Modern Architecture

JetModern: Fifty Years

Posted on: September 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

The first building built in SLC after the Depression.

The first building built in SLC after the Depression.

Like many of the cities I have visited, Salt Lake City saw a large break in new construction from the depression until the 1950s. Beginning then, though, construction restarted and mid-century modern buildings appeared scattered throughout town. Kirk Huffaker, of the Utah Heritage Foundation brought to my attention the first building built after the depression, which is pictured here. This building really helped bring Salt Lake City and Utah out of both an economic and emotional slump. Completed in 1955, it was a technological achievement for both Utah and the United States. It was also a stylistic gamble, as Huffaker suggested, with which to inaugurate new construction in Salt Lake, especially when viewed against structures from the 1920s.

Bound up in this newness, Salt Lake showed that it was willing to adopt a new aesthetic and to leave the depression behind. As a symbol of the break from the difficult years of the Great Depression, this building has become a powerful reminder of Salt Lake overcoming difficulty and beginning to participate in economic life on a national scale. Many consider this building to be as revolutionary as the United Nations Headquarters (1950) in Manhattan.

Is this building significant? Does, as the Trust often asks, this place matter?

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Mod at Home in Houston

Posted on: September 24th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

A mid-century ranch in Houston with owner-designed front porch light in shape of Sputnik.

A mid-century ranch in Houston with owner-designed front porch light in shape of Sputnik.

I had a unique opportunity while in Houston to visit with a number of members and supporters of Houston Mod. While I saw mostly commercial and institutional buildings in Chicago, Houston was focused on residential architecture. While I will write more on the individual houses I saw, there are three larger issues here.

First, in my discussions with Houston Mod, I learned that Houston does not have zoning. That’s right, no zoning. Residential next to commercial? Sure! As long as the deed restrictions allow it. Are there other municipalities without zoning?

Second, in an unusual outreach effort, Houston Modders often hold happy hours (called “Mod of the Month”) in mid-century homes listed for sale. In addition to providing good exposure for the seller, these gatherings also provide a nice opportunity to see a variety of residential structures as well as to get together with like-minded folk.

Third, I spoke with Robert Searcy, a real estate agent and one of a growing number of agents who are increasingly focusing on mid-century properties. I was curious to learn from him how he pitches a mid-century modern house to prospective buyers. We spoke mostly about a specific neighborhood in Houston, Glenbrook Valley, but the idea of a targeted pitch for mid-century structures goes beyond a neighborhood. Searcy said that he tries to market properties as having a distinct architectural style that is interesting and has unusual features. Not the repetitive cookie cutter newer tract housing, mid-century modern residential properties, he says, have the ability to be outstanding houses even if they do not have the finest architectural pedigree. Solid design provides a good base on which to build as the new homeowners customize their own Houston mod. An added bonus is that established neighborhoods tend to be in locations that are closer to Houston, while new developments are a bit further out of town.

Next stop: Salt Lake City

Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Jet Modern: Chicago, Vol. II

Posted on: September 23rd, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Graceland Cemetery - view from the entrance looking towards Mies' grave (not visible).

Graceland Cemetery - view from the entrance looking towards Mies' grave (not visible).

On my second day in Chicago, in addition to taking a walking tour of the city and visiting the cemetery where Mies is buried, I spent a great deal of time going through the city with Grahm Balkany. While I took too many pictures to post from the road, I have tried to include some from major Chicago landmarks like the Illinois Institute of Technology campus and the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, among others. Aside from exploring the presence of Mies et al. in Chicago, some of the just great buildings in the city, and a disturbing tend in Chicago to raze mid-century public housing, we also met to discuss the Gropius-designed Michael Reese Hospital.

The hospital complex presents an unusual opportunity to save a campus-sized body of work by a renowned architect. More than the preservation opportunity, there is a clear potential for reuse, especially as the city of Chicago now owns the property and is attempting to raze the hospital and many surrounding buildings in preparation for its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The replacement structures would displace a significant number of people, reroute roads, alter green space, and miss an important opportunity to harness the embodied energy in the hospital complex buildings. Shockingly, the proposed new construction would be athlete dormitories, facilities that could easily be retro fit into the hospital buildings (at least one of which was a dormitory).

3550 Lakeshore Drive, exterior

3550 Lakeshore Drive, exterior

There are three sides to this issue: the city, who would like to remove the complex; Landmark Illinois, who propose a partial reuse of the most significant structures; and Grahm Balkany, who suggests that keeping the campus whole is the best route.

