All posts in Preservation

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Tearing down a Mies-terpiece

Demolition work begins on NRHP-listed modernist building in Kansas City
Interior demolition work is underway at a Mies van der Rohe–inspired building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The modernist mid-rise structure, formerly home to the city’s Board of Education and central library, will be fully razed in the coming weeks although the fate of the building’s colorful, beloved mosaic murals by prominent local artist, the late Arthur Kraft, remains murky. Completed in 1960 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, the building was designed by Edward W. Tanner, an architect who left an indelible mark on Kansas City throughout the 20th century. Although another architect devised the site master plan, Tanner was intimately involved with the design of Country Club Plaza, a sprawling, water feature-studded shopping center—the first in the world to accommodate car-commandeering shoppers—opened by developer J.C. Nichols in 1923. An architectural fantasia leaning heavily on Moorish-inspired design, Country Club Plaza and its collection of Seville, Spain-inspired buildings is one of Kansas City’s most significant (and decidedly peculiar) architectural offerings. Tanner, who eventually established his own firm, also designed thousands of private homes in a variety of styles and numerous landmark buildings around town, most of them, unlike his work at Country Club Plaza, markedly modernist. The old Board of Education building, per a statement released by Historic Kansas City and shared by local NBC affiliate KSHB, is “an outstanding example of the Modern Movement: International Style—specifically the influence of Miesian design.” In 2019, the same year that the building was acquired by local developer Copaken Brooks after a controversial plan to redevelop the site as a hotel property was ultimately yanked by Drury Hotels due to squabbles over the incentive plan offered by the city, Historic KC placed the building on its annual Most Endangered List. As Historic KC noted: “Good public policy should not incentivize the demolition of historic buildings. Another low dollar hotel will add to the already saturated hotel market; threatening existing healthy historic and approved yet/unbuilt new hotels. Further, even if you don’t have affection for the modern architecture of the KC Board of ED Building, Drury’s proposal was an affront to the monumental civic mall plan across the street, that includes the three iconic art deco designed buildings: City Hall, Municipal Court and County Courthouse.” The building also landed placed on the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation’s 2018 Places in Peril list. As reported by Kevin Collison for the Flatland blog, the building has been vacant for four years and has become a “magnet for vagrants and vandalism” according to Jon Copaken. In addition to serving as headquarters to the Kansas City School District for decades, the building was also the longtime home to Kansas City’s downtown public library branch before it moved into a new, highly Instagrammable location at the old First National Bank building in 2004. As for the circus-themed glass tile mosaic mural by Kraft, a renowned muralist as well as sculptor and expressionist painter, Copaken has pledged that it won’t be reduced to rubble although nothing, at this point, is definite. “I have spent more time on the murals than the demolition itself,” he explained to Flatland. “We want to preserve them and have them open for public view.” He added, however: “The mosaics are affixed to a concrete wall. Cutting that out, removing it and preserving it in one piece is really expensive. We continue to work with groups, but we don’t have anything worked out with someone who can pay to get it down.” Concludes the statement from Historic KC, penned by its executive director, Lisa Briscoe:
Recent changes to the federal and Missouri historic tax credit programs contributed to thwart several renovation proposals. The historic structure would be demolished in connection with a proposal at 13th and Grand, which thus far remains a proposal. Historic Kansas City recognizes the need for Downtown to evolve and adapt to a changing set of office, retail, and economic circumstances. Circumstances may be changing dramatically even at the present moment. We are not adverse to development but want it to proceed in a manner that reflects the historic and scenic nature of the Civic Mall plan, that includes the three iconic art deco designed buildings, City Hall, Municipal Court and County Courthouse. One of Downtown’s strongest cultural attributes. Whatever the future holds for this site, any infill development proposal must be compatible with the Civic Mall plan. Further the colorful historic glass mosaic tile murals should be preserved in consultation with the Kansas City Municipal Art Commission.
