Search results for "docomomo"

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Surveying L.A.: Past, Present, Future
550x490-lead-graphic Image courtesy of Discover Los Angeles The Society of Architectural Historians will present its Los Angeles Seminar, Surveying L.A.: Past, Present, Future on Saturday, April 9 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at SCI-Arc. The public seminar will examine SurveyLA, a city-wide study of historic resources sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the City of Los Angeles. The first half of the seminar will introduce the main creators and supporters of SurveyLA and its website, HistoricPlacesLA, who will discuss the process of developing the program. Part two will present critical responses from local and international experts as they explore the global possibilities of SurveyLA. Panelists include:
  • Ken Bernstein, Manager, Office of Historic Resources, City of Los Angeles 
  • David Myers, Senior Project Specialist, The Getty Conservation Institute
  • Trudi Sandmeier, Director, Graduate Programs in Heritage Conservation, University of Southern California; Member, SurveyLA Review Committee
  • Maristella Casciato, Senior Curator of Architectural Collections, The Getty Research Institute; Former President of Docomomo International
  • Timothy Hyde, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT
The seminar is part of the SAH 2016 Annual International Conference. (Pasadena/Los Angeles, April 6–10). Tickets are $20 to the public. Register at sah.org/2016.  
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Gone Grill
Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo's faceted, mirrored 1975 design.
Courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates

The UN Plaza Hotel Ambassador Grill and Lounge, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo and completed in 1975, cleverly uses mirrors and lighting to create faux skylights that help transform the basement space into a theatrical yet tasteful dining room that feels surprisingly spacious. If Mad Men aired for another few seasons, we surely would have seen Don Draper brokering international ad deals in its velvet banquettes. Maybe that would’ve helped cultivate some romantic attachment to the spaces, which are now under threat.

The hotel was renovated and rebranded as One UN New York in 2012 by owners Millennium Hotels and Resorts, who announced the second phase of their renovation last November, promising “the debut of a new restaurant and bar concept.” It was a call to arms for preservationists, who were further alarmed by reports that exploratory demolition was underway in the Ambassador Grill despite a lack of permits. The reports were disputed by Millennium, who closed the restaurant last year and said that no decisions have been made.

 

Opponents of the presumed renovation are seeking to protect the restaurant, as well as the hotel lobby—a decidedly postmodern hive of reflective glass and marble completed in 1983—by having them designated interior landmarks.  In early January architecture advocacy group Docomomo US filed a Request for Evaluation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and have created a petition to raise support for an expedited public hearing. To qualify as a landmark, an interior must be 30 years old, publicly accessible, and have a “special character” or historical import that gives it cultural value. Those against landmarking call the spaces ugly and dated; those in favor argue that they are some of the most intact and significant late-modern spaces in the city and an exemplar of Roche’s use of mirrored glass, which he pioneered in 1962 while working on Bell Laboratories for Eero Saarinen.

Of the 117 interior spaces that have earned the landmark designation since it was initiated in 1973, only four are restaurants, including the Four Seasons, which has been threatened despite its status. Currently, the “youngest” interior landmark is Roche and Dinkeloo’s 1967 Ford Foundation, so the actions of the commission are particularly important because they’ll set a precedent for the preservation of late-modern and postmodern architecture in New York.

In lieu of a Draper-esque pitch to inspire careful action moving forward, the comments from the 1982 Pritzker jury seem apt: “In this mercurial age, when our fashions swing overnight from the severe to the ornate, from contempt for the past to nostalgia for imagined times that never were, Kevin Roche’s formidable body of work sometimes intersects fashion, sometimes lags fashion, and more often makes fashion.”

