Preservation planning and Mid-Century Modern materials: Tools to promote strategic and sustainable building conservation

Lacey Bubnash and Katie Horak

Abstract

The conservation of Mid-Century Modern building materials and architectural features can be challenging and unpredictable because of the experimental and nontraditional nature of many materials. Preservation planning tools such as Historic Structure Reports and Cultural Landscape Reports can provide a framework for identifying and prioritizing architectural repairs and conservation treatments. Using preservation planning to approach material conservation can prevent the loss of historic fabric and promote sustainable and fiscally responsible treatment options.

The Village Green, also known as Baldwin Hills Village, provides an exemplary case study for how preservation planning tools can effectively manage architectural conservation on a large scale over a long period of time. Built between 1941 and 1942, The Village Green is nationally recognized as a pivotal and progressive experiment in multiple-family housing. The product of architects and planners Reginald John, Lewis Wilson, Edwin Merrill, Robert Alexander, and Clarence Stein, the site has been designated as a National Historic Landmark with 162 contributing structures. Architectural Resources Group completed a Historic Structure Report and Mills Act application for The Village Green in 2010, which was awarded a Mills Act Property Tax Abatement Program contract from the City of Los Angeles. The completion of a Cultural Landscape Report for the property was completed in 2013.

Mid-century Modernism was a design movement, roughly spanning 1930 through 1970, that reflected the development of 20th century industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities. The Modern era was a time of rapid technological and scientific advances, resulting in the wide introduction of many new and inexpensive, but often experimental materials. Design features were frequently changed or adapted with the intent to improve living or working conditions. The Village Green is a product of 20th-century mass production techniques, new building materials, and progressive theories of housing design and urban planning. Special consideration may be needed to provide conservation treatments that are in keeping with those materials and philosophies, and proactive preservation planning tools can efficiently address potential issues.

This article discusses the completion of this series of planning documents and how conservation decisions were approached within the process. It focuses on planning tools and documents, decision-making criteria for maintenance, conservation and repair, and specific Modern materials that pose special challenges.

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