September 8, 2010
The Expanding Nature of Preservation
One of the interesting facts about historic resource preservation is that its boundaries are always growing. But some communities have not embraced fully this facet of preservation, even as Modernist architecture matures and qualifies for official National Register listing on the federal level. This is especially true in communties with rich stocks of 18th and 19th century architecture, where the preservation aesthetic tends to favor colonial, neo-colonial, and other revivalist styles. New Canaan, Connecticut, only one hour north of New York City, is one community with a treasure trove of traditional as well as Modernist styles. New Canaan, then, has felt this tension acutely, especially as property owners increase to subdivide large lots into smaller, developable parcels.
Many of New Canaan's modernist houses sit on these large lots. Even though they make important statements about life in America at the time of their construction and teach important lessons about building form and architecture's relationship to function and nature, modernist houses fall--at the moment--outside of current mainstream style preferences. Moreover, Modernist homes are usually modest in scale, and thus too small for a market that tends to prefer large, overscaled architecture of the post-Modernist sort. Unless local preservation ordinances are calibrated to protect "newer" structures, as well as more traditional styles the public more typically associates with historic preservation, Modernist houses, such as those in New Canaan, will face increasing demolition pressure as demand for land outpaces a community's desire to preserve. Click here to read more or see David Hay, Too New for New Canaan, Preservation 34 (Sept./Oct. 2010).
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
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