Modern Architecture

Not Your Typical Architecture Patron

Posted on: September 29th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh 1 Comment

 

Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

I know as VP of Membership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation I shouldn't have favorites among our historic sites. And I love them all for different reasons. But I can't help but have a major soft spot in my heart for the Pope-Leighey House on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, Virginia. That's why the obits took me back a little this weekend when I read that Loren Pope had passed away, the man who commissioned the Usonian jewel of a house the National Trust for Historic Preservation rescued in the 1960s when it was slated to be demolished for Interstate 66 through suburban Virginia.

Now many of us think of Frank Lloyd Wright homes as iconic, groundbreaking, beautiful. But rarely are they ever thought of as "affordable." But that's just what Loren Pope's home was -- part of FFLW's vision for "Usonian" architecture -- utopian housing for the "common man." I've heard Mr. Pope tell his story about how as a young DC journalist he wrote FFLW and asked him to design him a home within his modest budget. And how, rather than scoff at him, Wright accepted the challenge and answered "Of course I am ready to give you a house." (Of course it came in over budget, but it was still a bargain.)

I've always loved the Pope-Leighey House -- the way it sits in nature, the way you immediately feel welcome and embraced when you enter this modest home. And I've often thought it said volumes about Frank Lloyd Wright. But until today, I never really thought much about what it said about Loren Pope. The next time I visit, I will think about Loren Pope and what he taught us through his bold act to commission this masterpiece.

Don't be afraid to be bold. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want -- you might just get it. Patronize the arts -- you don't have to pay a zillion dollars to bring beauty into your life. And don't let anyone tell you to settle for less because you are looking for "affordable" housing. We ALL deserve homes, neighborhoods and communities that enrich our lives, even if we're not Wall Street magnates with golden parachutes.

Thanks, Mr. Pope.

I'll leave the obituary to the Washington Post, but I will pass along that you can learn how to visit the Pope-Leighey House (the only FFLW home open to the public in the DC metro area, and yes (National Trust for Historic Preservation Members DO get free admission) by visiting our Pope-Leighey site on PreservationNation.

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.

Dallas Hotel Sparks Community Conversation

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh

 

Every morning we get an email called "Preservation in the News" that includes links to news stories that mention the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since by some act of God my schedule today is actually bereft of meetings, I actually took a few minutes to read the "feed" and came across this story in Unfair Park, the online blog of the Dallas Observer about the Statler Hilton Hotel, listed on this year's 11 Most Endangered list. The story talks about the city's dilemma with the abandoned hotel but what really struck me were the comments made on the story by Dallas residents (Dallas-ians? Dallans? Dallasites?). Reading the comments was a fascinating experience. At first, I felt like an eavesdropper, listening in on a married couple's argument at the next dinner table. Then, I felt like an urban planning grad student, getting into the past and possible future of a city I'd never visited.

As a preservationist, I wanted to only love the comments from people advocating to save and reuse the Statler and find nothing but buffoonery in those giving other opinions. But I couldn't -- because in almost every comment I found a love of Dallas and a common desire for finding the best future for their downtown and city. And I took encouragement from the fact that even those who weren't advocating preservation weren't accusing preservationists of "blocking progress" -- which I think shows how we're having some success convincing Americans that preservation isn't JUST about preserving the past, but also about helping to define our future.

I will share my favorite comment, even though I'm not sure john's a preservationist:

john k. says:

I only wish downtown were like it was in the 50's. Before the $4.00 mixed drinks. Before the old library closed. Before the Dalls Police Department quit enforcing the traffic laws and let the Constables do it. Before the Internet. Before the tunnel which put most of the daily pedestrians under neath the city. Before the hotels quet having named entertainment in their big rooms. Before, Jack Ruby and Oswald put Dallas on the map as a bad place. Before, when Dalls women needed some time before going to bed with a stranger. We all got to know each other better and loved being here as one of the best places in the United States to live.

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.

Flood Waters Have Receded at World-Famous Farnsworth House

Posted on: September 16th, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 2 Comments

 

After two days, staff and volunteers at Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois can finally reach it without a boat, albeit waders!

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

The flood waters started to recede yesterday morning, and unlike the flood of 1996 when the waters rose over 4’ into the house, it appears it was about 18” above the floor level this time. Our very ingenious low-tech way of raising the furniture on plastic milk crates worked and not one of them was displaced.

With that said, we are trying to evaluate the impact to the building and it will be some time before the full impact to the historic site and landscape can be fully understood. The existing primavera wood wardrobe does have water damage along the bottom which will be evaluated by a conservator, as do the other fixed-in-place wood panels. The famous primavera wood panels in the living room were demounted and safely stored on top of the “core”.

No glass was broken and the travertine floors on the interior seem only mildly dirty. We still don’t know the full impact to the mechanical and electrical systems but are hopeful since most of the equipment is located more than 18” above the floor. Several very large trees were literally uprooted and getting an arborist in to determine the safety of some of the other trees is a priority.

