Tour Day 2019 celebrates the diversity of modernism


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US


Tour Day
Image details

For as much as is known about the contributions of those considered to be the major architects of the Modern Movement such as Johnson, Breuer, Wright and Kahn, the contributions of minority and female architects to our built heritage is vast and yet largely unknown and underrepresented. The purpose of our 2019 thematic focus, "the diversity of modernism," was to cast a light on the significance of minority and female architects, landscape architects, designers, and engineers, and their works. Looking back at this year's Tour Day events, from discovering the legacy of Detroit's black architects to the (not so well-behaved) women who made history in Portland, OR, it is clear that celebrating the diversity of the Modern Movement is critical to expanding our current knowledge and understanding of this important piece of our history. 

Many thanks to our chapters and partners who embraced this year's diversity theme.



HOWARD MODERN: The Legacy of the African American University's Architects and Architecture

Docomomo US/DC

Docomomo DC and Howard University’s Department of Architecture hosted a tour of modern architecture on Howard's main campus in Washington, DC. Howard University is a historically black university with a long-standing commitment to architectural education and practice. The tour featured modern buildings designed by renowned African American architects including Hilyard Robinson and Paul R. Williams and explored the role of the modern movement in the campus’ development.

Professor Hazel Edwards launched the tour with an overview of campus history. Edwards is Chair of the Department of Architecture and co-author of The Long Walk: The Placemaking Legacy of Howard University.  Professor and architect Bradford Grant led a tour of Howard's modern architecture. Highlights included the Just Biology Building (1956) and the Ira Aldridge Theater (1961), both designed by Robinson and Williams. Campus Architect Derrek Lucien Niec-Williams concluded the tour by reflecting on how Howard’s modern buildings are being managed today and their relationship to its evolving campus design. 


The Shape of Things to Come: Reclaiming the Legacy of Detroit's Black Architects

Docomomo US/Michigan

For Tour Day 2019, the Docomomo MI chapter hosted an event, "The Shape of Things to Come: Reclaiming the Legacy of Detroit's Black Architects, with a focus on a living Detroit legend: Nathan Johnson. Johnson opened his own architectural firm, Nathan Johnson and Associates, in 1956, at a time when black architects were a rarity. He went on -- along with fellow African American architects Roger Margerum, Howard Sims and Harold Varner -- to design churches, schools, public buildings and private residences in nearly every district of Detroit. While Johnson worked in a variety of architectural styles, from midcentury modern to Googie, his work always featured boldly modern structural elements. 

The program included visits to two historic churches, designed at midcentury by Johnson: Bethel AME (1974) and Second Baptist (addition built in 1968). The Bethel AME featured a program, intended to serve several goals: 1)to educate the public about a virtually unknown chapter of Detroit's architectural legacy, 2)to advocate for the preservation of the structures designed by Johnson and his fellow architectural pioneers, and 3)to inspire a new generation of African American architects, which still form only 2% of registered architects nationally. The program included visits to two churches, designed at midcentury by Johnson: Bethel AME (1974) and Second Baptist (addition built in 1968).

The Bethel AME site featured a tour and a lecture on Johnson's work by architect Saundra Little (one of the .4% of black women architects nationally) and architectural designer Karen Burton, whose organization Noir Design Parti won a Knight Foundation Challenge grant to study minority architects in Detroit. The tour of the Second Baptist site focused both on the church's architecture and on its historic role as a stop on the Underground Railroad. 

Best of all, architect Nathan Johnson (now in his 90s!) came to part I of our event at the Bethel AME site, allowing church officials such as Pastor David Jarrett (for the first time) and attendees -- including church members, architecture enthusiasts and students -- to meet a living Detroit legend. We hope that the event will have lasting effects, relating both to the new relationships developed by Docomomo MI with Mr. Johnson and Noir Design Parti (which includes a videotaped interview with Mr. Johnson) and to the impact on the student attendees, who may shape Detroit's architectural future. 


Modernism in San Francisco's Chinatown 

Docomomo US/Northern California 

Docomomo US/NoCa led a tour of Chinatown to highlight the contributions of architects, designers, and artists that have shaped Chinatown in the latter part of the past century.

