For devotees of midcentury design, who flock each year to Modernism Week in Palm Springs, Calif., (which epitomizes California Cool), or tune in to Mad Men (as much for the meticulously detailed set design as Don Draper’s narrative arc), it can be a sobering reminder that their appreciation for the architecture of Schindler and Neutra and Rudolph is not a universal truth.
Indeed, the Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, N.Y., and Sarasota High School in Florida, both by Paul Rudolph, are now threatened. As are the Mummers Theatre in Oklahoma City and the Mechanic Theater in Baltimore, both designed by Harvard Five John Johansen, FAIA, and both slated for demolition. Consider also that the Whitney Museum is abandoning its Marcel Breuer—designed home in New York City, which was enough for Mark Lamster to wonder in a Design Observer blog post—titled “The War Against Sixties Architecture” —if we may one day exhibit “profound remorse” about not preserving more of our midcentury heritage.
Lamster, loathe to label Johansen’s work with the B-word—Brutalism—admits that an appreciation for the architect’s work can be an “acquired taste,” but that in the concrete architecture of the 1960s there are “glories” to be found “in its heroic scale and dynamic forms and spaces.”
Writes Lamster: “It is bitterly ironic that so much architecture from the 1960s, the period in which so much of architectural heritage was destroyed, is now itself at risk.” As illustrated by the battle over I.M. Pei’s Third Church of Scientist in Washington, D.C, the preservation battles over such Brutalist landmarks can be heated and nuanced, involving questions of style, adaptability, and ease of use. In the case of the Mummers, Lamster argues the theater should be a national landmark and could readily be converted to a children’s museum, as was proposed before demolition became imminent. Absent a reprieve, the Mummers will likely soon be history—another tragic end suffered by too many exemplars of this era.