Posts tagged with "Preserving Modernism":

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Another Brutalist Wonder Bites the Dust: Johansen’s Mechanic Theatre

Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore (photo: Edward Gunts) 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. Mechanics Theatre in Baltimore (Edward Gunts) 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.” Mechanics Theatre in Baltimore (photo: Edward Gunts) 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.
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Another Lautner-Designed Building in Los Angeles Threatened With Demolition

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, yet another John Lautner building is in imminent danger. This time it's the architect's Crippled Children's Society Rehabilitation Center, now known as the AbilityFirst Paul Weston Work Center, in Woodland Hills. Current owner AbilityFirst and Oakmont Senior Living, the potential buyer, submitted for a demolition and new construction permit in February, hoping to build a new Eldercare facility on the site, and the project was presented at a city Zoning Administration public hearing this week. At the meeting the Conservancy stressed that the structure was identified through the city’s SurveyLA survey process in 2013 as eligible for listing in both the California Register and as a local Los Angeles landmark. But it was not identified by LA City Planning as a historic resource in the project’s environmental review. In a letter to LA City Planning the Conservancy said the review's conclusion that the new building will have "no impact" was based on "flawed analysis," and called for the city to reject its findings. The building, designed in 1979, was built on a unique circular, pie-shaped plan, with wings radiating from a central office. The conservancy is trying to stop it from joining Lautner's Shusett House (below) in Beverly Hills, which was torn down in 2010. The Conservancy is asking people to write to LA City planning about the building by Tuesday.
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Moscow’s Shukhov Tower Will Be Dismantled, But Opposition Mounting [Updated]

After racking up a winning medal score at the Sochi Olympics, the host country is set to lose one of its most iconic pieces of architecture. It’s not an Olympic stadium, but the Shukhov Radio and Television Tower in Moscow, which dates back to the 1920’s. The engineer behind the project, Vladimir Shukhov, is credited with creating the world’s first hyperboloid steel structures, an invention that would influence the world of architecture for generations.
According to the Shukhov Tower Foundation, this structure’s 500-feet of latticed steel served as a communications tower for over 80 years in Russia. And it was the first major structure built after the Russian Revolution. But this piece of Soviet history has fallen into disrepair and could disappear entirely.
The Moscow Times reports that plans are in place to dismantle the building this year. The Communications and Press Ministry claims that the structure must come down to prevent the risk of it collapsing; they also contend that disassembling the tower might be the best way to protect its future. The Communications Minister told a local Russian paper, “the only possible option for a solution to the problem is a two stage reconstruction and renovation of the radio tower, which stipulates in the first stage its dismantling for the conservation and preservation of elements for later restoration.” These claims, though, are being challenged by preservationists, including Vladimir Shukhov, the great-grandson of the tower’s engineer, who also runs the Shukhov Tower Foundation. He has said the structure is in bad condition, but that it is stable. He also tells AN that the tower is a “unique and very important object of cultural, architectural, and engineering heritage.” He believes that if the tower is dismantled and reassembled elsewhere, “it will no longer be a monument of cultural heritage; it will become an art object, which will look similar to the Shukhov Tower.” [Update: On February 25th, the Russian State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting announced that they had agreed to dismantle the tower. While its demolition seems almost certain, The New York Times reports that Russian officials are expected to make a final decision on the tower’s fate on March 24th.  In a last-ditch effort to save the icon, leading architects including Rem Koolhaas, Tadao Ando, Elizabeth Diller and Thom Mayne have signed-on to a petition that urges Russian President Vladimir Putin to save the tower. “Respected President Putin, we are urging you to take immediate steps to assure the preservation of this essential part of Moscow’s heritage, a unique contribution of Russian engineering genius to world culture,” reads the petition, which was written by Jean-Louis Cohen and Richard Pare, and signed by many arts leaders, engineers and historians.]
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Bronze on Your Hands: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Faces Folk Museum Backlash

Liz Diller faced down a hostile crowd at the recent “MoMA Expansion Conversation,” hosted by the Architectural League, the Municipal Art Society, and AIA New York. Apparently she’s had some practice. One elder statesman of the New York architecture community reports that Diller made a series of phone calls to prominent architects prior to the public release of MoMA’s plans asking for their advice and support. This gray eminence apparently told her the firm should resign from the commission. At which point Ric Scofidio apparently chimed in, saying, succinctly, “Never!” An editor from another publication reports rumors of dissent within Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Apparently some associates in the firm have asked not to work on the project, fearing a Scarlet Letter on their resumes.
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Forum or Wake? MoMA’s Expansion Plans Spark Debate

