Endangered Architecture

When historic buildings are destroyed or at-risk of being destroyed the loss of great architecture is felt globally and personally.

The loss of late 19th and early 20th Century buildings in numerous small towns in the Midwest and Appalachia is rather troublesome, just as much as the loss (and potential loss) of famous ones that receive our attention. This especially comes to light when one visits my hometown in the Appalachian foothills, Cambridge, Ohio.  It is shocking how many buildings are gone from when I grew up there. Below are some thoughts about some famous and not-so famous-buildings that are endangered or were endangered at one time or another.  I have also included a few lost gems that did not escape the wrecking ball.

Three personal losses are my high school, Cambridge High, built in 1959 and my Junior High School, and both of my parents’ high school, Brown High.  All of these buildings were replaced with parking lots.  Who knew a town of 9,000,the largest town in the county, needed so much parking?  I will talk about more famous structures and their endangerment later on, but in the meantime let my high school’s destruction serve as an introduction:

Cambridge High, photos taken from the same spot, before and after demolition.  Note the left hand side of the photo shows the gymnasium block
in the before photo remained for use by the local YMCA in the right hand photo.
My junior high, before and after, and Brown High, before and after.  Notice the replacement parking lots and exposed existing adjacent churches,
very similar views even though they are blocks apart.

These are just a few of the demolished buildings in Cambridge.  There are as well many torn down historic commercial structures in the downtown area, plus dozens of single family homes demolished in the neighborhoods creating large holes in the streetscape.  It’s personally depressing.

But…moving on, there are a few famous buildings that have been threatened as well.  The first, and maybe the most famous currently is Louis Kahn’s dormitories at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India (below). Although it looks like the dorms will be saved after international outcry from the architecture community, it is still iffy.

18 dorm structures threatened with demolition in Ahmedabad.
Site plan shown above.

An updating of the residences was called for by the school’s because students would like more space and private rooms with private baths etc., just like students in the U.S. desire on most campuses, so the proposal was (is) to build anew.  These 18 have been saved for the time being.

A personal note here: I knew Lou Kahn pretty well, I was a student of his back in the day (photo below, me to Kahn’s right stylin’ a white belt), and I know that he is rolling over in his grave about this development.  The second photo is when I took a shot of him one day at the start of studio. He posed for me and we both laughed about the way he posed afterwards: very statuesque.

It is feared by the international architectural community that whatever replacement buildings at the Indian Institute of Management that were (are) proposed did not take into account the cultures, climate, and traditions with the same sensitivity that Kahn’s existing buildings provide.  This is an ongoing issue.

A great building that did NOT make it is Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York. The right hand photo below is during demolition:

Another building, the geodesic Gold Dome on famous Route 66 in Oklahoma City, was saved-at least for now.  In 1958 Citizens State Bank hired Robert Roloff to design the first geodesic dome bank structure in the U.S.  Citizens Bank no longer exists though and the dome, through successive ownerships and threatened demolitions, has become decayed over time, but now has gone through an extensive renovation by a combination of groups with proposed new uses. The latest of which in 2021 was to convert the building into a concert venue by the music promotion company TempleLive.  The current dome (the adjacent tower has been saved also and successfully converted to residential use):

Another side note here: apparently Robert Roloff designed a number of domes in Oklahoma, mostly schools, and most of them got built, except for the Oklahoma Convention Center Building below, which is quite terrific:

Like the fight to save the Gold Dome, there is a fight to save the Mitchell Park Horticultural Domes in Milwaukee.   Apparently an independent study by the firm Gallagher Museum Services has recommended to the county the demolition of the domes and the construction of a new facility combining the Milwaukee Museum with these horticultural exhibits on the site.  The cost of some of the maintenance repairs have facilitated this action. However, there is a great deal of backlash from the community, so we will see how this goes. (See also the quote from the National Trust for Historical Preservation below.)

Over the years a few of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings have been threatened with demolition and some have succeeded.  Two of them, the Robie House and the Booth Cottage, both in Chicago, have been saved.  The Robie House was saved through public push back (see the 1957 Harvard Crimson article below) and from Wright himself, who offered to design the proposed student housing project for the adjacent Chicago Theological Seminary for no architectural fees, rather than demolishing it for student housing.  He would provide them a “world class” design for their new facility.

The Robie House, shown above.

The Booth Cottage on the other hand is a tiny structure designed for Wright’s attorney in 1913 that was for sure going to be demolished by the new owner whose intention was (is) to build a more luxurious home for he and his family on the same property, even though there was plenty of room on the wooded lot to construct a new residence.  In the end it was saved by moving it a few blocks to a new parcel:

Although there are many buildings in America that are in danger of being torn down, this last one, the New Haven Convention Center, designed by Kevin Roche in 1972 as an adjacent companion piece to his magnificent Knights of Columbus tower, was actually torn down. Unfortunately it was replaced with a surface parking lot.  The design that was torn down already had parking above the convention floor, as seen in the accompanying cross section below, along with photos of the actual demolition and a before photo:

I started this blog with my parents and my high schools being replaced by parking lots. I know it is not the same loss as Kevin Roche’s Convention Center, but it is the same. At least to me- most of my favorites, thankfully, are still standing.

PS: I also miss the long-gone Sun ‘n Sand Hotel Court bridge across U.S. 90 in Mississippi:

Blog Post written by David Tritt, Senior Architect.

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