In the trenches, preservation can feel cyclical—historic buildings are defended and saved, others destroyed, and public appreciation grows for once-loathed styles (looking at you, brutalism). This year’s brilliant adaptive reuse projects are worthy of their own list, but we chose to highlight the epic sagas—new landmarks, victories against out-of-scale development, priceless buildings pulverized, and the controversies and cliffhangers that will shape preservation debates through next year and beyond. (See the rest of our Year in Review 2016 articles here.)
Marcel Breuer takes the East Coast by storm
Brutalism has a healthy second life online, but in real life concrete buildings often seem a hair away from the wrecking ball. This year, though, fate was pretty kind to one of the masters of the genre.
Although Marcel Breuer has been dead for more than three decades, the opening of the Met Breuer, and two other controversies surrounding his buildings, spurred a revival of interest in his imposing yet playful work. In Reston, Virginia, a Breuer building was threatened with demolition, then saved, then demolished—a heartbreaking tale. Further south, an Atlanta library designed by the architect was saved after a public outcry. While the Reston building is gone for good, see what Graves, Koolhaas, and Piano would’ve done to the former Whitney—it is possible to adapt brutalist buildings without compromising their essential character.
The City of Miami declared in November it will borrow up to $45 million to preserve this stadium, an open-air venue for boat races on Biscayne Bay designed by architect Hilario Candela and completed in 1963. The cantilevered concrete structure was severely damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and left to decay. Restoration of the original structure, as well as the construction of a new 35,000-square-foot maritime center adjacent to the stadium, will begin when funding is secured.
Lautner’s Sheats Goldstein Residence has been gifted to LACMA
James Goldstein has donated his landmark house, located on Angelo View Drive, Los Angeles, and designed by prolific West Coast architect John Lautner to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). In addition, the dwelling’ss contents and surrounding estate have also been included in the donation.
Johnson Fain takes on Philip Johnson’s Crystal Cathedral
Johnson Fain is renovating Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s iconic Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, California. Work on the building, which was completed in 1980 as part of a larger religious campus that contains notable structures by Richard Meier and Partners as well as Richard Neutra, began this year.
Preservation across five boroughs
While new city laws will make the preservation of controversial or hard-to-love buildings that much harder, this year the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) cleared its roster of almost 100 items that have been on its calendar for years, sometimes decades. As a result, the city has 27 new landmarks—including the Pepsi-Cola sign—to love. Modern architecture hearts were broken, though, when the LPC declined to landmark Alvar Aalto’s conference rooms and lecture hall at 809 UN Plaza.
Through rezoning, the city is trying to spur the development of more Class A office space in Midtown East, a push that encourages taller buildings but threatens many older ones. In that neighborhood, the commission decided that the Pershing Square Building and the Graybar Building, as well as the Shelton Hotel Building, the Yale Club of New York City, and seven smaller structures, all between East 39th to East 57th streets, from Fifth to Second avenues, were worthy of landmark status.
Doing the Wright Thing
This year the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation revealed its master plan to preserve Taliesin West, the architect’s home and school in the Arizona desert. Harboe Architects drafted the 740-page plan, which outlines preservation strategies for a structure that Wright and his disciples modified many times over the years. The plan presents an approach to conserving deteriorating materials, preserving existing spaces, restoring viewscapes lost to new additions and landscaping, and supporting Taliesin West as a tourist site, education center, and foundation headquarters.
The Ambassador Grill and Lounge
After a huge push from preservation advocacy groups HDC, docomomo, and fans of postmodern architecture, the LPC is considering Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo Associate’s glittery—but threatened—UN Hotel lobby and Ambassador Grill & Lounge for landmark status. At a November hearing, local luminaries like Robert A.M. Stern, Belmont Freeman, and Alexandra Lange, as well as a bi-coastal docomomo contingent spoke in favor of landmarking. The item would be the first postmodern interior to be designated a New York City landmark, and the “youngest” after Roche and Dinkeloo’s Ford Foundation (1963-68) which has interior and exterior landmark status.
Meanwhile, the Waldorf-Astoria’s mega-glamorous art deco interiors are one step closer to landmark protection.