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Kevin Roche’s late modern interiors at the Ambassador Grill may be demolished
Kevin Roche's late modern interiors at the United Nations Plaza Ambassador Grill & Lounge, and Hotel Lobby are in jeopardy. Millennium Hotels and Resorts, the owners 0f ONE UN New York Hotel (the space's current name) have closed both spaces for possible demolition. Docomomo US, the leading modern architecture preservation group, has filed a Request for Evaluation (RFE) with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant the UN Plaza Ambassador Grill and Lounge and Hotel Lobby New York City Interior Landmark status. The interiors, states Docomomo, are strong examples of New York City late modernism. Roche designed the space with his partner John Dinkeloo (as Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates) for the United Nation Development Corporation. The UN Plaza Hotel and Office Building was completed in 1975 and Two UN Plaza was completed in 1983. Sherman McCoy would feel at home beneath the octagonal glass atriums, walls of mirrors, inset light fixtures, sharp geometric motifs, a sumptuous color palette, and a trompe l’oeil faux-skylight contribute to the luxe design. Millennium Hotels and Resorts has begun exploratory work—without permits—on the project, removing sections of the metal paneled drop ceiling that reveal the sprinkler system. Haphazard work, Docomomo claims, could irreparably damage the interior. Docomomo is asking its network of preservationists and others concerned about Roche's interior to write to the LPC to request an emergency hearing.
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Columbia GSAPP selects Jorge Otero-Pailos to lead its Historic Preservation Program
Columbia GSAPP Dean Amale Andraos announced that Professor Jorge Otero-Pailos will be the new director of the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program, beginning July 1, 2016. He will succeed Andrew Dolkart, who has served as program director for eight years.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLkTAJIqzTs
"At this moment, preservation faces many challenges in light of climate change, the divestment of governments from heritage, the war ravages to monuments, the ongoing challenges to preservation laws, and the digital impact on preservation technology," noted Andraos in a statement. Otero-Pailos’ appointment will keep the preservation program engaged with these global issues.
Trained as an architect and historian, Otero-Pailos has been teaching at GSAPP since 2002. He is the founder and editor of Future Anterior, the first American academic journal devoted exclusively to the history, practice, and theory of historic preservation. Otero-Pailos has served as vice president of DoCoMoMo US, the international modern architecture preservation organization.
His "Ethics of Dust" series investigates pollution as a transformative force in cities that mediates relationships between people, cultural objects, and the built environment. At the 2009 Venice Biennale, Otero-Pailos applied liquid latex to the wall of Doge's Palace, peeled off the coating (and, most importantly, the embedded grime), and hung the resulting sheet, a comment on materiality and the diffuse but tangible impact of human activity on architecture. See the video above for a full look at "The Ethics of Dust: Doge's Palace" and Otero-Pailos' process.
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See iconic architecture (for free!) at Open House New York Weekend
This weekend, 256 public and privately-owned sites across New York City will open their doors to thousands of architecture and history nerds for the 13th annual Open House New York (OHNY) Weekend. All sites are free to visit, though some require registration in advance. Gregory Wessner, executive director of OHNY, said the event is an "opportunity to get an audience to look at the city through different disciplinary lenses." This year, 1,200 volunteers will staff 256 sites. Wessner explained the selection criteria: sites are evaluated for their architectural, cultural, and historical significance; location; proximity to public transportation; period, style, and typology. Last year, OHNY Weekend attracted approximately 75,000 visitors over two days. 80 percent of those visitors were New Yorkers. Given the depth and breadth of the offerings, it's impossible to privilege one site over another, though Wessner said he's particularly excited about City Hall. City Hall, he believes, "represents what's great about OHNY. It represents the seat of government, which most of us don't get to go into, and welcomes the public to go in and look around." New York's Beyer Blinder Belle renovated the palatial 1812 structure this year. A little-known architectural mecca is