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Rain, Rain Go Away

The Farnsworth House is (once again) besieged by floodwaters
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, certainly the most flood-prone site in the National Trust for Preservation’s storied portfolio, has once again found itself threatened following catastrophic rains that ravaged much of the Midwest during the first half of this week. (In Chicago, this May has been one for the books in terms of rainfall.) Considering the glass-encased, one-room abode’s location on a 60-acre site in the Fox River floodplain near the Illinois city of Plano, precariously rising water is certainly nothing new for the nearly 70-year-old modernist masterpiece. Major flooding events, some causing considerable damage to the structure, have occurred in 1954, 1996, 1997, and in 2008 when Hurricane Ike prompted the National Trust to suspend public tours for several months while the building underwent extensive repairs. Floodwater at the Farnsworth House, which like most National Trust properties is currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, appears to have deluged the lower terrace. But unlike some past flood events, the water has mercifully stayed below the stilt-hoisted floor level and is continuing to recede. Flood mitigation tactics were also deployed to limit the damage. More rain, however, is forecasted for the coming days. Katherine Malone-France, chief preservationist with the National Trust, detailed the current situation—and what needs to be done moving forward—in a statement provided to AN:
“The Farnsworth House is a Modernist icon that Mies van der Rohe designed to be inseparable from its idyllic natural setting. Van der Rohe recognized that the site was in a flood plain, and that is why it was built on stilts, however ongoing development as well as recent and increasingly more severe storms within the Fox River watershed have created an serious, ongoing to threat the structure. In the last few days the high water mark reached within 18 inches of the finished floor of Farnsworth House but are receding for now. National Trust staff have implemented their standard flood response protocols, including turning off the power, lifting furniture, raising and protecting the curtains among other protocols and they will continue to monitor the situation. This comes just as the house had been returned to the original interior design created by Edith Farnsworth herself as a part of Edith Farnsworth Reconsidered exhibit focused on the extraordinary woman who commissioned the house. The pandemic has significantly delayed plans for public viewing of the installation within the Farnsworth House but people around the world can engage with this digitally on the Farnsworth House’s social media channels. “The lower deck of the house has been completely flooded and our conservators estimate $500,000 will be needed to repair to steel perimeter channels, interstitial concrete, waterproofing, drains and the travertine pavers. The National Trust has begun a project to repair the lower deck, but we can only continue if additional funding sustains these efforts.”
To be clear, the initiative to repair the lower deck of the Farnsworth House was instigated prior to this week’s flooding events as part of a multi-year sequence of “projects that are crucial to the stewardship of the site and ensure it endures for future generations.” This so-called Lower Terrace Restoration Project, which underwent feasibility and investigative tests in 2019 and early this year, “will be a complex and expensive project which aligns with the National Trust’s other long-term plans for the site,” explained the organization, which welcomes over 11,000 visitors to the private weekend refuge-turned-museum annually. The National Trust acquired the Farnsworth House in 2003 after Peter Palumbo, the home’s previous longtime owner who purchased the retreat from Edith Farnsworth in 1972, put it on the market and its fate took a turn for ominous. As mentioned by Malone-France, visitors can still virtually tour and learn more about the Farnsworth House through the National Trust’s digital platforms; an array of historic sites managed by or affiliated with the National Trust are receiving special attention in May as part of Virtual Preservation Month.
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The Great Cultural Fire of 2020

Coronavirus may close Shakespeare’s Globe theater permanently
Shakespeare’s Globe theater (or theatre, if you’re on-site in London), is a faithful recreation of the same historic venue that the bard’s company originally performed in from 1599 to 1613—but whereas the original building was felled by fire, the 1997 replica may be killed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The new Globe theater is a faithful recreation of the original (including the city’s only thatched roof) but with a few modern upgrades, including sprinklers and concrete for the seating area. Although it’s a popular attraction, the theater, like many other cultural institutions around the world, is now threatened with insolvency after closing in March to head off coronavirus transmission. In a letter released May 18, U.K. Member of Parliament Julian Knight, writing to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, sounded the alarm over the Globe theater’s possible collapse. Arguing for an increase in government help for at-risk artists and organizations and noting the continued impact social distancing measures would have on occupancy, and thus future revenue, Knight wrote:
“The threat to the UK’s cultural landscape is stark, from freelance producers who are ‘falling through the cracks’ of the Government’s support for the self-employed and Arts Council England’s emergency funding, to world-renowned institutions such as Shakespeare’s Globe warning of insolvency and closure. Moreover, the loss of cultural institutions will be felt hardest by those places and communities with the lowest levels of cultural provision from the outset.”
While the Arts Council England (a government body tasked with promoting the arts) was allocated nearly $200 million in relief funds to distribute, the Globe theater is ineligible to receive any of those funds due to its status as a charity. Instead, it must rely on ticket sales, donations, and events fees to raise money rather than government funding. In response to Knight’s plea, the theater tweeted its thanks and noted that they are “proudly a part of the U.K.’s national identity and cultural landscape, and our survival as an organisation largely depends on help from the Government to get us through this lockdown period.” The organization also stated that they are in a very precarious financial position, but that the streaming versions of their filmed performances, available on the theater’s website, had already accrued nearly two million views, demonstrating the public’s continued demand for their content.