The tour started in the heart of Chinatown at Portsmouth Square. Looking south from Portsmouth Square is the Clement Chen Jr.-designed Chinatown Hilton and Chinese Cultural Center, arguably one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in San Francisco. The tour included the Buddha’s Universal Church designed by Chinese American architect Worley K. Wong, and the China Trade Center, a six-story building that housed the Empress of China, a lavishly decorated “View Restaurant” located at the top of the building. In its heyday the Empress of China was THE restaurant in Chinatown and was frequently mentioned in the articles of Herb Caen.

The tour also included a stop at the corner of Grant and Sacramento. Although the Bargain Bazaar looks like a typical Chinatown curio shop, for a brief moment in time during the late 1940s Jade Snow Wong sat in this shop window at a potter’s wheel and crafted elegant Song Dynasty-inspired ceramic ware. Jade Snow Wong was born in Chinatown and was a well-renowned potter and enamelist in addition to being a published author who chronicled her childhood growing up in Chinatown in the best-selling novel, 5th Chinese Daughter.

The tour ended at the Ping Yuen Public Housing Project. This low income housing project was designed by John Savage Bolles and is an interesting combination of modern apartment blocks, ornamented with flourishes of Chinese-inspired architectural features.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is a great place to explore the work of architects and designers of Chinese descent because it is not only the birthplace of San Francisco, but is a place where modern architecture exists if you know where to look.


The Schweikher House Tour 2019

Schweikher House Preservation Trust

The sold-out Docomomo US Tour Day event on Saturday October 12, 2019 hosted by the Schweikher House Preservation Trust was a great success. The history of the house and its former inhabitants was shared with 75 visitors!

One of the stories shared that touched on the theme of diversity was that of the home’s final resident, Martyl Langsdorf. Although she was not an architect, she converted modernist architect Paul Schweikher’s original drafting studio into her art studio and created art in it for sixty years. Martyl was a successful female artist, wife, mother, and thoughtful caretaker to the modernist home & studio she lived and worked in until her death in 2013, she was ninety-six years old.

The Schweikher House is full of artwork by female artists, including Langsdorf herself, Ruth Duckworth, and her daughter Sandie, who created a number of the home’s textile pieces. Martyl is best known for being the designer behind the Doomsday Clock, a symbol for the potential devastation of nuclear weapons and the apocalypse. The idea of using a clock for the cover was meant to signify urgency, with the hands counting down to midnight. The Doomsday Clock was drawn for the June 1947 cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Martyl designed the sketch of the clock on the back of a copy of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, with the idea that the background color would change every month. The design of the clock ran on the cover of the Bulletin, for decades, and can still be found somewhere on the cover. Martyl drew end pieces and illustrations for Bulletin articles from 1947 until the 1970s. Martyl had nearly 100 solo exhibitions in her lifetime and her work is represented in many major galleries and museums worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

UNDER / REPRESENTED: A Conversation about Diversity in Modernism

Docomomo US/Southern California

For Docomomo US Tour Day on October 12, 2019, the Southern California Chapter hosted a special tour and panel discussion at the Founder's Church of Religious Science at 3281 W. 6th Street in Los Angeles, California. The focus of the event was the life and work of Gin Wong, Norma Sklarek, Robert Kennard, and Paul R. Williams—four architects who not only transformed the field of architecture through their bold modernist designs, but also overcame significant institutional barriers throughout their distinguished careers. In an intimate panel discussion, attendees heard personal stories of these significant architects recounted by relatives, associates, and admirers in a 1960 church designed by Paul R. Williams. Urban designer, architect, and preservationist, Luis Hoyos, moderated the discussion, which included Janna Wong, writer, professor, and daughter of Gin Wong; Margot Siegel, architect and former partner at Siegel Sklarek Diamond; Gail Kennard, architect and daughter of Robert Kennard; and Janna Ireland, artist and photographer, who has made Paul R. Williams’ designs the subject of her recent work. The panel discussion was preceded by self-guided tours of the church and a small reception. 


Yamasaki in Detroit

Preservation Detroit

Preservation Detroit celebrated Docomomo US Tour Day 2019 with five buildings designed by Minoru Yamasaki for two educational institutions in the city's Cultural Center.