Because there is massive disaster recovery occurring all over the country right now, getting the insurance

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

adjusters to the house may take a week or more. In the mean time, our dedicated Director, Whitney French, and her staff and volunteers will be working with engineers, restoration recovery companies and conservators to make the most informed restoration decisions. As a result, the site is closed for tours for the remainder of 2008. While we understand that people who have planned trips in advance and purchased tickets are very disappointed that their tours have been cancelled, please understand that this is necessary, not only to facilitate the physical recovery of the building and landscape, but to ensure the life safety of our staff and visitors. Any questions, please feel free to email me at Barbara_campagna@nthp.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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

 

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state impacted by Ike and the other tropical storms. Our National Trust Historic Site and National Historic Landmark, Farnsworth House , designed by Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1951 is under water. Tropical Storm Lowell and now Ike are behind the rains that are still pummeling the Midwest. The flood waters continue to rise. It has been raining with flood waters rising since Friday night. Unlike the story many of you have heard about the flood last August at the house, the rains/floods have not stopped 6” below the entrance and the house now has at least 1 foot of water in it.

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Our director, Whitney French, and a host of volunteers from Landmarks Illinois , our partner and manager of the site, worked tirelessly last night to secure the house before it got dark. There is really little that can be done beyond lifting all the furniture on plastic milk crates (a system we devised last August when confronted with similar flooding) and turning the electricity off. The house was built in a hundred year flood plain, but if you read my previous posting on disaster planning – climate change has significantly impacted so many of our regions, including Plano Illinois. In the 60 years since the house was built, there have been 60 floods and now 7 hundred-year floods.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

There is about 1 foot of water INSIDE the house. All the furniture was raised but there is nothing further that can be done, and in fact the house is pretty close to being unreachable, as the entire community is underwater and it is a very dire situation. Three bridges between the town and the house are now out. Whitney is now fearful for her house and is working to protect her house and family. The rain is still coming down and is not showing any signs of letting up. We will get the insurance ball rolling tomorrow morning, but in the mean time we can just hope and pray that the rains stop and that the community and its citizens are safe. And send good wishes and karma to Whitney and her family.

The house and tours are closed for the foreseeable future. Access to the house currently is only by boat, and this is not safe. The ironic thing of course, is that with the house sitting on 5 foot stilts, it is incredibly evocative as this photo at the top of this posting shows - taken last year when the floods did stop before entering the house. We will keep everyone apprised and ask you to give Whitney and the staff of Landmarks Illinois the space and time they will need to recover.

Below is a video on YouTube that one of our intrepid volunteers, Denny Frantzen, took last night, before the floodwaters entered the house.

Updated to include newly-received photos from today's flooding.

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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

September 11th and the Preservation of Memory

Posted on: September 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter

 

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and while the National Trust for Historic Preservation works hard to preserve buildings, landscapes and neighborhoods, it is important to note that one of our fundamental goals is the preservation of memory through the use of these tangible remainders. Place and memory are concepts that oftentimes interact, with places acting as containers for the collective memories of a particular society or group. From these collective memories, a sense of identity can be derived. Without the buildings, objects, and places that preservationists are concerned with saving, we as a society run the risk of losing the physical pieces that help tie us to a collective identity--whether it be regional, national, or even global.

Two years ago—as we do every spring—the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One of these places was the World Trade Center’s Vesey Street Staircase. Known as the “Survivors’ Stairway,” due to the hundreds of people who used it to evacuate the towers during the attacks, the staircase was the last remaining above-ground feature of the World Trade Center, it was also in danger of being lost forever. Construction and development of a memorial site around the area where the Towers once stood threatened the stairs with demolition. This drew the attention of preservationists and everyday citizens alike to the question of how to most appropriately save this important reminder of the attacks and of those who were directly affected by them. Unquestionable for its historic value, the preservation of this 175 ton piece of concrete and steel is more important for the symbolic nature of what it represents. These were the stairs that people who survived the chaos of that morning used to exit the building, they were also used as the entrance for rescue workers to enter the building in order to help those still inside. In addition, the Survivors Stairway is a tangible piece of the September 11th attacks that itself survived, and holds the memory of all those who did not.

Saving the stairway took the efforts of numerous organizations combined with public support via letters to important decision-makers. Groups such as the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy all aided in the process and in March of this year, the stairway was moved out of the path of construction and to a temporary location. In July, the stairs were placed within the foundations of the Memorial where visitors will eventually be able to view them next to the functional staircase as they use them to descend into the museum and experience the site at bedrock level.

The memorial itself is estimated for completion in 2011, and is titled Reflecting Absence, a reference to its attempt to incite thinking on two buildings long-associated with the New York skyline which have been lost forever. In a September 16, 2001 New York Times article, Michael J. Lewis stated that:

"In their absence, the World Trade Center towers are more a monument than ever. The physical void they leave is itself a poignant memorial, an aching emptiness that is the architectural counterpart to human loss."

Besides rows of trees and two waterfall-fed pools representing the areas where the buildings once stood, the memorial will include the names of victims from both towers, the Pentagon and the four flights which crashed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. The Pentagon opened its memorial this morning, and one planned for the Pennsylvania crash site is due to be finished in 2011.

The addition of a tangible, lasting piece of the buildings that did make it through the attacks is interesting when compared to the overall World Trade Center memorial itself, which focuses upon absence, emptiness and the recollection of things that are missing. The inclusion of the appropriately titled Survivors Stairway reminds us that some things did survive the catastrophe—both those who made it out, along with the memories of those who did not—and that we are still here as a nation and global community, whether it be one year after the attack or seven.

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.