Sometimes photographs are used to tell a story. Other times they mark the passage of time or celebrate a joyous moment or memory. And if we are lucky, we can catch a glimpse of what interested the photographer and how they experienced that moment. Today, we view much of our architecture through the literal and figurative lens of professional photography that circulates on design websites, firm pages, and social media. But how do architects see their own work? The work of their contemporaries? What happens when the architect takes control of the camera? The University of Southern California has digitized approximately 1,300 slides by architect Pierre Koenig and architect and color slide company owner, Fritz Block. Those images now reside in a public database documenting the pair's photographs of mostly 1950s and 1960s midcentury modern architecture on the West Coast. Koenig had already selected certain images for digitization in the late 1990s, though unfortunately that didn't come to pass. But now architects, designers, midcentury modern fanatics, and history buffs can get a unique glimpse into a wide range of modern architecture. The photo database's of projects include Koenig’s Case Study #22, John Lautner's Foster Residence, and Pietro Belluschi's Central Lutheran Church. “The Block and Koenig slides are two of the smaller unique collections in the possession of the USC Libraries,” explains USC on the collection's webpage. “They document examples of 20th century California architecture that developed stylistically from the foundations of the International Style as established by the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, titled Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, and of European pre-World War II Modernism.”
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One of the nation’s oldest engineering societies is set to remodel its St. Louis Mid-Century Modern home. The 65-year-old building of the Engineers’ Club of St. Louis will be getting a much needed renovation by the local design and planning firm Remiger Design. As an organization, the 150 year old Engineers’ Club of St. Louis has over 1,000 members. Along with the Engineers’ Club, the club’s building is home to over 30 other affiliated groups, representing over 14,000 engineers, architects, and other building tradespeople from the St. Louis region. Once the renovation is complete the building will become known as the Engineering Center, changing from the Engineers’ Club, to better represent the diverse set of organizations that it houses. Situated in St. Louis’s Central West End, the building was built in 1958 by St. Louis' noted mid-century modernist firm Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz and Van Hoefen. With its distinctive roofline and car-centric design—the main entrance faces the parking lot on the back of the building—the new design will keep some of the old while updating particular aspects for more contemporary uses. From the exterior, notable changes will include the moving of the entrance, new cladding, and an extended patio with updated landscaping. Along with the building’s angular roofline, its Modernist parapet detailing will be preserved. The interior of the building will see the greatest changes, including a complete remodel of the auditorium. By leveling the current slopped seating area the space will be converted to a more flexible meeting area. Other spaces will be converted to seminar rooms to facilitate the clubs S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering Math) youth education programs. Planned to be phased over the coming years, construction on will begin spring 2016 “Designing this renovation project for the Engineering Center is a unique opportunity for us to work directly with an organization that has made historically significant contributions to the profession of engineering,” remarked Vern Remiger, president of Remiger Design in a statement to the press. Remiger Design is also heavily involved with the renovation of the park around the St. Louis Gateway Arch, with Vern Remiger acting as the Design Team Manager for the CityArchRiver organization.
In addition to being AN's Midwest Editor, I was the special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, interviewing tall building designers, developers, and other experts at the skyscraper think tank's Shanghai conference, and its annual CTBUH Awards ceremony in Chicago. In Chicago I interviewed two of the minds behind the recent overhaul to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (technically, in an extraterritorial space contiguous with Midtown Manhattan). Michael Adlerstein, of the U.N. Capital Master Plan & John Gering, managing partner of design firm HLW International, discussed the retrofit of the 1953 United Nations Secretariat Building, a finalist in CTBUH's 2014 awards. “Not many buildings in our time are looking at the exterior window wall and composition with the interior as one system. In many cases they're looking at them as either the exterior or interior,” said Gering. “What we looked to do was blend those two things together, and the end result was a lot of energy savings.” The handsome glass skyscraper exemplifies midcentury office design, drawing on the expertise of its architects, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But its outmoded performance standards left it in need of a serious update. In that sense the project to retrofit the building—which also included firms Heintges & Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, and Rolf Jensen & Associates—is a case study for repurposing aging office buildings around the world. “All buildings need to be considered for recycling because they do incorporate tremendous embodied energy … And not just beautiful buildings and buildings where treaties were signed,” said Adlerstein. “I do feel the preservation movement has to move beyond iconic buildings.”
More than 40 years after its last high-rise fell, the site of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe public housing development remains basically empty. Design competitions, documentaries, and local developers have all pondered its future. Now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has said it’s considering the 34 acres once home to the infamous housing project as a location for 3,000 jobs. The website nextSTL reported this week that the NGA—a federal agency created in 1996 to provide maps and data for national defense—is looking at Pruitt-Igoe as it relocates its St. Louis offices from the city’s Kosciusko neighborhood. The site is one of six under consideration, but officials say the decision won't be made until 2016. The city recently sought $25 million in infrastructure improvements to the area, which some called a necessary investment regardless of the site’s future. Others disparaged it as a handout to developer Paul McKee, who has an option on the Pruitt-Igoe site and already owns nearly 2,000 other parcels of land in St. Louis. In January the city extended McKee's option, which he purchased in 2012 for just over $1 million, for another two years. The infamous post-war development in St. Louis’ DeSoto-Carr neighborhood (now Carr Square) was demolished less than 20 years after its construction in 1954. Photos of its demolition with the Gateway Arch in the distance have come to symbolize the failure of midcentury public housing projects in the U.S. Several of the development’s smaller buildings remain, including a one-story brick building that served as the development’s electric substation, three churches, a library, a school and a health center.
