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Architecture Preserving Mid-Century Modern

luckless pedestrian

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Anyone else struggling with the 50 year historic property mark that now places brutalist architecture as worth saving?

We have a building in my fair city that is subject to review and it's a tough one.

I have been doing some research on it and it's fascinating and chaotic

I found this article fascinating, if not a little angry but well articulated about the filing for the National Register of the LBJ building in DC

Any thoughts on this for your city/town/region or in general?
 
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DVD

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I guess it all goes back to being a good example of the architectural style. I'm no historic planner, but our people try to save what they can. Most of the brutalist style stuff is state capital buildings so we don't have much say. We try to save the quirky looking retail stuff.
 

luckless pedestrian

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I guess it all goes back to being a good example of the architectural style. I'm no historic planner, but our people try to save what they can. Most of the brutalist style stuff is state capital buildings so we don't have much say. We try to save the quirky looking retail stuff.
exactly - I love the quirky stuff
 

Bubba

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I found this article fascinating, if not a little angry but well articulated about the filing for the National Register of the LBJ building in DC.
Mr. Shubow may know architecture, but he seems to have a dilettante's understanding of how historic preservation (not "historical preservation", as he calls it in his article) works at the Federal level (and apparently absolutely no understanding of how GSA views modernist design of Fed buildings - they literally wrote the book on it). Such anger...
 

luckless pedestrian

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Yeah he was pretty angry but I am using the article to spur discussion with my Historic Preservation Commission on preserving mid-centry modern.

We look back on the decisions we made for urban renewal as crazy now, but at the time, we were removing what we thought then as bad buildings that today, those same buildings would be slated for restoration so the quandary is, are we repeating history here or just being mildly ironic to save buildings that likely replaced buildings we would love today
 

Bubba

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I wrote a DOE on a mid-century modernist Fed building a few years back for a ruling by the Keeper of the Register (retroactive Section 106 consultation with a very angry SHPO - that was fun...). I was not a fan of the building's style, but it was literally a textbook example of Neo-Formalism. Recommending it as eligible was an easy call (after I got done throwing up in my mouth a little).
 

mendelman

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I guess it all goes back to being a good example of the architectural style.
This is usually where I fall on this subject.

There are well executed examples of the various mid-20th century architectural styles.

The one building type that usually has great simply to extravagantly well executed mid-mod are churches.

Here's a bunch (plus other building types) in the St. Louis, MO area as a sample - Beauty of MidCentury Modernism
 

Luca

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I am a lifelong critic of every aspect of 'modernist' / 'international style' architecture in all its manifestations. On the other hand, even from a purely fiscal, environmental responsibility standpoint, I would oppose destroying perfectly re-usable buildings.

In terms of actual architectural preservation, I agree that significant examples of a style, even if one does not like it, as well as coherent groups of such buildings should be preserved, if possible.
I think N. Pevsner, among others, set a good example on the issue of preservation, even though I've always disagreed with his deep-seated dislike of historicism.

None of this, of course, takes away the gross stupidity and hypocrisy of ideological modernists who, back then as well as today, shriek that our beautiful cities should not be a museum or 'preserved in aspic' and then want to 'list' some banal monstrosity...
 

Doohickie

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Someone on the local Fort Worth architectural forum brought up the idea of seeking a historical designation for the Macy*s store in the mall. It is the last remaining example of this style of store (originally built by Sanger Harris, the remnants of which were acquired by Macy*s) in MCM style with columns containing abstract murals on three sides of the building. There are one or two other existing examples of this style, but this is the last one that's still operating in a retail capacity.

He started a survey in his thread, and even in that forum where there are several posters interested in historic preservation, the majority of respondents did not vote for a historical designation.
 

darnoldy

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Everything within our towns and cities—every building, empty lot, muddy swamp—is part of the story of who we are/were as a community.

It is unreasonable to expect that people will stop writing that story (most of us would not choose to live in a town-sized museum). Frankly, the pressures to develop are great, for many good as well as some venal reasons. But we cannot write new parts of the story without erasing an existing part.

Somebody— some body of people—needs to be responsible for saying "this part is important to our story, this should not be erased!" Council cannot do this—their job is to weigh the competing interests and to make a decision.
 

luckless pedestrian

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Everything within our towns and cities—every building, empty lot, muddy swamp—is part of the story of who we are/were as a community.