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In Brief

Protests erupt over historic theater demolition and BIG’s replacement in Albanian capital
Fueled by existing civil unrest, heated protests involving clashes with the police—and at least one high-profile arrest—have erupted in the Albanian capital of Tirana after officials proceeded with the planned demolition of the National Theatre of Albania (Teatri Kombëtar). The in-disrepair but culturally revered landmark was completed in 1939 during the Italian occupation. The ongoing protests, which initially involved “a few thousand people” according to the Associated Press, were held near the Interior Ministry, and in defiance of the country’s lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Added to European conservation group Europa Nostra’s 7 Most Endangered list this past March, the building’s fate has been murky since 2018 when authorities announced in 2018 that the historic theater would be razed and replaced with a new, roughly $33 million theater and cultural complex designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Despite ongoing efforts from a large faction of artists, activists, intellectuals, conservationists, governmental opposition leaders and supporters, and others to preserve and restore the building, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, a former mayor of Tirana, ordered the demolition to proceed so that work on the BIG project could commence. A definite start date, however, has not been established due to funding conflicts. Per Reuters, demolition work at the site started on May 17 after authorities began “dragging away two dozen actors and activists protecting the site, drawing a large crowd chanting ‘shame’ and ‘dictatorship.’”  As of earlier this week, the protests have reportedly yielded 37 arrests. One police officer was hospitalized following a skirmish with activists, who claim that authorities have been employing “unjustified violence and verbal abuse” to control the crowds. As reported by Reuters, authorities have disputed any claims of aggressive action on the part of the police. “This is no longer about the theatre’s demolition but the downfall of democracy and freedom. We are in a dictatorship,” Reuters reported one member of the Alliance to Protect the Theatre, the organization leading the charge against the demolition, as saying in a Facebook video. Now that the theater has been demolished, protestors are calling for current mayor Erion Veliaj to resign and for the Albanian people to start a civil disobedience campaign until Rama’s center-left government is overthrown, according to the Associated Press. The opposition party, the center-right Democratic Party, has referred to the demolition as a “macabre crime and flagrant violation of the constitution and the law.”
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Bullseye on Brutalism

San Jose preservationists move to protect Brutalist César Pelli building from demolition
Before his name became synonymous with very tall skyscrapers, the late Argentine architect César Pelli completed a handful of projects in the 1960s and ’70s—all with Gruen Associates–that were decidedly, but not exclusively, squat: A (now demolished) shopping mall in Columbus, Indiana; an (endangered) former research facility built in Clarksburg, Maryland, for a Congress-established satellite communications company, and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, which is long and large but not all that lanky. Completed in 1973, two years before West Hollywood's “Blue Whale” beached itself on Melrose Avenue, Pelli completed another “low” project: a Brutalist Bay Area bank building. An imposing structure with faintly sphinx-like attributes, the old Bank of California building at 1170 Park Avenue in downtown San Jose is now threatened with demolition as part of a redevelopment scheme headed by Jay Paul Company. Pelli’s building, along with several neighboring structures, would be razed to make way for 3.79 million square feet of commercial office space, housed in a cluster of shiny glass towers. The crusade to save the concrete building is now being taken up by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission. Acting at the behest of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, the commission voted unanimously last week to initiate the process of recommending to San Jose City Council that Pelli’s work be declared a historic landmark. As the Mercury News elaborated, if council members ultimately decide to approve the historic designation, the Bank of California building would not be immune to being razed in the future. But landmark status would up the stakes and place added pressure on officials to save the structure, which, in addition to being home to several banks, had most recently been used as a county courthouse. It currently sits unoccupied. Preservationists believe that with some alternations to Jay Paul’s proposed Cityview Plaza redevelopment plan, the new office towers and the nearly 50-year-old Pelli building can co-exist in harmony. True to its looks, the building has been an easy target of public disdain over the years. Though, it has beenfited from the recent trend of appreciating and, more importantly, preserving buildings built in the same wrecking ball-attracting, monolithic style popularized in the late 1950s throughout the 1960s. Per the Mercury News, the structure is the “best example” of Brutalist architecture in San Jose and, according to the city’s historic preservation officer Juliet Arroyo, is “significant because of its quality of design, attention to design detail, materials, and construction method.” ”It’s an asset to downtown San Jose,” Ben Leech, executive director of the city’s Preservation Action Council, told local columnist Sal Pizarro. “What we can do is learn from the past, and we know that every period of architecture goes through a phase where it’s overlooked before it’s appreciated. Buildings like this will be the future gems of the city of San Jose.” To draw attention to the building’s endangered status, the council recently launched the “Save the Sphinx” campaign, which refers to the proposed demolition of the “historic, iconic building both shortsighted and unnecessary” and urges residents to show their support of the building’s preservation by signing a petition directed at city officials. The Northern California chapter of Docomomo and architectural critic and historian Alan Hess are among those who have written to the powers-that-be to urge them to safeguard the building. Despite this growing faction of those rallying to save Pelli’s blocky edifice, others believe that its time has come including original project developer, Lew Wolff. He wrote to city officials in March, dismissing any notion that the building had historical importance while claiming, as reported by the Mercury News, that it was borne from a design created not by Pelli but by an intern. “I like the building, but please don’t insult César or (Sidney) Brisker by over-identifying the build with those fine gentlemen,” he wrote in his email. “The real credit, if anyone is interested, should go to the intern who completed the plans.” Unless the timetable shifts, the redevelopment plan that could ultimately do away with the Pelli building and the proposed historic landmark designation that could help save it are expected to be both considered at the same city council meeting this summer.
