True Green Cities / Saving Brutalism Can Be a Lonely Battle

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo’s City Hall.

Almost two years ago I was contacted by my colleagues at DOCOMOMO US, wanting to know if I knew anything about the plan to tear down five of the 32 remaining apartment buildings at Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartment Complex in downtown Buffalo. Only a few blocks from me, and always a complex I had admired, I rushed to find out the story.  While these efforts of the few of us in Buffalo who seem to care about their significance have not halted the demolition of these five buildings, the story has started to get national attention.  For two weeks, the five buildings have been undergoing a quietly planned demolition, which is starting to make others in the community take note.  

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Mark Byrnes, an alumni of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning, and an associate editor at The Atlantic’s CityLab who writes about design, history, and photography, took on this complex tale and just published a quite well written and researched article, The Slow Death of A Brutalist Vision for Buffalo. As per Mark:

Campagna is fighting a surprisingly lonely battle. In her efforts to help save a piece of Buffalo brutalism, (Buffalo) the city that takes pride in its collection of concrete grain elevators has remained mostly silent in the case of Paul Rudolph. “I don’t really consider myself an activist but nobody else was stepping forward,” says Campagna. “Somebody needed to speak for these buildings.”

While I find it heartbreaking to have to drive past these ruinous hulks now, I am encouraged that their plight is now getting national attention.  Stay tuned.

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True Green Cities / Celebrating Four Years – “Isn’t MCM So Dang Cool?”

The Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

The Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

It’s been four years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my new venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog five of my anniversary week.

Isn’t MCM So Dang Cool?

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. Franklin Mares, Deputy Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial set the tone for the week by welcoming us all and proclaiming, “Isn’t MCM so dang cool?” And yes, we all think it is, which is one of the reasons I suspect many of us find ourselves working on it.

Some warehouses in Laclede's Landing which all have been adaptively reused.

Some warehouses in Laclede’s Landing, which all have been adaptively reused.

Walter Sedovic, a New York-based preservation architect at Walter Sedovic Architects, discussed the “Mad Men” phenomenon, which has certainly revived an interest in the late 50s and 60s. He reminded us that however amazing and cool we might find the Arch, it was the site of a former cast iron district, some of which remains adjacent to the Arch in the Leclede’s Landing neighborhood. But that is one of the great ironies of the modern era. Many modern buildings, neighborhoods and even icons replaced earlier buildings and neighborhoods that we would consider historic today. But that is all part of the evolution of our cultural and architectural history.

“The Architecture of Today”

The Arch and Laclede's Landing with some of the remaining cast iron buildings.

The Arch and Laclede’s Landing with some of the remaining cast iron buildings.

Presentations on new modern materials and new building types rounded out the symposium.   Caroline Guay, a conservator at Conservation Solutions explained how Googie architecture reflected the optimism of the time and helped launch space movement design. Evan Kopelson of Vertical Access and Nancy Hudson of Robert Silman Assocations shared their examination of the Tent of Tomorrow at Philip Johnson’s 1964 NY World’s Fair Pavilion, identifying damaged cables and steel structure corrosion on these structures, which were intended to be temporary, but are still standing 51 years later. Conservator Mary Jablonski shared the work her students in the Columbia Conservation Workshop conducted on objects made from Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was a wonder material that was intended to be “A better way to a more carefree life.” They conserved an original plastic (polyester resin) bench for the Queen’s Museum.  Some of the original aluminum frames of the benches have had their FRP slats removed and replaced with wood, which was not a good alteration and people have discovered that the FRP is infinitely more comfortable than the wood.

Modernism at Risk

Richard H. Mandel House. The first International Style house designed by Edward Durell Stone, a few years before the A. Conger Goodyear House which is a WMF Modernism at Risk project.

Richard H. Mandel House. The first International Style house designed by Edward Durell Stone, a few years before the A. Conger Goodyear House which is a WMF Modernism at Risk project. (I prepared the National Register nomination for this groundbreaking building, built in 1935.)

David E. Bright from Knoll discussed the Modernism at Risk program they have been working on with the World Monuments Fund. This signature advocacy effort brings modern buildings forward. As per their website, WMF’s concern for modern sites began in the 1980s, but the establishment of WMF’s Modernism at Risk Initiative, launched in 2006 with founding sponsor Knoll, allows WMF to take a more active role in addressing the distinct threats facing great works of modern architecture around the world. This program focuses on advocacy, conservation, and public education and has highlighted buildings by Rudolph, Breuer, Edward Durell Stone (A. Conger Goodyear House) and other luminaries across the world.

Walking around Saarinen's masterpiece.

