Modern Architecture

JetModern: The Beginning

Posted on: September 14th, 2009 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

 

Author Seth Tinkham at Philip Johnson's Glass House.

Author Seth Tinkham at Philip Johnson's Glass House.

Just as the jet age redefined travel by making fast long-distance travel a reality through the use of new technology and materials, architecture of this period was equally innovative, using unusual forms, materials, and construction technology. As a reflection of a moment in time, architecture of the jet age is part of our history—our cultural history. A Paul Rudolph designed structure is just as much a part of the historical built landscape as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a colonial revival, or a Victorian townhouse.

In spite of this, much of the building stock in this country remains threatened by demolition or unsympathetic renovations which either edit out structures of the jet age or rework them through contemporary alterations, such as re-skinning, which cover up period features.

JetModern is a month-long series of blog posts about architecture of the jet age and how individuals and groups across the country are working to preserve and defend mid-century modern structures. Using the All-You-Can-Jet pass from jetBlue, JetModern will catalog the status of these structures in eleven cities between September 8 and October 3, 2009. Upcoming cities are: New York City; New Canaan, CT; Boston, MA; Portland, ME; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; Las Vegas, NV; and Los Angeles, CA.

Next stop: New York.

Learn more:

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

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Online Survey of Modern Homes Makes the Case for Significance

Posted on: August 27th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Christy MacLear

Last month we launched our modern survey database - which you can check out at www.preservationnation.org/modernhomesurvey.

The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. (Photo: Eirick Johnson)

The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. (Photo: Eirik Johnson)

Does a digital survey repository sound compelling? Perhaps not, but when I tell you the story of this town and the travails of modern preservation in the Northeast, maybe you will think so.

When I started my job as the executive director of the Philip Johnson Glass House in 2006, one of my clear memories was a judge allowing the teardown of a Paul Rudolph home in Westport, CT, citing a "lack of criteria for significance" as rationale for the ruling. This lack of recognition was a problem -- the house had lingered without a buyer and preservationists didn't know of its existence until the teardown threat. No survey of the modern buildings in the area had been done, and there was greater real estate value for "neo-historic" versus modern in the area.

Modernism is relatively new to the field of preservation. Don't get me wrong; there have been individual advocates and grassroots efforts, but it is new to the priority list of old-guard preservationists. Modernism is seen in many ways as the evil that swept through cities and tore down historic structures , so to welcome modernist assets into our preservation portfolio is a bitter pill to some. For this particular area of the Northeast -- Fairfield County, CT, where traditional historic styles are emulated over and over even in new construction -- modern homes are only recently receiving their long-overdue aesthetic and market value.

The Glass House, however, was a part of a movement. It was built in 1949, early in a spree of young modern architects coming to New Canaan to try new concepts -- Marcel Breuer, Edward Durrell-Stone, Philip Johnson, Eliott Noyes, John Johansen, even the master Frank Lloyd Wright. By the end of the 1960s there were more than a hundred modern homes. Today, there are 91 and we have documented a loss of 26.

During the past decade, DoCoMoMo had worked with the New Canaan Historical Society to begin the process of surveying and documenting this dense cluster of modern experiments surrounded by historic homes from the 1700s and 1800s. The data from this survey work lived in the archives of the New Canaan Historical Society, where individuals could come by and look at the pictures and survey cards.

As we at the Glass House began looking at ways to serve a broader mission in the field of modern preservation, we saw this survey as an opportunity to address the awareness of these assets, develop tools which might be helpful to other communities, and even -- in the spirit of modernism -- add some technological advances to the field of preservation. We formed a partnership with six parties to take the original survey data and create a rich, fully-illustrated narrative of the history of the town, each home, and every architect. This resulted in an book which places the movement in New Canaan into broader national context and provides a rich photographic examination of the significance of the remaining 91 homes.

Our next step was to place this data online, taking the long-standing tradition of historic preservation survey work and putting it into a rich, compelling website. Modern preservation should leverage modern tools, and there is no better tool than the Internet to create ubiquitous knowledge of what our country's modern assets are. And, in addition to the 91 homes photographed and 31 architects profiled, the site also offers a page of web tools for other communities to use in conducting similar surveys.

