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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.

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Hopkins Architects to Transform Harvard’s Holyoke Center into New Campus Hub
Harvard’s Holyoke Center, designed by renowned Catalan architect and former Dean on the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Josep Lluís Sert, will soon be undergoing major renovations, university President Drew Faust announced last Thursday. London-based Hopkins Architects, the designers of Princeton’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory and Yale’s Kroon Hall, have signed on to transform the 50-year-old, cast-in-place administrative building into multifaceted campus center by 2018. The 360,000-square-foot, H-shaped structure, completed in 1966, represents both the first high-rise building in the area as well as the beginning of Harvard’s adoption of Modern architecture. Behind its complex, Corbusian facade of concrete fins, colored bands, and seemingly randomly placed windows, Holyoke Center has housed the university’s health services, infirmary, and the majority of its administrative offices, as well as ground-floor retail. As part of Harvard's ongoing efforts to improve common spaces across its campus, the building will undergo extensive interior remodeling and exterior renovations in order to provide students, faculty, and staff with an expansive cultural and social center. Once complete, the rechristened Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center will contain a flexible indoor gathering space, lounges, and study areas, as well as exhibition, performance and event spaces. The building’s ground floor, renovated over a decade ago to enclose Sert’s original open-air arcade with glass walls, will remain open to the public with a variety of retail and food service outlets. “The Smith Campus Center will draw members of the University community together and serve as an important common space for everyone to enjoy and use,” said Harvard President Drew Faust last Thursday during the unveiling of the building’s new identity. “We are very pleased to be moving forward with planning, and we are eager to engage students, faculty, and staff in the important work of creating a flexible and welcoming campus hub.” Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016 following an extensive planning process that will include considerable student and community participation.
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Beans Sprouting
Boston City Hall.
Ezra Stoller / ESTO

As Beantown’s race for mayor heats up before the November election, the future of the controversial Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles–designed Boston City Hall hangs in the balance, yet again. The Brutalist-style structure was lauded by critics when it was first completed in the 1960s, but has received mixed feedback over the years. In 2006, Mayor Menino pushed for the relocation of City Hall to the Seaport District—an area in which he has been integral in ushering in a wave of new development. The plan, however, never materialized. And now one mayoral candidate, Representative Martin J. Walsh, is focusing his efforts on the revitalization of downtown Boston, and the demolition of City Hall is emerging as the linchpin of his plan.

Walsh has argued that the city sell City Hall Plaza to a private developer for roughly $150 million to construct a new mixed-use complex on the 4.5-acre site, likely consisting of residential, hotels, retail, and office space. Municipal Center would then be moved to a location in or around Downtown Crossing, Government Center, or the Financial District, to be owned and operated by another private developer for a 20 to 40 year period.

   
 

“A 21st century economy has emerged, and the new mayor must refocus the development to the core economic engine of the city, the downtown. This area must evolve from a 9-to-5 weekday, government-dependent culture, to a culture economically driven to add value 24/7 to surrounding businesses and neighborhoods,” said Walsh in a statement.

This proposal, Walsh has said, would generate significant revenue from both the sale of City Hall and new annual taxes, and would also provide a direct link to the Quincy Marketplace, which the candidate said has struggled since the Seaport became a popular destination.

But some of Walsh’s rivals have been quick to express opposition to his plan. Mayoral candidate and Councilman Mike Ross called the idea “stale,” and said that the priority needs to shift to creating affordable housing along transit nodes in neighborhoods throughout Boston.

 

“The citizens of Boston are hungry for bold new ideas, not just another conversation about moving City Hall. The next mayor can’t just be focused on building big buildings and downtown development,” said Ross in a speech outside the Leon Electric Building, an expansive structure for which he is proposing a mixed-use development.

The threat of demolition has also struck a chord with members of the architecture community. Several years ago, preservationists and local residents came together and formed the “Friends of Boston City Hall,” an advocacy group seeking to preserve and update the massive concrete building.