Walking around Saarinen’s masterpiece.

Carol Dyson, Chief Architect at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, suggested that in considering MCM commercial modernism, maybe storefront evolution is okay and should be honored. Holly Hope, from the Arkansas SHPO, discussed the features of ranch houses built from 1945-1970, which make them significant and discussed the National Register listing of Ranch House neighborhoods around the country, from Arkansas to Georgia, North Carolina to Oregon.

I was sorry to see this symposium end. I have not been this re-energized by a conference in quite some time. Perhaps it was the combination of new thinking and fun building types, which helped warm us up after such a long, harsh winter, or even the examination of the buildings from our childhood. I find something actually quite joyful in Mid Century Modern architecture and even find it in Brutalism. The new forms, the new materials, the new building types, the hope in a new world – it offers endless possibilities for an architect with a preservation and sustainability focus.

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True Green Cities – Celebrating Four Years – Materials , Mardi Gras, Marfa and the Big Mac

Visitors are encouraged to touch the base of the stainless steel Arch.

Visitors are encouraged to touch the base of the stainless steel Arch.

It’s been four years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my new venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog four of my anniversary week.

Material Matters

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. Gunny Harboe from Harboe Architects, a preservation architect from Chicago, gave the keynote entitled “Material Matters” which made me think about “materials” in various ways throughout the week.

The United Nations from Long Island City.  Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced?

The United Nations from Long Island City. Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced? (The Secretariat is the green rectangular building between the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.)

Gunny believes that materials are a really important issue of materiality and modernism. They are a significant component of our collective cultural heritage. Many countries consider material and authenticity in a different manner such as the Shinto shrines in Japan, which are rebuilt every 20 years. Others accept intangible heritage in a way that Americans don’t know how to consider yet. For example, should we be saving our material culture such as the Mardi Gras or the Big Mac?! If so, how do we “preserve” it? I read recently that McDonald’s would soon be eliminating the Big Mac! What?! Now I probably haven’t had a Big Mac in 25 years. But just the thought that if I did start eating meat again I could never have a Big Mac again actually sort of freaked me out. And I thought, should I go eat one last one despite the fact I haven’t eaten meat since 1990? So when Gunny mentioned the Big Mac as an intangible piece of our material culture, which we might want to save or honor in some way, I wasn’t surprised.

Lever House had its curtain wall replaced and maintained its landmark status. Photo courtesy SOM.

Lever House had its curtain wall replaced and still maintained its landmark status. Photo courtesy SOM.

Lever House and the UN Secretariat, both modernist iconic skyscrapers, have both received new curtain walls. Have we lost something with the loss of that original material? Many people suggest that modern architecture is different than traditional. We are sometimes dealing with materials that are experimental or hazardous or even both. Perhaps it’s the concept that is more significant. Gunny did not necessarily agree with that idea. With the Pantheon, the Romans built for the ages – shouldn’t this be our standard too?

If we landmark something, does that mean we are supposed to preserve it in perpetuity. Who should decide what stays and what goes? Lever House was landmarked before its curtain wall was replaced. Does this mean we have an evolving standard of landmarking?

When Should Sustainability Trump Significance?

The FBI Headquarters may not be "historic" in a traditional sense, but why should all this concrete go to a landfill?

The FBI Headquarters may not be “historic” in a traditional sense, but why should all this concrete go to a landfill? Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Ann Dilcher from Quinn Evans Architects discussed many of their midcentury modern projects. The one that generated the most discussion was their historic significance evaluation of the FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC. In conjunction with the GSA they determined it was NOT eligible for the NR. While I sympathize with their evaluation and I certainly didn’t spend the time they did digging into its history and significance, it did get me thinking that not wanting to send all that concrete to the landfill should be as important a reason to keeping a building as who worked there or what shape the floor plans were. Should we be reconsidering our “landmark” designations? In our new climate change world, can a building be a landmark simply because it “is?”

Art and the Artist

The artillery shed which houses Donald Judd's art. Are the windows art as well?

The artillery shed which houses Donald Judd’s art. Are the windows art as well? Photo courtesy The Chinati Foundation.

James Parks, an engineer at Simpson Gumperz Heger, presented an engineering analysis of art and the artillery sheds housing of Donald Judd’s art in Marfa, Texas. The sheds house art that was created to fit within it. Judd designed and installed the windows himself which brings up a significant question – can the windows be retrofitted or replaced to improve energy efficiency and protection of the art work in the buildings or are the windows themselves also considered art?

We are finding that considering how to restore modernism and how to define modernism is as exciting and intellectually stimulating as originally designing modernism must have been.

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