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Modern and Postmodern Architecture: Overview
Moderns versus Classicists and Historic Preservation
The battle lines that emerged when modern development accosted traditional neighborhoods and historic districts gave rise to the historic preservation movement. The new architecture, according to the classicists, brought about a numbing of sensibilities with regard to traditional design values and issues of compatibility. Concerned that the computer age was creating architects unable to draw with a pencil, traditionalists quoted designer and critic William Morris's warning that first the skills would be lost and then the capacity to tell the difference would be lost as well. The moderns, on the other hand, simply argued that technology provided new and more efficient instruments for design, that beauty was being redefined and was not married to historic forms and ornament, and that each generation should design on its own terms, rather than regurgitate the past.
In Atlanta these
Early on, in Savannah, the modern-historic debate reared its head as the Victorian DeSoto Hotel was, regrettably, displaced by Richard Aeck's almost Brutalist DeSoto Hilton (1966-68). On the other hand, "Main Street" programs, tax credits, grants, and preservation incentives have had remarkable success throughout Georgia, demonstrating time after time the economic benefit of historic preservation.
In some cases, prevailing attitudes in the first half of the twentieth century experienced a complete turnaround during the second half. The "Beautify Main Street" movement of the 1940s, for example, began a modernization of business facades in urban downtowns, often resulting in the covering of remarkable stone- or brickwork of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with art deco–like Vitrolite, 1950s aluminum screens, or 1960s "environmental" wood or shingle skins.
Subsequent Main Street programs of the late twentieth century removed such modern face-lifts, restoring historic elevations and often rejuvenating central business districts. Small towns in Georgia were often more successful than Atlanta has been in restoring downtown business districts. As preservationists and developers continue to debate the fate of the historic commercial streetscape of Auburn Avenue, Atlanta is again facing the same challenge that towns around Georgia have already addressed. Indeed, since the 1960s, Atlanta has borne witness to urban renewal, rampant suburbanization, the rise of exurbia, sprawl, and the response of New Urbanism. The city is a laboratory, in which such issues are tested daily.
Traditional Architecture and the New Urbanism
James Means carried the torch first lighted by Neel Reid and held high by Philip Trammell Shutze in designing Georgian revival, colonial revival, and occasional continental-styled houses. Means's residence for Thomas E. Martin Jr. (1965-66) in northwest Atlanta appears to be transplanted from the James River plantation culture of Virginia. His preservation and restoration work at Stone Mountain Park set high standards, and his example inspired both restoration architects and such traditional designers as Norman Askins, W. Lane Greene, and Gene Surber. The principles espoused by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, as well as the New Urbanists (evidenced in the development at Seaside, Florida, for example), were reflected in the town square of Riverside by Post in north Atlanta (Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart and Associates, and Niles Bolton Associates, 1995-98) and later in the Duluth Town Green (Sizemore Group), in Gwinnett County, and in the Smyrna Market Village (Sizemore Group), in Cobb County. This influence is successfully felt in more pedestrian-friendly development and compatible new commercial and residential infill projects in Atlanta, as seen at Tenth Street and Piedmont Avenue and near Piedmont Park, where the Wilburn House Condominiums (Surber, Barber, Choate, and Hertlein, 2003) is an exemplary project.
Modern Architecture Evolves
Modern architecture in Georgia during the second half of the twentieth century reflected changing styles and new approaches to design, transforming itself decade by decade in much the same way as did modern architecture during the first half of the century, when architecture reflected various schools of the day: art deco, cubism, expressionism, functionalism, futurism, and streamlined moderne, to name a few. For the post–World War II (1941-45) period, the stylistic developments were characterized as Miesian, New Formalist, New Brutalist, postmodern, and New Urbanist, among others.
Walter Gropius's Bauhaus and the International style became universally reflected in the modern as part of the emerging modernism aesthetic. Equally interested in expressing the new technology and new
The seventeen-story Georgia Railroad Bank Building (later Wachovia Building) in Augusta by Robert McCreary dates from 1967 and is Georgia's most Miesian office slab outside Atlanta. At the smaller scale of local branch banks and a few commercial storefronts, full facades of plate glass and the delicate exposed lines of steel structural elements reflect Mies's dominant influence during the 1950s.