Tour guide Kathleen Marcaccio began with an overview of Yamasaki's childhood, education, and career, including how he came to settle in Detroit in the mid-1940s when he was named head of design for Smith, Hinchman and Grylls (known today as The Smith Group) after a decade working in New York City, his travels in Japan and elsewhere in the 1950s, and how he developed his humanist philosophy towards his designs. Tour guests were encouraged to look for design elements that reflected the concepts of Serenity, Surprise, and Delight incorporated by Yamasaki.

Our first stop was the Yamasaki Building, the first building of the then-Center for Creative Studies' new campus in 1957, where we looked at the Japanese influence on this building that originally housed artist studios but is now CCS administration offices.

The tour continued at the Wayne State University campus with an introduction to Yamasaki's master plan for the University, including its transition from a neighborhood to a walkable campus. At the Prentis Building and DeRoy Auditorium complex (1962-1964), we saw how the buildings are connected below ground as well as the two DeRoy auditoriums. There was much discussion about the drained "moat" and whether it could be restored. At the College of Education Building (1960), we saw firsthand how the interplay of light and shadow are seen as one walks through the colonnade.  The last stop was Yamasaki's masterpiece, the McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1957) and its newly restored reflecting pool.

The tour wrapped with mention of Yamasaki's other works in the Midwest completed in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the Yamasaki Legacy Project at Wayne State University.


Basher | Foster House Tour

Docomomo US/Western Washington
by Eugenia Woo

Under gray skies (but no rain!), more than 85 tour participants and volunteers enjoyed viewing the Basher/Foster residence in Lake Forest Park, a community located northeast of Seattle. Unlike many post-war, mid-century planned developments, Lake Forest Park has had a long and gradual history. The area, near Lake Washington, was once a winter settlement site for Native Americans and was logged by pioneers following the Homestead Act. Early 20th century development of the area sought to integrate a residential development within the existing landscape, with limited commercial development.

Built for original owners Philip and Ingaletta Basher, the property is an excellent example of a remarkably intact mid-century modern house located in a unique suburb planned around a woodland setting. Aptly named “The Glass House” by the Bashers, the home was designed by Glenn Mattson of the firm Warren and Mattson, and completed in 1960.

The current homeowners have been outstanding stewards of the property since 2002. At times, this event felt like a reunion of past Docomomo US/WEWA homeowners who opened up their mid-century modern houses for tours—about half a dozen attended the event. They form a special “club” and we were thrilled to see their continuing enthusiasm and support of Docomomo! 


Modernism Week Fall Preview 2019

Palm Springs Modernism Week

Modernism Week Fall Preview was held in Palm Springs, California from October 17-20 at various locations in the Coachella Valley.  More than 40 events over the weekend provided 12,000+ attendees (a new record in 2019) with the opportunity to celebrate midcentury modern architecture and design. Guests participated in events and activities that are new and unique to Fall Preview, as well as popular events that will be offered during the annual 11-day Modernism Week festival in February 2020.

Highlights of the October Fall Preview included a wide range of tours and events including neighborhood walking and driving tours, Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus tours and Charles Phoenix-led bus tours, Sunnylands Historic Home and Gardens, the Modernism Show and Sale-Fall Edition, a special dedication for architect Hugh M. Kaptur, and evening cocktail parties at architecturally significant homes. Programs occurred throughout the Palm Springs region including tours of the Lautner Compound in Desert Hot Springs, and a special reception celebrating the recent Landmark Designation by Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation of The Fillmore Crank-Beverly Garland House, 1961, designed by midcentury modern architect, William F. Cody.

“Fall Preview is a wonderful opportunity for our attendees to experience new and exciting events offered exclusively during the four-day October event and also to get a taste of what our 11-day festival in February will offer,” said Lisa Vossler Smith, Executive Director of Modernism Week. “Fall Preview offers an exciting array of unique tours, lectures, educational events, iconic architecture and parties. We invite all visitors to Palm Springs and local residents alike to come see what Modernism Week is all about.”

John Chase FAIA, Texas Southern University and the Third Ward

Houston Mod

On 13 October 2019, as part of Docomomo US Tour Day, Houston Mod conducted a successful guided, walking tour through the campus of Texas Southern University. The tour featured several campus buildings by architect John S. Chase, FAIA. Mr. Chase was the first African-American to receive a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin, and was a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects. Following the walking tour, maps were provided for a self-guided driving tour of other prominent buildings through-out the Third Ward, including those designed by Mr. Chase.