Celebrated for their impact on the evolution of architecture, significant modernist sites around the world are now at risk, endangered due to neglect, inappropriate alteration, physical deterioration, and the threat of demolition. Often too young to qualify for landmark designation, many modern buildings lack legal protection and demand immediate intervention. The innovative and experimental designs, materials, and once-new technologies that define modern architecture are often— paradoxically—the biggest challenges to its preservation.
The programs of World Monuments Fund reflect our commitment to modern architecture as a crucial component of our twentieth-century heritage and as a valuable piece of our future. In 2006, we launched the Modernism at Risk initiative, with support from founding sponsor Knoll, to take an active role in addressing the challenges that face modern architecture. Our advocacy work draws attention to vulnerable modernist sites and supports community engagement, while our conservation projects foster the development of contemporary design solutions and informed approaches to preservation.
Through the Modernism at Risk initiative and the World Monuments Watch, we draw international attention to at-risk modernist sites around the world, from the iconic to the unexplored and the forgotten.
Our leadership prevented the planned demolition of the A. Conger Goodyear House, and resulted in the building’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and a preservation easement, both of which ensured the legacy of the building. We have also participated in design competitions with universities and local preservation groups to support the creation of reuse plans for sites threatened with demolition, including Grosse Pointe Public Library.
In 2008, we launched the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize to highlight the role that architects and designers play in protecting modern heritage and to recognize their innovative architectural and design solutions. In 2009, we created the Modernism at Risk exhibition to present case studies of threatened buildings and to generate dialogue about local architecture and preservation.
The survival of modern buildings is frequently threatened by the technical challenges of conserving experimental materials and systems such as glass curtain walls and poured concrete façades. Our involvement has been pivotal in the conservation of several sites—our forward-thinking support at Viipuri Library and Tugendhat Villa helped leverage additional funding, and provided the momentum needed to complete conservation.
An ongoing need
Despite the accomplishments made at some sites, modernist architecture is increasingly threatened and battles continue to be lost. The drastic renovation of the Orange County Government Center—where Paul Rudolph’s distinctive façade was stripped bare, leaving only the framework behind—exemplifies the ongoing threats. The destruction of Rudolph’s Riverview High School and the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School—both razed despite protests from the local communities and the development of viable plans for reuse—reminds us that we must persist in the fight to preserve modern architecture and our shared twentieth-century heritage.