Nearly 650 people crowded the auditorium at the Society for Ethical Culture on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Tuesday to debate MoMA's expansion plans, which include the demolition of the Tod Williams Billie Tsien–designed American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) building. Organized by the Architectural League of New York, the Municipal Art Society, and the AIA New York Chapter, the event was packed with prominent members of the design community. MoMA Director Glen Lowry and chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin spoke of the Museum's growing collection and their need to show art from the "immediate past," the 20th Century, alongside art from the present, and cited large recent acquisitions like the Fluxus and Frank Lloyd Write collections. Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro gave an earnest presentation, repeating her firm's desire and lengthy investigations to save the Folk Art building, calling Williams and Tsien "admired colleagues." Rectifying the alignment of the floors of AFAM with MoMA and creating easy circulation between buildings proved impossible, she said, without destroying the "integrity" of the AFAM building. Cranbrook Academy director Reed Kroloff then led a panel discussion on the expansion plans. Former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff dismissed the architectural merits of the AFAM building, calling it flawed, and comparing it to Edward Durrell Stone's Two Columbus Circle. Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, called the building important and urged the Modern to move more slowly with their demolition plans. Columbia preservation professor Jorge Otero-Pailos said the problem called for a rethinking of what preservation means and about the particular qualities of the AFAM building (some of his work involves the senses, and he praised the "olfactory quality" of the AFAM building, while saying MoMA had "an airport smell"). Architectural consultant and writer Karen Stein questioned Diller's assertion that circulation should be a defining feature of the project, and argued that MoMA had an obligation to the discipline of architecture to save the Williams Tsien building or some piece of it. Architect Stephen Rustow, who worked for KPF on the Taniguchi MoMA expansion, praised Diller, Scofidio + Renfro for addressing MoMA's programmatic goals, but questioned if the institution had framed those goals too narrowly, thereby eliminating any possibility of saving the AFAM building. Simultaneous to the action in the auditorium, an equally lively debate was happening on social media, with competing twitter hashtags, #MoMAConvo (promoted by the Modern) and #folkmoma (initiated by activists trying to save the AFAM structure). Several people on twitter questioned if the event was a forum or a wake. Following the discussion, Lowry, Temkin, and Diller returned to the stage, and it became clear that the building's fate is set. "Our decision has been made," Lowry said. Responding to a question about the value of architecture versus art, Lowry underscored his point. "We don't collect buildings."
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Chicago Issues Demolition Permit for Cuneo Memorial Hospital

Chicago officials issued a demolition permit for Cuneo Memorial Hospital this week, dealing a blow to neighborhood activists and preservationists who have been fighting to save the curvy Uptown structure. Cuneo had made Preservation Chicago’s list of seven most endangered buildings in 2012. The Chicago Tribune's Ron Grossman reported Wednesday that some suspected Cuneo’s fate was predetermined:
John Holden, a member of the committee, said Cuneo's fate has gotten less than a "robust hearing." A developer who wanted to offer a plan to renovate and repurpose the building wasn't encouraged, according to Holden. "Cuneo deserves preservation, period," Holden said. "It's an important example of mid-20th-century modern architecture."
The debate over Cuneo has drawn comparisons to another mid-century experimental hospital design: Old Prentice Women's Hospital. That Bertrand Goldberg building is currently under demolition by Northwestern University, who plans to build a research high-rise on the site. As for what awaits Chicago architect Edo J. Belli’s Cuneo, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman apparently endorses a developer’s plan to build a high rise on the site, where Montrose and Clarendon Avenues meet. Built in 1957, the first of the Cuneo buildings was one of the Illinois Institute of Technology graduate’s experiments with sculptural forms—a stroke against the grain of the Miesian rigidity that dominated IIT and much of Chicago architecture at the time. The building was closed in 1988, and used as a children's shelter for a few years after that. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lincoln Park displays similar elements. (Read an extended interview with Edo Belli by the Art Institute of Chicago here.) Another building across Clarendon was built later, connected to the 1957 structure by a skywalk. Friends of Cuneo, a preservation group, floated a petition to save the hospital last fall, when demolition plans were first made public.
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Michael Graves’ Portland Building Could Be In Jeopardy

