As the gap between the rich and the middle class widens, the challenge to save midcentury modern buildings becomes even more vexing.
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Courtesy Tom Harris
Big money isn’t only a threat to houses. “There is a naming opportunity,” says Alan K. Cubbage, a spokesman for Northwestern University, referring to the estimated $370 million biomedical research tower set to replace Prentice Women’s Hospital. That cloverleaf-shaped maternity ward, by Bertrand Goldberg, is being demolished, after preservationists lost a long battle. Cubbage wouldn’t disclose how large a gift it would take to get your moniker on the new building. But without the possibility of a nine-digit donation (no stretch in this economy), Prentice might still be standing. To put it another way: If the recession had lingered, the eccentric building might have lingered with it.
So how was 2013 for preservation? The year began with the destruction of Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama Building, in Gettysburg, just as it reached the half-century mark. But it will end on a high note: Edward Diana, the county executive who has been trying to tear down Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center for more than a decade, will leave ofﬁce on December 31. The building, with walls of corduroy concrete supporting 87 separate roofs, survives him.
In Houston, voters turned down a plan to save the Astrodome (1965), a landmark not only of mid-century modernism but of the city’s association with the space race. (True, the $217 million it would have cost to repurpose the building may have weighed more heavily on voters than its architecture.) In New York City, there were some victories, including the restoration of Albert Ledner’s port-holed O’Toole Building (1964) in Greenwich Village (the one part of the St. Vincent’s Hospital complex not becoming high-priced condos).
But upstate, in Buffalo, ﬁve sections of Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments (1974) were scheduled to be replaced by new apartment buildings. Rudolph is the bald eagle of midcentury modern—a symbol of America, endangered by Americans. In at least one case, the demand for high-end housing came to the rescue of an important midcentury building. In Holmdel, New Jersey, Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs (1962, later enlarged by Kevin Roche), a two-million-square-foot research facility surrounding a pair of vast rectangular atria, has been standing empty since 2007. Six stories high and nearly a quarter mile long, the complex is practically a town (with its own post ofﬁce, dry cleaner, and a football-ﬁeld-size cafeteria). Yet its detailing is crisp and cogent. Its gray granite ﬁttings presage Black Rock, Saarinen’s CBS headquarters on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, and its glass roof is a ringer for that of the Ford Foundation building, on 42nd Street, by Roche. The building is also historically significant, the site of some of the most important scientiﬁc discoveries of the twentieth century. Fortunately, Alcatel-Lucent, which acquired the property from AT&T, maintained the building and its stunning gardens by Sasaki, Walker & Associates, while Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development, which had an option to buy the complex, struggled to save it.
The building’s owner, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, waited until demolition was underway before releasing renderings of three towers that might replace it—none as compelling as Goldberg’s cloverleaf.
Courtesy Bonnie McDonaldEdit ModuleEdit Module