Modern at the Crossroads Sessions

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Building a Legacy: The First Chicago Landmarks

Examining how the first Commission on Chicago Landmarks came to be and the first buildings they chose is instrumental in understanding how the legacy of the Chicago School was viewed by the practitioners who inherited it and sought to establish the new legacy of what would later be called Midcentury Modernism. While these first designations are obviously important, a fair critique of the first Commission on Chicago Landmarks is that they recommended buildings of the Modernist narrative to the exclusion of those significant buildings that fell outside of it. 

By championing the buildings of the Chicago School and those that followed in the decades after, the first Commission on Chicago Landmarks asserted a new direction for historic preservation, and codified the narrative of Chicago’s contributions to Modernist architecture. 

Wives of Modernism 

In the mid-20th Century architects transformed the United States. Eero Saarinen, Harry B. Weese, Edward Larrabee Barnes, and patron, J. Irwin Miller, who birthed the modernist mecca, Columbus, Indiana, are well-known to architecture mavens; some are famous. These men’s life partners remain largely unkown. These "wives of Modernism" include Lily Saarinen, an accomplished sculptor, writer and teacher; Kitty Baldwin Weese, co-owner of the Baldwin-Kingrey store in Chicago, which introduced a generation of Midwesterners to modernism; Mary Barnes who worked for the ground-breaking Tecton firm in London, designed housing in WW II, took over Philip Johnson’s position at MoMA and then worked at the Barnes firm as its interior designer; and, finally, Xenia Miller, J. Irwin Miller’s wife, virtually unknown outside her hometown, who played a significant role in the design of the National Historic Landmark Miller House, served as architecture reviewer for Cummins’ Engine Company, and was in no small part responsible for Columbus, Indiana, becoming known as the “Athens of the Prairie.”

Chicago’s Southern Exposure (and other Stories) 

Lee Bey will discuss the often and unfairly ignored architectural heritage in Chicago. This presentation will show buildings by pioneering architects and structures that are essential in understanding the full spectrum of architectural innovation in this diverse city.

The 80s at 40: Challenges and Opportunities of Preserving the Postmodern Movement

What should preservation’s relationship be with the recent past, the present, or even the future? What is worth preservation, and who does preservation serve? These questions have guided the movement to preserve midcentury Modernism; evolved preservation’s traditional measures of value; and broadened the discipline’ impacts in recent years. Today, Preservationists face both new challenges and new opportunities in responding to the Postmodern movement, the first of which is understanding that preservation moves and changes with history.

Postmodernism is a diverse and ongoing movement that responds to rapid technological and social development. What is valuable about buildings from this era, how are they best cared for, and why? Through examples from our advocacy efforts at Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center, we will suggest some answers to these questions and share ways that Postmodernism is changing preservation theory and practice, and explore how preservation of the recent past requires a futurist position. 

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