A tendency in the late 1950s and 1960s to style the framing elements of modern buildings prompted temple-like pseudoclassical forms reflective of the New Formalism. Representative examples
A jet-age plasticity of form streamlined the arcades of Robert and Company's Atlanta Hartsfield Airport Terminal (1961, razed); energized the open arches of a local bank in Sylvester, seemingly inspired by the futuristic designs found in the 1960s cartoon The Jetsons (circa 1961, also razed); and gave expressionist flare to a hovering, inverted umbrella of thin concrete atop a gas station, a gem of popular culture by architect Dimitri Polychrone that once adorned Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta.
In tall buildings, precast concrete panels brought a formalist style to John Portman's early buildings at Peachtree Center in Atlanta, although the state's masterpiece in the style is Atlanta's Life of Georgia Tower (later One Georgia Center; Lamberson, Plunkett, Shirley, and Woodall, 1967-68). The more conservative articulation of basic constructional form is evident in the office towers of Colony Square (circa 1970) in Atlanta's midtown, whose date suggests that this was the moment in Georgia for New Formalism.
The raw materiality of these projects encouraged architects around the world, from Tokyo, Japan, to the United States, to build dramatic "brutal" forms of "as found" concrete, displaying the imprint of form work and the imperfections of a runny fluid substance that was inelegant and earthy—in all a glorification of ugliness 100 years after that of British architect William Butterfield. Proponents described the aesthetic as honest; detractors claimed that the style epitomized a civil-defense-bunker aesthetic and civil rights–era urban panic that turned its back on the city while creating urban renewal nightmares.
A number of Georgia's public schools constructed during the Brutalist period resemble prisons, although the windowless, inward-oriented Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (Heery and Heery, 1969-73) in Atlanta garnered professional awards for its architect. As an early attempt at nonstructured classrooms during the 1960s, the school had the added benefit of providing the neighborhood a Brutalist, graffiti-proofed fortress against the social unrest of the period. Nonetheless, Hall and Norris may take the prize for confrontational Brutalism in public school architecture with their Sammye E. Coan Middle School (1967) in Atlanta, the first middle school in the state. Allain and Associates' Georgia-Hill Street Neighborhood Facility (1975) is another strong contender for non-ingratiating architecture.
Postmodern architects rediscovered history, and a New Classicism especially embodied the new attitudes. But postmodernism also brought a more general concern for context, or a willingness to reference place and culture and region, as well as a renewed interest in ornament. Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and other writings were influential and encouraged architects to reconsider the richness of historic language, the vernacular, and popular culture. Postmodernism encouraged a more eloquent, meaningful, and sometimes witty architecture, and it created a fertile soil from which New Urbanist ideas could later thrive. Although New Urbanist principles inform the Market Square of Smyrna and Duluth Town Green, both by the Sizemore Group, one of the best reflections of New Urbanism in Georgia is Glenwood Park in east Atlanta, a community noted for its commitment to traditional neighborhood design, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and environmental management practices. The community was recognized in 2003 with a Charter Award by the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Iconic Landmarks and International Architects
More natural in its wood and stone materials and textures is Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albany (Pietro Belluschi, 1967-72), a little-known but remarkable church. Such national architects as Graves, Belluschi, and Rudolph were drawn to Georgia and in turn influenced local architects. For example, the High Museum of Art (Richard Meier, 1980-83) inspired a continuing white modernism and elegance of detail in the work of Atlanta architect Anthony Ames, as the Hulse House (1983-86) in Ansley Park gives evidence. Renzo Piano's new addition to the High, unveiled in late 2005, gives Atlanta another masterpiece. The museum's exhibition space is as quietly remarkable, sensual, and masterful in the handling of light as is Piano's Beyeler Foundation (1997) in Riehen (a suburb of Basel, Switzerland). Moshe Safdie's Jepson Center at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah displays the work of another internationally acclaimed architect brought to Georgia for a museum addition.
Dennis P. Doordan, Twentieth-Century Architecture (New York: Harry Abrams, 2002).
John Jacobus, Twentieth-Century Architecture: The Middle Years, 1940-65 (New York: Praeger, ).
Charles A. Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1977).
Charles A. Jencks, Late-Modern Architecture and Other Essays (New York: Rizzoli, 1980).
Marcus Whiffen, American Architecture since 1780: A Guide to the Styles, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).
Robert M. Craig, Georgia Institute of Technology
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