“It stands more than any other building for the renaissance of Boston in the 20th century architecture,” said David Fixler, president of Docomomo US/New England and partner at EYP Architecture & Engineering. “It was the catalyst of creating the Boston we know today, which is a world class city, which it wasn’t in the 1950s.”

A new 58-story tower by Pei Cobb Freed.
Courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Cambridge Seven Associates
 

Fixler points out that the building has its flaws, but believes that the city should conduct a comprehensive feasibility study to explore the options for renewing it.

“The building is not perfect, the plaza is not perfect. There are things we need to address and make more humane and friendly to the users. But the potential is there,” said Fixler.

Several recommendations have been floated to revamp the building and make it more useable, including implementing energy efficient strategies to lower the heating costs as well as transforming the plaza into a more lush, pedestrian-friendly space.

“Why not work with what you have, which is the sustainable thing to do and the culturally referential thing to do, and let Boston be an example of adaptive reuse,” said Fixler. “It is a building that more than merits that for the architectural community and the city of Boston as well.”

Whether or not the next mayor decides to relocate City Hall, change has already taken hold of downtown Boston. The area, which has been primarily a hub for business and government, is experiencing a surge of new residential development.

 
Handel Architects' new tower connects to a Daniel Burnham Building.
Courtesy Steelblue
 

Developer Millennium Partners just broke ground this month on a new 625-foot residential tower next to the former Filene’s building in Downtown Crossing. Handel Architects has been hired by the developer to design the 450-unit tower as well as renovate the adjacent early 20th century landmark, designed by Daniel Burnham, and transform it into a multi-use complex with an upscale food market, retail space, and creative businesses.

“We are getting this landmark building back to its original concept—this palace of commerce—will now be a palace of creativity,” said Handel partner Blake Middleton.

As of now, the apartment tower will stand as the tallest residential building in Boston, and will include retail on the first three levels. The design took its cue from the “wonderful rectangular linearity to the facade” of Burnham’s terra cotta and steel frame building. Middleton said they also looked to the “simplicity that Cobb was able to conceive with the John Hancock building,” while “clearly establishing our own identity.”

Only a short distance from Downtown Crossing, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners along with Cambridge Seven Associates, just received the green light from the Boston Redevelopment Authority to build a set of towers in Back Bay. Once built, the 58-story hotel and condominium high-rise will top the Millennium Partners tower and rise to 691 feet to be the tallest residential tower in the city.

“The idea of the 24-hour city has really become a successful model. It really does take a particular mix of uses. The synergy of these uses has to be carefully calibrated,” said Blake Middleton.

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Preservationists Warn Russia’s Melnikov House at Risk
One of Moscow's most iconic pieces of architecture, the cylindrical home of avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov built in the 1920s, is reportedly showing signs of structural damage caused by rumbling from neighboring construction projects and is in danger of being demolished. The New York Times reports that preservationists including Docomomo have sounded the alarm that cracks have been forming in the structure and its foundation. Russian preservation group Archnadzor has filed an appeal to President Vladimir Putin in an effort to save the structure from potential collapse. Currently occupied by Melnikov's granddaughter, Ekatrina Karinskaya, the house has not been officially declared a landmark while an ongoing dispute over ownership plays out. According to the Times, Karinskaya said "the construction is part of a willful plan 'to simply destroy the house.'" Preservationists believe the biggest threat to the house is the underground parking garage at the nearby mixed-use construction project, that could, according to a report posted on Docomomo, cause flooding at the house as the garage structure acts as a dam, blocking the flow of groundwater. Other preservations efforts call for the house to be preserved as a public museum storing all of Melnikov's archival material that is largely inaccessible today. More interior views of the house can be viewed here.
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Plaque of the New
The Gores Pavilion in New Canaan.
Courtesy Philip Johnson Glass House

Twenty-three mid-century modern houses in New Canaan, Connecticut, appear on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, an honor normally given to more traditional houses. The New Canaan Historical Society, a long-time champion of modern architecture, wanted to recognize the achievement with a plaque, but the charming old antique-style ovals usually attached to such structures just didn’t seem to work with rectilinear planes and wide expanses of glass. The solution: a modern design by Alan Goldberg, a former principal in the office of Eliot Noyes.


