Modernism + the Recent Past
Why must we save places of the Modernist movement and the recent past?
The answer is simple. If we do not preserve the significant places built since the mid-20th century, our nation stands to lose a vital aspect of its architectural and cultural heritage. At a time when many still question the importance of the modernist landscape, the urgent need to save the landmarks of our recent past remains clear. Day after day, the wrecking ball destroys places of the Modernist Movement as well as resources of all types built within the last 50 years, with little consideration of their historic merit, design importance, or role in creating a sustainable future. Although the National Trust for Historic Preservation has long championed their importance and safekeeping, more must be done.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, in response to threats of demolition and neglect and to calls for help from the field, vigorously renews its charge to protect our nation’s heritage. The Modernism + Recent Past Initiative focuses on the significant architecture of the mid-20th century, as well as those places of social, economic, and cultural importance. This four-year initiative will link the National Trust’s formidable expertise, technical resources, partnerships, and nationwide networks in an integrated approach.
The National Trust has long recognized the rich contributions of modernism in the architectural lexicon. Our acquisition of the Philip Johnson Glass House in 1986 and the multimillion-dollar purchase of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in 2003 testify to our commitment to preserving, protecting, and promoting works of the Modernist Movement. Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger noted that these two residences, in Connecticut and Illinois, respectively, “are arguably the most important modern houses in America.”
The impact and resonance of modernist icons like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House are indisputable, but the National Trust will not overlook the many other treasures of Modernism and the Recent Past found along America’s roadsides and in our civic and commercial centers. Development pressures, the vagaries of the economy, and aging infrastructure put hundreds of thousands of office buildings, schools, libraries, and airports in jeopardy. Although the historic significance of these places may not yet be commonly recognized, many clearly contribute to community life and have enduring worth. While all these resources may not merit protection, none should be destroyed without careful review.
After more than a decade of preserving places of Modernism and the Recent Past, the National Trust and its partners have already raised public awareness, initiated a dialogue to reconsider site management practices, and spurred and supported grassroots advocacy. Today, the National Trust’s commitment goes beyond these achievements, challenging the nation to carefully consider the places recently built and demanding attention before more landmarks are lost.
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