Artillery Shed at Chinati Foundation

Donald Judd and George Nakashima: Modern Architecture from Marfa to New Hope

Artillery Shed at Chinati Foundation

In his second blog post for our #ModernCentury campaign, WMF United States Program Director Frank Sanchis shares his views on the preservation of Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation and George Nakashima’s house, studio, and workshop.


Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at two very different modern architecture sites: The Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas, and the George Nakashima compound in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Both were on the World Monuments Watch in recent years to call attention to conservation needs and remind the public of the architectural design treasures of the recent past.

Judd was an artist who created Chinati to illustrate his conviction about the inseparability of art and architecture, radically re-designing two artillery sheds from a WWII military complex in the late 1970s to place his site-specific art installation 100 Works of Mill Aluminum. The 100 Works were constructed in a foundry to his designs, but not by his hand; likewise, the re-designed artillery sheds are constructed of entirely machine-made materials; corrugated metal, store-front aluminum frame windows, exposed brick and concrete. The ensemble is precise, perfect, and intended by Judd to be permanent.

George Nakashima was a Japanese-American architect who became disenchanted with the profession and turned to furniture making, for which he became famous. In the late 1950s through the 1970s, he designed a complex of buildings for himself including a furniture factory, showroom, storage buildings, residences and a gallery known as the Arts Building. Nakashima experimented with mid-century materials and forms, like plywood, which had been developed in the 1940s; thin-shell concrete construction; and hyperbolic paraboloid roofs. He fused these materials and shapes with exquisite hand-made wooden and stone elements reflecting traditional Japanese design and construction.

Both the Nakashima and Judd building complexes are now, fittingly, the subject of evolving master plans, considering how best to preserve them. Judd intended permanence, but as the materials he used age and degrade, their replacement with new materials is inevitable to adhere to his idea of the installation lasting long into the future. While Nakashima did not speak of permanence, the preservation of his vision depends upon the preservation of his original materials, chosen by his eye, shaped by his hand, and full of the vagaries and idiosyncrasies that come with craftsmanship.

Seeing both these places in one week raised many questions for me about preserving modern architecture. Preservation is by definition about the long term, but modern architecture was often experimental using new materials, cutting-edge construction techniques, and innovative designs. Can something last forever? What is forever? #moderncentury is helping us answer some of these questions.