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Backing the Block

MoMA urges Norwegian government to preserve Picasso mural-clad Oslo office building
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has joined the growing effort to save an unoccupied yet culturally significant Oslo governmental office block that was close to the site of a car bombing carried out as part of a larger domestic terror attack on July 22, 2011, from being demolished under the order of Norwegian officials. Dubbed Y-Block, the endangered building in question is a late-1960s Brutalist structure designed by Erling Viksjø that boasts two rare, monumental murals by Pablo Picasso sandblasted into its concrete walls. The murals, The Fisherman and The Seagull, were executed by frequent Picasso collaborator the Norwegian artist Carl Nesja, and are located on the hulking building’s exterior facade and in its lobby, respectively. As reported by The Art Newspaper, MoMA’s Martino Stierli, chief curator of architecture and design, and Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture, recently submitted an impassioned letter to Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, and the country’s minister for the environment, Sveinung Rotevatn, urging them to “reconsider the approved decision for the demolition.” Norwegian newspaper VG subsequently shared the letter. Unlike the neighboring H-Block building, which containers a trio of smaller interior Picasso murals and has been partially reopened in the years following the attack, Y-Block has remained fully shuttered since 2011 and will be razed per a plan to dramatically revamp the Regjeringskvartalet district. The plan was first announced in 2013 to significant consternation. (As part of the scheme, H-Block, unlike Y-Block, would be fully refurbished.) Both modernist buildings were on the verge of being granted protected landmark status by the Directorate of Cultural Heritage before the attack. The interior and exterior murals gracing Y-Block would, of course, be carefully removed and relocated to another area in the new governmental district as promised by officials. However, the decision to demolish the building and move the famed artwork—one that officials say is being made due to security concerns and the high costs of maintaining a large office building that’s been redundant for nearly a decade—has prompted widespread outrage among preservationists, architects, public officials, and ordinary citizens alike who believe it should remain standing as a sign of Norwegian resilience. Many opponents of government’s plan are of the opinion that demolishing the building would finalize the agenda of the right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik. The urgency to save the building, which did not suffer any major structural damaged during the bombing, has increased in recent weeks as workers begin site prep work ahead of the planned demolition, which hasn’t yet been assigned a date and, up until now, has been continuously postponed since 2014. And as the clock ticks, the choir of opposing voices has only grown louder with a 2019 petition to save Y-Block garnering 47,000 signatures. MoMA’s involvement has helped to amply these voices in recent days. “We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the approved demolition of the Y-block governmental building,” reportedly reads the letter from MoMA. “The demolition of the building complex would not only constitute a significant loss of Norwegian architectural heritage, but it would also render any attempt to salvage or reposition Picasso’s site-specific murals elsewhere unfortunate.” Earlier this year, European conservation organization Europa Nostra added Y-Block on the shortlist for the 2020 edition of its “7 Most Endangered” program.
