Birth of the IDC

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Transcript

0:06
CHAD BEALE: Welcome everyone to our first live event in our HFC 50th Summer Anniversary Celebration Series.
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I see we've got a number of people already in our attendee list.
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For those of you familiar with who we are and what we do, the Harpers Ferry Center is the Media Design Center for the National Park Service.
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We opened our doors in 1970, and it's been our honor to serve the NPS over the last 50 years.
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My name is Chad Beale. I'm the Acting Chief of Technical Services here at HFC.
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I'm very pleased and honored to introduce our guest speaker, Elizabeth Milnarik, Historic Architect for the National Park Service.
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Elizabeth will be sharing insights in the design and style of our main campus building,
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known as the Interpretive Design Center, or IDC, for short. Speaking for someone who has roamed the halls of this interesting building for over 20 years, I have often asked the question, "Why?" many times. I look forward to understanding the why shortly.
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Before I hand things over to Elizabeth, just some quick logistics...
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The presentation will go for about 35 minutes with time at the end for questions, questions and answers. We will be taking questions through the question feature in our GoTo Webinar software or in your desktop interface or on your mobile device. We, unfortunately, will not be able to take questions by phone.
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You're welcome to post your questions anytime during the presentation, and Elizabeth will answer them at the end.
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As a reminder, this session is being recorded.
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You'll receive a follow-up e-mail with a link to the final recording.
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We'll also post the recording on our 50th website, along with a transcript.
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I will now turn over the presentation to Elizabeth.
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Welcome, Elizabeth.
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ELIZABETH MILNARIK: Hi, can everybody see me?
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OK.
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All right, hi everybody.
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Is that, is that looking correct? It's a full screen of a slide. 

CHAD BEALE: It does, Elizabeth. 

ELIZABETH MILNARIK: OK, great, thanks so much. A visit to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, evokes images of narrow alleyways and densely-packed historic buildings fitting improperly, improbably into the steep hills surrounding the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah. It would seem unlikely that one of the state's finest examples of Brutalist construction might sit lightly on the land here in Harpers Ferry, yet it does.
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50 years old this year, the Interpretive Design Center, or Harpers Ferry Center, is set into the campus of Storer College, which was begun a century earlier.
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Clearly and distinctively modern, yet the Harpers Ferry Center strikes a difficult, delicate balance, contributing, while not intruding, upon the historic character of the college. Sitting on the ridge without visibly interrupting its natural form, this design was wrought by the combined efforts of the client and architect. The National Park Service's progressive architectural inclinations were validated by architect Ulrich Franzen, who saw how a strong, modern building could sit comfortably here.
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Prior to World War II, the National Park Service helped define the concept of rustic architecture, often in Revival styles that evoked the regional past, or the styles of rugged European mountain lands. Some were actually built by concessionaires, so the Service had little control over their appearance.
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During the New Deal, many Civilian Conservation Corps buildings built in the parks were simply rustic, and were obviously, and intentionally hand-wrought. And you can see that at the bottom slide, on the bottom left here is a picnic pavilion at Prince William Forest, and they... that hand-wroughteness is visual evidence of the make-work purpose of that program.
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Following the end of World War II, however, the National Park Service experienced a rapid explosion of visitation, largely attributable to a growing middle-class and an expanding national interstate highway system. Families with cars and free time were anxious to shake off the depredations of the Great Depression and World War II.
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The road trip to America's National Parks became a cultural staple within the grasp of many families.
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Between 1945 and 1946, visitation doubled from 10 to 20 million. And it hit 30 million in 1949, just three years later.
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Numbers continued to climb precipitously, reaching 100 million in 1963.
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In addition, the nature of visitation had changed for many parks. Rather than travelers arriving in large groups by rail or caravan for a guided visit, individual families now arrived for shorter stays that they managed on their own.
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While the parks were beneficiaries of New Deal make-work projects, during the wartime, cuts had meant that, in the post-war era, these new visitors found parks somewhat ill-maintained and ill-equipped to accommodate the quantity and needs of modern visitors.
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Popular recognition of the problem began as early as 1949, when a Harper's column proposed closing the parks entirely until they could be properly funded.
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In 1954, an effort to... in an effort to improve design efficiency, the Park Service re-organized Service-wide design services, establishing two National Architecture Centers in Philadelphia and San Francisco to aid parks nationally in their infrastructure and building needs. In order to address deferred maintenance...
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Is everything OK?
