Despite pleas for preservation from some of the nation’s top architects, demolition work has begun on a nationally significant example of “Brutalist” architecture in north America, the 1967 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland, designed by the late John M. Johansen. A yellow backhoe with a spike-like attachment began chipping into the theater’s concrete exterior earlier this month, ending any chance that the building could be saved. One local preservationist was able to salvage the original letters from the building, but nothing else. The Mechanic is one of two major Brutalist works by Johansen targeted for demolition in recent years, along with the 1970 Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Owners of the Baltimore theater, a development group headed by David S. Brown Enterprises, plan to replace it with a high rise containing 476 residences and street level commercial space. Shalom Baranes Associates of Washington is the architect. Named for local businessman Morris Mechanic, who built it, the 1,600 seat theater at 1 N. Charles Street was designed to be the sculptural centerpiece of Charles Center, a 33-acre renewal project in downtown Baltimore. When it opened, the theater was hailed as a symbol of the city’s rejuvenation. The building was considered a prime example of the architectural movement known as “Brutalism” or “New Brutalism,” because it involved creating an unadorned, free form building with raw concrete -- “breton brut” in French. Johansen, a pioneer in the movement, described the theater as “functional expressionalism,” because the exterior was designed to express what was going on inside The building received numerous awards and accolades in architectural circles, but it also sparked controversy. One theater critic, unimpressed with the exposed concrete interior, lamented that going to the Mechanic was like watching performances inside a storm drain. A public official likened its shape to that of a poached egg on toast. In 2009, it was ranked Number One on a British publication’s list of the “World’s Top Ten Ugliest Buildings.” Johansen defended it to the end. “The Mechanic Theatre is one of my favorites,” he said in 2007. “It’s right up there at the top of the list. It’s a dear, dear building. It’s not brutalistic, as some say. It’s like a flower, opening its petals. It has drawing power.” The theater closed in 2004, after a larger performing arts center opened in the restored 1914 Hippodrome Theater several blocks away, with more seats and backstage facilities designed to accommodate touring Broadway style shows. The Mechanic was dormant for years, and eventually was acquired by Brown and owners of a parking garage underneath. They initially asked Baranes to prepare a design that retained most of the theater’s shell as part of a larger development, but opposed efforts to have the theater designated a city landmark -- a warning signal to preservationists. Before he died in 2012 at age 96, Johansen, the last of the “Harvard Five,” pleaded with Baltimore officials to designate the theater a landmark and not issue a demolition permit. To support his case, he submitted a hand-drawn design showing how the theater could be incorporated into a larger mixed use center. More than a dozen well known architects wrote letters to the city supporting landmark designation, including Hugh Hardy, Richard Rogers, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, and James Stewart Polshek, who urged public officials to save the building from “the wrecking ball of greed.” Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation added the Mechanic to a “special list” that offered temporary protection from demolition. But two other civic bodies in Baltimore, the Planning Commission and City Council, never agreed to add it to the city’s permanent landmark list, which would have given it more protection. Saying they could find no tenants for the repurposed theater after years of looking, the developers abandoned their initial plans, asked Baranes to design a mixed use development without the theater on the site, and applied for a demolition permit. They waited out the six month protection period afforded by the preservation panel’s emergency listing and received their demolition permit earlier this year.
Posts tagged with "Brutalism":
This month, a newly opened public campus center brought the brutalist Erasmus University Rotterdam Woudestein Campus back to life. In a collaborative effort by several Dutch architectural firms, three projects have been realized at Woudestein to create a contemporary on-campus heart for student gathering. Integrating existing grounds of several elevations, the sustainably built center provides multi-level student resources and is the first phase of a university-wide redevelopment master plan, which will extend into 2015. Designed by Juurlink [+] Geluk Amsterdam and Jvantspijker Architects, this central axis of the campus is the first revitalization in their master plan, encouraging student community while tying together the north and south sides of the university map. Erasmus Plaza, a large outdoor courtyard, becomes the “center of gravity” of the Woudestein campus as a low elevation surrounded by the university’s original voluminous and sculptural late 1960s structures. The landscaped plaza contains a large rectangular pond, water features that retain excess rain, and purifying plants. On the same plane is a new contemporary building, a student pavilion for amenities and resources by architecture firms Powerhouse Company and DeZwarteHond. The glass box with a wooden auditorium core has sliding lamellas to close or open the building’s transparent facade. Each wooden lamella was designed individually in 3D to create the precise, curving facade panels that cover most of the sides of the glass structure. This passive construction uses outside weather conditions to reduce energy consumption and a green roof with solar panels and renewable construction materials build an energy-neutral structure. With a double height ceiling and open steps on one side, the student pavilion flows between two elevations. In clever urban planning, it connects the low Plaza with the roof level of a semi-sunken parking garage by Sputnik Architecture Urbanism Research, Jvantspijker Architects, and Juurlink [+] Geluk Amsterdam. The parking structure becomes a stepping stool to the height of the existing academic buildings on the site while providing 1,000 new student parking spaces. It contains two access levels, one from Erasmus Plaza and one from its roof and marks the entrances of the campus, through its new campus heart. With modernizations to the campus center, Erasmus University Rotterdam hopes to become “an inspiring learning, living and working environment with a unique style: cosmopolitan, transparent, open and welcoming to encourage both formal and informal encounters.”
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.
Concrete architecture from the 1970s hasn't been faring well of late, but while Bertrand Goldberg's expressionist Prentice Hospital seems destined for the wrecking ball, Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York has been spared. In a 15-6 vote, the members of the Orange County Legislature backed a resolution to renovate the building, defeating efforts by County Executive Edward Diana who has pushed for demolition of Rudolph's dynamic and puzzling structure. The arguments hinged on cost more than on architectural merit, but even so, architecture fans will be relieved that this unique building will be spared.