The new plaque designed by Alan Goldberg.
Courtesy New Canaan Historical Society
 
 

Noyes was the first of the Harvard Five to move to New Canaan—even before Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson. “I wanted the sign to be recognizable, yet clean and simple, compatible with modern architecture’s minimalist philosophy,” said Goldberg. “I chose a simple rectangular shape and a visually interesting format.”

“It’s really an extension of what we’ve been doing for years,” said Janet Lindstrom, executive director of the New Canaan Historical Society, of the modern plaques. The society began to lay the groundwork for a survey of New Canaan’s moderns in 2001, when it began to document the homes in collaboration with modern architecture advocacy group DOCOMOMO. The idea for the current program also grew out of a need for a plaque for the Gores Pavilion (a modern pool house turned exhibition space), which the society recently opened to the public in New Canaan’s Irwin Park.

The criteria for earning a plaque include publication in an architecture journal and/or a spot on one of New Canaan’s modern house tours. Eligible homes also have to have been built before 1980. Seventeen houses now have plaques, and more will follow. The architects include Richard Bergmann, Marcel Breuer, Victor Christ-Janer, Frederick Taylor Gates, Alan Goldberg, Landis Gores, John Johansen, John Black Lee, Gary Lindstrom, Eliot Noyes, Laszlo Papp, Hugh Smallen, Edward Durrell Stone, Ed Winter, and Evan Woolen III.

