Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ plan retains fundamental elements of Dan Kiley’s original design. Photo by Nic Lehoux.

The protection of modernist design is a relatively new topic in preservationist circles. And in many cases, landscapes have lagged behind modern architecture in formal recognition and evaluation.

But in recent years, the modernism preservation nonprofit Docomomo US has used its major awards program to bring visibility to the vulnerability and value of modern historic landscapes. Projects awarded by Docomomo US sixth year Modernism in America Award show how all disciplines of the designed environment come together as a defining element of modernism: architecture, landscape architecture, art, interior design, etc. It’s been a recurring theme over the years, though this year’s awards were the first time it was “expressed so clearly or comprehensively,” the awards juror said and Docomomo US President Theodore Prudon. Several award-winning projects place the preservation of historic modernist landscapes at the forefront: the rehabilitation of the Gateway Arch National Park in Saint-Louis, honored with a Design Award of Excellence, and the restoration of Olav Hammarstrom’s Pond House in Massachusetts, which received a Design Citation of Merit.

Docomomo US is the American subsidiary of Docomomo International, which works to raise awareness and historical recognition of modern design as these elements of the built environment transition from artefacts of the recent past to elements of a shared historical narrative. (Docomomo is short for “International Committee for the Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement.”) The awards recognize recently completed restoration projects, documentation efforts that make the case for the historic preservation, as well as advocacy to preserve buildings and places under threat. In 2014, the first year of the awards ceremony, the group gave the Cultural Landscape Foundation (among others) a award for his advocacy for the preservation of Mr. Paul Friedberg’s Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Simonds and Simonds’s Mellon Square in Pittsburgh received a award in 2016. And in 2018, the two Dan Kiley’s Landscape at Hill College House on the University of Pennsylvania campus and documentation efforts for the University of California, San Diego Campus received awards.

The circular wading pool marks the entrance to the Gateway Arch National Park Museum. Photo by Sam Fentress.

Prudon says the characteristic material of landscape architecture (plants) makes it more difficult to understand as an object of preservation, often preventing a wide audience from understanding its value. “Landscapes are constantly changing,” he says. “They are not static objects like buildings.” Their fragility also contributes to this. “They die. A piece of granite has a much longer lifespan than a pine tree,” he says. wide of the public.”For most people, landscapes have much more of a romantic connotation,” says Prudon.

West of the Gateway Arch, the 19th century St. Louis courthouse. Photo by Nic Lehoux.

The revitalization of the grounds of Kiley’s Gateway Arch is an example of the kind of total work put forward by Docomomo, encompassing landscape, town planning, architecture and art, with the monumental 630-foot arch Eero Saarinen, designed as a city-scale sculpture. The revival and landscape restoration recently completed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Partners makes the 91-acre park a much more urban affair, tearing down parking garages in favor of more organic connections to St. Louis. The redesign adds a circular, ground-level wading pool at the foot of the park’s redesigned museum and a new waterfront promenade along the Mississippi River. Acacia trees replace pest-stalked ash trees, nestled in ingeniously reclaimed soil, but the new design keeps the Map of Killey (both in circulation and planting patterns) basically intact, with its series of winding paths and ponds. Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, member of the jury and founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, praised the project for “embracing the bony structure of the place”, instead of opting for a tabula rasa tear.

The pond house. Photo by Peter Murdock.

Less known, but perhaps just as sensitive, is the preservation of the work of Finnish architect Olav Hammarstrom pond house and landscape in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Built in 1960 for Eero Saarinen’s first wife, artist Lilian Swann Saarinen, it’s a low, long house wrapped in floor-to-ceiling sections of glass and dramatically situated next to a glacial pond. The restoration, by SPG Architects and LeBlanc Jones Landscape Architects, applied a light hand, letting the lush foliage weave into cobble-paved nooks and terraces that invite you to relax and unwind. A bluestone path from the front of the house weaves a path through ferns and black gum trees, framing the view of the pond. A new glazed terrace at the back of the house overlooks the pond, raised from the banks like a tree house. The banks have also been intensively rehabilitated, with invasive plants removed and replaced with stabilizing native species.

Glass railing on the back terrace of the house. Photo by Peter Murdock.

“The interventions were surgical, and the language used for the interventions matched the original design,” says Birnbaum.

An outdoor shower surrounded by smooth stones is a transition zone between indoors and outdoors. Photo by Peter Murdock.

Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based design journalist who focuses on landscape architecture and architecture. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Posted in AWARDS, ECOLOGY, ENVIRONMENT, HISTORIC LANDSCAPES, ONLINE ONLY, PARKS, PLANTS, CONSERVATION, RECREATION, RESIDENTIAL, SOIL, SPECIES, STREETS, VIEWS, WATER | Tagged advocacy, arch, architecture, art, awards, Campus, Cape Cod, Charles Birnbaum, Dan Kiley, Design Award of Excellence, Design Citation of Merit, Docomomo International, Docomomo US, documentation, Eero Saarinen, Gateway Arch National Park, Hill College Home, honey locust, Interior Design, landscape architect, Landscape Architecture, landscape design, LeBlanc Jones Landscape Architects, Lilian Swann Saarinen, M. Paul Friedberg, Massachusetts, Mellon Square, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Minneapolis, Modernism, Modernism in American Awards, Olav Hammarstrom, Peavey Plaza, Pittsburgh, Pond House, Preservation, restoration, San Diego, sculpture, Simonds and Simonds, SPG Architects, St. Louis, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Theodore Prudon, University of California, University of Pennsylvania, Wellfleet , Zach Mortaise | leave a comment


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