If several Portland city commissioners have their way Michael Graves' alternately loved and hated Portland Building (1982), now facing a $95 million renovation, will be torn down. One of the most famous examples of postmodern architecture in the United States, the 15-story, 31-year-old structure is known for its small square windows, exaggerated historical motifs, playful, varied materials, gaudy colors, and, of course, its cameo on the opening to the show Portlandia (also the name of the larger-than-life statue over the building's front door). While a few elements have been renovated in recent years, most of the building is in bad shape, and  residents aren't exactly lining up to save it. Several city officials, writes the Atlantic Cities, have come out against making any more investments in it. And so the question is raised: Can a building be considered too important to tear down even if most people don't like it? Paul Goldberger, in his New York Times review of the building in 1982, called it "The most compelling architectural event of the year...It reminds us that the movement that has come to be known as Postmodernism has become vastly more than a curiosity. Now, at the end of 1982, it is unquestionably something that is having a genuine effect on the cityscape." The final decision will take months, but stay tuned to the fate of a building that everybody has an opinion about.
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Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Respond to DS+R Plan to Tear Down Folk Art Building at MoMA

Diller, Scofidio + Renfro announced today that their reorganization of the Museum of Modern Art will include the replacement of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's former American Folk Art Museum at 45 West 53rd street. Liz Diller said in her briefing that DS+R hoped to save the Folk Art building and repurpose it into a usable exhibit space or a connecting bridge between the new Jean Nouvel tower (which will have three floors of MoMA galleries) and the older parts of MoMA. However, "saving" the structure with its misaligned floors (to MOMA existing galleries) would mean compromising the integrity of the Williams Tsien structure. One can imagine the logic of DS+R's decision, but Williams and Tsien are, like any architects, sad to see the demise of their 2001 building that Herbert Muschamp said "transcend(s) cultural categories even as it helps define them." Here is Williams and Tsien's statement:
In response to the American Folk Art Museum building decision by MoMA January 8, 2014 We have learned of MoMA’s final decision to raze the former American Folk Art Museum building and replace it with a new structure. This action represents a missed opportunity to find new life and purpose for a building that is meaningful to so many. The Folk Art building was designed to respond to the fabric of the neighborhood and create a building that felt both appropriate and yet also extraordinary. Demolishing this human‐scaled, uniquely crafted building is a loss to the city of New York in terms of respecting the size, diversity and texture of buildings in a midtown neighborhood that is at risk of becoming increasingly homogenized. This is a building that we and others teach from and about. It has served as an invaluable learning resource for students, colleagues and scholars, and a source of inspiration for many more. It has a powerful architectural legacy. The inability to experience the building firsthand and to appreciate its meaning from an historical perspective will be profoundly felt. As architects, we must be optimists. So we look to the future and we move on.
 
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Glass Tower May Replace Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City

Fans of John Johansen's legendary Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City have yet another reason to shake their heads in amazement. Not only is the idiosyncratic modern masterpiece set for a date with the wrecking ball, there is now a proposal for the building that may replace it. Kestrel Investments has filed an application with the Oklahoma City Planning Department to demolish Mummers—now known as Stage Center—and put in its place a 14- to 16-story tower that would become the headquarters of OGE Energy Corp. Designed by local architectural practice ADG, the $100 million proposal master plan also includes a second tower of eight-to-12 stories that would be developed separately. Both towers are located adjacent to a multi-story parking structure that includes retail and restaurants. A daycare and play area will overlook Oklahoma City's Festival Square. If approved, the project could begin construction as soon as 2015 with completion of the first tower slated for 2017. In July, Kestrel purchased the site for $4.275 million from the Kirkpatrick Center Affiliated Fund of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which acquired it from the Arts Council of Oklahoma City after floodwaters and vandals damaged the theater in 2010. The fate of Mummers now rests in the hands of the Downtown Design Review Committee, which must approve the demolition permit before Kestrel can clear the site and start construction on its new development. But Johansen's masterpiece won't go down without a plaque, or something, in memorialis. Rainy Williams Jr., Kestrel's president, told The Oklahoman that he hopes to include a tribute to Mummers as part of the new project. "Our thought is that it will be something to recognize the architectural significance of Stage Center, and hope to do something that marks that legacy and seek ideas from the arts community as to what that might be," he said.
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Organization Rescues Cape Cod Modernist Homes