Bronx Community College. From 1959–1970, New York University (then owner of the campus) commissioned Marcel Breuer to design four buildings. DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State will lead tours of Breuer's buildings on Saturday and Sunday. Also on campus: the Beaux-Arts Gould Memorial Library and Hall of Fame (Stanford White, 1900) and North Hall and Library (Robert A.M. Stern, 2012). Though the weekend is the group's biggest event, OHNY operates throughout the year, organizing tours and talks to encourage dialogue around major issues affecting the city's built environment. The Final Mile is a yearlong exploration of the "challenges and choices for an equitable and resilient food system" in New York. Food manufacturing, Wessner stated, is the fastest growing manufacturing sector in the city, and drives real estate development (think Smorgasburg and Chelsea Market). Tomorrow, Friday, OHNY is leading tours of food manufacturing facilities as a lead-up to the weekend. Visitors should check the OHNY Weekend for updates ahead of their trip. See the gallery below for more images of featured sites.
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There’s a Michael Graves–designed apartment hidden in the Brooklyn Museum
Fun fact: there's a set of fully furnished rooms, designed by Michael Graves, that lives in storage at the Brooklyn Museum. Built between 1979 and 1981 for Susan and John Reinhold, the suite within their duplex at 101 Central Park West was donated to the museum when the couple divorced in 1986. Preserved in situ, the rooms are a rare surviving example of interior postmodern architecture. The couple, prominent members of the art world, asked Graves to turn a bedroom into a playroom for the couple's daughter, and remodel the guest suite into a library. Prior to Graves, however, the Reinholds gave their apartment star treatment: the first renovation was done by Robert A.M. Stern and John Hagmann in 1971.  Stern and Hagmann removed walls, ceilings, and thresholds in the unit to create a smooth, all white interior. Graves' renovation complemented the previous one with a pale blue, yellow, brown, and white palette. The library was modeled on a basilica, the central nave flanked by aisles of bookcases. Except for one, the bookcases are styled into pared-down columns. The top of each column conceals a light fixture, adding a soft glow that is complemented by the coffered ceiling, its topmost section painted blue. Graves placed a Corbusier-inspired mural of his own design in the space where an alter would have been. The materials throughout were ordinary plywood and sheetrock. In the bedroom, the bookcase/pilasters theme from the library carries over. Segmented columns separate lightly delineate the space while still maintaining an open flow. The Reinhold's daughter praised the design overall, but complained that the shelves were not wide enough for her records and books.  See the gallery below for more images of Graves' suite.
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The public asked to help save this Paul Rudolph shelter in Sarasota, Florida
  Why is Paul Rudolph—like much of Brutalism—so unloved by officialdom? His Orange County Government in Goshen, New York has been under threat of demolition by local government for several years. Now an elegant canopy the architect designed and built in 196o for Sarasota High School in Florida may also end up in a local landfill. Rudolph designed the elongated covering to connect the School with a new addition he designed behind it’s main brick building. The addition is undergoing a thorough renovation and the main building is being taken over by the Ringling College of Art & Design to become a midtown exhibition space. The Ringling wants to renovate the old school and argued that the canopy sits in the way of construction workers and materials entering the building. Ringling College claimed: "We are removing...only the area necessary to continue renovation of the historic Sarasota High School building. We also believe, but do not have final corroboration, that the section we are taking down is also not part of the original Paul Rudolph design but was added on later." But now several groups from Sarasota Architectural Foundation and Docomomo are asking the Ringling to hold off on the demolition. They are also asking the public to contact Larry Thompson (941-359-7601 or 941-365-7603), president of The Ringling College of Art & Design, and ask him to save the Rudolph canopies and incorporate them into the permanent collection of the new museum.
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Comment> The Met Plaza redesign undermines the institution’s civic grandeur