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Leave These Stones Unturned

Planned removal of stone sculpture at National Geographic campus continues to generate outrage
When the National Geographic Society revealed its plans to overhaul the main entrance plaza to its designed Washington, D.C. campus last summer, MARABAR, an evocative sculptural installation consisting of five massive mahogany boulders flanking a long and narrow reflecting pool, was conspicuously absent from design renderings of the revamped landscape. Completed by lauded New York-based artist Elyn Zimmerman in 1984, MARABAR has long served as the dramatic focal point for National Geographic’s existing modernist public plaza—a heavily trafficked space designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in collaboration with landscape architect James Urban—although it would appear that it will not serve a similar—or any—function within Hickock Cole’s 21st-century vision for the pavilion, which is currently under review by the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Nonprofit advocacy group The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) first sounded the alarm regarding MARABAR’s MIA status in March, swiftly adding the site to its Landslide program of under-threat landscapes of cultural significance. The TCLF also implored the concerned public to contact D.C.’s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), urging them to “revisit the plans for the new pavilion in order to take a full account of its effect on the sculpture.” In the weeks since MARABAR was granted with “endangered” status by TCLF, the pressure campaign to preserve the sculpture at its current site has gained notable traction. On May 8, the New York Times published a feature on the growing D.C. preservation controversy, noting that over two dozen letters of opposition from artists, architects, critics, museums leaders, and others “who fear the loss of an important work” had been submitted to the HPRB. Writers of these letters have included, among others, Childs, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, architect Frederick Fisher, artist and designer Mary Miss, architectural historian and critic Marc Treib, Penny Balkin Bach, the executive director and chief curator of the Association for Public Art, and Jennifer Duncan, director of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies. In his letter, Childs urged the board to “preserve her [Zimmerman’s] sculpture as part of whatever modifications are being contemplated.” “Washington is noted for its public art, and Marabar is one of its finest examples,” Childs continued. “I am certain that if the National Geographic’s current design team were asked to respect Elyn’s sculpture the way we had been asked to respect Hubbard Hall and the headquarters building on the National Geographic’s campus, they could devise an accommodating solution that would again evoke the Board’s enthusiastic applause.”   Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, was also among those to express his concern. “I know that destruction is not the intent of National Geographic,” Weinberg wrote in his letter. “I do however ask that they consider other options. Not only do I believe that it would be the right thing—for Zimmerman and art history—but it would be an important signal and reaffirmation of National Geographic’s own values as a leading organization committed to protecting the great wonders of the world, be they woman-made or natural.” Officials with National Geographic opted not to be interviewed by the Times but relayed that the absence of MARABAR in the plaza redesign was intentional and not some sort of egregious oversight. The society also promised to pay for the boulders’ removal and relocation, which would be carried out in a “respectful and appropriate manner.” It’s unclear if that relocation would take place within the National Geographic campus. Zimmerman herself has also made clear her displeasure with the idea of her work being removed from the site, and, per the Times, “did not take it seriously at first because so much work had gone into preparing the site for its installation” when she first got wind of a potential plaza redesign in 2017. “The largest of those boulders weighs a quarter of a million pounds,” she explained to the Times, expressing concern with how cumbersome, not to mention potentially damaging to the surrounding buildings, it will be to remove and relocate the boulders while keeping them fully intact. “They’re going to have to dynamite the thing out of there.” The HPRB plans to address the concerns brought forth by TCLF and others at a meeting scheduled for May 28.
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A Little Off the Top, Please

Landmark ruling forces Athens hotel to demolish view-blocking top floors
Conservationists and citizen activists alike in Athens have claimed victory in an ongoing court battle to force a new 10-story luxury hotel to shave off its top two floors, which campaigners claim obscure neighborhood views of the world-famous Acropolis. Per the Guardian, the ruling requiring the hotel to raze its view-impeding floors was made by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), Greece’s powerful governmental advisory body charged with preserving the country’s wealth of antiquities. Located on Falirou Street in the hip Koukaki neighborhood opposite the Acropolis Museum and in close proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 93-room hotel, owned and operated by Greek natural mattress purveyor and lifestyle brand Coco-Mat, has been the subject of fierce local opposition ever since construction on the project commenced. One of four upmarket lodging establishments operated in the Greek capital city by Coco-Mat, the Athens BC location, which has been open for just under a year, boasts a lounge, spa, and rooftop garden complete with a swimming pool and eye-popping views of the Acropolis. A number of guest rooms in the Elastic Architects-designed property also offer unobstructed views of the ancient hilltop site. “It was a very brave decision,” said Athens mayor Kostas Bakoyannis of the ruling, which limits new buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Acropolis be no taller than 78 feet in height. (The Coco-Mat Athens BC Hotel stands at just over 103 feet tall.) “The Acropolis is our heart and our soul, an essential part of our cultural heritage,” he said. “It’s very important that everyone can enjoy it.” A new, even taller hotel which had been previously approved and was in the works near the Acropolis has also since had its building permissions revoked by Greece’s highest court, the Council of State. In announcing the ruling, Culture Minister Linda Mendoni noted the council’s decision was not an easy one to make. She, however, stressed that the Acropolis isn’t a run-of-the-mill historic site. “When the Acropolis is harmed, in essence our civilisation is harmed too,” she said. Mendoni. “The Acropolis is a symbol. It is not simply a monument.” The landmark ruling, which enjoyed support from European cultural heritage organization Europe Nostra and other conservation groups, is part of a larger push to limit the height of new construction, hotels in particular, in Acropolis-adjacent Athens neighborhoods such as Koukaki and Makriyianni, the latter of which is directly south of the nearly 2,500-year-old citadel that’s home to the Parthenon and several other 5th-century landmarks. As the Guardian reported, an online petition launched by concerned residents of Makriyianni garnered 23,000 signatures in just a matter of days. “Makriyianni is a residential neighbourhood. It was never meant for buildings of such dimensions,” Irini Frezadou, an architect and Athens native behind the petition, told the Guardian. “The mass tourism we have witnessed may have disappeared with coronavirus, but it will be back. And if it goes unchecked it will destroy the very monument visitors have come for, the Acropolis itself.” Coco-Mat has yet to publicly respond to the ruling and it remains unclear how or when the top two floors of its hotel will be demolished. The company initially received the green light to build the hotel as it currently stands from KAS, which only reversed course and overturned its previous ruling following what the National Herald referred to as a “furious campaign by local residents protesting they couldn’t fully see the famed hill and the Parthenon.”
