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Back in 2005 I went to a calçotada with some friends in Prat de Llobregat. We followed the instructions on the handwritten map photocopied for the occasion, went around the edge of Barcelona airport, the password allowed us to cross a private fence, we passed a large pine grove in an area of dunes close to the sea and, instead of arriving at the typical Catalan masia which you expect for that type of gastronomic event, we reached La Ricarda, a sophisticated, organic, modular house, a glass house with the geometric precision and the pragmatic beauty of major rationalist architects which, for some time, made me forget about the calçots. There was nothing in excess and nothing lacking; it was all measured in astonishing detail. I asked the host and discovered that it was designed by Antonio Bonet Castellana (1913-1989), a name which I had not heard before. This generalized unfamiliarity was because he was forgotten due to his exile in Argentina — where he undertook the majority of his work — despite having been a member of the GATPAC, an early disciple of Le Corbusier in Paris and the designer of the famous BKF chair, among other remarkable achievements.

Between 1949 and 1963, Bonet Castellana built La Ricarda, the weekend house of the Gomis Bertrand family

Between 1949 and 1963, Bonet Castellana built La Ricarda, the weekend house of the Gomis Bertrand family, based on intense correspondence with Ricard Gomis (1910-1993), an engineer by profession, with whom he established a friendship. Ricard Gomis was also a lover of contemporary music and, during the dark years of the Franco regime, he opened La Ricarda to the Open Music section of Club 49, an association which supported the avant-garde movement in Catalonia, promoted by Joan Prats. A unique, unrepeatable house, which is moreover a piece of history from our cultural vanguard [1][1] Documentary La Ricarda, la casa de vidre (Xavier García and Albert Murillo, 2014)..

When I saw it for the first time, the family only went there from time to time to spend the day. It was expensive to maintain a house of that size and the expansion of the airport’s third runway sometimes brought deafening noise pollution as collateral damage. Therefore, together with the genuine emotion that I experienced, I wondered what the future would hold for that house. How would it be conserved?

The family, aware that they have more than just a private residence in their hands and that dissemination is essential in order to conserve it, have for years now devoted hours to offering guided tours (last year they had almost 2,000 visits!), a source of income for the maintenance of the house which they complement by renting it for film shoots and with their personal contributions. However, without the intervention of the authorities, with which they are already in contact, their efforts may one day reach their limit.

Time passes relentlessly and alarm bells are starting to ring in relation to other outstanding buildings from the second half of the 20th century. We recently read an article by Antoni Ribas in the newspaper Ara which, although it did not talk specifically about La Ricarda, did discuss other emblematic houses from the Catalonia of the 60s and 70s, whose state of degradation does not bode well for them, promising oblivion, ruin or demolition. Without going any further, at the beginning of the year we awoke to the news that Platja d’Aro town council was authorizing the demolition of the iconic triangular canopy of the Politur complex designed by the same Bonet Castellana, together with Puig Torné i Esquius, in 1963 (read article in the Diari de Girona). An insignificant construction for many summer holidaymakers, but with a formal and landscape power which deserved to be recovered.

The diagnosis would appear to be complex: in some cases we arrive late; in many others there is not even any shared awareness of our recent architectural heritage. The public authorities, with their coffers depleted, cannot work with a future vision, and the Patronage Law, which could be a major driving force, is still in the intensive care unit.

 

Three case studies

In this post, I explain three cases of preservation and promotion of the modern architectural heritage of California. We are still far from this model, in view of its way of understanding cultural heritage and its idea of philanthropy, but it can provide ideas for collective reflection. The three cases are:

  • Eames Foundation: a project for the next 250 years.
  • James Goldstein House: the first house of the LACMA.
  • Palm Springs Modern Mid-Century Architecture Tours: an app for the dissemination of modern architecture.

 

Eames Foundation: a project for the next 250 years

Eames House (1949) is number 8 of the Case Study Houses [2][2] The programme Case Study House (1945-1966) was a unique event in the history of American modern architecture. Promoted by John Entenza’s magazine Arts&Architecture, the programme aimed to meet the urban development needs after the Second World War with the return of millions of soldiers. The best architects of the moment were commissioned to design and construct houses which represented modern life and which, at the same time, were easily replicable and affordable for the growing middle class. The majority of these residences are concentrated in the Los Angeles area., a landmark in American residential architecture, designed and built by the couple Charles and Ray Eames, who lived and worked in it until their death in 1978 and 1988, respectively. When Charles died, Ray explored several channels to preserve the house, including the possibility of bequeathing it to an institution. However, none of them guaranteed that they would not close the house after 10 years.

Ray therefore gifted the house to her stepdaughter, Lucia Eames, who, in 2004, in turn created the foundation which is currently in charge of keeping it open to the public, disseminating its legacy and protecting it. With its “250 Years Project” strategic plan, the foundation guarantees its preservation in good condition for the next 250 years for the benefit of our “great, great, great, great grandchildren”: a long-term objective!

There is a key moment in the success story of Eames House when, 10 years ago, the LACMA asked to borrow some objects from the house for its exhibition “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way’”. The foundation answered with a risky proposal: incorporating a replica of the Eames House dining room into the exhibition and temporarily assigning its entire contents! The LACMA accepted (you can see some images of the installation in the following link) and the occasion served to complete a detailed inventory of the content and of the general state of conservation of the house.

