Bubil: Don't call it 'preservation'


At the recent national symposium of Docomomo-U.S., held at Ringling College, I learned that the members of DOcumentation and COnservation of the MOdern MOvement are not simply concerned with saving midcentury modern buildings from the wrecking ball. They also strive to keep postwar neighborhoods intact — places like Parkmerced in San Francisco, Hyde Park in Chicago and Lafayette Park in Detroit, all either being redeveloped, in the case of Parkmerced, or sensitively rehabilitated and preserved.

After listening to presentations on these neighborhoods, I posed this question: Inasmuch as man has a very strong instinct to build and rebuild, how do preservationists approach landowners, developers and city leaders about the importance of saving "historical resources"?

"First of all, we don't call it preservation," said one Docomomo member, David Fixler. "We stress 'opportunities for redevelopment.'" This brought knowing laughter from the audience.

"You include a heritage aspect, but you don't make that the driving force," said Fixler, historic preservation expert with EYP, a design firm with offices in Boston and elsewhere. "Lay it out to them that these are opportunities; that you have something you can build on, and show them ways. You can use change to your best advantage, economically, politically, whatever that may be."

Theo Prudon, president of Docomomo-U.S. and a preservation architect in New York, said some owners deliberately let their buildings fall into blight so they can be torn down.

"The willful neglect of maintenance leads to a perception that ultimately leads to demolition," said Prudon. The building code steps in and they can say, 'Hey, it is no longer safe,' but it is a very deliberate process."

Fixler endorsed the view of fellow Docomomo member John Allen, of the United Kingdom, to "de-emphasize heritage" when trying to save landmark buildings or developments. "The key to success is not to let people know that is what you are doing. Emphasize all of the other positive aspects that are going to come from transforming the building, rather than destroying it.

"And when you are dealing with developers, that is a very important message to understand, because that is the language they speak."

In a city that lost Riverview High School, that is worth remembering for future battles.

Exhibit extended

"Modernism at Risk," the award-winning exhibition cataloging worldwide efforts to preserve modern architecture currently installed at Home Resource, has been extended through May.

Organized by the World Monuments Fund, the traveling exhibit was installed in early April to coincide with the national symposium of Docomomo-US. The stop in Sarasota is one of 20 across the globe. Home Resource is at 741 Central Ave., Sarasota. Hours are 10 a.m. to p.m. weekdays and 10 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: May 4, 2013
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