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Pending Sale of Philadelphia’s Roundhouse Police Headquarters Spurs Campaign for Landmark Status
It has been a rough few months for modernist civic buildings. First, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks denied Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital landmark status, and then came the demolition of Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama, and now the future of The Roundhouse, Philadelphia’s Police Headquarters, hangs in the balance. Last week, during his budget address, Mayor Nutter brought to light the city’s plan to renovate the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Building at 4601 Market Street and turn it into the new police headquarters (to be shared with the City Morgue and the Health Center). Nutter said that the move would mean selling the Roundhouse, along with several other municipal buildings. PlanPhilly reported that the city would pay for the renovation of 4601 Market Street with long-term borrowing, but the costs of the project “would be offset by the sale of the three would-be surplus municipal properties.” The Roundhouse—designed by architectural firm, Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham (GBQC)—is constructed of structural pre-cast panels and was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal Award for Best Philadelphia Architecture in 1963. Right now, graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Graduate Program have teamed up with Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture to come up with different reuse strategies for the Roundhouse. Two graduate students at UPenn, Kimber VanSant and Allee Berger, have launched a campaign, Save the Roundhouse, on Facebook. VanSant and Berger point out that in the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s “In Progress” Philadelphia 2035 plan for the Franklin Square Neighborhood, the Roundhouse is labeled as “Likely for Redevelopment” or referred to as “Police HQ lot,” which indicates that the Roundhouse building might not factor into the overall redevelopment of the area. Berger and VanSant plan on pursuing landmark status for the building, but fear that with a backlog of nominations waiting for approval at the Philadelphia Historical Commission, time might run out before the city’s development gets underway. The two preservationists are also concerned that city officials have misrepresented the condition of the building. “Through the campaign, we’re trying to make it clear that the building is in excellent shape and a great candidate for reuse,” said VanSant. VanSant and Berger said that the next steps will be centered around public engagement, speaking with developers, and eventually forming a coalition with local preservation and modernism  groups. “This building is a physical vestige of when Philly was really going through some transformative changes in the late 1960s. There were a lot of urban renewal campaigns going on at the time. It was a very pivotal time for the city,” said Berger. “The building is a tour de force of architectural engineering.”
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A Battle Lost for Neutra’s Gettsyburg Cyclorama Building
After years of litigation, preservationists have lost the battle to save Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg cyclorama building, an iconic example of modern architecture from the 1960s. The bulldozers could raze this circular visitor center as early as February, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The National Park Service commissioned the glass and concrete building as part of its Mission 66 initiative—a billion-dollar program to update park services across the country—at the Gettysburg Battlefield site.  The rotunda was designed specifically to house the 1883 panoramic painting of the Battle of Gettysburg by Paul Philippoteaux. Modern architecture preservationists and Civil War buffs clashed over the future of the building, which resulted in legal action that required the National Park Service to conduct a review of the demolition and explore alternative solutions. But when Paul Philippoteaux’s painting was relocated to a new visitor center, the fate of Neutra’s building seemed sealed. The National Park Services released its report this past September and determined that there was no other alternative but to tear the building down. The Gettysburg Foundation will pay for the $3.8 million demolition.
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Fate of Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center in the Balance
Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center moved a tentative step closer to demolition yesterday after a subcommittee of the county legislature approved $14.6 million to finance the design of a new $75 million complex. With the subcommittee vote cleared, a full vote by the legislature is expected on May 3. But committee chair Michael Pilmeier’s vote breaking a four to four split hints that the plan may not have the two-third majority of the legislature needed to proceed. Over the past month preservationists fanned out of over the county. DOCOMOMO New York Tristate held three meetings, Rudolph scholar Timothy Rohan gave a lecture in Newberg this past Sunday, and in Goshen today designLAB will deliver a presentation about a their Rudolph renovation project at UMass Dartmouth. The building hasn’t been lacking for attention from the mainstream press either. After delivering front-page coverage, The New York Times held an online debate under the rather editorial heading “Are Some Buildings Too Ugly to Save?” Not surprisingly, The Times got its most vocal opponent on Brutalism from the masthead of The New Criterion, a conservative monthly arts journal. “Brutalist style — which uses raw concrete or other materials to make art galleries look like fallout shelters,” wrote Criterion contributor Anthony M. Daniels. Key to the tight vote was republican Al Buckbee crossing party lines to vote against the proposal. And there’s the rub. As ArtsJournal.com’s Lee Rosenbaum pointed out after the Times article, the Orange County debate essentially pits Democrats against Republicans, though Republicans took pains to distance themselves from the role of aesthetic conservatives. “I would never ask to take a building down because of what it looks like,” county executive director Eddie Diana told AN back in March. Diana attempted to couch his decision to destroy the Brutalist masterwork in conservative financial terms only after his initial $136 million proposal was rejected by the Legislature. The new plan costs $75 million. Meanwhile, estimates for renovating the Rudolph building continued to climb, with one estimate reaching $77 million. Plans for the new county building call for a 175,000 square foot facility. In a letter to Diana, designLAB’s Robert Miklos noted that the Dartmouth building added 22,000 square feet to an 155,000 existing square foot building, making a total of 177,000 square feet, but at a cost of $35 million. Times-Herald reported that number is probably closer to $43 million after design fees and furnishings are factored in—but the number is still less than the Diana proposal. Plenty question the proposal’s financing, with scrutiny centered on bond arrangements and whether a new building qualifies for financing from FEMA (the building sustained damage in Tropical Storm Irene). Yesterday, before voting against the proposal in the committee, legislator Myrna Kemnitz told AN, “You can’t use FEMA monies to build new.” Kemenitz, a consistent critic of the project, said that aesthetic arguments aside, the finances just don't add up. “The entire project was put out there by politicians who are willing to go on the premise that people will never check.”
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Rudolph in Ruins
Rudolph's Orange County Government Center awaits its fate.
Tom Stoelker / AN

Photographer Aracelis Diamantis accompanied AN on a recent tour of Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center and produced a photo essay documenting the building's many details. View the pictorial essay here.

Passing through the colonial charm of Main Street in Goshen, New York, the last thing you expect to find is a Brutalist masterwork, but there it is: Paul Rudolph’s 1971 Orange County Government Center, a series of long windowless boxes stacked ajar as if blown by the force of the cars whooshing past. From the parking lot, the composition reorganizes—transformer-like—into dozens of glass-fronted boxes still unevenly stacked. Over 80 individual roof planes cover the boxes. They leak. They leaked from day one. On April 5, legislators will vote whether to grind Rudolph’s multilayered concrete composition to dust and build anew.

