Getty helps conservation of modern architecture

The Getty Foundation - Los Angeles
Text by Riccardo Bianchini
all images courtesy of the Getty Foundation

Modern Architecture conservation University Church Collegeville Marcel Breuer

Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota, by Marcel Breuer, 1961, photo by Paul Crosby

Keeping it Modern 2015: The Getty Foundation supports conservation of 14 masterpieces of modern architecture
by Riccardo Bianchini, Inexhibit

Are masterpieces of modern architecture part of our cultural heritage? If you think this is a rhetorical question, have a look at the following, very incomplete, list:

Larking building (Frank Lloyd Wright), Imperial Hotel (Frank Lloyd Wright), Cyclorama (Richard Neutra), Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau (Le Corbusier), Pruitt-Igoe complex (Minoru Yamasaki), Michael Reese Hospital Campus (Walter Gropius), Emiciclo at the Milan Fair (Pier Luigi Nervi), Micheels house (Paul Rudolph), Terminal 3 JFK airport (Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton), Terminal 6 JFK airport (I.M. Pei), Phillis Wheatley Elementary School (Charles Colbert), Gunner’s Mate School (Bruce Graham), Paschal house (James Fitzgibbons).


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What all these buildings have in common is they were demolished, and half of them in the last ten years. Some were torn down to make room for – usually larger – new constructions, some for ignorance, and others because the conservation of modern architecture heritage is admittedly difficult.

Indeed, what made modernist architecture groundbreaking was that it experimented new building forms, explored different relationships between people and architecture, and introduced unprecedented building technologies and materials which, due to their experimental nature, often did not aged well.

Modern-Architecture-conservation-Rietveld-Schroder-House-Utrecht

Rietveld Schröder House, in Utrecht, The Netherlands, by Gerrit Rietveld, 1924, photo by Ernst Morritzd.

Modern-Architecture-conservation-Walter-Gropius-House-Lincoln

Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, by Walter Gropius, 1938, photo courtesy of Historic New England

Furthermore, while conservation techniques and protocols for the conservation of ancient architecture are well developed, this is not the case for modern buildings. The conservation and rehabilitation of materials like reinforced concrete and metal alloys is still experimental, and the related costs are significant.

Moreover, there is a further question: which works of modern architecture should be preserved and which should not?
Clearly, not everything built in the 20th century is a masterpiece or an archetype; ugly and senseless modern constructions are innumerable, indeed.
Besides works that, like in “fine arts”, are automatically deemed relevant because designed by an acclaimed author (even when they are minor or unrepresentative), there is plenty of remarkable buildings by architects who are unknown of yet to be recognized.

Generally speaking, the architecture of the 20th century is rarely considered historical heritage, even when its importance is unquestionable. For example, of over one thousand UNESCO World’s Heritage Sites only seven are modern architectures (the Opera House in Sydney, the Tugendhat Villa in Brno, the Bauhaus, the UNAM Campus in Mexico City, the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht, and the Ciutad Universitaria in Caracas).

Modern Architecture conservation Strutt House Canada

Strutt House in National Capital Area, Canada, by James Strutt, 1956; left photo: Strutt and family watching TV, courtesy of Fondation STRUTT Foundation Archives; right photo by Naquib Hossain.

Modern Architecture conservation Gandhi Bhawan Chandigarh

Gandhi Bhawan in Chandigarh, India, by Piere Jeanneret, 1961, photo Vanicka Arora, Associate Architect, DRONAH.

Modern Architecture conservation Urbino University Giancarlo De Carlo

The “Collegi” buildings in Urbino, Italy, by Giancarlo De Carlo, 1962—1982; photos by Giorgio Casali, Milano.

For all these reasons, the initiative Keeping it Modern by the Getty Foundation, an international grant aimed to the restoration of modern architecture heritage, is truly important.
Beginning in 2014, each year the Los Angeles-based foundation gives a donation for the conservation of significant examples of modern architecture across the world.
In 2015, through a juried competition process, the Getty Foundation selected fourteen buildings, for the restoration of which it granted a total of $ 1,723,000.

The objective is not only to help the preservation of the modern architectural heritage, but also to promote the development of new professional figures, as well as of state-of-the-art techniques and protocols, specialized in the conservation of the 20th century architecture.

Modern Architecture conservation Einstein Tower Potsdam Mendelsohn

Modern-Architecture-conservation-Einstein-Tower-Potsdam-Mendelsohn-interior

The Solar Observatory Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany, by Erich Mendelsohn, 1921, exterior and interior;  photos R. Arlt (top) and J. Rendtel (bottom) / Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP)

Modern Architecture conservation Het Schip Amsterdam de Klerk

Het Schip tower in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, by Michel de Klerk, 1920, photo Amsterdamse School Museum Het Schip/Alice Roegholt

The 14 buildings selected in 2015 are:
 – Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, by João Batista       Vilanova Artigas and Carlos Cascaldi, 1969
– Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany, by Erich Mendelsohn, 1921
– Hill House in Helensburgh, Scotland, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1904
– Gandhi Bhawan in Chandigarh, India, by Pierre Jeanneret, 1961
– Saint John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, Minnesota, by Marcel Breuer, 1961
– Arthur Neiva Pavilion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Jorge Ferreira, 1942
– Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, by Walter Gropius, 1938
– Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht, The Netherlands, by Gerrit Rietveld, 1924
– Het Schip in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, by Michel de Klerk, 1920
– Strutt House in National Capital Area, Canada, by James Strutt, 1956
– Arts Building and Cloister in New Hope, Pennsylvania, by George Nakashima, 1967
– Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908
– “Collegi” buildings in Urbino, Italy, by Giancarlo De Carlo, 1962—1982
– Jewett Arts Center in Wellesley, Massachusetts, by Paul Rudolph, 1958

More info at www.getty.edu/foundation/initiatives/current/keeping_it_modern/index.html

Modern Architecture conservation Unity Temple Wright

Auditorium of the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908; 
Photo courtesy of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation

Modern-Architecture-conservation-Arts-Building-New-Hope-Nakashima

Arts Building and Cloister in New Hope, Pennsylvania, by George Nakashima, 1967; photo César Bargues Ballester


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