June 9, 2006
by Canadian Architect
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) announced that it is launching a major initiative, Modernism at Risk, to address the many threats faced by great works of modern architecture around the world. This new program is made possible through the founding support from Knoll, Inc., a leading manufacturer of modern furniture for the office and home. While the issue of preserving modern buildings has lately gained prominence in public discourse, the threatsneglect, deterioration, demolitioncontinue to grow at a rapid pace. Modernism at Risk will greatly strengthen WMF’s ongoing efforts to preserve modern buildings. Knoll will contribute $400,000 over a four-year period to the new initiative.
A cornerstone of Modernism at Risk will be the biennial awarding of the World Monuments Knoll Modernism Prize. It will be given to a design professional whose work enhances the public’s awareness of the seminal role that modernism plays in our architectural heritagethrough the preservation of modern landmarks, or through the creation of modern design solutions that extend the life and viability of pre-modern landmarks.
“A decade ago, WMF took up the cause of preserving the great architecture of our not-so-distant past,” said Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund. “Up until now, this work has been accomplished on a project-by-project basis. The formation of Modernism at Risk will allow us to address endangered modern sites as a thematic group: we will now be able both to work on the conservation and preservation of specific sites, including emergency interventions and stabilizations, as well as to launch new efforts to save modern buildings through public advocacy, education, and media attention. We are very grateful for Knoll’s generous seed funding to get this program started and can now begin to leverage Knoll’s contribution to attract additional funding from other donors.”
“Knoll is especially pleased to take the leadership role in this landmark initiative,” said Andrew B. Cogan, CEO of Knoll, Inc. “Throughout our 68-year history, Knoll has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to modern design for the office and the home. We expect this program to become a benchmark for WMF’s preservation, recognition, and educational activities on Modernism.”
Modernism as an architectural movement was born in the early decades of the twentieth century, fuelled by the development of new materials and technologies, as well as by a philosophical rejection of traditional means of expression, which swept the arts in the early 1900s. Proponents of modern architecture discarded the stylistic language of the past, instead designing buildings with clean lines, stripped of all ornament. But, less than a century after their design and construction, modernist masterpiecescritical documents in the history of architectureare being routinely demolished, disfigured, or abandoned. In fact, the 2006 World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites includes nine threatened modern landmarks, the highest number in the list’s ten-year history. Among the listed sites are buildings by the celebrated Russian architects Konstantin Melnikov and Moishe Ginsburg in Moscow; Richard Neutra at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles; and Oscar Niemeyer in Lebanon.
Modernism at Risk will also include programs dedicated to public advocacy and preservation intended to attract international resources and attention to the dangers faced by modern buildings across the globe. Advocacy is critical as the greatest threat to modern architecture is public apathya lack of consensus, or perhaps confidence, that buildings of our own time and the recent past can be important enough to be preserved for the future. Aggravating this threat is the fact that most modern buildings have no legal protection because they are too “young” to qualify for landmark status or other designations. It is often difficult for contemporaries of modern buildings to evaluate or even to accept their significance as part of the larger history of architecture. Advocacy efforts for this new initiative will include a series of exhibitions that will travel to venues throughout the United States, and a lecture program featuring prominent architects. Details are currently being finalized.
In addition, the Knoll-funded program will have a major focus on preservation efforts. While many people associate architectural preservation with the bricks-and-mortar challenges of preventing old buildings from falling down, modern buildings face additional threats that are directly related to their ageor youthand the innovative technologies, theories, and ephemeral materials that were used to build them. These methods and materials are often not only the very attributes that define these buildings as landmarks of modern architecture but also those that are causing the structures to deteriorate. Very often, new conservation approaches are required. Pilot sites for conservation are currently being reviewed.
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is the foremost private, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. Since 1965, WMF has worked tirelessly to stem the loss of historic structures at more than more than 400 sites in over 80 countries. WMF’s work spans a wide range of sites, including the vast temple complexes at Angkor, Cambodia; the historic centre of Mexico City; Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London masterpiece, St. George’s, Bloomsbury; the iconic modernist A. Conger Goodyear house in Old Westbury, New York; and the extraordinary 18th-century Qianlong Garden complex in Beijing’s Forbidden City. From its headquarters in New York Cityand offices and affiliates in Paris, London, Madrid, and LisbonWMF works with local partners and communities to identify and save important heritage through innovative programs of project planning, fieldwork, advocacy, grant-making, education, and on-site training. Every two years, WMF issues its World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a global call to action on behalf of sites in need of immediate intervention. For more information, please visit www.wmf.org.
Founded in 1938, Knoll pioneered the principles of modern design in the workplace and the home, from space planning to furniture to accessories. More than 40 Knoll products are exhibited in the permanent Design Collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Headquartered in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, Knoll, recipient of the 2005 Russel Wright Award for the Marketing of Modernism, serves clients worldwide. In North America, the company distributes its products through a network of more than 200 dealerships and 100 showrooms and regional offices. The company operates four manufacturing sites in North America: East Greenville, Pennsylvania; Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan; and Toronto, Ontario. In addition, Knoll has plants in Foligno and Graffignana, Italy. The Knoll commitment to high environmental standards is mandated by a comprehensive Environmental, Health & Safety Management Plan. For more information, please visit www.knoll.com.