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OK, I hope so. Anyway... In an effort to improve design efficiency, the Park Service re-organized Service-wide design Services, establishing two architecture centers. In order to defer.. to address deferred maintenance and new needs, a year later, director Conrad Wirth proposed a modernization program for the Service, asking Congress to nearly double the budget of the Park Service every year for the next decade
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in preparation for the Service's Golden Anniversary in 1966. Dubbed Mission 66, President Eisenhower approved the proposal in January 1956, and the Service quickly launched into action.
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The Mission 66 program funded expensive infrastructure projects that improved water, sewer, and electrical services,
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in addition to new roads to accommodate all those newly-mobile families. Administration, staff, and support buildings were built, along with campgrounds, picnic areas, and comfort stations. Most visibly, the Service developed the concept of the visitor center to orient small visitor groups to how they might best arrange their visit and to provide them with interpretation and common services, which really is bathrooms.
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Rather than continuing to build in the regional revival and park rustic styles of the past, the vast architectural work of the Mission 66 era, was modernist in style. Buildings varied from high-style visitor centers, like the Kill Devil Hills, Wright Brothers Memorial Museum you see on your left, to humble prototype comfort stations, or staff housing that were designed by Park Service staff in Philadelphia and San Francisco and plopped down in countless spots from coast to coast. But they all were generally designed in contextual modern styles.
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Although the National Park Service had a tradition of rustic design, modernism was not entirely new to the Service in 1956. Nearly a decade before Mission 66, the National Park Service became an early patron of modernism, with the 1947 Design Competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, honoring Jefferson's role in western expansion.
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Presented in the first round of the competition with nearly 200 entries that proposed large complexes of educational and civic structures laid out in formal Beaux Arts plans, the committee ultimately selected the very modern, soaring catenary curve proposed by Eliel Saarinen, and you can see that the top right of the screen. Elegantly referencing the Roman Triumphal Arch, the St. Louis Arch set into a broad landscape by Dan Kiley, is undeniably modernist, spare, expressive of its steel and concrete nature. Although construction of the Arch did not begin until 1963, placing it actually towards the end of the Mission 66 period, when the design was selected in 1947, it indicated that the Park Service was open to and supportive of progressive notions of architecture.
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To illustrate the rapid evolution of architectural style in the mid-century, consider the Jefferson Memorial in DC, which began construction in 1939 and was completed in 1943. Just four years, four years before the completion of the Jefferson National Expansion, or before the competition of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. That solidly traditional monument by John Russell Pope could have been designed in 1890, or 1920, while Saarinen's work embodies the most ambitious spirit of a new age, undeniably dependent upon modern engineering, industrial production, and contemporary construction methods.
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Certainly, the context is key to comparing these two monuments, as the Tidal Basin, and the surrounding Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, call out for a contextual response, but this pair of Jefferson memorials neatly illustrates how drastically the architecture profession changed in the mid-century.
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This shift in architecture, this break in tradition, began in Europe and traces its roots to the period after World War I. Living amidst ruins, installed by more abundant economies, European architects focused on theoretical paper architecture that sought to exploit modern materials while also making a definitive break from the revivalist styles of the past.
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In some part a rejection of the traditions that had allowed World War I to wreak such devastation across the continent, young architects in Germany, Holland, France, Italy, began to envision a new kind of architecture.
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Shaped by elder Peter Behrens, and led by Walter Gropius, Charles Edouard Jeneret, who worked under the name LeCorbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Reitvelt,
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young architects began to exploit and explore the capacities of newly-available industrial materials like glass, steel, and reinforced concrete to solve their new design problems... the factory, the skyscraper, the planned neighborhood... Efforts to cloak these new purposes and new materials with revivalist ornamentations seemed foolish and deceptive. Wasteful in a time of need, a vestige of past... of a past discredited by total war.
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In 1919, German architect Walter Gropius, founded the Bauhaus, and you see the Bauhaus on the left... a school that allied art and craft and taught this modern stylist kind of design.
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Ancient Roman architectural theorist Vitruvius, declared that architecture must possess must possess firmitas, utilitas and venusitas - or firmness, utility and delight. Architecture needs to stand up, it needs to work, and it needs to be beautiful. The Bauhaus offered the first real retort to Vitruvius in 2,000 years, by suggesting that only firmness and utility honestly rendered could create beauty.