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Spire Ire

Restoration work resumes at Notre Dame but spire replacement plans remain at a standstill
It’s been just over one year since a massive structural fire raged through Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, a moment that both deflated the collective spirit of France and horrified those across the world who have either visited the 850-year-old edifice or admired its emblematic beauty from afar. And despite contamination- and global pandemic-prompted work stoppages and some light Gallic sass-slinging, Notre Dame is still on track to be open to the public by 2024. One major sticking point, however, continues to be the cathedral’s toppled spire, a nearly 300-foot-tall Paris landmark that was designed in the mid-19th century by thirty-year-old architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc as a replacement for an earlier, storm-beaten spire that was removed several decades before. The contentious issue at hand is the question of whether or not the spire that will eventually replace Viollet-le-Duc’s famed flèche should be a faithful replica of the barbed original or something that embraces a reverent but more modern design. The latter route, one very much not endorsed by preservation groups and the French Senate, was initially promoted by the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron. “Since the spire wasn't part of the original cathedral, the President of the Republic hopes there will be some reflection and a contemporary architectural gesture might be envisaged,” read a statement released by the Élysée Palace shortly after the fire. Yet as reported by The Art Newspaper, plans to formally move forward with an international design competition seeking out new spire designs, which was first announced by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, have apparently stalled. “The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even re-create the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc,” Philippe said at a press conference held two days after the tragic fire. “Or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre Dame with a new spire.” Or at least that’s according to acclaimed U.K.-based Flemish artist Wim Delvoye, who says church officials have “so far snubbed” his own proposed fireproof design. Per The Art Newspaper, Delvoye, known for, among other things, creating neo-gothic sculptures fabricated from laser-cut steel, announced his intention to enter the competition shortly after it was announced, and immediately set out to work on designing a first proposal with his team. Other designers and architects also quickly sprung into action with some, ahem, interesting proposals although, as hinted at by Delvoye, the competition may now be at a standstill. “The longer the French wait to decide—or to start a competition—the more they will need to rely on my technique and design [involving] laser-cut Corten steel,” he said. “They are going to discuss [the spire design] for ten years.” According to The Art Newspaper, France’s National Commission for Architecture and Heritage is not expected to furnish design recommendations for the replacement spire to the Ministry of Culture until later this year.
