Not Another Top 10 List: Top 13 Challenges for Saving Modernism and the Recent Past
Age is a touchy subject -– it seems for both people and buildings. When we are young and new, we are viewed as fresh, promising and perhaps even innovative. By the time we reach our later years, we are called distinguished and maybe deemed historic.
Yet it is the middle years -– when we are no longer young and not quite old enough -– that we struggle the most. Somewhere around age 35 to 60 we start lying about our true age and are referred to as “looking a little tired,” “in need of freshening,” or simply derided as “dated.”
Oh, the indignity people and buildings have to go through during this challenging mid-life period, prone to crisis and desperate attempts to look younger and in-step with the day.
Sometimes this leads to bad dye jobs to cover up grey hair, trading in the sensible car for a new red convertible, or an unfortunate building remodel that alters and removes features not yet appreciated or valued.
Most people get through these middle years okay and age gracefully, but for buildings, that is not always the case. Saving a building or landscape -– especially one that is between 35 to 60 years old -– is all too often caught up in issues of public taste, preferences, and personal bias, in addition to the usual arguments over private property rights and economics.
For many, mid-century places are considered too new, too ordinary, too many, and too "everyday" -– leaving a lot of 1950-'70s places unnoticed and, frankly, a little unloved and under threat.
Part of the problem -- to put it simply -- is us.
Look in the mirror, folks, as many are still not ready to accept that something built in our lifetime is historic, let alone significant. Our prejudices, much like those manifested within the general public, make saving Modernist and recent past places a hard sell.
What are we doing about this, and how do we decide, prioritize, and build popular support to intervene and save these places before it is too late? We can start by understanding how saving a Modernist and recent past place is different from other eras.
In no particular order, the following "Top 13" list briefly illustrates the inherent and unique challenges we are facing.