The McKeldin Fountain is no more
In Baltimore, contractors have begun demolishing a symbol of the city’s renaissance and the mayor who sparked it, the McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets. The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore has led the effort to tear down the fountain, named after former Mayor Theodore McKeldin, and replace it with a landscaped plaza that members argue would be a more welcoming gateway to the city.
The fountain and adjacent plaza were designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas Todd, a founding partner of WRT, as part of the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor renewal area in the early 1980s. An example of Brutalist architecture made with a series of concrete prisms and walkways, the fountain is owned by the city and listed in the city’s official inventory of public art. It is dedicated to the former mayor who first proposed in 1963 the idea of rejuvenating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.
Time is running out for the modernist legacy of William Pereira
Pereira is most famous for his iconic 1972 Transamerica Building, an 853-foot tall square-based pyramid tower in downtown San Francisco, and for the Googie-styled Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, a flying saucer-shaped observation floor supported by four-footed, sinuous frame. These projects are among Pereira’s diverse commissions that number more than 400 and include the masterplans for the Orange County suburb of Irvine, and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) campus. The city of Irvine’s urban plan landed the architect on the cover of Time magazine where Pereira was depicted in front of the suburb’s plan.
Those aspects of his legacy are more or less doing fine—there are serious and ongoing questions about incongruous changes being made to both the Irvine master plan and to the UCI campus —but several of Pereira’s other Los Angeles works are currently more deeply imperiled.
The challenge of preserving architectural heritage in Philadelphia
This year Philadelphia—home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Rittenhouse Square—can boast of another historic attribute: It is the first and only city in the United States to be named a World Heritage City, one of 266 around the globe.
Despite its recent designation, Philadelphia has had a decidedly uneven record and reputation for historic preservation. Architects who come to the AIA convention will find Center City relatively intact. But other areas of the city are losing historically and architecturally significant buildings at a steady rate, largely due to development pressures and lack of landmark protection.
Saving the Columbus Occupational Health Association
Columbus, Indiana is a small Midwestern city filled with buildings designed by a who’s who of American architecture including Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Harry Weese, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Robert Venturi, Robert Stern, and many others.
Now, its 1973 health center, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, (HHPA) is for sale. Despite its wealth of modern architecture and a forthcoming biennale, the town has no formal preservation laws, so a sale could mean the destruction or thoughtless modification of this important building.
Yale’s Beinecke Library is now open
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library reopened its iconic building in September following a 16-month renovation led by Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects with Newman Architects of New Haven.
Completed in 1963, Beinecke is considered Gordon Bunshaft’s masterpiece. One of the largest libraries in the world dedicated to rare books, its exterior grid of granite and Vermont marble panels are one of the most recognizable designs of that era and remains both inspiring and inimitable. The renovations restored the architectural landmark to its illuminated glory by refurbishing the six-story glass stack tower, preserving the sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi, upgrading the library’s climate-control system, and expanding classroom space.
Developer wants to put glass cubes on landmarked SOM plaza
Fosun International, the Shanghai-based owner of Manhattan’s 28 Liberty Street (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), has commissioned SOM to revamp their own classic International Style building and 2.5-acre plaza design. Among its planned changes to the site, Fosun received LPC approval to build three glass pavilions on the plaza that will serve as entrances to below-ground retail.
To do this, Fosun needs to make changes to the site’s deed, a move that many preservationists say will disrupt the integrity of Gordon Bunshaft’s original vision.
Both the International Style building and plaza were designated a New York City landmark in 2009. SOM is updating the tower’s office space and plaza and reintroducing original details lost in prior renovations while transforming approximately 290,000 square feet (four floors) of basement space into retail. (AN first covered the design proposal, and ensuing controversy, in July.)
With new rules regarding deed changes now in effect, it remains to be seen how—or if—these glass pavilions will be built.
Stop the Pop
“After the rollout of #StopThePop campaign last June, what actually popped to the surface was less a discussion about preserving architectural landmarks, and more a social media–facilitated debate regarding what constitutes good taste.”