In February of the year 2012, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art first announced the redesign of the City-owned Fifth Avenue-fronted plaza along its grand McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts facade, there was little opposition from preservationists. A $65 million underwriting pledge from museum trustee, David H. Koch, catalyzed the selected competitive plan from Philadelphia-based OLIN. It proceeded through the approval process with relative dispatch. Curiously when first unveiling the OLIN proposal, the Museum stated explicitly that despite Mr. Koch’s enlivening donation, the resulting plaza renovation would in fact not bear his name. Anonymity on top of benevolence spells charitable grace at its peak. Pretty much the sole impediment to this civic embellishment—so welcome against existing conditions of cracked sidewalks, failing hydraulics, deformed and dying trees, a long-neglected fountain, and meager old-fashioned exterior lighting—were the cries of what seemed at the time just another hopeless band of Luddites reflexively resistant to change of any sort. They included tree huggers acting as they did as if the jejune water-choked grove then there consisted of old growth sequoias instead of pooped out sycamores. More recent opposition came from those protesting the donor himself as they heatedly dissed his many such civic good works in the realms of culture, medicine and education as little more than candy-coated camouflage of his role as Citizen’s United election-stealing kingpin. In this way, focus shifted away from plaza’s design and impact on form and function to the symbolism of support, especially when in the end the David H. Koch name was indeed carved with gilded precision on the new fountain basins heralding all those approaching whether from north or south. More considered objection first came, however, from the testimony of the New York/Tri-State Chapter of DOCOMOMO given before the aesthetic overseers at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. They argued for the integrity of the plaza solution that was part of the original overall 1970 Kevin Roche Met master plan, which even forty years later is still generally in guiding force:
Roche’s declared design intention was to create an open urban plaza that defers to and displays the monumental Beaux-Arts façade of the museum. He wanted to distinguish the urban face …on Fifth Avenue from the park portions of the other three sides... (The Chapter) is hopeful that any modifications to the present plaza, to the extent that they are necessary, conform to the underlying principles of the Kevin Roche design-preserving an open urban plaza with unimpeded access to (his ingeniously three –sided) entrance stairway and unobstructed visibility of the stairs, adjacent facades and ground level entrances.
And with the results now plain, how right they were. With the exception of a masterwork of exterior nighttime illumination by Hervé Descottes and his L’Observatoire International that subtly responds to the architecture’s classical hierarchies and the replenishment of the subsoil, it is only now that the relative dignity of this earlier renovation is fully evident. Restoration of the restoration was a worthy option after all. Apologies are due them. Despite some working drawings from McKim, Mead, & White in which the option of flower and shrub beds appeared alongside the façade elevation, their final intent was clear with the dignified built encounter of limestone and pavers accentuated further by the pedestrian-scaled Roman grills that inform urban places of majesty and safe-keeping. OLIN’s decision to place such beds there seems a pallid suburbanization vying to extend the park setting instead of contrasting it. Imagine flowers alongside the Pantheon or its Renaissance-descended Palazzo Farnese? Meanwhile, the new fountains, while retaining a classical symmetry, end up compromising the pomp and circumstance of the Roche-thrusting and much expanded grand stairs with a tight perplexing proximity. The visitor today cannot help but wonder if it is some disguised stab at crowd control. And while their new placement was meant in part to make more legible the secondary street-grade entrance at 81st Street, the trade-off is untested and dubious; who can resist mounting those stairs? This is a classical threshold at its iconic best. The waterworks vary in height and rhythm in a mannered echo of WET Design’s signature creations yet at low height the sprouts seem more than a tinkle. The previous fountains recalled the classical rigor that informed so much of high Modernism. This was never meant as a playful place. Instead it was always meant for unencumbered dignity; all who enter should arrive as big shots knowing that they each held a key to this great repository of beauty and truth. Likewise the addition of dozens of trees even as now young