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Docomomo Announces Winners of 2016 Modernism in America Awards

Buildings in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and other cities were honored

Docomomo U.S., the American chapter of the international nonprofit committed to protecting and conserving modern architecture around the world (and with whom we’ve partnered on our New Modernism series), has just announced the winners of the 2016 Modernism in America Awards. The organization describes it as "the only national program that celebrates the people and projects working to preserve, restore and rehabilitate our modern heritage sensitively and productively."

Four buildings were awarded the Design Award of Excellence, the program’s top honors. They include Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building in Los Angeles, Frederick and Harriet Rauh Residence in Cincinnati, and the Michigan Modern.

Citations of Merit went to Louis Kahn’s Margaret Esherick House in Philadelphia, Manhattan’s Met Breuer, Shepley Bulfinch Architecture Firm Office in Phoenix, and Houston: Uncommon Modern, while Citations of Technical Achievement were awarded to the United Nations Campus Renovation of Facades in New York, and the Tower of Hope, Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.

According to the press release, the winners highlight "the diversity of important modern buildings and sites" as well as the public’s desire to "live, work and celebrate the richness of midcentury architecture and design." Moreover, the awards acknowledge the ways in which preservation contributes to the economies and cultural life of the communities in which these buildings stand.

Take a closer look at the winners below.

Civic/Institutional Design Award of Excellence: Mellon Square, Pittsburgh, PA

Original Architects: ​Mitchell & Ritchey (architects) Simonds & Simonds (landscape architects)

Restoration Team:​ Heritage Landscapes (landscapes), Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (project direction)

Envisioned as a cornerstone of Pittsburgh’s post WWII renaissance by Richard King Mellon and Mayor David L. Lawrence, this space was collaboratively designed by architects Mitchell & Ritchey and landscape architects Simonds & Simonds. It opened in 1955 as the nation’s first urban plaza designed with an underground garage and retail space as an integral composition.

After falling into decline due to weather, system failures, and use, a Preservation, Interpretation & Management Plan was first developed in 2008 that informed the five-year restoration and revitalization project focused on recapturing the original design intent and solving persistent issues of decline.

Jury chair, architect Frederick Bland noted, "As one of the nation’s oldest modern urban plazas—and an original component of the success story of Pittsburgh’s mid-twentieth century renaissance—this detailed and comprehensive restoration considers both daytime and nighttime uses, includes an interpretative display to convey the meaning of the design to the public, and establishes a maintenance endowment and public-private operating agreement the ensure the design’s longevity.

While some modern urban landscapes around the country are being ripped out, Pittsburgh has found a more enlightened way."

Commercial Design Award of Excellence: Golden State Mutual Life, Los Angeles, CA

Original Architect:​ Paul Revere Williams

Restoration Team:​ AE3 Partners, Inc., Steinberg Architects, Historic Resources Group, KSJ & VCC Joint Venture, Primestor Development, Inc.

At its completion, both the building and its architect, Paul Revere Williams, were central to the African-American community during the previous century and influenced the history of Southern California. For much of the 20th century Golden State Mutual Life Insurance was the largest black-owned insurance company in the western United States and the first in the region to write insurance policies to all people regardless of color.

The company was a pillar of the African-American community, providing hundreds of African-Americans and other minorities stable, middle-class employment, and was front and center in the drive for civil rights as the site of numerous voter drives and community organization efforts, including a visit by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In selecting the project the jury noted, "The renovation of this lesser known modern office headquarters in Los Angeles embodies the ethos of "refreshing" a building rather than replacing (i.e. a light touch rather than a heavy hand)." The interiors have been restored to match the original 1949 design, and the building now serves the community as a center of the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center campus.

The property is listed on the National Register and as a Historic Cultural Monument in the City of Los Angeles.

Residential Design Award of Excellence: Frederick and Harriet Rauh Residence, Cincinnati, OH

Original Architects:​ John Becker

Restoration Team:​ Cincinnati Preservation Association, Paul Muller, AIA (Project Director); Margo Warminski (Preservation Research); Architects Plus, Principal in Charge: Andrew Schaub, AIA (Restoration Architect); Rick Koehler, AIA (architect); Jeffrey Jakucyk Meisner and Associates (Project Designer); Gary Meisner (Landscape architect); Fred Lutt (Landscape Historian); Crapsey and Giles Contractors, Robert Crapsey (Contractors); Milner and Carr Conservation LLC, Roy J. Ingraffia (Architectural Conservator)

Restoration of the house and property was accomplished through the collective efforts of the Cincinnati Preservation Association and a team of experts and spearheaded by Emily Rauh-Pulitzer who had grown up in the house as a child.

Her involvement in the restoration included funding the acquisition of the property, funding the restoration, and working closely with the restoration team to establish the appropriate preservation approach to all elements of the project. Mrs. Pulitzer extended the impact of the project by encouraging the educational events such as the recent symposium "Preservation of Modern Architecture in the Midwest."

Tours and lectures continue to be held at the site and it has raised awareness of the issues surrounding the preservation of modern architecture. Speaking on behalf of the jury architect Fred Bland said, "An unusual example of the International Style of modernism in Ohio, this scholarly and holistic approach to the preservation of this severely deteriorated house and site will provide future generations a rich example of the full spectrum of many components of modernism.

Not only will the building itself be preserved but also the landscape, furnishings, and art. A laudable added feature, a public outreach program including tours and symposia, is intended to engage and instruct the public."

Advocacy Award of Excellence: Michigan Modern, throughout the state of Michigan

In selecting the project, the Docomomo U.S. Board of Directors commented, "the depth and breadth of the Michigan Modern project is groundbreaking both in its scope and in its ability to be a springboard for advocacy throughout the state.
The educational components have significantly raised the understanding, knowledge, or respect for the state’s mid-century resources and design-related heritage.

It is a testament to the project that almost immediately after the project’s announcement; project organizers were able to save the Yamasaki and Associates architectural records, which are now available to researchers through the Archives of Michigan."

With the goal of raising awareness of the significance of the state’s Modern resources and design heritage, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) received a Preserve America grant in 2009. The initial scope included development of a historic context on Modernism in Michigan; survey of 100 significant Modern resources; four architect interviews; and the creation of the Michigan Modern website ( to impart the information to the public.

The project grew to include an exhibition entitled Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America, a book of the same name due out later this fall, the funding of three National Historic Landmark designations, and has served as the springboard for advocacy and activism.