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Preservation Push

National Trust urges Congress to support historic preservation efforts during coronavirus crisis
On April 30, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and five partnering organizations sent a letter to leaders in the United States Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to consider specific program funding in any future coronavirus-related federal stimulus packages. The intent is to help to “catalyze the economic recovery of nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and the arts and culture sector, while also protecting historic and cultural resources” during and in the wake of the pandemic. Submitted to Congress by the National Trust alongside Main Street America, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the Coalition for American Heritage, the National Preservation Partners Network, and Preservation Action and endorsed by over 375  historic preservation organizations and businesses, the letter is quick to extend gratitude toward lawmakers for provisions within March’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, that have aided nonprofit organizations working within the arts and humanities sector. That includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a universal above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions,  and emergency funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. However, the National Trust stresses that much more help will be needed moving forward as “nonprofit organizations continue to operate in a state of economic crisis due to the loss of revenue from closures, event cancellations, and a decline of charitable contributions.” In addition to an extension of the PPP, the letter calls for the following provisions: An enhancement of the federal historic tax credit; supplemental funding of $420 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, including additional funding for state and tribal preservation offices, as well as a “significant investment in rehabilitation and related historic resource programs through existing competitive grant programs;” the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which would provide $9.5 billion in funding over a five-year span for deferred repair needs within the National Park Service and other agencies; additional enhancements of the charitable giving incentives included in the CARES Act; additional funding to the arts and humanities agencies that received aid as part of the CARES Act, and lastly, “urging opposition to legislative exemptions from provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act, including Section 106, or the National Environmental Policy Act.” The above provisions were borne from a comprehensive engagement effort initiated by the National Trust to “develop a list of legislative priorities vital to sustaining the broad preservation sector comprised of local, state and national organizations, Main Street communities, historic sites, and more,” as explained by Pam Bowman, director of public lands policy with the National Trust. “We conducted outreach to partners and allies across the country to learn the immediate needs required to protect the nation’s historic and cultural resources at this unprecedented time.” The National Trust is also imploring those within the preservation community to keep their local officials’ collective feet to the fire during a time when “the outlook for legislative activity in Congress remains fluid and uncertain.” Per statistics calculated by the American Alliance of Museums and shared by the Preservation Leadership Forum, museums, including historic cultural sites, are losing roughly $33 million per day due to coronavirus-related closures. This endangered sector supports 726,000 annual jobs and contributes $50 billion to the economy each year. On March 13, the National Trust announced its national staff would transition to remote working, and that tours and programming would be suspended at all nine stewardship sites that it owns and operates: the Glass House, the Farnsworth House, Lyndhurst, Villa Finale, the Woodrow Wilson House, the Gaylord Building, Shadows-on-the-Teche, Chesterwood, and Woodlawn Plantation/the Pope Leighey House. At the time, co-stewardship and contracted affiliate-operated historic sites had been left to decide whether or not to continue operating based on local safety restrictions and other factors, although all 27 historic sites in the National Trust's portfolio are now listed as being closed to visitors. In the meantime, visitors can remotely visit a slew of historic sites across the country, some rarely open to the public, as part of the National Trust’s inaugural Virtual Preservation Month. Kicking off with a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in Virginia, a new virtual experience at a different National Trust Historic Site, designated National Treasure, or participating site with the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program will be unveiled each day throughout the month of May.
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A Most-Solemn Anniversaire

Officials still anticipate 2024 Notre Dame reopening date despite COVID-19 pause
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the inferno-seen-around-the-globe that ravaged Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. All things considered, Parisian officials will not hold a formal organized event or encourage any mass gatherings to mark one of the most dispiriting structural fires in recent memory. However, the medieval cathedral’s 13-ton bourdon bell, Emmanuel, tolled this evening for only the second time since the blaze on April 15, 2019, gutted the 850-year-old Gothic edifice regarded as the “Soul of France.” At 8:00 p.m. GMT, Emmanuel rang from the cathedral’s south tower in a bit of timing that coincides not only with the time that the cathedrals’ iconic spire toppled but also with the chorus of raucous cheers and applause that fill the streets of Paris nightly in recognition of the front line responders battling the coronavirus. As noted by Reuters, the tolling is in tribute to both Notre Dame's remarkable resilience and the medical professionals risking their lives on a daily basis during the pandemic. (As of this writing, 15,729 people have succumbed to the virus across France.) As for the cathedral’s aforementioned resilience, it is indeed still standing tall over Ile de la Cité, although hidden beneath fire-damaged scaffolding and in an increasingly fragile and vulnerable state. As the Associated Press wrote of Notre Dame’s present state in somewhat purple terms: “Notre Dame Cathedral stands crippled and alone, locked in a dangerous web of warped scaffolding one year after a cataclysmic fire gutted its interior, toppled its famous spire, and horrified the world.” Despite a delay in restoration work of unforeseen length due to the coronavirus, officials are confident that Notre Dame will open its doors and more closely resemble its former self by 2024, a just-ahead-of-the-Summer-Olympics completion date promised by French President Emmanuel Macron. Undeterred by pauses, pandemic-related or otherwise, Jean-Louis Georgelin, the retired army general charged with overseeing the cathedral’s restoration, is optimistic that the five-year restoration plan will not drag out any further. “If everyone rolls up their sleeves and the work is well planned, it is conceivable that returning the cathedral to a place of worship within five years will not be an impossible feat,” the Guardian reported Georgelin as saying. “Obviously, the area around the cathedral will be far from finished, and perhaps the spire will not be completed, but the cathedral will once again be a place of worship and this is our aim.” All work on Notre Dame was halted on March 17 when France entered nationwide lock-down mode and the restoration project’s small army of specialized craftsmen, known as compagnons, were dismissed. While the unknown duration of the coronavirus shutdown presents a unique challenge to the all-hands-on-deck restoration efforts, work has stopped a small handful times over the past year, including during a high wind event and for a more lengthy and necessary pause to mitigate substantial lead contamination. There’s also the issue of the spire, which has become something of a point of contention over the past year as different factions have argued whether to faithfully restore Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century design or to create a new, contemporary spire. Like with the restoration process in general, Georgelin is determined not to let any spire-squabbling slow things down. “We have to be left to get on with the work and not caught up in the controversies,” the Guardian noted him as relaying to L’Express magazine. “The quicker the decision is made about the spire, the quicker we will be able to really concentrate on the real reconstruction. It’s important that the objectives are set.” The tangle of scaffolding enveloping the cathedral, which went up just prior to the near-catastrophic blaze as part of a $6.8 million dollar restoration effort, is of particular concern, especially now that the site has largely been vacated. The scaffolding, referred to by the New York Times in 2019 as a “mass of twisted metal roughly 250 tons that is weighing down the structure,” is at high risk of collapsing—a roughly 50 percent according to experts—and meticulously removing it is a key element of assessing existing damage and then swiftly repairing it. If any single element of the repair and restoration process presents a race-against-the-clock sense of urgency, the removal of the scaffolding, which was slated to commence in March, is it. But the clock has now stopped.
