The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Today, Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is reporting on one of yesterday’s educational sessions.
We developed an Education Session at the National Preservation Conference specifically to address the intersection between the National Trust’s Sustainability Initiative and its Modernism + Recent Past Initiative. Held on Wednesday morning in Tulsa, “Rehab Solutions for Aging Moderns”, featured case studies on some of the most iconic modern heritage in America. William Dupont, AIA, San Antonio Conservation Society professor and the former Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust discussed the philosophical approaches developed to guide the interpretation and preservation work at two of the National Trust’s modern sites – Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois and Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. David Fixler, FAIA, LEED AP, design & preservation principal at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architects & Engineers, discussed intriguing approaches to rehabbing the curtain wall for the IUOE headquarters in Washington, DC and some innovative lighting techniques at Hilles Library at Harvard. And Raymond Pepi, president of New York City-based Building Conservation Associates (BCA), discussed the complex details of rehabilitating the Saarinen-designed curtain wall of buildings at GM’s testing center in Warren, Michigan.
Background on the Initiatives – Why They Matter
The goal of the Trust’s Modernism + Recent Past Initiative is to unite emerging popular interest in preserving the recent past with proper preservation practices through the promotion of continued use and sensitive rehabilitation of these structures. And our Sustainability Initiative promotes the reuse of buildings, the reinvestment in older and historic buildings, the greening of the existing building stock and the respect of historic integrity as the means to addressing climate change. The major intersection between these two initiatives is one of the greatest challenges we face – according to a 2003 Department of Energy report, 55% of America’s commercial building stock was built between 1945 and 1990. And the most inefficient buildings are those built during this same period. Given that almost 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the US come from the operations and construction of buildings, the only way we are going to make a demonstrable impact to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through the greening of our modern heritage – most of which are not stellar icons like those discussed in this session.
Some Design Ideas That Might Just Help
Glass Houses of the National Trust
Bill Dupont set the stage for the later case studies by discussing the conflicts inherent in developing a conservation philosophy for buildings from the modern era:
Are they different from our traditional buildings and do they deserve a more nuanced approach? A resounding yes -- from both the previous and current Graham Gund Architects!
Are these icons of 20th century International Style architecture treated differently from other types of historic buildings? Yes, they don’t age like other buildings. They don’t look good with patina. Yet patina proves that they were used, meaning people lived in these homes.
Do they have special problems other buildings do not have? Assemblies, details and use of materials tend to be unproven, at least at the time they were built. These structures were created almost in the manner of a prototype; in the automotive world they use the term concept car, and the manufacturer hand builds one to see how it will look and run. Plus, these experimental materials were often hazardous – like plate glass which is a serious life safety hazard.
How flexible are Modernist Buildings for rehabilitation to serve new uses? Many are not so flexible, the designs are quite tight and thus do not do well with even slight visual changes. There is no place to conceal improvements. Change of use is problematic and thus a threat to survival of this architectural type.
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