A few years ago, Realtor Monique Lombardelli fell in love with the work of Joseph Eichler, the developer whose architect-designed tract homes proliferated throughout Northern and Southern California in the decades following World War II. “[The Eichler homes] provide such a great environment, more of a relaxing, open feel,” she said. Lombardelli’s passion led her to produce a documentary on Eichler’s legacy, which in turn piqued her clients’ interest. “I started getting a lot of clients who wanted one, and there wasn’t anything to show them,” said Lombardelli. “Then I sold one that was a remodel, and everyone said, ‘I want an Eichler.’” Lombardelli wondered: was it possible to build new, Eichler-inspired homes based on the developer’s original plans? She describes the process of uncovering the plans as a “treasure hunt” during which she felt like Sherlock Holmes—following evidence from one archive to the next, trying to convince the archivists that her project was worthwhile. “It’s funny because all the people at these different archives, they said, ‘These plans, most of them have been thrown out, nobody cares. Why do you want them?’” recalled Lombardelli. She eventually found luck at the archives at UC Berkeley and Stantec. “Stantec has everything, it was a mecca, a nirvana for Eichler,” said Lombardelli. “I walked in there and it was like being in heaven.” Lombardelli purchased rights to everything the archives hold, which so far totals 65 plans. (The archives are so dense, said Lombardelli, that they are likely to uncover more plans as time goes on.) To turn her dream of building “new” Eichlers into a reality, Lombardelli needed a developer. That’s where Troy Kudlac of Palm Springs’ KUD Properties comes in. “I gave up a couple of times,” said Lombardelli, citing inflated estimates. “Modernism should not be that expensive—that’s what Joe [Eichler] said originally, that modernism should be experienced by everybody.” Kudlac agrees. He plans to build one or two Eichler-inspired homes in Palm Springs on spec. If all goes well, he’ll develop a small tract of about ten homes. “With something this kind of cutting edge and revolutionary, I’ve got to prove the concept,” said Kudlac. KUD Properties will submit plans to the city of Palm Springs by the end of March. They hope to break ground by mid-summer. In the meantime, Lombardelli is fielding inquiries from developers in Tampa, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Brazil, London, and elsewhere. She’s resisted requests to alter the plans, except where modern building codes require it. “I think we really need to respect what we’ve been brought up with, what our history is,” she said. “There’s a soul in each of these houses that really resonates with me. To duplicate that is very difficult, but I think if you’re duplicating that to make them live on, we have to keep them the same."
New plans for Chicago's Purple Hotel site don't have their predecessor's color, in any sense of the word, but many may view the mixed-use "town center" plaza as the antidote to the site's lurid history. The quirky midcentury hotel in suburban Chicago seemed to escape its fate last year when architect Jackie Koo drew up plans to save the vacant hotel and its divisive color scheme. But demolition on the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, IL began late last month. Organizers of the village's end-of-summer festival apparently raised $5,000 for the local library through sales of purple brick. Renderings made public this week show a “new urbanist” plaza from Antunovich Associates that do not include anything purple; instead the 11 acres at 4500 W. Touhy Ave. would be home to an open-air shopping mall, functional green space, 110 apartments, a grocery store and a new 210-room hotel. About one third of the development’s parking spaces will be hidden underground. The design awaits village plan commission hearings.
Preserving mid-century modern architecture has become a hot-button issue around the country as aging icons are becoming old enough to be called historic. Last year a citizen-led preservation effort to save the unlikely icon in St. Louis, a threatened gas-station-turned-fast-food-restaurant with a distinctive concrete saucer, was launched. Now, it looks like the building will once again become a burrito stand as the developer has confirmed the building will house a Starbucks and a Chipotle. NextSTL has the details.
When St. Louis architects Schwarz and Van Hoefen designed a 120-foot diameter flying saucer in 1967 along the city's Grand Boulevard, historic preservation was likely the last thing on their minds. Today faced with demolition, the structure's concrete cantilever has garnered tremendous public outcry and has become a local icon. (It's facebook page numbers over 11,600 fans, trouncing the 850 fans of Chicago's threatened Prentice Tower.) It's hard to imagine a gas station turned drive through restaurant could muster such support with such an anti-urban background, but the Del Taco building isn't leaving without a fight. Developer Rick Yackey has asked to tear down the National Register-nominated building to construct what he is calling a more pedestrian-friendly retail strip along the boulevard. His plans have already won approval from the St. Louis Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, but a number of hurdles remain. St. Louis Mayor Slay has promised extra review before a number of commissions including the Preservation Review Board. Tomorrow, the St. Louis Board of Alderman will take up the issue. Writing on his blog, the mayor said:
Whatever they believe “aldermanic courtesy” requires, I hope that aldermen take notice of the building’s popularity, particularly among younger residents for whom buildings of the 1950s and 1960s really are old buildings. If aldermen, after mature consideration, approve a plan that allows the demolition of the Del Taco building and the developer subsequently applies for a demolition permit, I will ask Cultural Resources Office director Betsy Bradley to review the permit and make a professional recommendation to the Preservation Board about further action.Meanwhile, the prospect of preserving the unlikely icon is pushing the issue of mid-century-modern preservation to the fore.