It is unreasonable to expect that people will stop writing that story (most of us would not choose to live in a town-sized museum). Frankly, the pressures to develop are great, for many good as well as some venal reasons. But we cannot write new parts of the story without erasing an existing part.

Somebody— some body of people—needs to be responsible for saying "this part is important to our story, this should not be erased!" Council cannot do this—their job is to weigh the competing interests and to make a decision.
This is an excellent way to frame a discussion - thank you!
 

WSU MUP Student

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Here's a fine example of a MCM home that's for sale my area. It was built by a MCM home builder for his family to live. To understand the layout of the house it helps to look at the overhead view.
That's a pretty cool house. I used to not care for MCM homes but I've really started to fall in love with them over the past decade or so. There are a few near me that I always keep an eye on because even if I cannot convince my wife to move, I enjoy seeing the pictures and checking out the layout if they hit the market.

Moving slightly off topic...

@Doohickie - This one is down in your neck of the woods and was built for a friend of mine (they sold it and moved into Dallas a couple of years ago though). While not strictly MCM (it was built in the past decade after all) the architect definitely took a lot of inspiration from that school: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2321-Ryan-Ave-Fort-Worth-TX-76110/89535280_zpid/

Here's some photos from their architect's site: http://www.philipnewburn.com/ryan-avenue-residence
 

dw914er

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Anyone else struggling with the 50 year historic property mark that now places brutalist architecture as worth saving?
I think those do have to remember that historic preservation is about preserving good examples of older structures, and is not necessarily focused on the judgment call of whether or not we personally like the design of a particular style. I personally like mid-century and modern architecturual styles, but brutalism itself ranks pretty low for me. But a good example of brutalist architecture that meets the criteria of having distinctive characteristics by its architecture and construction, and retains its historic integrity, should still qualify for preservation.
 

Doohickie

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This one is down in your neck of the woods and was built for a friend of mine (they sold it and moved into Dallas a couple of years ago though).
Yeah, I know Ben. I've ridden bikes with him. I almost posted that house too, except, as you pointed out, it's recent construction. LEED certified too. I was trying to figure out your connection to him, and then, yeah... he's from Michigan.
 

WSU MUP Student

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Yeah, I know Ben. I've ridden bikes with him. I almost posted that house too, except, as you pointed out, it's recent construction. LEED certified too. I was trying to figure out your connection to him, and then, yeah... he's from Michigan.
His wife used to run the booking of bands at the bar where we bowl and spend too much time at and then they both joined our bowling league.

I remember when they first showed us plans and renderings for the house the house. It's definitely one of the cooler, small, new construction homes I've seen in a long time.
 

Dan

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Nothing can make brutalism worth saving.
Brutalism seems as much about setting and siting as form.

I think it's not necessarily the form of Brutalism that turns off so many, but the context in where it appeared most often -- unpopular urban renewal projects, edge cities, office parks, and suburban college campuses that aren't planned around quads.

Here's an example from the 716. Buffalo State College has a traditional quad-based plan, in a very urban setting. The central quad at Buffalo State College -- the Plaza -- is framed by the Student Union, Butler Library, Bulger Communication Center (lecture hall), and Cleveland Hall (administration building). It's a very traditional, classically American arrangement of college campus buildings. However, all those buildings are unabashedly Brutalist. Despite that, I've never heard any criticism of the Buff State Plaza quad from local architecture critics, urbanists, or armchair planners.

buff_state_quad.jpg

Compare that to the University at Buffalo North Campus. Suburban setting, nontraditional campus plan with no quads, and lots of Brutalist buildings from the 1970s. Ask a Buffalonian to list their 10 most hated buildings in the region, and odds are half of them will be at UB.

ub north 1.jpg

ub north 2.jpg

The Brutalism hate seems no different than the criticism of Fast Casual architecture by urbanists. It's about what it stands for more than what it actually is. At least Fast Casual is usually in an urban context.
 

luckless pedestrian

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Wow @Dan that was a great comparison!

Whenever I am in Buffalo, I am rarely there for any sober activities so I don't take in the architecture like I should - that city is dangerous
 

Doohickie

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Actually Buffalo has some great architecture, the remnants of its golden years were not torn down for new construction because, for a long time, there was no new construction.
 

