Hundreds of historic buildings and landscapes under the administration of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are at risk of being abandoned or demolished, claims a study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation released earlier this month. According to the report, entitled "Honoring Our Veterans: Saving Their Places of Health Care and Healing," the VA has failed to comply with federal preservation requirements and maintain their historic properties, some dating back to the Civil War. The agency has instead favored the expensive construction of new facilities. Owners of over 2,000 historic buildings and landscapes across the country, including hospitals, cemeteries, farm houses, and residences—nearly half of which are unoccupied and at risk of deterioration—claim the VA is currently constructing $10 billion worth of new medical centers despite analysis revealing that it may be more cost effective to renovate existing properties. Texas attorney and preservation expert, Leslie Barras, argues in the report that the VA’s poor management has lead to “wasted taxpayer dollars and the irreversible loss of our nation’s cultural legacy.” The National Trust particularly highlights two projects, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and the Milwaukee National Soldiers Home in Wisconsin, both of which have been designated “National Treasures” by the organization. Battle Mountain Sanitarium was built in 1907 using local sandstone in the Spanish Colonial/Romanesque Revival style. Architect Thomas Rogers Kimball designed the building to provide short-term respiratory treatment for veterans of the Civil War. Instead of restoring the historic building, the VA is proposing to close down the facility and relocate its medical services 60 miles away, citing the claim–identified by the report as false–that patients and staff would prefer a new facility. Another Civil War–era property, the Milwaukee National Soldiers Home and its campus, represents one of the first buildings of its kind in the country as well as some of the oldest in the VA’s holdings. Designed in a Gothic Revival style by Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix in the 1860s, the campus’ stunning "Old Main" stands unoccupied, unmaintained, and in danger of collapse. While the VA’s stock of buildings crumbles, the number of veterans turning to the department for healthcare in the has dramatically risen in the past decade, climbing from 3.4 million in 2000 to 6 million today. But according to the report, the VA has repeatedly elected to construct new facilities instead of putting in the effort to restore and maintain their amazing wealth of historic properties. As Barras told the LA Times, “there’s a perspective that we can’t adapt old buildings, especially for medical facilities.” (Prentice Women's Hospital, anyone?) But preservationists are trying to change that notion.
Posts tagged with "Historic Preservation":
2013 has proven to be a difficult year for post-war concrete architecture. While some iconic structures have managed to emerge from the maelstrom of demolition attempts unharmed, including M. Paul Friedberg’s Peavy Plaza in Minneapolis and (tentatively) the Paul Rudolph–designed Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York (the fate of which still remains uncertain), others have been less lucky. John Johansen’s daring Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama and, more recently, Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Woman’s Hospital in Chicago have all been doomed to the wrecking ball. Despite architectural historian Michael R. Allen's claim that the demolition of the Prentice’ Woman’s Hospital would be Modernism’s “Penn Station Moment,” the trend still pushes on. The next in line to fight for its survival is a set of Paul Rudolph buildings in Buffalo, New York. Tomorrow, November 6, at 8:15 a.m., the Buffalo City Planning Board will convene to decide the fate of five buildings included in Rudolph’s 9.5-acre Shoreline Apartment complex. Completed in 1972, the 142-unit low-income housing development was featured in both the September 1972 issue of Architectural Record as well as the 1970 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Like many of their contemporaries, the inventive, complex forms and admirable social aspirations of the development have been overshadowed by disrepair, crime, and startling vacancy rates (30 percent in 2006 according to Buffalo Rising). Now, Norstar Development USA, who have owned the property since 2006, are moving forward with their plans to replace five of Rudolph’s complex, brutalist townhouses with eight new buildings containing 48 new housing units. "With few exceptions, Paul Rudolph's buildings can be recognized by their complexity, their sculptural details, their effects of scale and their texture,” wrote Arthur Drexler, the longstanding Director of MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department, in 1970. Drexler exhibited Rudolph’s original, much more dramatic scheme for Buffalo’s Shoreline Apartments alongside pending projects by Philip Johnson and Kevin Roche in an exhibition entitled Work in Progress. The projects on display were compiled to represent a commitment “to the idea that architecture, besides being technology, sociology and moral philosophy, must finally produce works of art.” Rudolph’s original scheme, composed of monumental, terraced, prefabricated housing structures, provided an ambitious alternative to high-rise dwelling that was meant to recall the complexity and intimacy of old European settlements. Drexler wrote in the exhibition brief that, despite the project’s massive scale, it was “designed to suggest human use, affording both inhabitants and passersby a kaleidoscopic variety." The Shoreline Apartments that stand today represent a scaled down version of the original plan. Featuring shed roofs, ribbed concrete exteriors, projecting balconies and enclosed gardens, the project combined Rudolph’s spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled, low-rise, high-density housing developments. The project's weaving, snake-like site plan was meant to create active communal green spaces, but, like those of most if its contemporaries, the spaces went unused, fracturing the fabric of Buffalo. Since 2006, Norstar Development has reportedly spent $19 million sprucing up the complex, adding new facades, windows, and railings to some of the buildings, and combining smaller apartments to make larger family units. The next step of their redevelopment includes the demolition of five currently-vacant Rudolph buildings. This is only “Phase 1” of Norstar’s operation, so stay tuned for more (heart)breaking news from the Queen City.
