It's a very chilly Monday here in sunny Los Angeles. On my morning run, I passed by a bank with a time and temperature display. It read a freezing 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). No joke. Be that at as it may, we're going to go back to the topic of late-period modern. The plight of the Houston Astrodome has put the spotlight on modern movement buildings from the sixties through eighties. Some these buildings have become icons of their period, while others have fallen in to a state of neglect or are just plain unloved. The big question is are they worth preserving? In his article for Metropolis Magazine, Fred A. Bernstein states, "As the gap between the rich and middle class widens, the challenge to save midcentury modern buildings becomes more vexing." Thus are they worth preserving?
|The Stahl House (Case Study House #22)|
Pasadena, Ca Pierre Koenig
The reason mid-century modern architect flourished in the fifties and sixties was their mission-create houses for average folks. This mission also applied to schools, public libraries, medical facilities, and many other commercial buildings that served them. The post-World War II society made modernism accessible to the masses, which is kind of what modernism was about to begin with. As the middle class continues to shrink, the architecture that gave full form is in peril. As the income gap grows, any building that doesn't accommodate the "one percent" is a potential date for demolition.
|The Feldman House, 1953|
Beverly Hills, Ca Gregory Ain
One case in point is the Feldman House by Gregory Ain. This lovely gem of mid-century modernism is a comfortable 2,600 square feet located in Beverly Hills and can be yours for a bargain $4.7 million. According to the listing agent, there are two types of potential buyers: those who want to restore but can't afford to buy it and those who can afford to buy it but want to replace it with something else. At the time of the original publication of this article, the agent is optimist that that she found a buyer who wants to preserve it. Think good thoughts. Of course, popular media doesn't help the cause either when it splashes gaudy garish houses of of the rich and (in)famous. One example was Architectural Digest's recent photo spread of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen's 14,000 square-foot acid washed limestone pied-de-terre, which the magazine referred, somewhat ironically if you ask me, as "eco-conscious." Every year the Conservancy hosts a party at a mid-century house to demonstrate just how livable modernism can be. This year's benefit was at the Brody House by A. Quincy Jones.
|Prentice Women's Hospital, 1975|
Chicago, Illinois Bertrand Goldberg
|Atrium of the Bell Laboratories, 1962|
Holmdel, New Jersey Eero Saarinen
Currently, the Bell Laboratories building is the hand of Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development, which has the option to by the complex. The likelihood of finding a suitable buyer is very grim. Unless a tech-company such as Apple abandons its Silicon Valley campus, the Bell Labs campus many never be a one-tenant building again. For the past six years, Mr. Zucker has worked with the community to find an alternative to demolition. Mr. Zucker has enlisted architect Alexander Gorlin whose job it'll be not only to restore the vast public spaces but also oversee the other firms designing spaces for the tenants. This may sound like a win for preservation which would not have happened had Mr. Zucker not agreed to sell 237 acres of Bell Labs property to residential developer Toll Brothers. That deal would not have happened had the demand for high-end housing not increased. The point here, is preservation doesn't occur in a vacuum.
|Orange County Government Center, 1967|
Goshen, New York Paul Rudolph
There's no question that words and images go along way in saving buildings. The days of preservationists chaining themselves to buildings has given way to publishing books, blogs, and the social media. For example, when Christopher Rawlins, a practicing architect, was looking for work when the Recession started in 2008, he chose to write about Horace Gifford. Horace Gifford was responsible for a number of modernist homes in Fire Island Pines. The late Mr. Gifford's architectural reputation soared with the publication of Mr. Rawlins book Fire Island Modernist (Metropolis Books). Recently, architect Charles Renfro, Diller Scorfido+Renfro, bought a Gifford-designed home in the Pines, boding well for preservation. Truthfully, architects rarely have the money to buy important buildings and not all architects are preservationists. There are numerous exceptions to this point but it is a hopeful sign when an architect does buy an older building, lesser known building with the intention of rehabilitating.
Journalists employ the power of the keyboard for the sake of the cause. Writer Steven Price hopes that his forthcoming book, Over the Top: The Architectural History of Trousdale Estates, Beverly Hill, will do for the exclusive community known for its sprawling mid-century houses, what Mr. Rawlins' book did for Horace Gifford's Fire Island. The book will discuss some the failure as well as the success, including the purchase of of a 1956 Harold Levitt -designed house by actors Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Never underestimate the power of celebrity. If a celebrity thinks an older building is important, then it must important. Diane Keaton is the best-known celebrity preservationist who currently is the Los Angeles Conservancy's Vice-President of Education and Community Relations and sits on the Board of Trustees of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ms. DeGeneres is an exception to the norm. Financially she is part of the one-percent but she's also part of a minority that knows a good thing when it sees it. Will those of who love our modern out shout the the skeptics?
|St. Louis County Library: Lewis and Clark Branch, 1963|
For some modernist buildings, fifty years old is the equivalent of infancy. Paul Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building on the campus of Yale University just turned fifty this year and because of its connection to the venerable institution, it'll be around for years to come. Unfortunately the same can't be said for lesser known buildings. Thus it's best to pick your battles. Sentiment can't be your guiding force in preservation. While everyone has specific memories associated with places, sometimes you need to be more pragmatic. In a recession, new development plans tend to get put on hold and rehabilitating older buildings merit serious consideration. No one hopes for another recession but maybe, just maybe spending some of that money on an older building is a better idea, please.
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