Luca

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...we cannot write new parts of the story without erasing an existing part...
I don't entirely agree. Often, a given city / community is still growing. If one wants to erect a building in contemporary fashion, why not place it in a growing area, rather than tear down / dilute a nice building / area? For instance, in Paris (which, I know, is not entirely exemplary in other planning regards), when it became clear that mega-corporations "needed" vast, newly-built glass towers rather than radically alter (ruin?) the central arrondissements, they created La Defense.

I think those do have to remember that historic preservation is about preserving good examples of older structures, and is not necessarily focused on the judgment call of whether or not we personally like the design of a particular style.
True, though defining a building a 'good' example is not really less subjective than defining other qualities.

Nothing can make brutalism worth saving.
Surely you are not arguing for the removal of every single brutalist building? Bearing in mind how we now view the 20th-century vandalism vs. Beaux Arts and Art Deco structures, such a prescription smacks of an extreme and very arrogant reverse presentism.
 

Luca

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Brutalism seems as much about setting and siting as form.

I think it's not necessarily the form of Brutalism that turns off so many, but the context in where it appeared most often -- unpopular urban renewal projects, edge cities, office parks, and suburban college campuses that aren't planned around quads.
A well-observed and valid point. The fashion for brutalism (and indeed other forms of extreme minimalism) went hand in hand, all too often, with equally ill-considered views on urbanism.

That said, I would stand by the critique of brutalism precisely as a form of architecture so debased and inhuman that it requires, parasitically, a beautiful traditional urban / sylvan natural setting to be merely bearable, unlike, I would argue, more humane forms.

But i still think that many examples of brutalism should be retained; if nothing else as a warning to posterity.

I would prioritise:
  • buildings that a BROAD survey of architectural historians / theorists (bot just fans) considers to be particularly influential or iconic
  • buildings that form part of a greater whole
  • buildings that did not replace significant predecessors or that do not 'ruin' the aesthetic cohesiveness / quality of a given area
In London, I would preserve:

The Rowley Way Estate
The Barbican Complex
The Brunswick Centre
The Trellick Tower
The South Bank Centre
The Alton Estate, Roehampton

Awful, awful eyesores, one and all, but worth preserving.
 

Doohickie

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Surely you are not arguing for the removal of every single brutalist building? Bearing in mind how we now view the 20th-century vandalism vs. Beaux Arts and Art Deco structures, such a prescription smacks of an extreme and very arrogant reverse presentism.
 

Bubba

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I did mourn the loss of the one Brutalist-style building ever constructed in the state of Georgia...briefly.

But i still think that many examples of brutalism should be retained; if nothing else as a warning to posterity.

I would prioritise:
  • buildings that a BROAD survey of architectural historians / theorists (bot just fans) considers to be particularly influential or iconic - Sure, I could buy into a well-researched historic context study of Brutalism (which is sort of addressed here: https://www.gsa.gov/cdnstatic/GEMbook.pdf)
  • buildings that form part of a greater whole From a regulatory standpoint? Meh.
  • buildings that did not replace significant predecessors...Meh.
  • ...or that do not 'ruin' the aesthetic cohesiveness / quality of a given area. This is an interesting point - I did work the clearance of a multi-building demolition project in a National Historic Landmark district (severe storm damage to poorly constructed infill buildings that had nothing to do with the significance of the district) where the consensus was that tearing them down would actually improve the area.
 

darnoldy

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I don't entirely agree. Often, a given city / community is still growing. If one wants to erect a building in contemporary fashion, why not place it in a growing area, rather than tear down / dilute a nice building / area?
Even if a city has "undeveloped space," something is there. Twenty, thirty years from now, what will be more-valued by the residents of your city: a park that preserves the last half acre of the orchards that were once the main industry of the regiion; or yet another strip mall?

Again, its not about freezing a place in time--but it is also not just about is a building old and/or built by someone famous-- it's about how important is this place to understanding the history of the community.

--don
 

luckless pedestrian

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it's about how important is this place to understanding the history of the community.

--don
yes, this is the quote I needed - thank you

love this discussion btw and I appreciate everyone taking the time as it's a big deal in my community right now...
 

AlyssaN

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This makes me unpopular among the other preservation people but you can't save everything and that sometimes you just need to pick and choose wisely. Sadly, choosing wisely is really more of an issue than it should be.
 
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mendelman

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...sometimes you just need to pick and choose wisely. Sadly, choosing wisely is really more of an issue than it should be.
Refraining from linking a certain Indiana Jones clip...
 