The vision? That every community with a cluster of moderns will add to this. Our Modernism + Recent Past program is working to expand the site so other communities share their significant structures online -- search Neutra and see the homes he designed from CA to NY, or search a city and see how how many of their assets are still standing and which ones might have been lost.

I'm delighted to introduce this published survey (which can be purchased using this form) as well as this digital repository, and I look forward to the day when a judge cites that our most significant modern homes cannot be torn down because of the awareness of our assets.

Compelling? Yes.

Christy MacLear is the executive director of the Philip Johnson Glass House, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

LA's Once-Endangered Ennis House Stabilized, on the Market

Posted on: July 31st, 2009 by Sarah Heffern

 

Yesterday morning as I walked into work, I ran into a colleague and, after exchanging the usual pleasantries, she told me about a great story she'd been listening to on NPR on her way into the office. It was about the Ennis House, an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright creation in Los Angeles that had fallen into such disrepair that it was included on our 11 Most Endangered list in 2005. After several years -- and nearly 6.4 million dollars of stabilization and rehabilitation work by the Ennis House Foundation, with our assistance and that of the LA Conservancy and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy -- the house is now on the market.

NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates shares the story of a house that starred in films, fell on hard times, and is now looking for its Hollywood ending.

Sarah Heffern is the content manager for PreservationNation.org.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

Preserving our Present

Posted on: July 30th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Priya Chhaya

First there was the voice that everyone recognized, an activist actress, and the pop star who defied gravity with a moonwalk . Then we lost a newscaster whom everyone believed in, a jazz genius and a choreographer of the sublime and avant garde.

Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, George Russell, Merce Cunningham. Individually these deaths seem fleeting—the loss of someone who defined their fields and made a place in their particular corners of the world. Together they represent an America defined by television, movies and pop culture—of innovation and radical creativity; an America whose history cannot be documented solely by the written word or the preservation of a single building (although conversations are already ongoing about making Neverland the next Graceland) but through various sources of multi media. While the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the preservation field as a whole have been thinking about America at mid-century and the associated challenges, I find myself asking myself the age old question—how will we be remembered? How can we preserve a culture that is quickly moving towards the intangible? While the homes, and structures of our past will always be important, and rightly so, how do we preserve the other “stuff” of our history to ensure a clearer vision of our own age? Is that even possible?

I know that there are some great projects out there that explore how we can do this. Some examples include the collection websites surrounding 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina (for example: the Center for History and New Media’s 9/11 Digital Archive, the Library of Congress, and Hurricane Digital Memory Bank) but I would love to see more.

Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Farnsworth House to be Managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Posted on: July 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Statement from Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Farnsworth House, Plano, IL

The Farnsworth House, Plano, IL

On January 1, 2010, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will assume the management of the Farnsworth House, an international icon of Modern architecture located in Plano, Illinois. While the National Trust has owned the site for the past six years, Landmarks Illinois has managed and operated it. The National Trust is very proud of the Farnsworth House and the work that both organizations have put into the site, and we are determined to do right by it. We expect a very smooth transition for the site, including no change in visiting opportunities, as the National Trust and Landmarks Illinois have been terrific partners for many years, well before our collaboration on the Farnsworth House. Finally, we are delighted that Whitney French will continue as the Site Director by joining our staff and providing us with her experience and knowledge of this unique place.

We look forward to this opportunity because it will strengthen our newly created Modernism + Recent Past program, which focuses on the significant architecture of the mid-20th century, as well as those places of social, economic, and cultural importance. Furthermore, it allows even closer collaboration with the Farnsworth House's "sister" property, the Philip Johnson Glass House (another Modernist site owned and operated by the National Trust). Philip Johnson was inspired in his design of the Glass House by plans Mies van der Rohe developed for the Farnsworth House.

Read the full statement on PreservationNation.org.

Learn 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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.