Modern Architecture

Jet Modern: Coming Up Next Week

Posted on: September 18th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 2 Comments

 

As Seth makes his way from Houston to Salt Lake City via JFK (because it's on the way?), I thought I'd share a couple of photos he took of Boston's City Hall -- one of the sites he'll be writing about next week. Enjoy the eye candy as you head into the weekend!

boston-city-hall-1

boston-city-hall-2

(By the way... It might not be proper to mention it here, since this is a blog and not Twitter, but modern fans in Salt Lake City can meet Seth at his "tweetup" on Monday night. Visit his Twitter page to get details on the time and location.)

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. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

Jet Modern: George Washington Didn't Sleep Here…

Posted on: September 17th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

But maybe he would have wanted to...

Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.

You wouldn’t think that New Canaan, a former farming town now a commute away from New York City, would house one of the largest collections of mid-century modern buildings in the country.

Beginning in the late 1940s, many of America’s most famous modernist architects settled in New Canaan, Connecticut. According Gwen North Reiss, my tour guide for one of the most famous houses here, Philip Johnson's Glass House, the architects were drawn to the area by Eliot Noyes who had moved with his family to then-rural Connecticut because it was affordable and had good schools. Soon after, though, others followed, inspired by Noyes’ leadership to build show houses, buildings that would be “calling cards” and help to generate new commissions. Many of the architects came from Harvard’s architecture school; Philip Johnson was one of the Harvard group. Selecting a site overlooking a hollow, he built the Glass House in 1949, placing it among the colonial cottages and houses already in New Canaan.

Philip Johnson's Glass House: Exterior view of the gatehouse known as "The Monsta." (Photo: Carol Highsmith)

Philip Johnson's Glass House: Exterior view of the gatehouse known as "The Monsta." (Photo: Carol Highsmith)

In the 1980s when Johnson gave the Glass House, outbuildings, and land to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, he did so because he felt that, absent some protection, the structure would be torn down by a community that objected to modernist building forms.

I was curious to see what Christy MacLear, executive director of the Glass House, has done to help increase the visibility of the house and the way the property participates in life in New Canaan. The Glass House certainly is an active player in both the local community and beyond. To do this, the staff used traditional methods to increase the visibility of the property, share the context in which the house developed, and provide information to visitor.

Using a survey of surrounding structures, the staff turned what could have otherwise been a common tack into an interactive resource, posting the results online and in print and widening the scope to include communities beyond Connecticut. Building awareness of the property and modernism off this survey was a key in the plan to make Philip Johnson’s Glass House less about the house itself and more about the creating a center for modernism in a larger context.

... 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.

Jet Modern: Columbus Circle + Pennsylvania Station

Posted on: September 15th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Why wasn’t 2 Columbus Circle the next Penn Station? It’s not the first time a building in New York has attracted the widespread attention of preservationists.

2 Columbus Circle, c. 1964

2 Columbus Circle, c. 1964

In 1963 when Pennsylvania Station (NY) was razed, the outcry helped to shift federal cultural heritage laws toward explicitly and systematically including structures. The destruction of Penn Station also helped bring preservation from a local/localized effort to a nationally coordinated one.

When plans to alter 2 Columbus Circle (Edward Durell Stone, 1964) were drawn up, though many rallied around the structure, there was no widespread groundswell of support resulting in either a major shift in preservation policy nor general attitudes towards the preservation of mid-century buildings. To be clear, a number of individuals and groups (including the National Trust for Historic Preservation) advocated on behalf of preserving the building, or, at the very least, having the New York Landmarks Commission have a hearing on the matter. I do not know the full history of the Commission’s decision not to hear the case for preserving 2 Columbus Circle.

The point, though, is that while the loss of Penn Station engendered broad support for preservation protections, the major loss of the façade of 2 Columbus Circle and the renovations to the interior did not. At the time Penn Station was destroyed, it was about 50 years old. When Columbus Circle was altered, it was also about 50. With two buildings of approximately the same age, how is it that one became a touchstone for the creation of a protected status for buildings and the other was heavily altered?

2 Columbus Circle in 2009.

2 Columbus Circle in 2009.

The removal of the original Penn Station building from the landscape of Manhattan was driven in large part by shifting modes of transportation, a corresponding declining use of rail, and increasing property values (air rights) which put a premium on space, making generous waiting areas and separate arrival and departure areas ripe for re-purposing for revenue generation. This very shift shows a social progression documented in a structure – from train to jet to car. The station took on a symbolic role as a constructed space with meaning within a community as the building became a historical marker of the rail age. Its form (appearance), shaped by grand rail travel, documented a moment in history.

Are there some ways that 2 Columbus Circle could have been re-set as a similar marker of history, a history this time not of the early 1900s, but of the mid-1900s?

To help understand some of the obstacles faced by those in favor of preserving 2 Columbus Circle, and some successful strategies for community engagement in and with modern structures, I headed to New Canaan, CT to visit Philip Johnson’s Glass House, a modernist residence set among colonial Connecticut farmhouses.

Next stop:  New Canaan.

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. Follow Seth's JetModern adventures on Twitter @JetModern.

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: 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.

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.

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.