In 1930 the ADGB Trade Union School, built just outside of Berlin, stood as an exceptionally solid example of functional architecture under the socially democratic ideas of modernism. Designed by Bauhaus architect Hannes Meyer (complete with walls of glass windows and individual unadorned structures serving as classrooms and dormitories), it was taken over by the Nazis three years later and eventually abandoned and cordoned off until it was found again after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was facing demolition in 2001 when a group stepped forward to save it and see it restored by architects Winfried Brenne and Franz Jaschke, a project that now serves as an example of successful restoration and conservation of modern landmarks.
The ADGB case study is featured among others in Modernism at Risk at the Springs Preserve, a show by the World Monuments Fund. It highlights ways in which modern buildings facing peril were met with efforts to save them and the approaches contemporary designers took to see them restored while staying loyal to their original designs—a learning process when dealing with buildings that used innovative technology and materials of the day, many of which are no longer available or up to code.
Presented with large-scale color photographs by Andrew Moore, the case studies are part of the WMF’s initiative launched in response to the endangered state of many modern landmarks.
Though geared primarily to students and designers, it’s a refreshing blast of inspiration for communities and advocacy groups concerned about at-risk structures. Saving modern architecture is rarely easy when you’re talking about aging buildings designed to celebrate simplicity, ushered in under the “less is more/form follows function” banner. Even with the stunningly curvilinear or fantastically plain, their recentness makes their historical value seems less believable, despite official designation.
Advocates march on, promoting the value of modernist architecture as an essential way to save buildings—if not for aesthetics, then for cultural and historical relevance.
The 1972 Warren Platner-designed Kent Memorial Library in Suffield, Connecticut and the 1953 Grosse Pointe Library in Michigan are other examples in the exhibit of what can be done when a community of advocates and designers step in. Also included is the 1939 A. Conger Goodyear House designed by Edward Durrell Stone for Goodyear, founding president of the Museum of Modern Art.
Modernism at Risk was brought in at the suggestion of the Nevada Preservation Foundation, which added local flavor to the show via the story of the La Concha Motel along with blueprints of two mid-mod homes designed by Hugh E. Taylor in the Desert Inn Country Club estates and a brochure listing at-risk and saved buildings in Las Vegas.
Modernism at Risk Through September 6; daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., $8.95-$18.95. Springs Preserve’s Big Springs Gallery, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., 702-822-7700.