and leafless obscures the architecture. What about in 20 years? It is hard to object to more trees in this warned up day and age but here is one place where the sum is less than the design parts. Finally and through no fault of either client or landscape architect there is a the all too frequent New York curse of visual pollution as arises in public places, where governing statures collide and, in turn, destroy the clarity of the guiding design blueprint. Here at the Met plaza, it is the curbside licensed food vendors. Ironically the spot-on instinct on the Museum’s part to include in its initial plan outdoor kiosks for such inevitable trade was denied by the oversight Landmarks and Public Design Commissions in convenient disregard for the ultimate reality of the streets. With the present redesign, Mr. Koch might well wish that for now at least his name not be its site label after all. He seems shortchanged as much as those he generously aims to benefit.
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Visit Neutra’s “Drive-In Church” Tomorrow
Tomorrow, Saturday, January 31, Docomomo is hosting a unique tour, lecture, and reception at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove. The focus will be  Richard Neutra's "Drive In Church" for the complex, and its recently-restored 1961 Arboretum and 1968 Tower of Hope. Christ Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller selected Neutra to design the facility, with an indoor/outdoor flexibility that allowed him to preach from a cantilevered pulpit to a congregation sitting in their cars. Later Neutra designed the adjacent Tower of Hope, which provided classrooms, office space and the New Hope Ministries. Visitors will also find out about renovation plans for Philip Johnson's Crystal Cathedral, which Schuller commissioned in 1977. That renovation is being led by Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale. Speakers at the event will include architectural historians Barbara Lamprecht and Daniel Paul, and Docomomo US Executive Director Liz Waytkus.
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Sarasota architects hope to preserve Mid-Century Modernism in Florida
The style of architecture known as "mid-century modern" is a cousin to the "International style." A popular combination of European stylistic tendencies and domestic American influences, including furniture design, it has become an influential catch all term for distinguished post-World War II structures and commercial tract homes (like the Eichler Homes). While the style has become widely popular in lifestyle magazines like Dwell and even replicated in new suburban developments, the original homes are being regularly torn down and being replaced with bloated McMansions that have shoe closets the size of the former mid-century living rooms. But the style has a huge following and a number of organizations to highlight and preserve is monuments. Docomomo has been in the lead highlighting these structures and Palm Springs was one of the first city to host a "modernism week." The latest city to create a week of activities devoted to the style is Sarasota, Florida, which along with Palm Springs and New Canaan, Connecticut, were experimental centers of the style. The Florida city also had a gifted number of architects working in the style: Paul Rudolph and his early mentor Ralph Twitchell, Gene Leedy, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, and Carl Abbott. The four day event of lectures, city and house tours that took place this fall was a model of how a community can highlight its unique but disappearing history. The week was created the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (founded by Martie Lieberman, a realtor who specializes in the style of homes) which is trying to promote the city's modern architecture. It hopes to raise awareness of the style so its buildings can be preserved, updated, and even become a model of a future architecture that is more responsive to needs and demands than the typical McMansion. Sarasota prides itself on its modern history and was a unique crossroads of culture, commerce, and environment after World War II that helped birth this style. The week also highlighted the fascinating figure of Philip Hiss III who moved to the beach community in 1948 and became a major figure in the community. He was chair of its education department (which commissioned Paul Rudolph to design two high schools) and a developer of the modernist community Lido Shores. The Foundation is hoping to make their week an annual affair and the area has the modern assets to make it work.
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Fading Within Memory
Kresge Auditorium by Eero Sarinen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Courtesy J Paul Getty Trust

