Director of the Network Architecture Lab
Last week leaders in historic preservation gathered for Conversations in Context, a public series of evening tours + discussions at the Glass House. Modern Preservation expert Theodore H.M. Prudon and Interiors guru Shashi Caan led a great debate on the technical and philosophical challenges of preserving and interpreting the Glass House campus. Like many historic sites, the Glass House was built over the course of decades and constantly evolved as Philip Johnson and David Whitney added new buildings, landscape designs and works of art. Participants included Kazys Varnelis, co-author with Robert A.M. Stern of The Philip Johnson Tapes, Sherida Paulsen, former Commissioner and Chair of the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission, and Andrew S. Dolkart, Director of Columbia University GSAPP's Historic Preservation Program.
We're continuing the debate that addresses both the Glass House campus as a whole, and the current conservation of Donald Judd's Untitled 1971 with a question raised in Flavin Judd's Glass House Conversation: "How do you pinpoint a singular moment or experience to preserve?" Why is it important that historic places be preserved, and what factors influence these decisions?
How do you pinpoint a singular moment or experience to preserve?
Dr. Theodore Prudon gave the final word
The question as to whether the Glass House is a house museum in the conventional (Colonial) sense has to be a resounding yes. Once a building is no longer used as a building, it becomes an object, a museum piece. Viollet-le-Duc already talks about that. That Philip Johnson, in various ways, already planned for that only reinforces that concept. The question as to what we interpret it to is both simple and more nuanced. In simple terms we save it, as best as we can, as he has left it. In more complex terms his lack of maintenance is part of what he left us. He was after all an architect so you may assume that most of these decisions for one reason or another were intended. It is tempting to clean the sigarette smoke from the ceiling and ‘restore’ it but it is part of that story. I think the danger we encounter is of wanting to clean it up, literally and figuratively. While the Villa Savoye is already mentioned – and by the way I would not call it a museum but a shrine to a religion to which I do not belong – I would use the Gropius House in Lincoln, MA as a counterpoint: an architect continuing to live in a house he designed early in his career in the US. There a particular point in time was selected – not the original construction – that reflected Gropius’ long term occupancy. This acceptance of change I would argue also for the ‘Pink Room’. Finally it is interesting that no one has raised – either on the tour the other day or in this dialogue – the issue of authenticity. A word that in my mind appears on the scene in full force in the 1990s and which in my mind belongs in the same category of archi-speak as materiality and parti. It has and continues to be much debated as to how it affects preserving modern architecture. In the Glass House case the glass is almost all if not all of a much later date. While newer glass changes the appearance in a subtle manner, it is a good example of what Johnson would have done. It leaves us with the question as when does it cease to his and does it become more ours and does that make it less authentic?
Wednesday, July 27 at 9:03am
Selected list of words appearing in this and other conversations.