Sunday, June 3, 2012

Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City

Here's the story of a unique work of Modern architecture, a house in Kansas City demolished to make way for a development of "Victorian style McMansions."

The demolition of the house reminds me of an experience I had in 2005 on the other end of Missouri in St. Louis. At that time they were building a new ballpark to replace the old Busch Stadium next door. The original Busch was built as part of a major urban renewal project in the sixties, which included Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch, just beyond the stadium. The old ballpark formed a distinctive ensemble with the Arch and at 40 years of age, still looked distinctly modern, while the new stadium was built in a style that reminded me of old Comiskey Park in Chicago which was built in 1910 and demolished in 1990. It was like a time warp, hard to tell which building was going up, and which was about to come down.

The lack of regard for Modernism has been a hot topic in Chicago over the past few years with the demolition, or impending demolition of several significant works of Modern architecture. Preservationists already lost these battles: the Michael Reese Hospital campus on the near south side which included Chicago's only building by Walter Gropius, a Mies van der Rohe service building at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a splendid Holabird and Root storefront on State Street. The ongoing battle to save Northwestern Memorial Hospital's old Prentice Women's Hospital designed by Bertrand Goldberg, is currently at the forefront of preservation battles in this city.

Modernism may not suit everyone's tastes. It's not particularly warm and cuddly, but it does speak to a definite period in history which is quickly fading from memory. There is such little regard for the tastes and architecture of the fairly recent past, it makes one wonder if nearly all of it will have to disappear before buildings of that era will receive the landmark status enjoyed by structures built earlier. It would be a shame if all we had to remember it were old sitcoms, and nostalgic dramas like Mad Men.

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