As more and more cutting-edge examples of Modernist architecture reach or exceed middle age, the toll of time, erosion, and environmental damage puts them at risk. Thanks to the work of the Getty Foundation, which has made preservation of these cultural and artistic gems a priority, many of the best works of the 20th century will receive a much-needed 21st century renovation.
Announced earlier this week, the organization’s annual Keeping it Modern grant will not only preserve sterling examples of at-risk architecture, but help to expand the canon of great works being protected. This year’s class of sleek modern structures includes two designed by women, Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro and Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027, as well as a structure in Africa, Nickson and Borys’s Children’s Library in Accra, Ghana, a stunning example of tropical modernism.
This year’s grants will not only serve to protect this diverse group of nominees, but help develop better techniques for overcoming preservation challenges central to other modern structures, particularly aging concrete and clear and colored panes of glass set in concrete. The conservation management plans developed and enacted to protect these buildings will likely carry over to other such structures.
Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro (São Paulo, Brazil: 1951)
The famed Italo-Brazilian architect transformed a nearly empty lot into a sterling example of tropical modernism, lofting a glass house atop a series of pillars to provide even more expansive views of the lush landscape. Bardi’s own home was framed by a delicately manicured landscape, complete with trees and pathways encrusted with semi-precious stones.
Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France: 1929)
A white, streamlined ship gazing into the surrounding azure waters, this pioneering work by one of the mothers of modern architecture has a backstory worthy of a screenplay. Gray built the home for her lover, Jean Badovici, who would later cheat on Gray and break up with her, and also incurred the jealousy of Le Corbusier, who would later paint over Gray’s vision with a series of murals. The grant will go a long way towards bolstering the recent restoration campaign that brought this important home back from the brink of ruin.
Nickson and Borys’s Children’s Library (Accra, Ghana: 1966)
Built as part of a post-independence campaign by the West African nation to improve library facilities and encourage the development of a home-grown architectural style, this structure became a key part of the tropical modernism canon. The bris-de-soleil facade shields the front of the building from sunlight, allowing natural airflow and cooling.
Wallace Harrison’s First Presbyterian Church (Connecticut, United States: 1958)
Assembled from precast concrete panels and nicknamed the "Fish Church," owing to its unique shape, the building and its design truly (and literally) sparkles inside, where stained-glass walls create a sparkling grid of light and color. A total of 20,000 pieces of amber, emerald, ruby, amethyst and sapphire glass made the building a sensation, earning it a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s important 1959 exhibition Architecture and Imagery–Four New Buildings and sparking a renaissance in stained glass.
Eladio Dieste’s Cristo Obrero Church (Atlántida, Uruguay: 1960)
As much a daring engineer as an architect, Dieste’s experiments with materials and forms bears fruit in this wavy house of worship, with a curved ribbon of red brick that wraps around the exterior like a pompadour. Intricately placed stained glass create unique patterns on light for the congregation, and the bell tower, held up by a series of perforated walls, contains a stylish circular staircase without a single support column or handrail.
Gevorg Kochar and Mikael Mazmanyan’s Sevan Writers’ Resort (Yerevan, Armenia: 1965)
An exemplar of Soviet avant-garde design and utopian architecture, this building served as a writer’s retreat after the architects finished the initial guest homes in 1935. Tragically, a falling out with the government led to both of them being exiled for 15 years; upon their return in the ‘60s, they finished their project by adding a lounge to the rural escape.
Sir Frederick Gibberd’s Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Liverpool, United Kingdom: 1967)
A unique example of a modern cathedral, Gibberd’s vision of religious architecture looks like a comic book rocket, and beautifully melded the language of faith and contemporary construction. The crown-shaped creation, highlighted by a distinctive lantern tower that forms a crown of pinnacles, has been dubbed the "The Mersey Funnel" by locals for its singular shape.
Gautam Sarabhai’s Workshop Building (Ahmedabad, India: 1977)
Frei Otto’s influence looms large on this concrete shell structure, an organically shaped workspace covered with a thin-shell concrete roof. The lightweight structure, supported by steel and even bamboo in some places, is so flexible that it withstood a 7.7 earthquake in 2001.
Andrija Mutnjakovic’s National Library of Kosovo (Prishtina, Kosovo: 1971)
A charming hodgepodge of styles, materials, and references, Mutnjakovic’s masterpiece melds in-situ cast concrete, marble floors, and a series of 99 translucent acrylic domes to create a structure that not only marries the multicultural influences of this Balkan nation, but offers modern takes on the timeless architecture of the Byzantium and the Ottoman empires.