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While these architects as a group sought to escape the very idea of style, to use the materials and function of the building, to define beauty that, rather than references to the past, in 1932, American art historians, Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, somewhat ironically, christened this new design effort the International Style. So, they tried really hard to get out of style, and they got christened their own style. They christened it the International Style in an influential exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, introducing these new architectural concepts to America.
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The pair also helpfully narrowed down, reductively, this burgeoning Pan-European movement into just three characteristics, and we can see them here at the Bauhaus on the left and the Fagus shoe factory on the right. And the first principle is really volume over mass. The use of flat planes of concrete or stucco and glass. And when you look at these buildings you can really feel how thin they wanted you to think the walls were. These buildings appear more like balloons than structures. They always had a flat roof, and that was important to the sense of volume. The second principle was a frank use of industrial materials. It's real clear that this is steel and stucco and glass.
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And then the third aspect is the buildings are devoid of unnecessary ornament or historic reference. But also in that process, they use functional elements as beauty. And you can see that really clearly on the right, if you notice over the door of the Fagus shoelace factory, the clock at the entry is ornament and your eye is drawn to it and it as a beautiful composition and then certainly the flagpoles above are, are beautiful and designed aspects. Beginning in the 1930s, the rise of artistically-conservative governments in Europe, as well as the Nazi threat to Jewish communities, led to an exodus of European's leading architects.
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In 1937, Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius became dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, completely overhauling the curriculum. A year later, Chicago leaders handed Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the reins of the newly-formed Institute... Illinois Institute of Technology, asking him to not only develop a new curriculum for their school, but also to teach students and design and build an entirely new campus.
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Throughout the US,
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architecture schools began a rapid and radical influential shift. Previously, most American architecture schools were modeled upon the Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts,
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the design institution that had been feeding French artistic excellence since the Sun King. At the Ecole, design methods focused on plan clarity and a deep understanding of classical and Renaissance traditions. In the upper left, you can see this idea of plan clarity in their, in their rigorous design process. Students also became masters in the watercolor rendering of massive drawings, as you can see on the lower, lower left.
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In the 1930s, however, at Harvard and IIT, and then quickly throughout the United States, architecture schools embraced a new spirit of the International Style - a focus on open plans that flow throughout a building and new industrial materials. Careful rendering techniques were replaced by evocative, artistic efforts, as you can see in the rendering on the right, which was by Gropius for a theater.
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By the mid 1940s, a generation of young architects were emerging from these reformed architecture schools, infused with the spirit of the European leaders and with something of a Messianic mission to improve the built environment, filling it with, as they saw, healthy, honest buildings, that found beauty in the expression of structure and function, but also with a desire to improve and evolve upon those notions.
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While several generations younger than Gropius, Mies and the other European leaders, Ulrich Franzen, the architect of Harpers Ferry Center, was shaped by similar forces and became one of their Messianic progeny.
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In 1921, Ulrich was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, into an affluent, well-educated family.
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His father, Eric, was a writer who translated the work of Shakespeare into German. And his mother Lisbeth was a psychologist.
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The family, including younger brother Wolfgang, left Germany in 1936, when Ulrich was 15, just months before Gropius became the dean at Harvard.
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Ulrich grew up in New Jersey and received a bachelor's degree in art history from Williams College. He then enrolled at Harvard's Graduate School of Design in 1942 where fellow German refugees, Gropius and Marcel Breuer, headed the faculty.
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He was soon called to war, and as a fluent German speaker served in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA.
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Ulrich returned to Harvard in 1945 and graduated in 1948.
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Speaking in retrospect on his architecture training, Franzen said,
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"I have always been convinced that, contrary to Gropius's notions at Harvard, architecture is indeed an art, and a highly personal one at that."
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He believed he had chafed under an architectural philosophy that dictated beauty was a result of good design, rather than a motivation in and of itself.
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Franzen opened his own office in New York City in 1955, after seven years working for IM Pei, Henry Cobb, and other architects with Harvard connections. 
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Early work focused on residential design including his own 1956 home, which we see here, nicknamed The Umbrella House. Principally composed of a sheathed steel trussed roof supported on central steel posts, the exterior envelope is entirely glazed, emphasizing the lightness ideal in the earliest moments of the modernist period.
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Masonry is used at lower portions of the walls to provide privacy rather than any structural support.
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The paired rhomboids of the roof trusses provide articulation for the interior, bringing a sense of swelling and movement into the space. And, from his earliest independent designs, Franzen clearly delighted in a careful detail, and durable precise industrial materials.
