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Transparency in Preservation

by Theodore H.M. Prudon

Continuity and the ability to recognize original design intent is critical to the preservation of modern architecture. Original design intent is the visual and conceptual expression of the designer's creativity and therefore informs every aspect of both the building and its construction.

This acceptance of and greater reliance on the intangible (and therefore the lesser reliance on material expression) diverges from conventional preservation practices in the United States. It requires both a broader definition of authenticity and a less literal approach to material preservation.

Whereas in traditional preservation practice the original material and its presence is considered the most authentic and thus what needs to be preserved, in the preservation of modern architecture there is likely to be a combination of both design intent and material authenticity with, probably, a somewhat greater priority placed on the design itself.

Transparency and Visual Continuity

An aspect of modern architecture closely linked to design intent is transparency. It often poses a dilemma for current preservation practices.

The desire to extend the outside inside, or vice versa, resulted directly from the development of new glass manufacturing and glazing techniques and their unique use in modern buildings — and the subsequent functional and salutary significance of light. This is manifested as the visual integration of interiors and exteriors and large expanses of glass.

Accordingly, glass and the transparency it affords became an integral part of design and design philosophies that are still prevalent today. This had a profound impact on preservation and preservation theory: a clear separation between interior and exterior was diminished or completely lost, not only through the introduction of wider expanses of glazing, but also through other materials that extend the inside out and the outside in.   >>>

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This article is excerpted from Preservation of Modern Architecture by Theodore H.M. Prudon, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.

 

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The Seagram Building in New York City, designed by Mies Van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, some time shortly after its 1958 completion, as seen from Park Avenue.
Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress Extra Large Image

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Gordon Bunshaft of SOM designed Lever House (1952), also on Park Avenue, with a landmark steel-and-glass facade. As built, Lever House stood sleek and tall among its neighbors.
Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress Extra Large Image

 

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