Press / How Two Getty Initiatives Are Saving Global Modernist Heritage

Courtesy Joe Belcovson for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. ImageIn 2012, the Getty Conservation Institute founded its Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI), with the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern grant following two years later. Working synergistically, the two programs are dedicated to supporting new methods and technologies for the conservation of Modernist buildings. Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1965) in La Jolla, California, has been the beneficiary of both CMAI and Keeping It Modern.

This Article by Mimi Zeiger was originally published on Metropolismag.com.

The Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) and Keeping It Modern grant are dedicated to supporting new methods and technologies for the conservation of Modernist buildings.

“Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space,” Mies van der Rohe famously wrote in 1924, putting forth a case for Modernism. His argument, like many of the era, sought to break with the stodgy past and its artisanal techniques.

While the oft-quoted line couples buildings and culture, later in the same text Mies mandates timeliness over timelessness, suggesting that design is subject to the forces and flows of the current moment. The art of building, he mused, “can only be manifested in living tasks and in the medium of its epoch.”

Courtesy Joe Belcovson for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. ImageLouis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1965) in La Jolla, California, has been the beneficiary of both CMAI and Keeping It Modern.
Courtesy Joe Belcovson for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. ImageLouis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1965) in La Jolla, California, has been the beneficiary of both CMAI and Keeping It Modern.

But what happens when architecture is subject not to its own time but rather to the ravages of time? Materials age and uses obsolesce. Curtain wall gaskets wither. Laminates come unglued. Architectures designed to propel us into the future are thus welded to the past. The strategic upkeep of Modernist buildings is the key concern of two ongoing and sometimes dovetailing programs: the Getty Conservation Institute’s (GCI) Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) and the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern grant.

Courtesy Sydney Opera House Trust, Photo by Jack Atley. ImageA 2014 Keeping It Modern grant helped support the Sydney Opera House Trust in formulating a plan to conserve concrete-and-tile elements of the iconic building’s (1973) sail-like roof.
Courtesy Sydney Opera House Trust, Photo by Jack Atley. ImageA 2014 Keeping It Modern grant helped support the Sydney Opera House Trust in formulating a plan to conserve concrete-and-tile elements of the iconic building’s (1973) sail-like roof.

“Modernism began a complete break from tradition—we see this in social and material reform,” explains Susan Macdonald, head of buildings and sites for the GCI. “Lots of technological development happened postwar: prefab, industrialization, the de-skilling of the building industry. But there were repercussions for those innovations and the speed of new construction.”

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