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The light volumetric form of the building clearly reflects International Style ambitions, but the paired rhombuses composing the roof are a personal, expressive gesture.
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Franzen was not alone in his generation of architects, seeking to find ways to boldly express themselves within the vocabulary of modernism. As the Mission 66 program got underway in 1956, NPS administrators found their needs and desires allied well with a new spirit in architecture, a particular and rare moment when innovation, boldness, and funding, combined to create icons of mid century design. The Park Service offered unusual, challenging sites, and unique functional requirements. Architects were anxious to find ways to combine modern steel and glass with ancient rock and other natural elements to bind their structures into their sites, finding means to unite the inside and outside.
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On your right, you can see pictures of the Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This is amongst the earliest and most prominent of the visitor centers designed during the program.
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In the early 20th century, archeologists had found a remarkable collection of Jurassic period fossilized dinosaur bones on the site. And in 1915, President Wilson named the area a National Monument.
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After decades of struggle to protect the fossilized bones during long-term excavation efforts, in 1951, the Park Service built a simple shed over the excavation area to protect the bones, protect the paleontologists, and protect the visitors that were coming to see the bones and the paleontologists. In 1950, a proposed dam had brought a national attention to the resources in the park, so in March 1956, less than three months after Eisenhower approved the Mission 66 program, the NPS budgeted funds for a new permanent visitor center at Dinosaur, perhaps to make a future dam more difficult to justify.
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While the program for a typical visitor center was generally flexible, with a wide lobby space connecting exhibit, toilet, ranger, and office uses, at Dinosaur the designers were assigned a tight site that had to incorporate the high rock face of the fossil site.
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San Francisco architects Robert Anshan and William Allen were selected to take on the challenge. 1936 graduates of the University of Pennsylvania,
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the pair had recently completed the sublimely well-sited Church of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona, and you can see that at your bottom right. At Dinosaur, the designer has created a large, light and volumetric mass around the fossils. The weightless glass frame clearly reflecting International Style modernist concerns, topped off with a gestural butterfly roof.
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Arrayed in front of the main mass, a sinuous concrete ramp, wrapped around a solid concrete cylinder which housed lobby, toilets, and offices. Dictated by function, the curving forms also complemented and contrasted with the surrounding landscape.
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The Visitor Center opened in 1957, one of the first major Mission 66 projects, a clearly expressive, personal interpretation of international style principles.
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Unfortunately, the building was placed on an area of constantly swelling and shrinking bentonite clay. Within a few years, it was clear the building was moving and cracking, and eventually it was closed to visitation. In 2010, the ramp and cylinder were removed, and the main section was strengthened to handle the forces imposed by the clay soils below.
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The main mass of the Center re-opened in 2011 with Visitor Services relocated nearby.
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While the volumetric expressive architecture at Dinosaur dominated much of the earliest work of the Mission 66 program, as the pro... as the program progressed, the heavier, more sculptural Brutalist style began impacting Park Service design.
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To clarify, the term Brutalism was coined by British architectural critic, Reyer Banham, to identify the crucial nature of concrete, or Beton Brut in French, rather than to characterize how it would feel to slide down one of these buildings.
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In 1954 British architects, Allison and Peter Smithson, stated that modern architecture had become too expressive and too obscure and called for a return to the functionalist principles of the earlier Modernist period. And you can see their work at the Hunstanton School on your left.
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LeCorbusier, the French-Swiss master architect, opened a new chapter in his own career in the 1950s. After a generation of redesigning cities on paper, re-imagining the perfectly rational environment,
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Corbusier was hired to design a new capital city for the Punjab Province in India.
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He designed the civic buildings of the city, but also office buildings, churches, and residences. At the Palace of Assembly, which we see on our right, completed in 1963, we see rough-cast concrete on a free-form building.
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More refined and less obviously industrial than the Smithson's Hunstanton School,
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Corbusier’s brutalism possesses a similar tangible sense of mass as well as a sculptural aspect... all qualities of the Brutalist period that came to dominate design in the third quarter of the 20th century.
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Opened in 1968, more than a decade after the Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur, the Far View Visitor Center at Mesa Verde demonstrates how far contemporary style had moved over the course of the Mission 66 program.
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Rather than light, airy volumes, the approach facade of the visitor center is a windowless stone cylinder, intended to evoke the kiva tradition in Native American architecture. A sinewy concrete ramp, echoing the one at Dinosaur, leads visitors to the rear - a dramatically fenestrated facade - but the glazing here is framed in thick, concrete members, and does not appear weightless.