Built in 1970 by prolific Cape Cod–based architect Charles Zehnder, the Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired Kugel Gips house spent nearly a decade unoccupied and in disrepair while under ownership of the National Park Service (NPS). Abandoned and rotting, the compact Modernist home was nearly lost to the idyllic peninsula’s salty winds, and worse yet, the wrecking ball, until Wellfleet, Massachusetts–based architect Peter McMahon and the Cape Cod Modernist Trust (CCMT) stepped in. As part of their mission to preserve and document the Cape’s rich Modernist heritage—a legacy of 80 homes by local and European-born architects like Marcel Breuer, Serge Chermayeff and Nathaniel Saltonstall—McMahon and a group of around 35 volunteers have faithfully restored the house, opening it up to visitors, vacationers, scholars, and artists. Following the outbreak of World War II and their subsequent migration to New England, seminal Bauhaus figures like Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were drawn to Cape Cod by its pristine natural environment, cheap, undeveloped land, and the open minds of the local artistic and architectural community. On parcels costing as little as $1,000, architects constructed simple, experimental summer cottages with budget materials and intimate connections to their natural surroundings. “The designs were very intentional,” CCMT founder McMahon told the Boston Globe in 2009. “There’s a lifestyle implied by these buildings, one that recognizes the importance of nature, creativity, and sustainability, one that says you don’t need a lot to be happy” Featuring a large cantilevered roof, exposed concrete, wood shingles, two decks and gracious windows overlooking a nearby kettle pond, the 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom house is the first restoration undertaken by the CCMT. Commissioned by Peter and Judy Kugel, both Boston academics, the house was built within the boundaries of the Cape Cod National Seashore and in 1998 was acquired through eminent domain by the NPS for $80,000 before falling into disrepair. Thanks to a generous $100,000 contribution from the town of Wellfleet and the pro bono services of Manhattan based Fox Diehl Architects, along with the sweat of McMahon and his volunteers, the home now looks as good as it did 43 years ago. Seven such Modernist homes are owned by the NPS, five of which were in poor condition and scheduled for demolition before the Massachusetts Historical Commission deemed them significant specimens of postwar Modern residential architecture. The CCMT has since acquired long term leases on the five properties and plans to make them available for educational programs, summer rentals, and scholar and artist residencies. Over the summer, the CCMT completed renovations of the Jack Hall-designed Hatch cottage, and in October the organization raised over $60,000 via Kickstarter for the restoration of the Weidlinger house, designed Hungarian Modernist Paul Weidlinger. According to the CCMT, Gropius, Breuer, and Le Corbusier all weighed in on Weidlinger's design, with Corbusier reportedly commenting "don't pave the driveway." But it is not the publicly owned properties that are in real danger. Times have changed and land prices have escalated since Breuer built his pair of houses on the Cape for $5,000 each. For many would-be residents, the modest scale and off-the-shelf materials of these mid-century relics are not worth saving when a beachside McMansion would fit nicely in their place.
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Edward Durell Stone House in Darien, Connecticut Under Threat

A house designed by Edward Durell Stone, located in Darien, Connecticut, is under threat of demolition to make way for a developer’s vision: a neocolonial pastiche home. The 2,334-square-foot home is sited on a 1.1 acre wooded lot in the private community of Tokeneke. The house represents a transitional moment in Stone's multifaceted career.  Constructed for client Walter Johnson, an IBM executive, the house is one of only two Stone-designed homes in the Constitution State. Designed in 1953, the house marks a pivotal turn in Stone’s architectural career. It was the end of what is defined as his austerely modern, “hair shirt” phase, a term loosely borrowed from a monastic practice of wearing horsehair shirts as repentance. Secondly, this was the year that the famously drunk architect committed to sobriety, at the behest of his second wife. Finally, the Darien house was his final work to outwardly emulate Wrightian detailing, a practice that began with Stone’s visit to Taliesin in 1940. “This is one of the last of father’s rustic vernacular homes that emulates the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” his son, Hicks Stone, recently told AN. “The house is based on a dog trot house, which is common in the southern central U.S., but it’s a unique fusion of American vernacular and Wrightian style with Japanese elements.” Original finishes and detailing still exist in the home, such as textured rice paper shoji screens. Ornamental lighting and wood paneling also remains in good condition. At press time, sale of the home through Halstead Properties had not been finalized.
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Ten Finalists Selected for Renovation of Mies-Designed MLK Memorial Library in DC

Out of a crop of 26, ten teams have been invited to present their technical proposals for the renovation of the Mies van der Rohe–designed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. District officials are hoping to transform the landmark 1972 building, Mies’ last built work and his only in D.C., into a state-of-the-art central library fit for the nation’s capital. The finalists are Cunningham Quil Architects and 1100 Architects, Ennead Architects and Marshall Moya Architects, Leo A. Daly and Richard Bauer, Martinez and Johnson Architects and Mecanoo Architects, OMA and Quinn Evans Architects, Patkua Architects and Ayer Saint Gross, REX and Davis Carter Scott Architects, Shalom Baranes and Davis Brody Bond, Skidmorw Owings & Merill, and Studios Architecture and The Freelon Group. With the library’s plumbing, HVAC and elevator systems in need of replacement, asbestos present throughout the building, and annual maintenance costs soaring to $5 million, the aging athenaeum demands some serious work. Library officials have given their chosen architects a few different options, from a simple update of the building’s ailing systems, to construction of two additional floors or a complete gutting the interior. Either way, the transformation is scheduled to wrap up by 2018.