members. These are important contributions towards understanding the challenges and opportunities facing us in the conservation of this quintessential modernist material: concrete.


The publication of Dossier 14 is in part funded by the generous support of the Historic Preservation Education Foundation.


Theodore Prudon

President, Docomomo US


Kyle Normandin

Chair, ISC Technology, Docomomo International



Historic Preservation Education Foundation

For thirty years HPEF has been a leading provider of historic preservation knowledge for architectural conservators and architects, tradespeople, building owners, students, and all those who care for and care about historic buildings.

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