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Modernism on the Prairie: Docomomo US National Symposium in Minneapolis

In early June my colleague Kate Doyle and I had the opportunity to attend the Docomomo US annual symposium held in June in Minneapolis, MN. Entitled “Modernism on the Prairie: Rural to Metro Regional Interpretations of the Modern Movement,” the symposium was rooted in Minnesota, with presentations and tours highlighting the local context. Over the course of three days, designers, scholars, students, and professionals from around the country gathered to present their work around themes that included industrial and corporate modernism, urban landscapes, and rural and religious modernism. An interesting panel discussion about social media and advocacy took place one morning, which generated many questions from the audience, such as how do we generate interest among younger audiences and “accidental” preservationists? And, how can we give preservation advocacy a positive spin? Representations from the Northern California chapter of Docomomo spoke about a change in their mission statement – they no longer spend much time fighting “lost causes” and have turned their attention to events that celebrate modern works not in danger of being demolished; they now seek to be proactive instead of reactive. A digital media specialist emphasized the need to craft narratives that connect to personal experiences, and also stressed the value of high-quality photography. Other highlights included a thought-provoking presentation asking us to reconsider urban renewal’s architectural legacy; a presentation about Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, and how sometimes no preservation can be the best preservation strategy; and presentations focused on the challenges of preserving modern landscape architecture. The final day presented a unique opportunity as the symposium moved to St. John’s Abbey and University in St. Cloud. Designed by Marcel Breuer, the abbey is a remarkable example of mid-century modern architecture both inside and out. The setting paralleled a site visit from the first day – Eliel Saarinen’s Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis – another iconic religious building by a modern master. Presentations on the last day focused largely on concrete conservation and modern sustainability, and left plenty of time to explore the abbey and network with peers. In 2006, World Monuments Fund officially launched its Modernism at Risk initiative with support from Knoll. An advocacy and conservation program, the initiative aims to bring international attention and resources to address the key threats and challenges facing many modern buildings, as well as to focus on the technical problems associated with conserving innovative designs and materials. In 2008, the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize was launched in order to award an innovative architectural or design solution that preserved a modern landmark or group of landmarks. On Friday night at the Docomomo conference, the organization presented awards for its new program, Modernism in America, which seeks to award national excellence toward the same end. Kate and I were pleased to see these efforts expanding, and to participate in a symposium so closely aligned to WMF’s goals for its modernism program.

 

 

Also by this author: Sunny Sundays are Made for Modernism in London.