Needless to say, preservationists are alarmed at the prospect of losing yet another Rudolph building in Orange County, having just lost the battle to save Chorley Elementary School in nearby Middletown. Chorley’s delicately exposed trusses beneath opposing angled rooftops gave that building a birdlike appearance. If Chorley looks as though it were about to take flight, then the monumental effort at the government center seems to convey the gravity of complex decisions being made inside, particularly through the variety of concrete. Several distinct combinations of aggregate and formwork butt up against corduroy split block.

   
Early proposals for new Orange County Government Center.
Courtesy Orange County
 

But after Hurricane Irene swept through last August, the mechanical room flooded and the county’s executive director, Eddie Diana—who had already been proposing a new building—had had enough. The building was vacated and the push to tear it down went into full gear. “I would never ask to take a building down because of what it looks like,” said Diana. “But I would for its effectiveness and the ongoing problems, or concerns for the building’s health and of the workers’ health.”

On March 5, Diana proposed a $75 million replacement of the 153,600-square-foot building in a style that would be more in keeping with the village’s colonial past. At 175,000 square feet, the proposed complex is scaled back from an earlier 330,000-square-foot proposal. That proposal would have brought all county government offices to one locale and closed several satellite buildings at a projected cost of $136 million. But preservationists argued that closing the older buildings would sap village street life, to say nothing of county coffers. Diana said the new plan addresses the concern by allocating $10 million to renovate existing buildings, with the total cost now coming in at $85 million.

Cantilevered volumes lend a kinetic quality to Rudolph's facade.
Tom Stoelker
 

Diana also presented two renovation estimates. One from LaBella Associates adds 22,000 square feet to the Rudolph building for $67 million. Another from Holt Construction, without an addition, came in at nearly $77.5 million. Both propose gutting the Rudolph interior and bringing the entire complex up to current energy codes and ADA standards. “The report pandered to Eddie Diana’s cause,” said Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation. “All the numbers for renovation were inflated, and the numbers for a new building are not qualified.”

   
Left to right: Detail of the multi-planed facade; the building's form responds to the movement on the street; a canopy forms the entrance to an interior courtyard.
Tom Stoelker
 

In a subcommittee, legislator Myrna Kemnitz attempted to allocate $40,000 for another study, but the proposal was tabled until the LaBella report came out. Kemnitz said superficial efforts were made, such as core concrete samples and mold tests, but a true forensic study with recommendations was never completed. Instead, the emphasis was placed on new construction.

Frank Sanchis, director of U.S. Programs at the World Monuments Fund, gave LaBella the benefit of the doubt. “They don’t appear to be incompetent, but they just don’t understand the building,” he said. During a February 27 hearing, Kemintz said she had asked LeBella reps if they ever went to see other nearby Rudolph buildings, such as IBM or Yale, to better understand Rudolph’s significance and dwindling legacy. The answer was no.

The World Monuments Fund, Docomomo US/New York Tristate, and the Paul Rudolph Foundation are doubling up on efforts to get the word out in Orange County by holding public forums. The final forum will be held in Port Jervis on March 25.

 

UPDATE: The April 5 legislature vote has been postponed until May.

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Theodore Prudon
View from the Aerial Tramway of Roosevelt Island today with the new residential development in the foreground and the original 1970s complex in the rear.
Greg Goodman

Public opinion of modern architecture has come a long way from the days of lambasting Boston City Hall and scapegoating architecture in the demise of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. With its demolition in 1972 Charles Jencks, almost triumphantly, declared modern architecture dead. Today with our nostalgia for the first half of the twentieth century and all things Mad Men, PanAm, and such, we can say that this is far from the case. It is actually ironic that while PanAm is revived as a show, its terminal at JFK, now used by Delta, is scheduled to be demolished.

