Modernism at Risk: Modern Solutions for Saving Modern Landmarks
Modernism is the defining movement of 20th-century architecture, and Modern buildings help enrich a community’s sense of place by providing continuity between history and the present.
But every day, important works of Modern architecture are dismissed as insignificant and destroyed or inappropriately altered. They are threatened by physical deterioration, perceived functional or economic obsolescence, or public apathy. In addition, the very features that often help define them as significant achievements in the history of architecture — innovative and sometimes experimental design elements, materials, and technologies — are themselves challenges to their preservation.
In recent years, architects and designers have emerged as some of the most ardent and effective advocates for the preservation of Modern buildings. With a shift in focus from material authenticity to respecting original architectural intent, design professionals and students have taken the lead in assessing and understanding the values — architectural and otherwise — embodied by these buildings. Designers and architects are increasingly the driving force behind sensitive, economically viable interventions that demonstrate and recapture the relevance of these endangered structures within their communities.
The five case studies presented in the Modernism at Risk: Modern Solutions for Saving Modern Landmarks exhibition span three decades. These examples represent the rise of Modernism from its early development during the interwar years in Europe (1930 ADGB Trade Union School, Bernau, Germany, by Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer) to its appearance in the United States and other countries (1939 A. Conger Goodyear House, Old Westbury, New York, by Edward Durell Stone) to its proliferation during America’s postwar boom and later, often in the form of everyday civic buildings (1954 Grosse Pointe Public Library, Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, by Marcel Breuer; 1958 Riverview High School, Sarasota, Florida, by Paul Rudolph; and 1972 Kent Memorial Library, Suffield, Connecticut, by Warren Platner).
All five buildings adhere to core principles of Modernism, including a departure from traditional building types, functionally derived plans, the integration of the arts and design disciplines, and the use of industrial materials and new technologies. Although individual in expression, these sites also share many physical attributes commonly associated with Modern design. Each employs simple, geometric forms, machine-made and prefabricated components, and new expressions of space, such as the extensive use of glass to achieve a high level of transparency between interior and exterior.
Most importantly, each of these Modern landmarks received the attention of architects and designers intent on preventing their destruction. From a blog created to connect architects and spur them to action to a studio project encouraging students to explore adaptive-use possibilities to the rediscovery and rebirth of a forgotten Bauhaus masterpiece, these case studies reveal the many ways the design community is working to sustain the legacy of Modern architecture — one endangered building at a time.
Exhibition organized by World Monuments Fund and sponsored by Knoll, Inc.
World Monument Fund