True Green Cities/Celebrating Ten Years: An International Discussion on Brutalism

Celebrating Ten Years!  It’s been ten 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. Two items on my bucket list – chairing an Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) Conference (I was the Chair of the 50th Anniversary APT 2018 Buffalo Niagara Conference) and editing an APT Bulletin were both achieved in the past ten years.  The APT Bulletin – Special Issue: The Next Fifty Symposium, Vol. 51, Number 1 (2020) was co-edited by myself and Jill Gotthelf, the Co-Chairs of The Next Fifty Symposium.  My specific article: “Redefining Brutalism,” discussed new ways to think about saving Brutalist heritage.

The Next Fifty – The APT Bulletin Based on the APT 2018 Conference Themes

Can we change the negative narrative surrounding brutalism and urban renewal through an activist approach to architecture and historic preservation?  As the 2018 APT conference program was being developed, many brutalist era buildings throughout the country were either facing imminent demolition or being appreciated in new ways. The conference committee wanted to explore why some buildings were in danger, while others were being remade and even applauded. Did their location matter? Did the local architects who admired the buildings have the ability to change the narrative?  A special plenary on Brutalism was one of three themed panels that kicked off the conference.

Redefining Brutalism

Why is the preservation of postwar architecture that falls under the brutalist lexicon so challenging? I asked this question and discussed its impacts on the preservation of brutalist buildings at a NationalCenter for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) symposium in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2015:

“Questions of authenticity, the use of materials such as concrete panels and concrete block, the construction of new building types like public housing, the often-misunderstood social policies of urban renewal, and maintaining some of the most energy inefficient buildings ever built are some of the issues that impact its preservation.” This paper looks at brutalist buildings and their preservation in Buffalo, Toronto, and Boston, which together amply demonstrate the complexity of saving and reusing these buildings in meaningful ways. This paper is based on the theme plenary entitled “Can We Redefine Brutalism, Post-War Architecture & Urban Renewal?” that was one of the three opening sessions at the APT Buffalo-Niagara 2018 Conference.

This article detailed case studies on Shoreline by Paul Rudolph in Buffalo, a new “heroic” approach to concrete Brutalism in Boston and rethinking concrete and postwar towers in Toronto.  Please read the article (available through JSTOR). 

True Green Cities/Celebrating Ten Years: Remaking a Federal Courthouse

Celebrating Ten Years!  It’s been ten 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. In this past year my career has come full circle with involvement in federal courthouses owned by GSA (General Services Administration). I was the Regional Historic Preservation Officer for the Pacific Northwest region of GSA from 2003-2006.  I learned an enormous amount about being the client, managing the Section 106 process and collaborating with agencies and citizens who have specific interests in our land and our buildings.  In this past year I have been the preservation architect on a Design Excellence remaking of Toledo, Ohio’s federal courthouse – the James M. Ashley and Thomas W. L. Ashley U.S. Courthouse.

The Ashley

The US Courthouse and Custom House of Toledo originally known as the Federal Building was built in 1932 and listed on the National Register in 2013.  It is a monumental Neoclassical Revival Style public building, built largely of local Berea sandstone.  It is significant under National Register criterion C, significant at the local level as an example of federal architecture and of the civic design principles of the City Beautiful Movement which we see demonstrated in the way that the East façade embraces the Toledo Civic Center Mall. 

The project includes restoring and reusing the historic Ashley, while adding an “Annex” to accommodate new courts programming. To design a compatible addition, we first identified the key character defining features of the exterior, the lobbies, how the Annex connects to the Ashley, the historic ring corridors, and the lightwells. 

The Courthouse is highly intact on the exterior and quite intact in its primary interior spaces such as the courtrooms, the entrance lobbies and the corridors, although there have been alterations to the office areas throughout its history.  