Over the last five years Docomomo US (the acronym of the US Chapter of Documentation and Conservation of Buildings Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) has been organizing a national Tour Day. The format of a tour was selected because it is a good way to introduce people to what modern architecture actually looks and feels like and, after all, we are all mighty curious about places we are otherwise not able to visit. Focused around the second weekend in October, tours are conducted of modern buildings and neighborhoods across the country. This year is no exception. Participating in the event include Docomomo’s thirteen regional chapters as well as local organizations with similar interests such as Houston Mod, Historic Albany Foundation, Palm Springs Modern, Phoenix Modern, and the Chicago Architectural Foundation, to name a few. This year we are also collaborating with the National Trust for Historic Preservation for special events at the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and with the Society for Architectural Historians (SAH) and its regional chapters. With 34 tours in 29 cities in 21 states, Tour Day is the nation’s largest annual architecture event.

Tour Day gathers a wide variety of people and organizations with similar missions and interests but who normally do not work together or do not even know about each other. Across the country tours vary widely in focus or building typology. Many of them are focused on single-family residences, one of the significant building types to emerge after the war. On one such tour in Rhode Island, we will be visiting homes designed by Ira Rakatansky, an early graduate of the GSD. The presence of the original architect on the tour will add an extra and interesting dimension to the visits. Similarly tours in Palm Springs, California, Maine, and New Orleans will give an opportunity to visit houses and buildings not normally open to the general public.

Aerial view of Roosevelt Island.
Courtesy Docomomo
 

The New York regional area has always been an integral part of this event and the regional chapter Docomomo US/NY TriState is hosting a tour of Roosevelt Island. The island, unknown to many New Yorkers except for its unique aerial tramway completed in 1976, is actually an interesting example of modern architecture in both its planning and for many of its 1970s buildings.

The history of Roosevelt Island and its development is of note in both a social and an architectural sense, with discussions around its use that are sometimes reminiscent of those today around Governors Island. It is remarkable that an island that started off with the less than auspicious name of Varcken Island (varcken is the 17th Century Dutch word for hog), then Blackwell Island after the family’s farm, and Welfare Island given in 1921, finally emerges in the 21st century some 400 years later once again with a Dutch name, Roosevelt Island. In between, institutions such as hospitals for infections diseases, prisons, and facilities for the poor were banned from the city proper (in medieval times outside the walls), and the island became that location for New York.

In the late 1960s, Mayor John Lindsay appointed a committee to plan for the island, and in turn the committee recommended that it become a residential community. New York State’s Urban Development Corporation (UDC) began a 99-year lease in 1969 and Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee created a plan that called for 5,000-apartment units housing some 20,000 people. The plan identified two major residential areas, Northtown and Southtown, with much of the 1970s development located in Northtown. The island was re-christened Roosevelt Island in 1973, at the same time that Louis Kahn was commissioned to design the FDR memorial, now called the Four Freedoms Memorial and currently under construction.

 
Contemporary view of Main Street and Westview apartments designed by Sert, Jackson and Associates (left) and view of Main Street with the restored Chapel of the Good Shepherd originally designed by Frederick Clark Withers (right).
Katherine Malishewsky
 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a commitment to interesting and affordable, quality housing still existed on a public level. In particular the Roosevelt Island project was one of two that benefited from a HUD program titled New Town-In Town, a provision in the Housing and Development Act. That particular program sought to stimulate large-scale multi-use development projects adjacent to, or in, existing cities. Cedar Riverside in Minneapolis designed by Ralph Rapson is another example of this program and well known as the fictitious home of Mary Tyler Moore in her eponymous show. As the title of the federal program New Town-In Town suggests, Roosevelt Island and its main artery called Main Street, is very reminiscent of the new towns in Britain executed under the various iterations of the Town and Country Planning Acts. This is also reflected in its original social goals of mixed income housing.

The list of architects connected with the project reads in many ways like a history of modern architecture in itself. The island almost becomes an architectural museum not only with its surviving examples from early farming and hospital days but also with these modern buildings. The first phase of the original plan to be built was Northtown and included four buildings: Westview and Eastwood as well as Island House and Rivercross, respectively the work of Jose Lluís Sert, Jackson & Associates, and Johansen & Bhavnani. Motorgate, the parking garage built adjacent to the bridge to Queens was the work of Kallmann McKinnell.

