The Getty Conservation Institute’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative was inaugurated in 2011 and has had an immense impact worldwide. Modern architects often used novel materials and structural techniques that succumbed to weather or neglect, and buildings of the past fifty years enjoy few of the protections we give older structures. Well-meaning efforts at conservation turn out to be counter-productive (think Watts Towers and Wright’s textile block houses). And when modern buildings grow shabby, owners write them off as failures and start looking for shiny replacements.
The GCI understood the challenge and assembled skilled teams to address each specific problem. This book focuses on the varied needs of concrete structures, and is the first in a series that will share the research and strategies which gave new life to endangered projects. It comprises 14 case studies, as varied as a 1929 market hall in Rheims to Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery, completed in 1978. The largest is Le Corbusier’s Unité in Marseilles, the smallest a Donald Judd sculpture on the estate of an English art collector. The strangest has to be the Listening Mirrors, an early-warning system to detect enemy planes, which was rendered obsolete by the development of radar.
The images and narrative will inspire everyone who loves the diversity of modern architecture and the renaissance of landmark buildings; the project descriptions will prove invaluable to restoration architects and the specialists on whom they depend. Most importantly, it will raise the bar on conservation and ensure that future efforts benefit from a growing body of expertise.
Concrete: Case Studies in Conservation Practice. Edited by Catherine Croft and Susan Macdonald. (Getty Publications, $59.95)
Author: Michael Webb
Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.