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An International Style of hovering volumes is replaced with muscular grit, that tactile pleasure in form.
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This building is deeply rooted in its site, and takes satisfaction in its own heft.
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Designed by leading Denver modernists, Joseph and Louise Marlow and the Western Office in San Francisco, the Far View Visitor Center illustrates how modernism gradually evolved into Brutalism in the decade between 1956 and 1966.
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In 1963, as 10 years of increased Mission 66 funding were coming to a close, the National Park Service staff began to consider improvements to the Park Service's various interpretive efforts.
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Publications, museum, and exhibit design and audiovisual work had been pushed to their limits to meet the needs of the Mission 66 program, furnishing eight to ten new museums a year for a decade.
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There was some criticism that the inundation of work had led to repetition and dullness in the production of interpretive materials.
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So in early 1964, new director, George Hartzog, recognized the importance of these efforts by appointing William C. Everhart to be the Park Service's.
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first Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, consolidating publications, audio visual, and museum exhibit designers into a single organization, while they had previously been scattered across the Service.
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Everhart began a series of hires to develop a more technologically sophisticated group that moved into film production and new methods in museum work.
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In April, Director of Publications, Victor Gleason formally submitted a suggestion to physically consolidate the new Interpretation and Visitor Services Group, who remained in offices scattered around the DC region. The exhibit staff worked in the deteriorated temporary buildings on the Mall. You can see them in the upper right of that photo. Those those buildings were built for World War II and were never meant to last that long. Co-locating all these uses would eliminate redundancies, but would also improve co-ordination and creativity.
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Reluctant to assign these tasks to rental office space provided by the GSA or Government Services Administration, they proposed the construction of a new purpose-built structure that could accommodate the technical and creative needs of this unusual group.
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The Service had just completed the construction or expansion of 95 visitor centers. So, a new building seemed ambitious, but achievable.
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With specific congressional approval for the effort unlikely, the building would need to be located on existing parkland. And as most of the current staff worked in the Washington area, a location commuting distance from the capital seem preferable. Several sites were considered, but that same year, the Stephen T. Mather Training Center opened on the former Storer College campus in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
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Locating the new Interpretive program at Harpers Ferry, would allow the staff to interact with the park, as well as Service-wide Park Service employees at the Mather Center for training.
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Director Hartzog  initially feared a purpose-built building would be too ambitious and controversial. But in October 1965, Everhart argued convincingly and the budget was approved at $1.25 million for the 1967 fiscal year.
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As with the Mission 66 visitor centers, an interesting, challenging site was identified the new building. Just south of the Mather Center, set on a bluff over the Shenandoah River.
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Well-versed in the design process, Everhart and the interpretive staff developed a thorough program for the new building.
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The 17 page document was quite detailed about overall goals, as well as specific needs and adjacencies. Goals included using the building to embody Park Service values, arranging departments to encourage collaboration, providing flexibility to adapt the building in the future, siting the building well, and connecting occupants with their setting.
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Programmatically, they identified the need for some public-facing spaces, including a lobby with exhibit space and a community room.
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Departments included the administrators offices, interpretive planning, curatorial space, an audio-visual department with a studio lab, and other support functions, a drafting and layout office for graphic work, and a shop space for exhibit construction with direct access to a loading dock.
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Everhart also created a remarkable shortlist of architects for the work, understanding that the unique site and program would attract top architectural talent.
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The Mission 66 period had solicited work from some of the leading architects of the moment, and Everhart developed a list of remarkably varied, but highly successful designers for this new building. Charles Moore was on the list. You can see his contemporary work on your left. In 1964, they had opened Condo Number 1, the first phase of Sea Ranch, a large, planned residential community in Northern California that offered a new vision of environmental and contextual design that would prove decisive to the architecture of the 1970s. And on your right, you can see the work of John Johansen, who was an idiosyncratic Harvard graduate. He did a lot of residential design. A lot of it was very traditional modernism, but in 1966 he completed this Telephone Pole house in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is certainly an unusual structure.
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TAC, or the Architects Collaborative, was also on the list. This Gropius-founded studio was located in Cambridge, and was known for executing massive corporate projects. In 1963, they had just finished the Pan Am building in New York, which is built on top of Grand Central Station.
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Marcel Breuer also on the list, the Hungarian Bauhaus teacher took a teaching position under Gropius at Harvard. He ran a smaller firm. In 1961, his studio had just completed the Brutalist masterwork St. John's Abbey and Belltower in Collegeville, Minnesota, which you see on your right.