The duration of the LACMA exhibition — from October 2011 to June 2012 — was taken advantage of to implement the first phase of the “250 Years Project” with the help of private donors, sponsors and the advice of the Getty Conservation Institute. This first intervention consisted of replacing the house’s original tiles, installing an anti-damp barrier under the floor, cleaning the pipes and the original heating system, repairing part of the steel structure corroded due to the proximity of the sea and intervening on the flat roof to prevent rainwater from running straight down the big windows.

At present, the preservation of the house is maintained with the following income model:

  • Visits: the house is open every day, except Wednesdays and Sundays, and receives over 10,000 visits a year, half of which are schoolchildren for whom admission is free. There are two types of visit: an unaccompanied outdoor tour for $10 (the windows allow you to see the essential part and, moreover, the volunteers clear up any doubts) or the private indoor tour for 1 or 2 people for $275.
  • Events: Eames House can be rented to organize a picnic for 4 people — including an indoor tour — for $750, in tribute to one of the favourite activities of the Eames; or to hold a small wedding for a maximum 14 guests for $2,500; among other corporate events.
  • Membership: the friends’ programme of Eames House consists of 4 categories of member, who donate between $125 and $5,000 per year. Members Appreciation Day is organized each year on around 20 June, the date of the Eames couple’s wedding anniversary, with visits and special events in honour of their support.
  • Corporate sponsorship: companies which donate upwards of $50,000 to support the activities of Eames House and allow it to stay open to the public.
  • Volunteers: the volunteers are a fundamental pillar of Eames House, and there are 3 types: the docents, who are accredited to provide the guided tours; the interns, who are in charge of visitor assistance and of administrative issues; and the general volunteers, who undertake various support tasks, such as maintaining the garden!

 

James Goldstein House: the first house of the LACMA

The case of James Goldstein House — which may be familiar to the fans of The Big Lebowski (Coen brothers, 1998) — is interesting because it was the first house, in February 2016, to be assigned in an inheritance to the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) [3][3] Press release of the LACMA (17 February 2016). The house was designed by the architect John Lautner (1911-1994), a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose assignments — mainly private residences in Los Angeles and Palm Springs — are characterized by their organic structure and integration in the environment.

The house, built in 1963 for Helen and Paul Sheats, was acquired in 1973 by the millionaire James Goldstein, who appointed Lautner himself to make certain changes and improvements: the construction of a party club, tennis courts, his office and the incorporation of an installation by the artist James Turrell (“Skyspace”). In the absence of heirs, what is considered to be one of the most emblematic houses of Los Angeles will form part of the LACMA collection. Goldstein has agreed to organize restricted tours while he still lives in the house and, in the long term, the museum plans to open it to the public and to use it to organize exhibitions, lectures and fundraising events.

The determination of the director of the LACMA, Michael Govan, and the generosity of James Goldstein were decisive to make this operation possible. Apart from the content and the building, the latter also committed $17 million for its maintenance.

“Hopefully, my gift will serve as a catalyst to encourage others to do the same to preserve and keep alive Los Angeles’s architectural gems for future generations”.
–  James Goldstein

Palm Springs Modern Mid-Century Architecture Tours: an app for dissemination

Since 1920, Palm Springs has been a place of refuge for many Hollywood stars, who moved here thanks to its eternal summer climate, to flee the noise of show business and because it is at the maximum distance to fulfil the “Two-Hour Rule”: according to this rule, if an actor is called by their studio, they are contractually obliged to be on the set within a margin of two hours. This led many celebrities to have their designer homes built here by the best architects of the moment (Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Albert Frey…), who constructed organic, functional residences adapted to the needs of each client, converting Palm Springs into the symbol of Mid-Century Modern Architecture [4][4] Mid-Century Modern is considered to be the industrial, graphic and architectural design movement which took place in the United States between 1933 and 1965 as a reflection of the Bauhaus style and influenced by Scandinavian and Brazilian design..

In the mid-90s, a group of design and architecture lovers began to organize themselves to protect the heritage which makes Palm Springs unique. In 1999, they founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) — a not-for-profit organization funded by a programme of individual members and corporate sponsors — to protect a fire station designed by Albert Frey from demolition. They succeeded in stopping this iconic construction from becoming just another car park, and getting the council to designate it as a Class One Historic Site. Since then, the PS ModCom has worked to disseminate the rich architectural heritage of Palm Springs, preparing guided tours, organizing Modernism Week, publishing a tourist map to locate the houses, organizing exhibitions, promoting documentaries and, more recently, launching the Mid-Century Architecture Tour App.

This multiplatform app, promoted in collaboration with Palm Springs Life Magazine, allows you to follow 3 audio-guided routes (the north, centre or south routes), covering over 80 Mid-Century Modern style private residences and commercial buildings. The app also offers in-depth profiles of 12 renowned architects of Modernism, allows you to access both the inside and the outside of the main properties with videos, and shows you current and historic images, including over 70 previously unpublished images by Julius Shulman! It is all written and narrated by architecture historians and experts. In my opinion, it is an example of good practice in the dissemination of recent architectural heritage.

 

Conclusion

Despite the fact that the current situation is not favourable, the future of our architectural heritage from the last few decades will have to find creative public-private formulae in order to protect and revitalize these unique, ground-breaking buildings — some of which are exceptional, like La Ricarda — which, after all, belong to history; they belong to us. Maybe the historical perspective does not yet help us, but it is our duty to play an active role in the preservation of this heritage so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. For this we will need the protection of the authorities, yes, and also a Patronage Law, but above all dissemination and recognition.

 

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This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on January 25th, 2018.