8 Endangered Modern Structures

These modern gems are slated for demolition, in need of repair, or the subject of fundraising campaigns.

Despite modernism’s relatively recent entrance into the canon, there are already scores of architectural achievements that have been forgotten, fallen into disrepair, or become targets for developers. But as Dwell recently learned with the campaign to restore the futuristic New York State Pavilion, which Philip Johnson designed for the 1964 World's Fair, there are efforts to preserve important buildings and designs before they’re lost for good. We’ve compiled eight examples of modernism in need, from oceanfront stadiums to gyms in the Middle East, and, where possible, included ways to support restoration or repair.

New York Pavilion 1964 World's Fair

The structure, designed by Philip Johnson, is now a rusted relic.

The current state of many of these grand creations stands in stark contrast to the style and optimism they were imbued with by their designers. Like the greatest examples of pulpy sci-fi stories, imaginative modernist structures can give us a window into how those from the recent past saw our rosy-colored future, an alternative history and that speaks to the eternal optimism and artistry of building.

Shukhov Tower (Moscow, Russia: 1922)

History: A stunning coil of metal that seemingly combines the best of Tesla and Eiffel, the Shukhov Tower stands as a 160-meter-tall triumph of collectivist and modernist design, and would have potentially been taller than the Parisian jewel if Russia wasn’t facing a steel shortage while it was being built. Designer and engineer Vladimir Shukhov was regarded as the Russian Edison for his innovative thinking and designs.

Status: Russian authorities announced a controversial plan to disassemble the tower this year, owing to its disuse and disrepair, and potentially reassemble it at a later date. This sparked an outcry among locals, including Shukhov’s grandson (a change.org petition has gathered more than 10,000 signatures), and architects, such as Rem Koolhaas, one of many who signed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin protesting the move.

What You Can Do: As resistance to the proposed demolition grows, follow the latest developments from the Shukov Tower Foundation.

Image Credit: Creative Commons, Sergey Norin

See all these modern structures in our slideshow.

Houston Astrodome (Houston, Texas: 1965)

History: Though it carried the clunky, official title of the Harris County Domed Stadium when it opened, the Astrodome was quickly nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (typical Texas-sized modesty). Former Houston Mayor Roy Hofheinz organized a winning bid to bring a baseball team to Houston on the condition they build a covered stadium to compensate for Texas summer temperatures; Hofheinz supposedly drew inspiration for the dome from the cloth “valeria” that covered the Roman Colosseum. Home to the Houston Astros until 2000, the Astrodome also hosted the first televised NCAA basketball game, the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and an Evel Knievel stunt jump (plans to jump the stadium fell through) before falling into disuse in the early 2000s.

Status: After the Astrodome was named one of the National Trust's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2013, the Harris County Sports and Convention Center, which runs the site, unveiled the New Dome Experience plan to turn the stadium into a multiuse facility (a forward-thinking plan with more support than previous ideas of turning the dome into a hotel or movie production studio). Houston voters rejected a bond referendum last fall that would have moved the plan forward.

What You Can Do: The building is currently in limbo; demolition isn’t slated yet, mostly because of the cost and potential environmental damage that would ensue. While it hasn’t been updated recently, the New Dome PAC

site hosts plans and photos of the dome’s past and (potential) future.

Image Credit: Bukowsky18, Creative Commons

Marine Stadium (Miami, Florida: 1963)

History: Designed by Cuban-born architect Hilario Candela, the stylish oceanside building on Biscayne Bay once boasted the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world (the 326-foot-long roof), and hosted floating concerts on a stage moored to the shore. Decades of Floridians saw concerts, watched powerboat races, and even attended religious services here until the structure was deemed unsafe due to hurricane concerns and was closed down by the city. The areas underneath the angular overhang quickly became a canvas for graffiti art.

Status: In 2008, Candela and others formed Friends of Marine Stadium to restore the structure, and after years of advocacy, have the support of local government organizations to rebuild the stadium. On July 11, 2013, the Miami commissioners voted to give the organization control of the site and the authority to rebuild.

What You Can Do: Continue to support Friends of Marine Stadium, which has come up with several ways to raise funds for reconstruction, such as selling graffiti pieces created on site.