Artists in Flint, Michigan are used to morbid analogies, but Spencer’s Art House is literally using a funeral home to “demonstrate Flint’s potential for rebirth.” The project turned a 120-year-old mortuary in Flint’s historic Carriage Town neighborhood into an alternative space for artists, designers, and engineers. It’s a gut rehab and then some, but the project has attracted the full force of Flint’s artistic community. Vacant 15 years, the space has hosted concerts, puppet shows, community meetings, and other events since various artists and student groups began to fix it up. Flint’s Public Art Project passed along the news that the team launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $12,000. Their project uses only recycled materials, reclaimed from construction dumpsters, occasional donations, and to-be demolished houses around the city. In addition to clearing debris in Spencer’s House, the team has added weatherproof siding, rainwater harvesting systems, and an outdoor amphitheater.
Curbed Detroit drew our attention to that city’s Fist National Building and its year-long renovation. The Albert Kahn-designed building opened in 1930. Its interiors have fallen into disrepair, including the original plaster ceiling. In preparation for Papa Joe’s Gourmet Kitchen, which will occupy 15,000 square feet of the building’s Cadillac Square frontage, the building’s ground floor underwent a massive renovation. The work uncovered the old plasterwork, raising the ceiling height in the process. A flowing white element was added to accent the historic ceiling. Photos courtesy Chris and Michelle Gerard.
After a thorough search to identify a live/work project site in New York City, Artspace selected the former Public School 109 in East Harlem, a distinctive five-story building with copper-clad cupolas and decorative terrace cotta designed by Charles B.J. Snyder in 1898. The newly renovated building will include 90 units of affordable housing for artists and their families and 10,000 square feet of non-residential space for non-profits and community organizations. The Gothic Revival-style building is listed on both the National and State Register of Historic Places, and as part of the $52 million live/work project Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects and Victor Morales Architects plan to restore much of the terra cotta and reinstall original gargoyles and a large spire. Apartments range from 480 to 980 square feet with 100 to 150 extra square feet for artists to use as studio spaces, and feature large windows, high ceilings, and wide doorways. The project consists of common spaces such as galleries, meeting rooms and green space that promote community involvement. Applications will be available in Spring 2014. To assist the area in preserving its traditional Latino culture, at least half of the units will be reserved for current East Harlem residents.
Venerable old institutions in England are looking for a fresh look these days. The nearly 200-year-old Old Vic Theatre in London is the latest to make plans for a much-needed facelift. The institutions artistic director, actor Kevin Spacey, is committed to bringing the structure into the 21st century through refurbishment of the current building and expansion into a newly acquired adjacent space. The Guradian reported that the theater is working with architecture firm Bennetts Associates Architects to develop plans for the restoration, which will be submitted in an application to the local government this November. The new Old Vic will include an increase in front-of-house services, improved accessibility for disabled persons, and urgent repairs to the leaking roof. Spacey has often acknowledged the crumbling state of the theater, one of the oldest in London, especially the severe damage of its dribbling roofs and Victorian plumbing. The restoration plans to update the theater’s facilities and increase the amount available, create a public café and bar, an outdoor terrace, and a community event space. The improved theater will also provide step-free access and wheelchair spaces to allow for universal mobility within the building. Backstage, rehearsal rooms and green rooms will be improved. And the creation of an entirely new studio dedicated to the theater’s education and emerging talent program, Old Vic New Voices, will eliminate current reliance on rented space. Spacey has vowed to raise $33 million (£20M) for the project by the end of 2015, the year he plans to retire from his position. Although no timeline has been set, theater officials hope to begin construction in the next five years, but that date depends on fundraising.
The US National Academy of Sciences has published the results of a survey performed in April 2012 of the forests of Cambodia, which uncovered a monumental, intricate landscape of low-density urban sprawl connected to ancient ruins of Angkor Wat that dates back to more than 700 years, invalidating archaeologists’ current understandings of pre-industrial urbanism. Until now, scholars have based their thoughts of medieval cities around the world on European cities. This study has revealed a colossal low-density urban system with working citadels and vast infrastructures in Cambodia. Lara Dunston of The Guardian wrote that the “high-tech survey of Khmer Empire sites has rocked the archaeological world and captured travelers’ imaginations.” The densely populated, sophisticated landscape system consists of and links Angkor cities such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Bayon, along with seldom visited medieval city ruins of Phnom Kulen, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, over 62 miles away. Koh Ker, 75 miles from Siem Reap, and Beng Mealea, 32 miles away, were thought of as isolated structures, but the study has revealed that they were actually large outlying service centers for Angkor.
