Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Archi-Trash?" Rethinking the Mid-20th Century

Do you get excited by that retro-ranch on your street? Have a “thing” for the funky old gas station or drive-through on your commute? Marvel at the modernity of Midtown Mall? If so, you’re exactly the kind of person we need.

The Landmark Society of Western New York and the Rochester chapter of the American Institute of Architects are partnering through a public survey effort to raise awareness of recent past architecture. Read more about The Landmark Society's work on recent past architecture (including our statements on Midtown Plaza) here.

If you have a favorite mid-century building in the area or know of a landmark in your neighborhood that was built between 1930 and 1970, we want to hear about it. Visit and tell us what you know about this structure or site and why it is important. We're looking for everything from early garages to major downtown office buildings - anything that tells the story of the mid-20th century in the Rochester area.

Once completed, the survey will allow the AIA to create a searchable database for those doing research on Rochester architecture or planning. It will also allow for possible nominations to the National, State and/or Local historic registers. Most importantly, it will take the first step towards proactive protection for more modern buildings.

Mid-century resources raise fascinating and tricky issues for preservationists. After all, these are the very resources whose construction spurred the growth of the preservation movement, as large swaths of historic fabric were often taken down for urban renewal or other modernization efforts in the post-WWII era. These resources are aesthetically very different from their more traditionally ornamented predecessors, the buildings we generally think of as "historic" and worth saving. To many people, these buildings are just not old enough or pretty enough to merit the same treatment as our 19th and early-20th century gems.

Yet now we have to look at these resources with a new eye, recognizing that they have their role in the history of our community. After all, in the early- to mid-20th century, 19th century buildings were seen as unfashionable or worse, and were dismissed and destroyed just as mid-20th century buildings and landscapes are today. Boston, Washington D.C., and other cities are grappling with these issues as notable but widely despised 20th-century buildings are facing potential demolition.

So what are your favorite mid-20th century buildings, structures and landscapes?

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator

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