Architects and designers attached to what ultimately happened on Roosevelt Island include Johnson and Burgee; John Johansen (of the New Canaan Five) and his partner Ashok Bhavnani; Jose Lluís Sert (of CIAM, Harvard and Peabody Terrace), Kallmann McKinnell (of Boston City Hall fame); landscape architects like Dan Kiley (of Lincoln Center), Zion & Breen (of Paley Park), and Lawrence Halprin (of the now demolished Skyline Park in Denver). Rem Koolhaas submitted an entry for one of the competitions as shown in his book Delirious New York but was not selected. The FDR memorial as designed by Louis Kahn in 1974 will be the most recent addition and certainly adds to the idea of a collection of modernist architecture.

The significance of the architecture is not limited to modern buildings. The 1888 Chapel of the Good Shepherd, was originally designed by Frederick Clark Withers and described as “the most beautiful church in the city for its most neglected class of humanity.” Its restoration in 1975 was the work of Giorgio Cavaglieri, an early restoration architect known for his innovative adaptive use of the Jefferson Market Courthouse into a New York Public Library.

The island is changing again not only in the number of residential buildings but also in terms of moving away from the ideals that were once the underlying philosophy for its design. One of the factors to which the flight to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s was attributed was the lack of quality and affordable housing. The result was not only the Roosevelt Island plan but also many other architecturally significant buildings throughout New York. Today’s residential construction is mostly market rate and in condominium ownership.

Times have changed and, to contradict Charles Jencks, modern architecture is far from dead. In fact, interest in the period is growing and maybe, for once, we can learn from our mistakes and build better housing that is affordable but also architecturally innovative.

The Docomomo US/NYTriState tour will feature the participation of architects Theodore Liebman, once an architect working for UDC; and Bhavnani, who with his partner Johansen was responsible for the design of some of the residential buildings, among others. The result will be an inside view of the past and a tour of the present. For information on the Roosevelt Island tour or for a complete and up-to-date listing of other tours during the Docomomo US Tour Day, please visit www.docomomo-us.org.

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Remembering Louis Sullivan, Seed-Germ Savant
There’s been no shortage of worthy architectural documentaries in recent years, but you’ll want to make room on your DVD rack for the latest look at a major American figure: Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. Recently given its New York premiere courtesy of the good people at Docomomo New York/Tri-State, this touching and tragic film offers a portrait of the man who perhaps more than anyone aspired to create an American style of architecture, yet was left behind by a nation on the cusp of a century that Sullivan himself did much to define. First-time director Mark Richard Smith frames Sullivan’s story as a battle between the architect's original vision—one explicitly crafted as an expression of American democracy—and historicist styles imported from Europe that would sweep the nation in the late 19th century. The latter are embodied by Sullivan’s Chicago archrival Daniel Burnham, whose triumph at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—where the sprawling White City was an ode to Beaux-Arts classicism—drove the nail in the coffin of modern experimentation, and, as Sullivan bitterly remarked, was the place where “architecture died.” Even for devotees of Sullivan’s astonishing output, the details of his life are not well known, and the film puts his career in the context of a Chicago surging from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, the “Katrina of its day” that created huge opportunities for architects. Into this boom stepped Dankmar Adler, a renowned acoustician but lackluster designer who saw just the creative spark his firm needed in a young Louis Sullivan. Adler & Sullivan would design landmarks such as Chicago’s Auditorium of 1889, taking cues from H.H. Richardson’s brawny Romanesque but leavening it with Sullivan’s unusual decorative programs. When Frank Lloyd Wright joined the team as chief draftsman, one of the great ensembles in architecture was born. (The firm’s work is chronicled in the recent Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, another must-have volume for Chicago architecture aficionados.) The film, itself just released on DVD, taps experts like City University’s Robert Twombly and Chicago historian Tim Samuelson to add depth to Sullivan’s story, including the major innovations marked by his early skyscrapers. Of seven tall buildings he managed to complete, five are left, and the influence those few structures would have on American architecture, with their emphasis on verticality and functional design, is the architect’s last word over his historicist contemporaries. It wasn’t the later Mies or Corb, of course, but Sullivan who coined the phrase that would define the century to come: “form ever follows function.” Nearly all of Sullivan’s major surviving buildings are gorgeously photographed here, with close-up pans across the upper reaches of Buffalo’s Guaranty Building and inside the Auditorium, for example, revealing ornamental details hardly visible from below. Among the discoveries of his late career is a string of one-off bank buildings in small midwestern towns that are delicate masterpieces made by a man who knew history had left him for dead. Chronicling the last years of Sullivan’s life, during which the destitute designer was forced to sell his personal effects at auction, the film pauses over a devastating note inscribed on a drawing made as Sullivan sat in borrowed quarters to compose a primer on ornament. As if reaching back to the inspirational wellspring of his youth, Sullivan writes: “Remember the seed-germ.” For the architecture-obsessed, this is spine-tingling stuff. Louis Sullivan may not pack the psychodrama of Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect, but its close focus on the buildings themselves makes it equally affecting. By the end of this journey through the rafters and across the cornices of a great architect’s career, you feel the film’s sweeping subtitle—the struggle for American architecture—just about hits the mark.
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Mindful Preservation Saves Early Modern Landmark
Zonnestraal Sanatorium after renovations by Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten.
Courtesy WMF