Twentieth-Century Building Materials:
History and Conservation

Jester, Thomas C. Jester, editor
J. Paul Getty Trust, $55

Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation is a compilation of papers sorted into seven parts: metals, concrete, wood and plastics, masonry, glass, linoleum, and roofing, siding, and walls. When first published by the National Park Service in 1995, it was one of the only references on the topic. That same year, the Historic Preservation Education Foundation in collaboration with the National Park Service organized the first national conference on the topic, Preserving the Recent Past, from which a series of papers emerged. This was followed in 2000 with Preserving the Recent Past 2 and its associated papers.

Clearly, as mid-century Modernist buildings age, there is a need to better understand the significance of the 20th century in terms of its impact on our built heritage, but also as regards the conservation of its construction materials. These were often experimental in nature, and have now also proven to be less durable. With the acknowledgement of specific 20th-century structures as heritage, there also arise questions of ethics and philosophy of treatment, given the fact that there is typically a wealth of archival material, and the buildings were well photographed. In addition, the original designers are more likely to still be alive or recently deceased, so there tends to be a lot more information about 20th-century heritage than other periods.

 
Polychromatic lobby ceiling (1934, John J. Early) of the Department of Justice building, Washington, D. C. (left). Sheetrock: The Fireproof Wallboard, United States Gypsum Company, 1937 (right).
 

Since the mid-1990s, when this book was first published, several factors have resulted in an increased interest in the built environment of the 20th century. First is age. Most of these buildings are approaching 50 years or older, enough time and distance to create a new appreciation for the aesthetic and technical achievements of 20th-century architecture. Second is the failure of the materials used in modern architecture, requiring maintenance or replacement. Third is the rise of organizations and initiatives focused on 20th-century heritage. Docomomo (Documentation of the Modern Movement) was founded in 1988 in the Netherlands, and has chapters around the world, as well as annual international conferences and a journal. The International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) formed its International Scientific Committee on 20th-Century Heritage (ISC20C) in 2005, which has held annual symposia and published papers ever since. The Association for Preservation Technology International (APTI) has had for some time a Technical Committee on Modern Heritage, and published a special issue of APT Bulletin devoted to the conservation of modernism (Vol. 41, 2010). The World Heritage Committee has highlighted the gap in designation of 20th-century heritage, and as a result several important sites have been recently included on the World Heritage list. And since 2011, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has become involved through their Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI), which organized an expert colloquium in March 2014. The GCI has long had a counterpart program focused on modern materials conservation in artwork.

Prefabriaction Lustron house (1950, Morris Beckman) in Chesterton, Indiana.
 

This book, however, remains an important resource, because little research has been accomplished in the nearly 20 years since it was first issued other than the publication of case studies. The book was out of print and has been re-issued by the J. Paul Getty Trust as part of its program to promote activities related to the conservation of the recent past. Although the papers remain the same as the earlier edition, and are not confined to materials of the Modernist Movement, the historical research is still valid, as are the approaches recommended to individual materials and their conservation. The papers’ authors are mostly still very active in the field and some are now considered authorities on the topic.

Beginning with Metals, the papers cover aluminum, monel, nickel silver, stainless steel, and weathering steel. Under Concrete, concrete block, cast stone, reinforced concrete, shotcrete, architectural precast concrete, and pre-stressed concrete are discussed. Wood and Plastics includes fiberboard, decorative plastic laminates, plywood, glued-laminated timber, and fiber-reinforced plastic. The section on Masonry covers structural-clay tile, terra cotta, gypsum block, and tile, thin-stone veneer, and simulated masonry. For Glass, there are papers on plate glass, prismatic glass, glass block, structural glass, and spandrel glass. The Flooring section contains articles on linoleum, rubber tile, cork tile, terrazzo, and vinyl tile. Lastly, Roofing, Siding, and Walls covers asphalt shingles, porcelain enamel, acoustical materials, gypsum board, and building sealants. In addition, there is an extensive bibliography and sources for research. The book is well illustrated and indexed.

The Modern Diner (1940) in Pawktucket, Rhode Island.
 

Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation continues to be extremely useful for architectural historians and researchers, technical professionals involved with the care of the 20th-century built environment, as well as owners and managers of such buildings. It is well written and organized in such a way that it is easy to find information on specific materials. Where it falls short is in the fact that it mainly covers individual components, whereas many of the products used in 20th-century construction are systems—think of glazed curtain walls as an example. Here, those of us who work in this field must rely on our own experience or review of similar case studies. But the problem with case studies is that they tend to be published soon after they are implemented, and if over time the interventions fail, the authors almost never re-evaluate and publish the failure. The book’s other shortcoming is the lack of discussion on philosophy and ethics of intervention, although, as the title claims, the book is focused on history and conservation. Still it is important to acknowledge that technical solutions should be based on programmatic strategies that involve some thought about the philosophy of preservation for a given site.