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RandomPlanner

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Mr. Shubow may know architecture, but he seems to have a dilettante's understanding of how historic preservation (not "historical preservation", as he calls it in his article) works at the Federal level (and apparently absolutely no understanding of how GSA views modernist design of Fed buildings - they literally wrote the book on it). Such anger...
THANK YOU!!!
 

Maister

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It's my observation that folks can be quite passionate at times when it comes to historic pres. You don't see that level of involvement or passion nearly as often when dealing with a lot of other planning related issues.
 

ursus

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In my neck of the woods, I find that when you ask people "should historic buildings be preserved?" they almost universally say "YES!" When you tell them the price tag for doing so, and ask if the city should pay for it, they almost universally say "NO!" And if you ask them if the city should REQUIRE the private property owner of that building to keep it in-tact and pay for those same expensive renovations without any choice, they wonder out loud why you haven't been fired, tarred and feathered yet. This is the GD Rocky Mountains. You can't even SAY something like that.

In short, I respect architecture, and I value the built environment, however; you cannot oversimplify historic preservation into a question of valuable architecture. It's a land use issue. So like all others, god help anybody who gets involved because it's going to be messy, it's going to take a long time, and in the end literally nobody is going to agree entirely with the solution. Keep it local, do your best.
 

Doohickie

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I find that when you ask people "should historic buildings be preserved?" they almost universally say "YES!" When you tell them the price tag for doing so, and ask if the city should pay for it, they almost universally say "NO!" And if you ask them if the city should REQUIRE the private property owner of that building to keep it in-tact and pay for those same expensive renovations without any choice, they wonder out loud why you haven't been fired, tarred and feathered yet.

MCM is just starting to appear on the radar in this area, but for older buildings (ca 1920s), there is a 400-acre area of Fort Worth called Fairmount where the bolded is built into the historic designation and is enforced. Thus, if you want to replace your siding or windows, it can't just look period-correct, it has to actually be period correct; i.e., no vinyl windows or hardiboard siding allowed; it must all be wood. And if you want to erect a new dwelling within that 400 acre boundary, it too must follow the historical standards. They will let you get away with a concrete slab foundation in lieu of pier-and-beam, but aside from that, everything needs to be period correct. Oh, you want to put up a fence or a garage? That also needs to be period correct. One of the famous test cases was someone who put up a chain link fence without going to the HOA board for approval, and they made her take it down and put up a wooden picket fence instead.

And yet that has become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. There is enough demand that the price per square foot is typically 2X what it is in neighboring areas.
 

Gedunker

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My experience is that by and large, historic preservation is a tool that can aid larger economic development, but not a driver in and of itself. For a muni to declare an area a local historic district without deploying any other tools -- and to hope for positive redevelopment as a result -- is short sighted. And probably doomed to fail.
 

kjel

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This is one of my favorite buildings in downtown Newark https://goo.gl/maps/ajYQAWBDWRD3yTf87. The Kislak Realty Co. built it in 1960 as their corporate office, less than 10 years later the infamous Newark riots happened and they decamped to the 'burbs. It's been vacant for as long as I can remember. A redevelopment group out of Louisiana bought it and is turning it into luxury apartments....the gentrification of Newark continues. https://thekislakbuilding.com/
 

AlyssaN

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It's my observation that folks can be quite passionate at times when it comes to historic pres. You don't see that level of involvement or passion nearly as often when dealing with a lot of other planning related issues.
Unless you live in certain parts of suburban NYC. Google Ramapo + housing and Lakewood + housing.
 

kjel

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Unless you live in certain parts of suburban NYC. Google Ramapo + housing and Lakewood + housing.
That is a whole other bucket of worms (I have a beach house in Ocean County).
 

Gedunker

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That is a whole other bucket of worms (I have a beach house in Ocean County).
You mean Mt. Laurel isn't actually providing affordable housing everywhere in the Dirty Jerzy? Whodathunkit?
 

kjel

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You mean Mt. Laurel isn't actually providing affordable housing everywhere in the Dirty Jerzy? Whodathunkit?
It isn't. It didn't help that Gov. Krispy Kreme essentially disbanded COAH so there was an 8 year gap where the most offending towns didn't produce squat. It's all being settled through the courts now. The Fair Share Housing Center has done a good job negotiating settlements with vast majority of towns.
 
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