The Winners for The 2016 Modernism in America Awards Have Been Announced

Docomomo US has announced the winners of its 2016 Modernism in America Awards, which honor projects around the country that highlight and advocate for the restoration of postwar architecture and landscapes.

The Modernism in America Awards is the only national program that celebrates "the people and projects working to preserve, restore and rehabilitate our modern heritage sensitively and productively. The program seeks to advance those preservation efforts; to increase appreciation for the period and to raise awareness of the on-going threats against modern architecture and design." 

The 2016 Modernism in America Award winners are:

Design Award of Excellence:

Mellon Square; Pittsburgh, PA

© Ed Massery 2014 for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

The Civic/Institutional Design Award of Excellence is given for the restoration of Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square. 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.” 

Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building; Los Angeles, CA

© Paul Turang

The Commercial Design Award of Excellence is awarded for the restoration of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building in Los Angeles, California. 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 ("SCLARC") campus. The property is listed on the National Register and as a Historic Cultural Monument in the City of Los Angeles. 

Frederick and Harriet Rauh Residence; Cincinnati, OH

© Cincinnati Preservation Association

The Residential Design Award of Excellence is given for the restoration of the Frederick and Harriet Rauh Residence. 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.” Though once again a private residence, tours and lectures continue to be held that raise 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.” 

Michigan Modern; Michigan

© James Haefner

The Advocacy Award of Excellence for is given to the Michigan Modern project. In selecting the project, the Docomomo US Board of Directors commented, “The role and impact of Michigan in introducing modern design in all aspects of living in the immediate postwar decades is without any precedent even today. The Michigan Modern project re-introduces us to that fact and, as a result, is groundbreaking in concept and approach as well as in its scope and ability to be a springboard for advocacy throughout the state. The project has also important educational components that continue to raise the understanding, knowledge and appreciation for the state’s considerable mid-century resources and design-related heritage. An early example of the project's importance was the ability of the organizers to save from destruction the architectural records of Yamasaki and Associates and to make these archives of an important American architect available for research 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. 

Citation of Merit:

Margaret Esherick House; Philadelphia, PA

© Jeffrey Totaro, courtesy of k YODER design

The jury awards a Citation of Merit for the conservation of Louis I. Kahn’s Margaret Esherick House. The jury commented, “a rare residence by the master architect Louis I. Kahn, this house has been restored by owners who painstakingly sought to have the genius of Kahn shape their approach to the restoration. Extraordinary sensitivity to the original details included the services of a paint conservator; restoration of the idiosyncratic, Wharton Esherick designed, original kitchen, long outdated, and made useful by today’s standards by adding contemporary components in an adjacent utility area; and cleverly adapting the spirit of the character-giving shutters during the winter months, allowing a sustainable future for the house."

The Met Breuer; New York, NY

© Peter Aaron

The jury awards a Citation of Merit for the restoration of The Met Breuer. Speaking for the jury, Deborah Dietsch and Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED, ID+C stated, “For decades, Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum was threatened with insensitive additions and alterations. A once reviled building that has become a familiar and well-loved icon is one of the finest architectural examples of the brutalist period. Though the building hasn’t been threatened for 20 years, this project epitomizes the best preservation practices by respecting the original architect’s intentions, reinstating the design as conceived and leaving evidence of the architectural patina acquired over time. The Met Breuer is proof to other institutions and cities that such tough modern buildings are beautiful and deserve to be better understood, saved and cherished.” 

The Shepley Bulfinch Architecture Firm Office; Phoenix, AZ

© Nic Lehoux

The jury awards a Citation of Merit for the sensitive restoration of the Shepley Bulfinch Architecture Firm Office at the Phoenix Financial Center, South Rotunda. The jury notes, “A lesser-known and exuberant desert gem, the original interior details have been carefully restored and brought back to robust life by a tenant. Development pressures have been avoided and the preservation of this building supports the revival of a city district. This is yet another example of how less is more... how restoration with a light hand values even the patina on original material if that material can be saved and restored, rather than replaced.” 

Houston: Uncommon Modern; Houston, TX 

© Photo: Rocio Carlon. Catalog Design: Jeffrey Liao

The jury awards the Survey/Inventory Citation of Merit to Houston: Uncommon Modern project. The jury notes, “Houston has its share of noteworthy mid-century modern buildings, but this project - an exhibition, catalog, tour, and panel discussion – puts a spotlight on “outsider” modern structures in a city notable for the lack of zoning or a robust preservation ethos. This is the kind of preemptive work that can save buildings, sites, and neighborhoods without the fanfare of 11th hour campaigns.” 

Citation of Technical Achievement:

United Nations Campus Renovation of Facades; New York, NY

© Heintges & Associates (left); Woodruff / Brown Architectural Photography (right)

The jury awards a Citation of Technical Achievement to the United Nations Headquarters Campus Renovation of Facades. This world-renown complex by a team of mid-20th century master architects, and in particular the iconic Secretariat building, had failing wall assemblies that were beyond repair and necessitated replacement. This undertaking utilized state-of-the-art design methodologies and rigorous analysis of the original glass and other facade materials, to achieve a historically appropriate visual outcome while meeting today's energy conservation and security objectives. The project represents a significant addition to the body of knowledge essential for the preservation of early modern glass and curtain wall buildings. 

Tower of Hope, Christ Cathedral; Garden Grove, CA

© Christian Costea Photography, Inc.

A Citation of Technical Achievement is awarded to the Tower of Hope, Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. Commenting on the project the jury noted, “Seismic upgrades are as necessary as they are expensive, causing some buildings to be lost to demolition rather than to be retrofitted. The success of this project, a dynamic assemblage of low and high buildings by a master architect, rests on patient research and a determination to find and apply creative solutions without compromising preservation goals. The project can serve as a model for others which might be lost to demolition.” 

News and project descriptions via Docomomo US.

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Cite: Sabrina Santos. "The Winners for The 2016 Modernism in America Awards Have Been Announced" 25 Jun 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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