Image Credit: Ines Hegedus-Garca, Creative Commons

Bell Labs (Holmdel, New Jersey: 1957)

History: As Silicon Valley titans like Apple seek to create their own corporate superstructures, it’s instructive to look back at Bell Labs, not merely a birthplace of American ingenuity but also a masterclass in corporate construction by Eero Saarinen. The man behind “the Versailles of Industry,” (the GM Tech Center), Saarinen built this ahead-if-its-time tech incubator with interconnected skyways and a mirrored ball exterior, a 472-acre campus where an impressive number of scientific discoveries took place.

Status: Shuttered in 2007, the campus is owned by Somerset Development, which is trying to figure out ways to redevelop the site. Plans that have been floated over the past few years include scenarios that replace this iconic office complex with upscale homes.

What You Can Do: Late last fall, Somerset committed to a $100 restoration plan, promising to develop the largest vacant office building in the country with a preservationist mindset, conserving features like the architect’s conversation pits while turning it into a more elaborate live-work space with medial offices, a library, restaurants, offices, and cafes. Looks like now may be the time to invest in your own Saarinen-designed office space.

Image Credit: Lee Beaumont, Creative Commons

Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas (Caracas, Venezuela, 1960)

History: An incredible synthesis of modernist architecture and city planning, Carlos Raul Villanueva’s Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas stands as a stunning example of unified construction. The campus site consists of 40 buildings covered in gorgeous murals and facades. Villanueva surveyed the construction for more than two decades, overseeing the work of artists like Hans Arp and Alexander Calder, who contributed gorgeous clouds of colorful abstract shapes that decorate the main concert hall.

Status: Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the buildings face the existential threat of an expanding metropolis and deterioration.

What You Can Do: Follow the situation via the Worlds Monument Fund, which has placed the site on its Watch List.

Image Credit: Jorge Andrés Paparoni Bruzual, Creative Commons

Orange County Government Center (Goshen, New York: 1967)

History: Architect Paul Rudolph, then dean of the Yale School of Architecture, created this Brutalist structure, which has been praised as a fantastic example of the form. Sadly, some Orange County legislators don’t share the same opinion, owing to occasional leaks (a storm in the 1970s required workers to string up a tarp) resulting from poor upkeep over time. One went so far as to call it a “monstrosity.”

Status: In 2013, a vote authorized funds to preserves the building, but subsequent reports suggest the option of demolition or replacement is still on the table.

What You Can Do: The Paul Rudolph Foundation posts updates about the building and has organized events and fundraisers to raise awareness of its plight.

Image Credit: Joe Schumacher, Creative Commons

Baghdad Gymnasium (Baghdad, Iraq: 1958)

History: A preservation movement has grown over this once-obscure Le Corbusier design in Iraq, a commission from King Faisal II, who wanted to rework Baghdad for an unsuccessful bid for the 1960 Summer Olympics. After Faisal was assassinated a few years later, the plans for a sports complex—which at one point included redirecting the Tigris River to feed an outdoor pool—collected dust until a Le Corbusier associate, Georges-Marc Presente, took them up in 1982 and finished the gymnasium, incorporating a curved roof and stark exterior. After Saddam Hussein was overthrown, American soldiers took up residence for a few years, exacerbating the structure’s slow deterioration.

Status: Caecilia Pieri, from the Institut Francais du Proche-Orient, rediscovered the site, which was unknown even to some members of the Le Corbusier Foundation, during a research trip in 2005 and helped focus international attention.

What You Can Do: Discussions and plans have been proposed to renovate the structure, which is still in use, but nothing concrete has materialized. Pieri has posted a great history of the project.

Image Credit: Rifat Chadirji

New York State Pavilion (Queens, New York: 1964)

History: Designed by modernist icon Philip Johnson and dubbed the “Tent of Tomorrow,” this World’s Fair pavilion once held a cable suspension roof and was clad in a terrazzo floor featuring a Texaco highway map of the state. Critic Louise Huxtable said it was “a sophisticated frivolity…seriously and beautifully constructed…a ‘carnival’ with class.”

Status: After the fair, the site had a series of second lives as a concert venue and roller rink, but has since become a rusted relic.

What You Can Do: The group People for the Pavilion has organized a series of fundraisers and continues to raise awareness of the structure and support restoration efforts.

Image Credit: People for the Pavilion


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