Main Street Modern

World Monuments Watch
Various locations, United States

2008 World Monuments Watch

Many communities in the United States have at least one modern public building. Whether community centers, schools, libraries, or religious institutions, these buildings represent an important shift in the history of 20th-century American architecture, when modernism was chosen over traditional styles in order to project a national image of progress. Post-World War II American architecture represents an early modernist agenda to democratize design and society. European émigrés like Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as well as the architects they helped train-such as Paul Rudolph and I.M. Pei-created many of the icons of modern architecture in America, including the Whitney Museum of Art and the Seagram 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. A number of significant "Main Street Modern" buildings were threatened with demolition or degradation, 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. It was hoped that 2008 Watch listing would encourage these and other communities to consider alternatives to the demolition of these buildings, which are important pieces of American architectural and social history.

Since the Watch

Watch listing saved the Grosse Pointe Library from demolition. Knoll, through WMF's Modernism at Risk initiative, funded archival research and documentation that helped guide the Grosse Pointe Library expansion design. WMF funded an international design competition for the Riverview High School reuse plan. Even with a viable alternative, however, the building is still in jeopardy. As of June 2008, the local school board had voted to demolish the school and replace it with a parking lot.

Last updated:
July 2008

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