Our overall design approach to this entire project is in essence based on an historic preservation approach, beginning with the full rehabilitation of the Ashley. Maintaining the historic Ashley entrance as the primary entrance to the expanded courthouse complex has affected all of our design decisions, including respecting and restoring the historic entrances and lobbies sequence, and developing the program to equally reactivate the Ashley and populate the Annex. The original classical central entrance sequence bisects the building – with entrances on both the West and East elevations.  We see a ring corridor on each floor and the rectangular lightwells on each floor through the building.  Our approach is to primarily rehabilitate the building to meet today’s programming and security needs, with focused restorations of key spaces and entry sequences and processions, following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. 

GSA’s Design Excellence

The GSA Design Excellence program seeks to achieve top-quality design talent.  The Design Excellence Program includes a streamlined two-step architect/engineer selection process and the use of private-sector peers to provide feedback to the architect/engineer of record.  The program stresses creativity. It also streamlines the way GSA hires architects and engineers, substantially cutting the cost of competing for GSA design contracts.

Three teams had reached the final step for the Ashley which was a Design/Build procurement, where each team would spend up to six months developing Schematic Design for their option.  I was invited to join the team led by Whiting-TurnerBialosky Cleveland as the Executive Architect and William Rawn Associates last January.  We were awarded the project in October and are just completing Design Development submission.  It’s an exciting team, design and project, and a delight to be working with my GSA Historic Preservation colleagues again. I traveled to Toledo the two first weekends of last March before the world was put on pause.  And now that I am fully vaccinated, I am planning my next survey trip in mid-May.  

True Green Cities/Celebrating Ten Years: Running a Business During a Pandemic

Celebrating Ten Years!  It’s been ten 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. And I certainly never expected to celebrate the tenth anniversary of BAC/Architecture + Planning during the second year of a world-wide pandemic.  If it were still the “before-times” I’d be setting up a huge party tonight and inviting all my colleagues, clients and friends to our loft office in a historic factory.  Instead, I will put on my mask, drive to the office and walk up the back stairs so I avoid as many people as possible.  While the world remains uncertain, reviewing the past ten years reminds me that while the projects I am working on now I could never have anticipated ten years ago, I continue to help save America’s important heritage and work with inspired colleagues.  Hopefully, we can celebrate BAC’s 11th anniversary in a fun party on April 19, 2022.

Greening What’s Already Here

Ten years ago, I was living in three places – Washington, DC, Winston-Salem, NC and Buffalo, NY.  Today I have consolidated my life to one place (Buffalo) which is certainly a much greener way to live.  I had projects in San Francisco, Washington, DC and Buffalo when I launched my firm. Today, I have projects in Toledo, OH, New York City, Jamestown, NY and Buffalo.  In the years in between, I have worked on projects in Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Rhode Island. 

The trademarks for my logo, my tagline (Greening What’s Already Here) and my sustainability management plan (The Greening Plan) have all been recertified.  My company has been recertified many times by federal, state and local agencies as both a WBE and DBE. 

One of the best parts of the past ten years has been the diversity of my projects.  I’ve evaluated the existing conditions of 19th century masonry churches and 20th century train terminals, adapted factories and schools using historic preservation tax credits, researched what is one of the few remaining 19th century documented brothels in America, and become a national voice for saving brutalist heritage.  Ten years ago, I was responsible for some of the most iconic (and yes elitist) houses in the country. Today I’m working on courthouses, public housing and underserved neighborhoods. 

I chaired and organized the APT International 50th Anniversary conference in Buffalo; traveled to conferences in Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Hawaii and gave keynote lectures in Texas, San Francisco, Charleston, Vancouver, Victoria, St. Louis, Providence and Albany.  I was made a Fellow of APT and received the Henry Hobson Richardson award from AIA NYS.  In between these travels, I started running in races and half marathons and even started training for a marathon before the pandemic paused our lives. 

Today, I leave my downtown residential loft to go to my office which I share in a glorious office loft space in a former Albert Kahn-designed Ford Factory with my sister’s consulting business.  I will be working on a federal courthouse, an early 20th century terra cotta school, an 1894 Medina sandstone church and an 1848 brick boarding house.  And that’s just on Monday.  I am grateful for the confidences that my clients have placed in me and honored to tell America’s stories. 

© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013