“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.
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.
GOSHEN, N.Y.: The Times Herald-Record quotes desingLAB architects’ Robert Miklos on the fate of the Orange County Government Center, a Paul Rudolph–designed icon that has been closed for nearly a year due to storm damage as officials debate its fate. Miklos, who testified before a five-member committee assembled to consider the question. The architect brings an important asset to the debate: experience.
Miklos testified about his experience upgrading the University of Massachusetts library designed by Rudolph for Dartmouth, Mass. “You can absolutely achieve a watertight roof condition on a building of this type,” he told the committee.
The Orange County Legislature has voted against replacing the Brutalist building, but it has yet to decide what to do with it. The Times Herald-Record’s Chris McKenna notes that cost estimates for the building’s preservation are still largely a matter of guesswork: County consultants have reportedly estimated that replacing the walls would cost $11.4 million, but Miklos says that it’s unlikely that the outside walls need to be replaced at all. Next up for the Government Center: further study from architects and engineers to determine what kind of work the building actually needs.
CHICAGO: Critics have argued that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks doesn’t include enough design professionals to settle a dispute over the Bertrand Goldberg–designed Prentice Women’s Hospital. But architects and others in Chicago and beyond are eager for officials to weigh in.
The New York Times reports that more than 60 architects, including Frank Gehry, FAIA, and Jeanne Gang, FAIA, signed a letter to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel appealing for the building to be preserved.
This debate is one that isn’t centered about disagreements about the cost of preserving a building. That’s because Northwestern University has no interest in keeping it. The university plans to demolish it and replace it with a state-of-the-art medical-research building, which has caused preservationists to scramble to find an argument and an audience for plans to preserve, restore, or reuse the building. Per the article: “Northwestern is not interested.”
ARCHITECT’s own Aaron Betsky describes the hospital as “a building only an architect could love”—which is bad news for preservationists, should the architect-free Commission on Chicago Landmarks decide its fate. (Chicago’s housing and economic development department has noted that the Historic Preservation Division includes architects and vets the issues before they are presented to the larger commission.)