John Johansen's iconic Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City may be demolished in the next year. Built with a $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation, the so called "Brutalist" building was closed in 2010 due to flooding and a local Oklahoma City group has been trying to purchase it for a downtown children's museum. When the building flooded, the theater moved and ownership of the property was transferred to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation who been negotiating with the museum group to transfer ownership to them. But negotiations have broken down over a request by the Childrens Museum to pay the foundation $25,000 to hold a right of first refusal on any sale of the property for one year. It's a sad day for this great building but the foundation seems determined to do away with it and the estimated cost of $30 million is more than the museum group can raise in a year. Meanwhile Johansen, who was one of our most important architects in the 1960s and 1970s and at 96 lives in Cape Cod, may witness yet another one of his buildings falling to a wrecking ball. His 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore is facing similar fate as preservationists and developers fight over the building. Mechanics Theater was denied landmark status in 2007 and its fate may already be sealed.
The perplexing yet bewitching jumble of concrete boxes known as Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York has been granted a reprieve. The county legislature voted 11 to 10 against a bond issue which would have funded the demolition of the Paul Rudolph designed building. Preservationists and architects have been following the project closely, and have made compelling arguments against the demolition and in favor of renovation. No word yet on whether the county will move to renovate the building, which suffers from leaks as well as damage from tropical storm Irene.
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.”
The PoMo aficionados were out in force at yesterday’s Landmarks Preservation hearing for the new proposal for South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. It would seem that just as debate on the value of 1970s Brutalism shifts into high gear, the 1980s PoMo crowd is revving its engines. As preservationists and developers whacked it out, some larger questions about context and neighborhood integration arose. The SHoP-designed tectonic glass response to Ben Thompson’s wood-clad gables of the exiting 1985 Pier 17 building is a clear break from the past, both literally and figuratively. SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli didn’t mince words when he told the New York Times “We’re taking away the po-mo and making it a real waterfront market building.” But Thompson, who died in 2002, had plenty of defenders on hand yesterday, including a statement from his wife Jane Thompson, who warned that real estate in the new plan “will inevitably rise to premium rates; privatization will intensify, which forces a turn to luxury retail.” Elise Quasebarth, of the preservation consultancy group Higgins Quasebarth, testified on behalf of Howard Hughes Corporation, the developer, that many of the upland elements planned in conjunction with the 1980s "festival marketplace" are still fundamentally robust. The SHoP worked with James Corner Field Operations to further integrate the street grid through a north-south connection to the East River Waterfront Esplanade and east-west connections to Beekman and Fulton streets. But the deal between NYC Economic Development Corporation and Howard Hughes has a distinct cutoff point at the so-called Tin Building. The empty 1907 structure, which formerly housed a market, sits at the river’s edge where the pier juts into the river. Though the plan has the support of Community Board 1, the board did encourage a master plan that carries through the entire South Street Seaport Historic District. Further complicating matters, the district actually cuts through half of Pier 17. The board resolved the districting by extending the boundary to incorporate the north section of the pier as well. The concern was driven home by local wine merchant Marco Pasanella who testified that the uplands should be considered as part and parcel pier plan and that only a “holistic” approach would work, particularly while the pier is under construction. Pasanella said the big picture should ensure that the plan attract similar tenants and “the right sort of visitors." Speaking on behalf of the Howard Hugh’s Corporation, senior executive vice president Chris Curry said the taking the nearby elements into account, particularly the Tin Building, would require a separate ULURP. He added that the company wants to make an immediate investment, though that wouldn't preclude additional investments down the line. For the time being however, the cutoff point leaves a few of Thompson’s gables left at the back of the pier. Pasquarelli said they would be painted a uniform color to visually drop away. The gables would still function as a mask for mechanical equipment. If all goes as planned, a little slice of PoMo might survive after all.
Talk of William Pereira’s Geisel Library, the well-known symbol of UC San Diego, has been abuzz online because of its Snow Fortress doppelganger in Inception, which has so far totaled close to half a billion dollars in ticket sales. Built in the late 1960s, this textbook example of Brutalism perfectly encapsulates the hostile, uncommunicative theme of Inception. Critics of the style say Brutalist architecture disregards the history and harmony of its environment. Thus, the Snow Fortress, featured at the film’s climax, is a symbol of disregard for preordained fate. Although the Geisel Library, named after Theodore Seuss Geisel or Dr. Seuss, was conceived over five decades ago, it does not seem out of place in a futuristic world. Similarly, the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, designed by George H. Wyman, was built in 1893. Yet, this “retro-futuristic-gothic” building was featured in Blade Runner, The Outer Limits and Mission: Impossible, among others. Minority Report used the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C. as its Orwellian police headquarters (Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House also starred as Harrison Ford's residence in Blade Runner). Greene and Greene's Robert R. Blacker House in Pasadena is an iconically American house that served as Dr. Emmett Brown’s house in Back to the Future and a grandfather’s house in Armageddon. It seems regardless of how futuristic a movie is, the buildings of yesteryear and today can still lend their symbolic power to help layer a movie with meaning.
Quick! Name that Building! That's right, it's time for another round of our favorite game. You can probably name the architect, thanks to the ribbons of his signature corduroy concrete, to say nothing of the cantilevered passageways and swooping staircases. So it's Paul Rudolph. But which of his masterworks? It's not a famous one, so you'll probably never guess. Okay, you got it. It's the Hurley Building of his Government Service Center in Boston. It's an impressive star turn for an architect whose buildings haven't faired so well of late. And yet it's good to know that when those Madison Avenue Fatcats still need a structure to shoot on that screams hip futurism, Rudolph's the go-to guy. Dude's still got it.