Select Page

And if you see that part of the reason why you love the city is the diversity, the individuals, along with the architecture, then part of that is modern structure. So therefore, you like structure that is modern and you don’t even recognize it.

There are clearly three main important modern houses in Chestnut Hill: my house (the Margaret Esherick House), the Vanna Venturi House, and also the Giurgola House.
We’re concerned about its proprietor, which is another type of problem you can have when somebody who owns a home becomes older and can’t care for it neglecting it. So we have put it on the historic preservation record, which gives the historic designation to it, and it can not be torn down.

You could claim that we’re the birth of contemporary skyscrapers because of the PSFS construction , that was the first modern skyscraper, built in 1932. Who guessed that building would be of what exactly type of skyscraper has become today, quite so iconic? At the time, it had been innovative.
I think you need to check at its intent the building. Maybe throughout the decades it has not lived up to its anticipation.
I believe a part of the job is to make people know that these buildings aren’t awful, and anyway, if they are ugly can not you conserve an ugly construction?
Honestly, they ripped parts of the town down to produce what they thought at the time was going to be better for society. You can call it an experiment, whether it worked or not–and a great deal of individuals say it did not, since it created buildings and gigantic concrete or brick pavilions.
But those are sort of items that are threatening such buildings, such as the Roundhouse (on Race Street). The city does not understand what they wish to do for this, and most people think of it.
However from an advocacy point of view, probably the most crucial thing we all did, last year, was we got together with all the Preservation Alliance and the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, and aided document for its preservation of this Giurgola House (Editor’s note: Also known as the Shipley White House), that can be a significant modernist home.

Would you talk Docomomo’s previous efforts to conserve modern structures?

What is your advice to a modernism enthusiast who would like to get more involved in the preservation endeavor?
We don’t wish to wait until the final minute. We want to be proactive, and that is a part of what we’re doing through our community. We would like to get to people before (demolition licenses ) occur.

What are some additional preservation endeavors Docomomo has undertaken?
You get a better impression than if you simply write it off if you consider a Brutalist building. I believe it’s just that more than a lot of these buildings weren’t used for exactly what they were designed, or period has caught up together. That’s the question: Why are those buildings worth ? I am not likely to say every Brutalist building is well worth saving, but we must check at saving a number of them.
I think now in the light of those cities–and Philadelphia is one of those cities–that are growing, together with programmers anxious to develop new constructions and put people in various kinds of housing, the old buildings do not lend themselves to that, so programmers are somewhat more reticent.

Part of what constitutes Philadelphia Philadelphia is the diversity of its buildings. And the integrity and character of this town is also gone if they all look the same again.
We sat down with Dan Macey, board member of this Philadelphia chapter of Docomomo along with resident/owner of a modern gem, the Margaret Esherick home in Chestnut Hill. Macey told us about the efforts of Docomomo to conserve buildings in Philadelphia, how the typical modernism lover will get involved, and why it’s important to look at conserving — or reusing — these buildings.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

About Docomomo is that it is not only an organization of professionals, what is great, it is not a lot of professors, it’s just a lot.
Talking about the various fashions, how does the contemporary motion shaped Philly?

And again, that has to do with education.
Look around, to start with. And if you see an intriguing structure, google it. Learn a little bit.
What we’ve worked on recently is known as”One Construction, 1 Brew.” Basically, we are trying to make design a bit more enjoyable, so we have a professional visit a modern building–that week we did the PSFS building–and we tour this, and talk to people who understand about the building to go over its significance. After that, we have a drink and go, therefore it is a kind of affair.
There are really some great examples of folks utilizing these buildings in new ways, while still preserving the architectural integrity of those. So it can be done; all of us think that it’s well worth it, although it is a little tougher than knocking it down.

Folks today say,”contemporary buildings are not comfy” or”contemporary furniture isn’t comfy.” That the criticism. But if you understand the aesthetic, they can be comfy.
Can you discuss the possibility of demolition to contemporary buildings in Philly?
How do we work to preserve buildings that are modern ?
To me, Philadelphia is the birthplace of urban modernism. You’d urban planning about the parkway, also Edmund Bacon, together with Society Hill. All of that has been trying to make the city and society better through structures.

Curbed: Exactly what does Docomomo PHL do?
I believe you need to consider why you adore Philadelphia if you love Philadelphia, and then part of what you do is that you start looking around.
Subsequently Docomomo is a superb organization, In case it turns out that what you like is modernism and contemporary buildings. So is the preservation alliance, so far as historic preservation goes. There are other groups that involve preservation that is modern , like the group.

Some folks say this is a failure because it destroyed the Caribbean for quite a time in Philadelphia, and many people say it has been revived. But that experimentation stood.
Dan Macey: It is a company attempting to preserve midcentury buildings, attracting attention to these, their structure, and their cultural significance.

What would you say to folks who believe that way, composing off Brutalism too ugly or outdated?

We’re not anti-development. We’re about preservation.

I think part of our assignment across the world is to say”stop.” Also make developers more aware of what they’re doing, although not always stop growth, and help those buildings are reused by them in a way that are more functional in the lifestyle of today.
At the time the town was doing this–around the midcentury–they hired architects such as I.M. Pei to perform the kinds of things that were so revolutionary at that moment. And they continue to create a wonderful skyline for town, and also to be interesting visually.

Philadelphia has a number of design, but when people think of Philadelphia, they think of the Victorian fashion, and they believe”we need to keep the colonial houses,” that is essential. But if you consider it, most of the structures we’re saving are since they important, although not because of the structure.

We had a wake for architect Victor Gruen’s Robinson Building (designed in 1946) this past year. It was magnificent, When you take a look at pictures of this building. It’d mosaics on the front, and it had been a type of celebration of retail, of capitalism.
The problem with a great deal of Brutalism is they tried to make a great deal of public spaces which are hard and concrete, and there’s not a lot of green there. Along with the structure that is dwelling is higher, therefore these plazas are enclosed. I feel these buildings will need to be looked in for the way we live today and reworked. Maybe they should be made a little greener, actually, with grass.
There is nothing new under sunlight, therefore all buildings know from the past. There’s modernism incorporated in what architecture is currently doing.

Who are developers creating these structures for? Who are the customers? If a customer says,”I really like this building, I want to keep it,” then the developer isn’t likely to tear it down. So it’s not only programmers, it’s the mindset of what’s beautiful and what is significant. Preservation is not merely the developer’s responsibility but also of their customer.


The Washington Post/Getty Pictures
The”Roundhouse” Brutalist-era building that has long been loved and despised by Philadelphians.

The main point is that it turned into undesignated as prominent through the Department of Inspections and Licensing, which should not have authority over that. We’re trying to use the programmer to integrate the structure to whatever they’re doing.