By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

MODERN ICONS UNDER THREAT

AGENDA

The triumvirate of war, aggressive development and global warming is, says the World Monuments Fund (WMF), conspiring to deprive us of some of the world's finest architecture.

The 2008 WMF watchlist of 100 endangered sites (revealed on 7 June), illustrates that buildings as diverse as Scott's Hut in Antarctica, the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem and even Machu Picchu in Peru are threatened by human folly.

Assembled every two years, the inventory acts as a clarion call, focusing attention on endangered architecture and galvanising rescue plans. This year, for the first time, Modern architecture has its own category, demonstrating that 20th-century buildings continue to be misunderstood and neglected, which places them at high risk of demolition around the world.

Arguably the most highprofile British case is that of St Peter's Seminary at Cardross, on the west coast of Scotland which, after 27 years of weather erosion and vandalism, is close to ruin (AJ 14.09.06). The RIBA Medal-winning building - designed by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia - was built between 1962 and 1968 as a training college for Catholic priests, but shut abruptly in 1980 and has remained empty ever since.

According to the inuential Twentieth Century Society, which nominated the category A-listed building for inclusion in the watch list, St Peter's is as sacred as Edinburgh castle.

'This is a world-class building yet public appreciation of post-war architecture just hasn't happened, ' says caseworker Eva Branscome.

This view chimes with that of Gordon Murray, who runs a partnership with Alan Dunlop, and is an active member of St Peter's Building Preservation Trust. For Murray, Cardross encapsulates the best period of Modern architecture in Scotland - a time at which the nation produced work as individual (and controversial) as Cumbernauld New Town in Lanarkshire.

'Its loss would be tragic, ' says Murray. 'WMF listing will draw attention to the significance of Cardross and may stimulate people to wake up and pay attention to it as an example of world heritage architecture the same as Edinburgh Old Town.'

Only four countries have more endangered sites than the UK - which also has Mavisbank House, Midlothian, Wilton's Music Hall, London, and Richhill House listed by the WMF.

The biggest offender, according to the WMF, is the United States, with seven threatened locations, although Peru isn't far behind with six, while India and Turkey both have five listings.

Sadly yet another Frank Lloyd Wright classic is among the buildings at peril in the United States.

The historic campus of Florida Southern University (FSU), featuring the largest complex of integrally designed architecture by Wright, is suffering both from neglect and the breakdown of some of the materials - principally concrete - which were used to create it.

The listing of FSU has come as a bitter disappointment to John McAslan, of John McAslan + Partners, which, along with Arup's New York office and local practice Lunz Prebor Fowler, drew up a far-reaching masterplan for the repair, reuse and expansion of the campus in 2001. Part of the recommended strategy involved renovating and replacing defective blockwork with rubber-polymer-infused concrete and stainless-steel reinforcing rods.

'I'm surprised and disappointed to hear this listing has happened since we were working there, ' says McAslan.

'We drew up a masterplan between the mid-1990s and 2000 which alerted the need for a repair regime. It seems our recommendations have not been taken forward.'

Two other Modern icons leap out from WMF's roll-call of shame: Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in California, USA, and Josep Lluís Sert's Joan Miró Foundation in Spain.

Stark but elegantly detailed, the formal geometry of the Salk Institute is threatened by new development.

The iconic central courtyard, framed by two parallel rows of laboratories and providing spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, could soon be blighted by fresh construction.

Such cultural vandalism would be an affront to Pritzker Prize-winner Luis Barragán who, on first seeing the courtyard, remarked: 'I would not put a tree or blade of grass in this space.

This should be a plaza of stone.'

The Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona, the most recent building on the list at just 32 years old, is carefully proportioned, featuring different ceiling heights, sources of light and degrees of openness, to show Miró's paintings and sculptures at their best.

Since 1965, the WMF has helped to protect 420 irreplaceable sites around the world, including the ancient Buddhist temple of Preah Khan at Angkor, Cambodia, built in 1191, and Wright's Ennis House in Los Angeles, California. The watch-list is one of the best, and sometimes the only, hope for survival of these sites. Sadly, it seems inevitable that the WMF's workload is only ever going to expand. For more information visit: www. wmf. org

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters