Tearing Down the Past Leads to Nowhere Fast

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We talk about it a lot here at EcoSalon. Conscious choices. Mindful decisions. The easiest way to make a difference and effect change in the world is to live consciously and mindfully. To try to be aware of what we buy, how (or if) we drive, where we shop, what we eat.

If we’re present in the moment we usually choose better. It’s that simple.

Why am I taking you around and through this rigmarole of spiritual stuff when I should be talking about design? Just stay with me.

I believe people have stopped paying attention. It’s far easier to answer the cell phone or check the GPS or update the Facebook status or plan what to eat for dinner. Living in the now requires discipline.

Living in the now forces us to look around, to respect the past and honor the future. And yes, this definitely is relevant to design.

If you have, in fact, been paying attention, you will know that endless rows of tract homes and giant McMansions have been popping up all over the country over the past decade or two. In order to make room for more of them, many valuable and historically and architecturally significant homes are being demolished.

Tragic, and tragically unsustainable.

People want bigger and newer, at the expense of beautiful and perfectly livable. It’s too much to fathom.

With each historic home that is torn down and replaced by a new McMansion, neighborhoods lose more of their character as well as their affordability. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has found that “more than 500 communities in 40 states are experiencing significant numbers of teardowns, and that number is climbing fast.”

Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust, said:

“From 19th-century Victorian to 1920s bungalows, the architecture of America’s historic neighborhoods reflects the character of our communities. Teardowns radically change the fabric of a community. Without proper safeguards, historic neighborhoods will lose the identities that drew residents to put down roots in the first place.”

But neighborhoods are fighting back in an attempt to increase public awareness.

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The town of New Canaan, Connecticut began its quest back in 2007 when a home designed by Modernist architect Paul Rudolph (image above) was destroyed after a judge decided “he could find nothing to support the contention that the house had special significance.”

Huh? This conclusion concerned a group of local conservationists so much that they launched the Modern Homes Survey “to provide a more complete study of Modern residences in New Canaan and serve as a national model for surveys of other mid-century houses in the United States.”

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The survey found that this conservative New England town happens to be home to 91 Modernist homes built between 1946 and 1979, including of course, the Philip Johnson Glass House (image above) which is already a National Trust Historic Site.

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Recently 18 of the New Canaan Modernist residences were added to the State and/or National Register of Historic Places, the nationally recognized list of places in the United States worthy of preservation. Considered a serious success, the hope is that other states will follow suit and research the history of their own buildings.

Alicia Leuba, Director of Programs for the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says of the accomplishment:

“With its unique and substantial collection of Modern homes now nationally recognized as historically significant, Connecticut is blazing a path for other states to follow.”

Although knowledge of the value and beauty of Modernist architecture is spreading, the demolitions continue. The only other antidote to this type of tragedy is public awareness.

Are you paying attention?

Images: Don Hankins, Mod Remod

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