The small tourist hotspot of Belize, with its pristine Caribbean coastlines, lush rainforest, and ancient Mayan ruins, suffered a dramatic loss recently when one 2,300-year-old ruin was razed. The 100-foot-tall Nohmul Mayan Pyramid was bulldozed to create gravel fill for a road-building project, its hand-cut limestone construction visible as excavators tore into the structure. According to CNN, authorities in Belize will be conducting an investigation and, even though the ruin was on a privately owned sugar-cane field, criminal charges are likely. The Nohmul pyramid, lying at the northern tip of Belize, was once home to a settlement of 40,000 people in 250 B.C. It was not open for tourists but had been excavated many times throughout the past century. Under Belizean law, all Mayan ruins, even those on privately owned land, are protected from destruction, but being on privately owned land does make if more difficult to detect destruction. Thus, smaller Mayan ruins are destroyed continually across Belize and neighboring countries, though not usually at this scale.
The Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced yesterday its shortlist of design firms to rehabilitate the Walter Gropius-designed US Embassy building in Greece, known as the Athens Chancery. The four firms were selected out of an applicant pool of 56 submissions, and include: Ann Beha Architects, DesignLab Architects, Machado Silvetti / Baker, and Mark Cavagnero Associates. “The shortlisted submissions presented projects that were well-conceived and well-executed, displaying a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitations of complex modern structures,” the OBO said in a statement. While in keeping with a modernist aesthetic, the building, completed in 1961, is also a nod to the Parthenon with its white columns and marble facade. Following the selection, the four firms will be expected to establish their technical teams and provide more detailed information on their work and experience for the next phase of consideration.
Last month AN compiled a list of the most high profile projects taking place in Miami, and on a recent trip to the Magic City, we had the opportunity to visit two of these sites: the shuttered Marine Stadium and Herzog and de Meuron's new building for the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). While new developments flood Miami, preservationists are fighting to save and revive the abandoned Marine Stadium on Virginia Key by Cuban-born architect Hilario Candela. In 2009, the graffiti-covered venue that once held powerboat racing events and large-scale concerts, was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “11 Most Endangered Historic Places.” Now that the advocacy group, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, has won the approval from Miami City Commission for its Virginia Key Master Plan, including the restoration of the 6,566-seat stadium, the next step is winning the approval for the site plan and raising $20 million. When the Miami Art Museum started to outgrow its cramped quarters in Philip Johnson's Miami-Dade Cultural Center, museum officials and board members selected Herzog and de Meuron to design a new building (now dubbed the Perez Art Museum Miami) right on Museum Park overlooking Biscayne Bay, what Jorge Perez, real estate developer and the benefactor of the museum, has said is the "last big piece of public land downtown." "The board wanted a building that was first functional, and not just a piece of sculpture," said Thom Collins, Director of PAMM. The concrete and glass structure is a nod to Stiltsville, a vernacular form of architecture originally built on the bay in the 1930s, and will house a variety of exhibition spaces to accommodate works of different scale. "Our project was principally driven by the recognition of the fact that Miami is becoming a home for contemporary art," said Collins. "Our building now has no room for storage or conservation, or education."
The slow and tortured demise of Chicago's Prentice Women's Hospital now has an official stamp: according to the Chicago Tribune, Northwestern University was issued a demolition permit for the Bertrand Goldberg cloverleaf last Friday. Wrecking crews will be on site in a few weeks after asbestos abatement wraps up, and there are sure to be protesters around the construction fence. Of course, as seems all too common, the city is also busy readying soldiers for the next preservation battle. The 1957 Edo Belli-designed Cuneo Memorial Hospital is targeted for demolition, but Uptown residents have reached out to Preservation Chicago for support seeking landmark status. The group listed the building on its 2012 list of seven most-threatened structures in the city. Add this to what happened to Prentice and it isn’t a good year to be a midcentury modernist hospital in Chicago.
Northern Illinois may not have pyramids (you’ll have to go to elsewhere in the Midwest for that) but the Egyptian Theatre continues Pharaoh Ramses II’s reign over downtown DeKalb, IL. As this post in PreservationNation describes, the movie house has undergone a series of restoration efforts since it landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Designed by architect Elmer F. Behrns in 1929, the theater’s pharaoh sculptures, scarab stained glass, and winged orb marquee fell into disrepair by the late seventies, when the theater closed. It reopened in 1983, but renovations continued until recently. In the last six years building rehabilitation and maintenance exceeded $1.5 million, but creative fundraising—the owners, Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre, Inc., sold the theater’s original seats when they were replaced in 2011 and even started running popular haunted tours—have helped fill the financial gap. The building owners hope to continue renovations, including replacing the carpeting and installing air conditioning.