“You people are being manipulated.”
In the nationwide debate taking shape over Brutalism, that could have been anyone. That particular comment was lobbied in a public meeting over Baltimore’s Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, but it might have made the record in Chicago or Goshen, N.Y. The last week has seen a fury of articles forecasting the fates of alternatingly beloved and despised Brutalist buildings in all three cities—not all of them depicting the underlying debates accurately.
The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, designed by John Johansen. Image courtesy Flickr user spike55151.
BALTIMORE: The Baltimore Sun’s Steve Kilar files from an informational meeting on a mixed-use development plan that would replace the John Johansen–designed Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. This plan did not sit well with Baltimore land-use attorney John C. Murphy, who offered up the above quote to the Baltimore Planning Department’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.
Murphy may have a point. As Amanda Kolson Hurley reported for ARCHITECT in May, a redevelopment scheme submitted in 2008 preserved 80 to 90 percent of the theater’s shell. That led the city’s Planning Commission to vote against a plan by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to landmark the building. Intentionally or not, a bait-and-switch followed: With the theater’s landmark status denied, developers subsequently submitted a proposal to raze the theater entirely and erect two roughly 30-story towers in its place. The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation will meet on Aug. 14 to discuss the demolition.
In his report for The Baltimore Sun, Kilar notes that the Planning Commission voted in 2008 against the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation’s effort to preserve the building. But Kilar neglects to report on the context for that vote: The building was to be repurposed, not demolished.