 




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Pamela Jerome
300, 320, and 350 Park Avenue.
Courtesy WASA / Studio A

By the mid 20th century, modernism was expected to respond to the demands of the post-World War II world, resolving commercial and housing needs. Instead, over time, it became synonymous with urban renewal and the loss of the historic urban fabric. Thus, from its earlier celebrated representation of transparency and newness, modernism eventually became berated as visually exhausting, and was ultimately followed by a postmodernist reactionary response. However, with over 50 years separating the present from mid-century modernism, the style is experiencing a renewed appreciation and reevaluation.

As an architect leading a preservation practice in New York at WASA/Studio A, I have increasingly become involved in the conservation of 20th-century heritage, including investigation and design of repairs for buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Harrison & Abramovitz, Mies van der Rohe, I.M. Pei, Emery Roth & Sons, and Eero Saarinen. What we have found is that the material most susceptible to change is the single-glazed curtain wall. Although Henry Russell-Hitchock and Philip Johnson coined the term “International Style” with the seminal eponymous exhibit and accompanying publication at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, the “glass box” did not become ubiquitous in our cityscapes until the 1960s. Perhaps the greatest concentrations of mid-century International Style in the world exists in Midtown East, recently spared by the New York City Council from a proposal to up-zone the neighborhood, which would have surely spelt the eventual demolition of these early glass boxes.

 
350 Park Avenue / Manufacturers Hanover Trust.
 

The single-glazed curtain wall was cutting edge in the 1950s and early 1960s, but still very much experimental in nature. Frequent failures include lack of sufficient anchorage (based on compliance with inadequate wind-pressure design requirements per the 1938 NYC Building Code), and air and water leaks. All too often the effort to upgrade thermal performance and resolve leaks has resulted in the complete alteration of the mid-century modernist aesthetic, which only recently has begun to capture the public’s appreciation through popular shows like Mad Men. Witness the case of a series of glass-box buildings along Park Avenue designed by Emery Roth & Sons, described below.

The firm of Emery Roth & Sons produced many of the fine Beaux Arts and art deco apartment buildings so visible along Central Park West. However, by the 1950s and 60s, their prolific glass-box output had literally changed the image of Midtown and the Wall Street District. No matter what their place in the history of architecture—many decry the firm as copycat architects—they are responsible for over 60 buildings in Midtown alone, according to the 2004 results of a Docomomo survey of 200 mid-century modernist buildings in Midtown. And as far as copycats are concerned, the Look Building at 488 Madison Avenue, a modernist design the firm completed in 1949 (albeit, not a glass box), predates the Lever House (1952) and Seagram Building (1958), as well as the UN Secretariat Building (1952). Another criticism has been that their glazed skyscrapers all look very similar. Yet, is anyone complaining that Mies van der Rohe spent years replicating his details—practice, after all, makes perfect, and “less is more”? Should we hold it against Emery Roth & Sons that their buildings from this period are instantly recognizable?

Let me draw your attention to the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building at 350 Park Avenue. Completed in 1954, the building, with its green reflective glass, compliments the Lever House, located on the adjacent block to the north. Unlike the Lever House, however, it emphasizes verticality with its exposed vertical muntins. The next two blocks to the south along the same side of Park Avenue are occupied by the Mutual of America Building (320 Park Avenue) and the Colgate Palmolive Building (300 Park Avenue). Emery Roth & Sons designed both buildings, the former executed in 1960 and the latter in 1956. These three buildings in a row have very similar massing, with stepped setbacks leading to a central tower. All three buildings were remarkably alike—glass boxes that express their verticality. The Colgate Palmolive Building could even be considered contextual in its respect for the Waldorf Astoria directly across the street, its cream colored spandrels an homage to the limestone art deco masterpiece. Along with the Bankers Trust Building (280 Park Avenue, 1962), and 400 and 410 Park Avenue (1958 and 1959), Emery Roth & Sons helped change the landscape of Park Avenue giving it a consistent appearance, condemned by Lewis Mumford at the time, yet praised by Ada Louise Huxtable.


