February 23, 2010
by Carl Yost

Event: Modernism at Risk: Modern Solutions for Saving our Modern Landmarks and Back on the Map: Revisiting the New York State Pavilion at the 1964/65 World’s Fair exhibition openings
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.17.10
Speakers: Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA — 2010 AIANY President; Bonnie Burnham — President and CEO, World Monuments Fund; Frank Matero — Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania; Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director
Organizers: World Monuments Fund; Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Knoll, Inc.; Oldcastle Glass


Kent Memorial Library (1972) in Suffield, Connecticut. Architect: Warren Platner (1919-2006).

Photo by Andrew Moore

“It’s the next great idea, the next big problem for preservation,” according to Frank Matero, former chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania. “It” is a rapidly aging collection of Modernist landmarks. When major repairs become necessary, many historic buildings are destroyed due to technical challenges of their restoration, their perceived obsolescence, or simple public apathy. “While modern buildings face the same physical threats as ancient structures, they are too often overlooked as insignificant, not important enough to preserve. We launched our Modernism at Risk initiative to advocate for these often ignored buildings and to address their special needs,” stated Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, the organization that organized the traveling exhibition, Modernism at Risk, currently on view at the Center for Architecture.

To counter these forces, the “Modernism at Risk” exhibition makes the case for design advocacy, encouraging architects to speak up for the importance of preserving our built heritage. Wall text celebrates how advocacy swayed public opinion to preserve Edward Durell Stone’s Conger Goodyear House; Marcel Breuer’s Grosse Point Public Library; Warren Platner’s Kent Memorial Library; and the ADGB Trade Union School in Germany, by Bauhaus architects Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer.

Other projects fared less fortunately: a scale model and several large photographs of Paul Rudolph’s Riverside High School make poignantly clear what was lost when the school was demolished last year. For added urgency, an “At Risk Now!” section calls attention to threatened works by Breuer, Rudolph, Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, and Carlos Raúl Villanueva; visitors are encouraged to send one of several free postcards to the organizations that are petitioning to save the buildings.

Back on the Map, on display simultaneously in the Helfand Gallery, presents Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. The structure is itself an example of design advocacy. Photographs, articles, postcards, drawings, and a wall-length map and timeline bring to life the excitement that initially surrounded Johnson’s design, as well as the ongoing, still tenuous, efforts to conserve the pavilion and restore it to active use.

“These buildings are documents of a period that is no longer our ethos,” stated Matero. Their preservation is vital, but, he cautions, “the public is not behind it yet.” However, according to 2010 AIANY President Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, “Preserving Modernist landmarks should be a goal not only for the design community, but for all communities that want to celebrate the diversity and richness of modern architecture in their midst. I hope these exhibitions will begin a dialogue amongst New Yorkers.”

Carl Yost is the marketing and publicity coordinator for Gabellini Sheppard Associates. He has written for Forbes.com and The Architect’s Newspaper, among other publications.