Modernism Is Hurt by the Cuddle Factor

Reports from the Field by • 04/06

Event: Modernism by Choice: The Economy, Politics, and Sustainability of Preservation
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.20.10
Speakers: Grahm Balkany — Director, Gropius in Chicago Coalition; Jorge Hernandez — Architect, Co-Founder, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium; Michael Calafati, AIA — Principal, Historic Building Architects, Trenton, and Chair, AIA-NJ Historic Resources Committee; Victor Sidy, AIA — Dean, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation; John Szabo — Director, Atlanta Public Library System
Moderators: Theodore Prudon, FAIA — President, DOCOMOMO US; Lisa Ackerman — Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, World Monuments Fund (WMF)
Repspondents: Frank Sanchis — Senior Vice-President, Municipal Art Society; Carl Stein, FAIA — Elemental Architecture, formerly of Marcel Breuer and Associates
Organizers: Center for Architecture in collaboration with WMF; DOCOMOMO US; DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State

MichaelReese_press_low

Demolition of the Baumgarten Pavilion, 01.20.10.

©Grahm Balkany

Headlines about preservation battles don’t scream as loudly here as in England, but maybe they should. Like Sarasota’s Riverview High School and an alarming number of other Paul Rudolph buildings, as documented in the Center’s “Modernism at Risk” exhibition, an entire medical campus master-planned by Walter Gropius is slipping away. The news is better at other sites: Taliesin West is safe while enduring recurrent renovations; Hilario Candela’s Miami Marine Stadium has outlasted “demolition by neglect” and marshaled support; Eero Saarinen’s Bell Laboratories has a fighting chance of respectful re-use; and Breuer’s Central Public Library in Atlanta isn’t going anywhere, even if it doesn’t remain a library. But the experience of Grahm Balkany’s Gropius in Chicago Coalition provides a cautionary tale for anyone who values Modernism’s ideals and built legacy. The key to preservation: education, education, education.

Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital campus included a total of 29 buildings, Balkany said, “more than half of great merit”; the Kaplan Pavilion, in particular, recalls the Dessau Bauhaus. Officially credited to several Chicago and Cambridge firms, the campus expressed the work and thought of Gropius — not just a hospital site in his eyes, but “an opportunity to create an entirely new neighborhood prototype for the U.S.” — and of his protégé Reginald Isaacs. Landscaping by Lester Collins, Hideo Sasaki, and others helped make the area a green enclave on the South Side.

Coveting the site for the 2016 Olympic Village, the city acquired the property, established demolition plans, and ignored the Coalition’s arguments that the Gropius campus, together with IIT’s Mies van der Rohe campus a few blocks away, created a uniquely valuable “Bauhaus District.” The case for preservation had multiple strengths: the hospital was functioning; the Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro; and a host of commentators weighed in to support Balkany’s group, including the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, which unanimously backed nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places. Nevertheless, in October the city began demolishing buildings and clear-cutting the landscape. A plaque honoring Gropius, among other features, is now gone; all but one building are to follow.

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