The World Monuments Fund has named Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten the recipients of the 2010 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize for the restoration and rehabilitation of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands, a complex of delicate concrete-and-glass structures with an elegant glazed tower.

Designed in 1926–1928 by Johannes Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet and completed in 1931, the sanatorium is considered a seminal work of early modernism. Though it was well known when it was built, the structure was eventually abandoned, and since then nearly subsumed by the surrounding landscape. Portions of the three-building complex were almost completely lost, so many parts of the sanatorium had to be meticulously reconstructed, including formerly mass-produced elements that had to be recreated by hand.

Zonnestraal Sanatorium before restoration.
The abandoned Zonnestraal Sanatorium was in very poor condition before restoration.

“The prize recognizes projects that are completed through a heroic effort,” said Henry Ng, executive vice president at the World Monuments Fund. Projects, which are solicited through an open call, are evaluated for their architectural significance, the urgency of the project’s plight, and the success and practicality of the solution. According to Ng, the architects directed a careful restoration, while simultaneously devising adaptation and funding strategies that would make the project succeed over the long term. “They crafted a practical and sustainable solution that was also programmatically possible,” he said.

Much of the complex is again being used for medical facilities. In addition, the Zonnestraal project is important not only for its architectural significance, but also for its pivotal role in the preservation of modernism. The project grew out of a cultural resources survey and preservation plan, which eventually led firm principals Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge to found Docomomo.

Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum.
Restoration efforts that saved the Zonnestraal Sanatorium were described as "heroic" by the World Monuments Fund.

Jurors for the prize include chair Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art; Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia; Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University; Dietrich Neumann, professor of the history of art and architecture at Brown; Theo Prudon, president of Docomomo U.S., and writer, teacher, and critic Karen Stein.

“Now that Hubert-Jan Henket’s and Wessel de Jonge’s stabilization work on the restoration is complete, it reconfirms Zonnestraal’s standing as one of the most experimental designs in the fervently creative decades of modernism between the two world wars,” Bergdoll said in a statement. “It is at once a beacon of Dutch rationalism and a major work of modern architecture internationally, one that can now be experienced in a way that resonates with its architect’s intentions.”

 
 
View a slideshow of of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium before and after restoration at the AN Blog.
 

 

This is the second time the biennial prize has been awarded, which, according to Ng, is meant to highlight the role architects play in modern preservation. “The preservation of modernism often requires the knowledge and advocacy of architects,” he noted. The winners will receive a $10,000 award and a Barcelona chair.