Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Preservation of Modernism

Last week I caught up on my online Metropolis Magazine articles and found this striking image of Steven Holl’s University of Iowa Art Building under water. While it will surely be saved, it won’t be without significant reconstruction. Though, many other treasures of modernism in Iowa, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Alvin Miller House, may suffer a worse fate.

Meanwhile, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota recently released its Top 10 Endangered Historic Places and once again on the list is the oft debated Peavey Plaza. The Alliance points out two significant threats. “First, the plaza has been subjected to a combination of neglect and ill-advised renovations that have altered the original design and intent of the space. Second, the planned remodeling and expansion of the Orchestra Hall lobby threaten to culminate in a wholesale redesign of the plaza.”

The historic preservation of modernism has always been an interesting debate, but, as far as I can tell, Peavey may be the most recently built project to enter that debate. Not surprising, since the 50 year rule applies for national historic registry and Peavey is only in its mid-30’s. The Preservation Alliance justifies it, “as a unique example of modern landscape design.”

All this raises a very interesting question for me which I have no answer to. Is exceptional design, such as Peavey or the Miller House, reason enough for preservation? After all, the real point of preserving buildings is so the knowledge they embody isn’t forgotten. That hardly seems dependent on a building’s age.

1 comment:

Peter Carlsen said...

The new art building may be saved but the 1960's modern art meseum in the picture toward the river is a total loss. It is off a period not favored by preservationis, but not a bad building. It leaves you wondering at the hubris of Architects and Planners who would dot the flood plain protected by a reservoir that is now 70 percent silted in. The Art Meseum was built with it's basement at the water table at normal flow. Hull art building sits in the last remaining lagoon, that used to dot this area.

Across the river in the picture sits Frank Gerry's laser tech building. A friend says it was originally planeed to be feature building of a satalite campus a few miles away. Then someone on a committe said, we can't have that significant a building not on the main campus and it was shoe horned into where we see it. One wonders how the thin stainless steel skins will have done in the current.