A Word About Modernism and the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is ideally suited, I think, to occupy a national leadership position in the growing and developing world of modernist preservation. The National Trust is already heavily invested in modernist preservation, with the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., and Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill.—two of the most important modern houses in America, or at least the most important ones not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And the National Trust's cooperative relationships with the Robie House and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio bring Wright into the equation as well.

The Glass House came to the National Trust by bequest; the Farnsworth House was purchased in a tense, difficult auction in which the Trust, with what I consider great courage, made a huge financial commitment. I suspect that preservationists in the future will look at the acquisition of the Farnsworth House as similar to the rescue of Grand Central Terminal in New York, which is to say that it was an absolutely key moment in the evolution of preservation. In the case of Grand Central, the historical turning point was the Supreme Court validating preservation law and turning back the challengers who tried to prove that preservation amounted to an unfair taking of property; in the case of Farnsworth, history was made by the National Trust's willingness to commit precious and limited resources to the important goal of 20th-century modernist preservation, even when the legacy of modern architecture still remains, in many peoples' minds, questionable.

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