For Immediate Release—New York, NY, June 6, 2007 . . .
The 2008 World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites was announced today by Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the nonprofit organization that, for more than 40 years, has helped save hundreds of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. This year’s list highlights three critical man-made threats: political conflict, unchecked urban and industrial development, and, for the first time, global climate change.
Announced every two years, the WMF Watch List acts as a call to action, drawing international public attention to threatened cultural heritage sites across the globe. The Watch List is assembled by an international panel of experts in archaeology, architecture, art history, and preservation. For many historic sites, inclusion on the List is the best, and sometimes the only, hope for survival.
One of the sites listed is "Main Street Modern", a catchall phrase denoting mid-century modern architecture. A specific site pointed out is Paul Rudolph's Riverview High School in Sarasota:
Main Street Modern
Various Locations, United States, 1945 – 1975
Most communities in the United States have at least one public building designed in the Modern idiom. Whether community centers, schools, libraries, or religious institutions, these buildings represent an important shift in the history of twentieth-century American architecture when Modernism was chosen over traditional styles in order to project a national image of progress. More than residential or commercial buildings, it is the civic architecture of Post-World War II America that retains the early Modernist agenda––as conceived in Europe during the interwar years––to democratize design and society.
For example, Modern design principles were used to create schools that reflected the ideal that all children should have equal access to quality education. European émigrés like Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe––all former Bauhaus leaders––as well as the architects they helped train, such as Paul Rudolph, I.M. Pei, and lesser-know designers, created many of the icons of Modern architecture, including the Whitney Museum of Art, Seagram Building, and Yale University Art and Architecture Building. They were also the architects responsible for many of the everyday Modern structures that are now integral parts of the American main street.
The work of these designers was united by certain core principles, including a departure from traditional forms, the integration of arts and design disciplines, and the use of industrial materials and innovative technologies. Physically embodying these core principles, the architecture of “Main Street Modern” is typically characterized by simple, geometric or abstract forms, machine-made components, and new expressions of space, such as the use of glass walls that remove the visual barrier between exterior and interior.
The primary threats faced by Modern architecture are demolition or inappropriate renovations and the technical challenges of conserving the experimental materials and innovative building systems used in their construction. These two factors pose an immediate threat to many mid-twentieth-century buildings. However, the greatest threat is perhaps public apathy––a lack of consensus or confidence––that buildings of the recent past can be important enough to be preserved for the future. This could be because the public feels alienated from the theories and intellectual concepts that informed Modern architecture and because it will take additional time and research to understand how these buildings fit into the continuum of American architectural history.
There are a number of significant “Main Street Modern” buildings threatened with demolition or degradation right now, including Paul Rudolph’s Riverview High School (1957) in Sarasota, Florida and Marcel Breuer’s Grosse Pointe Public Library (1953) in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.
The world continues to watch the threat of demolition of Rudolph's Riverview High School building.