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All Hail the Queen

Virginia Savage McAlester, preservationist and best-selling author, dies at 76
Virginia Savage McAlester, author, architectural historian, and doyenne of Dallas preservation, died last week at the age of 76 following a lengthy battle with myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow cancer. Mark Lamster, architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, was the first to report the news in a beautifully written tribute. To say that McAlester’s encyclopedic, copiously illustrated A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture, first published in 1984 and significantly expanded and revised for a best-selling 2013 edition that tackles post-1940 house styles (Ranches! “Millennium Mansions!”) as well as neighborhood types, is an essential architecture book would be an understatement. Over the years, the hefty tome—the 2013 edition is 880 pages—has enjoyed a certain ubiquity, becoming a staple on the bookshelves and coffee tables of architecture students, preservationists, erudite real estate agents, and casual everyday house-spotters curious about the built environment around them. Because of the book’s size, it’s safe to assume that many readers forgo taking their copies out into the field with them in the same way a birder might slip an illustrated guide into his or her back pocket when embarking on an ID’ing mission. The Kindle edition, however, has made it easier to match up eyebrow dormers and chamfered porch supports with corresponding house styles. I lament having left my own copy of A Field Guide to American Houses at my home in Brooklyn. Last month, I relocated to suburban Baltimore County to ride out the pandemic and, as part of my socially distant fresh air/quarantine constitutional ritual, I’ve been documenting the homes in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods of where I'm temporarily living. This past weekend, on a particularly sunny Saturday, I decamped from my ranch-heavy, semi-rural neighborhood to Baltimore’s historic Guilford nabe, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in the early 1900s and features a riot of different revival styles—Tudor, Colonial, Classical, Spanish Colonial, Jacobean, Italian Renaissance, and more—alongside Art Deco, English Arts and Crafts, and others. If there ever were a neighborhood where A Field Guide to American Houses would come in handy, Guilford is it. Born in Dallas to Dorothy and Wallace Savage, an attorney who served as the city’s mayor from 1949 to 1951, McAlester attended Radcliffe College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she studied architecture. Settling back in Dallas to care for her aging parents, McAlester became active in local preservation efforts beginning in the early 1970s and was integral in the founding of the Historic Dallas Fund, the Dallas Historic Preservation League, later renamed Preservation Dallas, Friends of Fair Park, and other preservation initiatives. She also led the charge to designate Swiss Avenue, the neighborhood she grew up in and later resettled in as an adult, as Dallas’s first historic landmark district. As Lamster noted, fellow architectural historian Stephen Fox once bestowed McAlester with the most-fitting moniker, the “Queen of Dallas Preservation.” As the late historian and author Wiliam Seale told the New York Times of McAlester in a 2013 profile: “When she started broadening her preservation efforts, “few, if any, in Dallas had the slightest interest in historic preservation, thinking their history too new to be worthwhile.” McAlester, who credited her mother for sparking her interest in preservation, co-authored several other books on architectural history and preservation. However, A Field Guide to American Houses, which she co-wrote with her second husband Lee McAlester, a geology professor at Southern Methodist University, remains by far her most widely read. As Lamster wrote, at the time of her death, McAlester was at work on a sequel to the Field Guide that focused on commercial architecture. McAlester spoke openly about her battle with myelofibrosis, with that fight playing heavily into the aforementioned 2013 Times profile. It's worth a read.