Is this a case of overactive preservation or a chance to really be “green” and consider reusing a large campus for a similar purpose?

Next stop: Houston (for real).

Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Chicago, Vol. I

Posted on: September 22nd, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Portland had the problem of trying to widen how it read its architectural history through newer buildings. Chicago is a city in which you can’t read the history of the place but through such structures.

Calder sculpture at Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago.

Alexander Calder sculpture at Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago.

Such a commitment to architecture, and, in particular, modern architecture is not new in Chicago, according to Vince Michael, Director of the Historic Preservation Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In fact, he said, preservation in Chicago was almost exclusively focused on modernist architecture until the 1970s. In 1989, even, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (Landmarks Illinois) had drawn up a proposed list of modernist structures to be preserved in Chicago. With so many great names of modernism having practiced in Chicago (Mies Van Der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Bertrand Goldberg, SOM, Harry Weese, among countless others), this city does have a solid modernist heritage and is largely defined by that legacy.

Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Given this tradition, how is preservation of mid-century resources done differently in Chicago? It’s not all that different, actually. Having this conversation with a professor, though, did suggest an interesting issue. Michael suggested that there is a generation gap and that, while today’s architectural historians and preservationists “get” the why of preservation, the general public still hasn’t. Keeping in mind, of course, that this is still Chicago, a city of modernism. According to Michael, even here, there are some “curvy” modern structures—like Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital—that people have a hard time swallowing.

In general, though, widening the acceptance of mid-century built heritage to more than a single form requires two steps I’ve heard before. “People need to have associations,” Michael said. Any way that you can help connect a structure to a person brings that element of cultural history as expressed through the built environment to his or her attention. Fostering those connections through programming and interactions with a specific built space coupled with activities that bring sensible discussions about preservation to forefront are key to gaining acceptance. There are, of course, “good buildings” and “bad buildings.” Those that catch your eye and hold your interest, as Michael put it, are the good ones. But they are good not because they are Brutalist, Georgian, or Gothic. Engaging communities with structures is not about getting acceptance of a style, but a building as an expression of that style.

What are some successful strategies for community engagement that have worked here?

Carr Memorial Chapel, Illinois Institute of Technology (1952); this is Mies' only religious structure.

Carr Memorial Chapel, Illinois Institute of Technology (1952); this is Mies' only religious structure.

To answer this question, I spoke with Eiliesh Tuffy, Director of Preservation Programs at Landmarks Illinois. In general, she said that Landmarks Illinois has had some success in targeting city and urban planners as, from a regulatory standing, they make the local decisions. More than this, though, for mid-century modern programs and buildings, she echoed Vince Michael’s observation that a generation gap exists. Landmarks Illinois is working to balance the interests of its members which are sometimes divided between the “traditional” modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright with other architects and more recent buildings. Further, advocacy and education programs for these newer buildings reach a younger and broader audience through the use of social media. Do different structures have different constituencies?

Next stop: Houston (almost).

Seth Tinkham is self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Mid-Century Meets 21st Century at Salt Lake City Tweetup

Posted on: September 22nd, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Editor's note: This post jumps a little bit out of sequence for JetModern, but we wanted to share Seth's impressions from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's first-ever Tweetup (an in-person meeting of Twitter users, organized via tweets).

In partnership with Utah Heritage Foundation, JetModern and the National Trust organized a Tweetup in Salt Lake City.

We tweetedup (twetup?) at the Twilite Lounge, a self-described dive bar which, I gather, has become significantly less dive-like now that Utah public law prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants. I say this because every SL modder who came was surprised at how different the bar looks now that you don’t have to part clouds of smoke to move around. Added bonus to conversation about modernism: the period over-sized wooden chess pieces mounted on the wall are now visible.

Beyond wall art, we also talked about reusing mid-century commercial office space. Finding a new tenant requires their by-in on not just the “look” of the building and whatever meaning that image might have for them, but also to the layout of mid-century office space. A large, open floor plan for a secretarial pool would not be too difficult to repurpose; in some structures I have seen, though, there have been actual typing rooms to muffle the whack of typewriters. What to do with a 4' by 6' room with carpet-lined walls?

Also, since the idea of a Tweetup is new to me, I wonder how preservation organizations can and should use new media as outreach tools.

And now, in a nod to modern life safety equipment, the fire alarm is going off in my hotel. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that future JetModern postings will be fire-roasted.

When not fleeing for his life or on an airplane, Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.