Rethinking Modernism: What Can Architects Learn from Philosophy?

Two of our designers have big ideas about reviving mid-century landmarks.

SOM replaced Lever House’s original curtain wall in 2001 with a state-of-the-art facade that set a new precedent for the preservation of 20th-century architecture. (Photos © Ezra Stoller | ESTO and © Florian Holzherr)
The authors argue that preserving the ideas behind a modernist building, not the actual material, is of most importance. (Image © SOM)
In the years leading up to Lever House, the means of production and the economic environment hastened a new kind of architecture, and with that, new meanings. (Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO)

What’s truly important is the concept, rather than the concrete materiality of the space. Your experience of the building is the experience of an idea.

If you respect the architecture, it imposes more constraints than any regulatory body can.

We want to see our buildings not only respected and preserved, but to be positive contributors to their cities.

The original client for 510 Fifth Avenue wanted something adaptable for future reuse. He even showed the designs to a publisher and a department store owner. (Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO)
Key elements at 510 Fifth Avenue were preserved by the adaptive reuse team, including Harry Bertoia’s screen wall, while the escalators were rotated to run parallel with the new partial glass wall. (Photo © Eduard Hueber)
Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank circa 1954 (Photo © Ezra Stoller | ESTO) and circa 2012 (Photo © Eduard Hueber | archphoto).
The U.S. Air Force Academy conveys a distinct (and landmarked) visual identity. Counterintuitively, its constraints allowed for greater creativity when SOM returned fifty years later to design Polaris Hall. (© SOM)
A model of the Air Force Academy campus, showing the relationship between Polaris Hall (right), Walter Netsch’s chapel (left), and the campus grid. (© SOM)
The design intent present throughout the Air Force Academy “is explicit and it allowed us to exercise an extra degree of creativity within the framework,” says Frank Mahan. (Photos © Magda Biernat)

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