300 Park Avenue / Colgate Palmolive.
 
 

With the exception of the Lever House and the Seagram Building, none of these buildings are protected. In the name of energy efficiency and the desire for a contemporary look, two of them have been altered beyond recognition. In 1995, the Mutual of America Building was re-clad with a design by Swanke Hayden Connell that is a glazed version of postmodernism, roughly ten years after the style fell out of favor. Although continuing to present a vertical expression, the building is so changed as to bear no resemblance to its original design. In the re-cladding of the Colgate Palmolive building, executed in 2000, an equally dramatic departure from the original aesthetic was achieved. The resulting facade has reversed Emery Roth & Sons’ intention. Horizontality has been emphasized with continuous opaque aluminum spandrels interrupted by strips of horizontal window wall.

Why should we care about one or two less Emery Roth & Sons’ facades considering their relentless output during the same period? The issue becomes one of preservation theory. Is it time for the early glass box to be recognized for what it actually represents—not just a radical change in aesthetics from the historic masonry building, but also a moment in time when the future appeared to be full of innovation and optimism, manifested in the lightness, transparency, and openness of these structures? Does the experimental nature of these buildings, since proven prone to failure, mean that we should abandon our tried-and-true principles as preservationists?

Preservation theory is guided by international and national doctrine, most notably the Venice Charter (1964), Secretary of Interior’s Standards (1977), Burra Charter (1979), Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), and the Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (2011). Whereas the Venice Charter focused on the care by experts of monumental masonry structures in the European tradition, the Burra Charter systematized the use of a values-based approach to cultural heritage, wherein stakeholders are consulted to elicit significance, not just academics. This was followed by the Nara Document, which emphasized that authenticity is not automatically about saving original fabric, but should be viewed and interpreted differently by each culture in its context. Based on the Venice Charter, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards apply many of these considerations to the American reality. Although relatively recent, the Historic Urban Landscape document, adopted by UNESCO during the 36th session of their general conference, is extremely applicable to the case of Park Avenue.

Alfredo Conti, one of the five current international vice presidents of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites, one of the three statutory advisory bodies to the World Heritage Convention), eloquently defines the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) as follows:

…the sensory perception of the urban system and its setting. A system of material components (urban layouts, plot systems, buildings, open spaces, trees and vegetation, urban furniture, etc.) and the relationship among them, which are the result of a process, conditioned by social, economical, political and cultural constraints over time. The [HUL] concept contributes to link tangible and intangible heritage components and to assess and understand the town or urban area as a process, rather than as an object.

Even if we consider Emery Roth & Sons’ mid-century glass boxes as a vernacular backdrop, we must still acknowledge that these buildings embody the politics, events, and social changes that happened during the 20th century. Although not considered iconic, what are the limits of change that we should impose on Emery Roth & Sons’ buildings from this period? Should we be alarmed by potential alterations to their aesthetics, as their non-designated and aging glazed curtain walls come under scrutiny for upgrading?

The 1995 restoration of the Lever House involved the dismantling and reconstruction of its failed single-glazed curtain wall; however, because of the jurisdiction of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), its aesthetic was replicated, albeit in double-glazing. The adjacent buildings of Emery Roth & Sons have been afforded no such protection. While the NY Landmarks Conservancy and Municipal Arts Society, in response to the recent threat posed by the subsequently defeated East Midtown up-zoning proposal, have brought more than a dozen early masonry high-rise structures in the area to the attention of the LPC in the hopes that they will be individually designated, I would argue that we should also consider designating a historic district of the early examples of the International Style along Park Avenue and its vicinity. Only through this type of regulatory framework can we insure that these structures are properly evaluated for their cultural significance prior to proposals for re-cladding, sure to multiply in the near future as their leaky and energy-inefficient facades come under consideration for replacement.