As architecture publications use the end of the year as a signal to anoint the year's best designs—or, in the case of Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange and Mark Lamster, create a more entertaining and exhaustive list of superlatives—it's also a good time to re-examine an remember great architecture that's been lost. New designs traffic in optimism and excitement, and while you can see the fresh facade and almost smell the coat of new paint in project photos, the building's ultimate impact on the environment is still an unknown. Landmarks or great structures that are destroyed leave no such mystery; the understanding of how they fit into the community makes their destruction that much more unpleasant. We asked Docomomo, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Curbed editors to identify some of the most noteworthy preservation losses of 2015.
Lewis & Clark Branch of the St. Louis Library: Moline Acres, Missouri
Designed by Frederick Dunn, this 1963 modernist library was famous in its own right, but became an icon due to the Emil Frei stained glass by artist Robert Harmon that seemed to stand like paintings upon the building's brick base. Advocacy group Modern STL sought to preserve the structure from being replaced, suggesting an addition instead of a tear down, but despite years of effort, the building was demolished to make way for a replacement that opened this fall. Some, but not all, of Harmon's stained glass has been repurposed in the new facility.
Birmingham Central Library: Birmingham, England
Known as the ZIggurat, local architect John Madin's 1974 concrete edifice was seemingly the definition of peak Brutalism, a blocky, grey structure that some associated with the malaise of Northern England. It was also a beloved library by many, and one of the largest in Europe with 30-plus miles of shelving, as well as a Modernist symbol in the city's well-developed public square. It's being demolished to make way for a offices, a hotel and a re-route of local traffic, part of a larger plan to replace many of the surrounding civic buildings to activate the city square with commercial development. At one point, Richard Rogers was enlisted to design an equally monumental replacement, but a change in city government led to a significant downsizing of the new library.
Brotherhood House: New York City, New York
This six-story limestone-and-granite building in Manhattan's Garment District may not be as well known as many other structures on the list, but its history goes back decades. Designed by Swiss-American modernist William Lescaze, it's known to contemporary audiences as the home of the David M. Schwartz Fashion Education Center of the Parsons School of Design, the arena for contestants on Project Runway, but that's far from the structures second, or even third act. Created to be a socially conscious community center which included a synagogue, the building played host to '60s speeches by Robert Kennedy and many others, and was a monument to social justice and inclusivity. It's currently set to be turned into a high-end hotel.
Park Avenue Hotel: Detroit, Michigan
While the forthcoming Red Wings arena in Detroit may be one of the more progressive examples of stadium design in the country, it's tragic that it came at the cost of an historic hotel. The owners of the hockey team, the billionaire Ilitch family, bought a pair of historic, once grand Midtown hotels designed by Louis Kamper (the famed local architect who also designed the Book-Cadillac) and agreed to rehab the Eddystone if they were given permission to demolish the Park Avenue. Currently, the Eddystone is being turned into condos, while the Park Avenue was imploded in July.
Portland Gas & Coke Building: Portland, Oregon
A Gothic Revival relic of the early 20th century that overlooks the Willamette River, as well as a haunting reminder of Portland's industrial past, met the wrecking ball late this year after preservation efforts failed to hit critical mass. Abandoned since the '50s, the massive structure, constructed by Portland Gas & Coke company to perform the antiquated task of turning coal and oil into gasoline, offered a connection with the city's blue collar past. The lack of documentation about the structure only speaks to the mystery that seemed to draw admirers; according to local architecture critic Brian Libby, "one of Portland's most beloved old buildings has reached the end of its lifespan."
Harry Sythe Cummings House: Baltimore, Maryland
A few blocks was all that may have separated this important civil rights landmark in Baltimore from preservation. Elected in 1890, Harry S. Cummings was the city's first black city council member, and the brick row house he called home not only represented the depth of his political contributions, but also served as an early meeting place for the city's NAACP chapter, earning the nickname the Freedom House. If the home was on the north side of Lanvale Street, as opposed to the south side, it would have been protected as part of the Marble Hill historic district.
Belleview-Biltmore Hotel: Clearwater, Florida
Known as "The White Queen of the Gulf," this hotel hosted presidents, business tycoons and European royalty underneath its signature green roofs. The 820,000-square-foot complex located on 21 prime acres of land abutting Clearwater Harbor, built from native Florida pine, stood as one of the world's largest wooden structures, a beautiful reminder of the golden age of Gulf hotels complete with accents of Tiffany glass and detailed woodwork inside. The dream of railroad magnate Henry Plant, the building sadly fell prey to investors, who began demolishing the grand dame with plans to transform the property into condos and townhomes.
Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, Morris Plains, New Jersey
As evidenced by this once-progressive hospital complex, mental health care was much different at the turn of the century. Greystone was built during a push to reform the treatment of mentally ill Americans, and was envisioned as an entirely self-sufficient complex, with a fire department, post office and work farm within its walls. Once the home of 5,000 patients, which at one time included folk singer Woody Guthrie, the structure fell into disrepair. Despite pleas from the National Trust, local preservation groups and state treasury officials, the building was demolished earlier this year.
Orange County Government Center: Goshen, New York
While Britain has begun to re-examine its legacy of Brutalist architecture, the public shift towards a more protective stance towards these concrete creations wasn't quick enough to save this blocky Paul Rudolph gem, the subject of preservationist zeal and a heated court case. While many have spoken of the building's special qualities and unique shape, Zaha Hadid may have said it best when she told The New York Times that "Rudolph's work is pure, but the beauty is in its austerity."
Hotel Okura: Tokyo, Japan
It's fitting that such a stylish hotel would receive a stately send off when its main building closed for a massive renovation in August, with a piano and string quartet playing off the Modernist icon. It is merely a building, but that's like saying a Lamborghini is merely a sensible way to get from point A to point B. A dream collaboration between lead designers Yoshiro Taniguchi and Hideo Kosaka and a team of craftsmen, the Okura offered a singular spin on Japanese style, transcending references and nostalgia to create both a summation of centuries of culture as well as a bold, forward-thinking statement of modernity. Demolishing the building to make way for a new high-end hotel for the 2020 Olympics seems shortsighted; if the goal is to show off Japanese culture to the rest of the world, this suave hotel, host to movie stars and world leaders for decades, surely the original design was an cultural ambassador worth saving.
∙ Closing Time for the Hotel Okura, a '60s Tokyo Time Capsule [Curbed]
∙ Paul Rudolph's Brutalist Orange County Government Center Can Proceed After All [Curbed]
∙ All Preservation Watch Coverage [Curbed]