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IM Pei was on the list, the former classmate of Franzen's. At that point, he was an accomplished commercial, corporate architect, who was known for innovative, but workable design. In 1964, Pei had just completed the Syracuse University Newhouse School, which you can see on your left.
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And Paul Rudolph was also on the list, a leading Brutalist designer. In 1963, he had just completed Yale's Architecture School, which you see on your right.
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IM Pei was first offered the work, but he turned the job down because the budget was too low for his large office. And then Everhart turned to Ulrich Franzen who was just completing the Alley Theater commission in Houston.
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That project was widely regarded as amongst the best-designed theaters in the nation-  a very successful statement of theatrical and architectural values.
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It went on to win AIA Houston's 25-year prize in 1994.
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In addition to his rising professional star, Franzen had a reputation for clarity of thought and attention to budgets.
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It was thought that the small size of his office would guarantee Franzen himself would contribute to the design of the new center at Harpers Ferry.
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An examination of the Alley Theater reveals that Franzen's work has evolved since his home design in 1956.
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Delicate floating planes of glass have been replaced with a hefty... with hefty Brutalist riffs on turrets with an entry like a windswept coral reef. It's a big, gestural, embracing building, clearly Brutalist in style.
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Franzen's team, headed by architect Keith Kroger, began work in 1966 with a small masterplan study, which was just really a way for them to begin design before the 1970- 67 funds were ready.
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As with many visitor center commissions, the site posed challenges and opportunities. Located along the form... along the south end of an irregular quadrangle, a portion of the former Storer College, the building would be viewed as part of a campus of much older structures, but a campus without much planned coordination.
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There are three buildings around the site- the large Mather Center to the north, Cook Hall to the east, and Lewis Library to the west.
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Mather, which you see on top on your right, was set along the north-south axis while the smaller Cook and Lewis buildings were roughly east-west, but primarily were sited in relationship to the steep cliff to their south.
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Similarly, in terms of materiality, the three were only loosely coordinated, as Mather Center was constructed of brick and the smaller structures of local stone.
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Franzen's program was significantly larger than the surrounding buildings, so he determined to set a large, lower story into the hill
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so the building would appear to be just two stories from the main approach, to match the scale of the campus. Rather than attempting to bring regularity to the edges of the quadrangle, Franzen placed the building at a moderate cant, drawing a loose curve between the Cook and Lewis buildings, and creating an edge without imposing regularity upon an irregular civic composition. And then surrounding the building with a spreading brick plaza to connect it with its neighbors.
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Finally, Franzen determined to use brick rather than concrete or native stone as the main finish material for his structure, coordinating with Mather, and acknowledging the historic character of the site.
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A design contract was signed in January 1967. The Franzen team worked closely with the occupants to understand their needs and produce conceptual drawings and a model for a formal presentation in the spring of 1967. And up on your left, you see West Virginia Congressman Staggers on the left. Senator Randolph Everhart is in the center. Secretary Udall is to his right or is to his left. And then on the, on the end, is Senator Byrd.
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The model illustrates how much of the building is set below grade, allowing for the creation of a flow-through plaza from the brick paving out front through the first floor breezeway and out to the wide raised south plaza,
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providing expansive views of the Appalachian Trail and the river below. The large ground floor was also able to concentrate some of the most technically complex uses in the building, divided into a large... into a large lumber shop on the east, the graphics layout studio in the center, and the west, and was divided into small rooms supporting the film and video departments.
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On the main entry floor, a free-formed lobby space connects the community room, break room, and administrative suite.
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And the top third floor accommodates small individual offices, as well as a library and additional open workspace. By fall 1967,
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the construction documents were ready for review and were sent out for bid in early 1968. Qualified bids came in just under $900,000, below the funding budget. Construction began in April 1968 and went smoothly with minor delays due to weather and park-requested design changes. The contractor completed work in January 1970, and the new consolidated staff began to work in the Harpers Ferry Center in March 1970.
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Constructed primarily of brick rather than concrete, the massing and details of Franzen's design mark this as a contextual Brutalist structure. The massive penetrated cube at the west end of the north facade anchors the building, while the first floor breezeway lightens the composition.
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The concrete wormhole entry contrasts with the surrounding brick while the angled windows create a band of shifting interest at the second floor, while also limiting glare in the workspaces.
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On the rear south facade, the arcading windows on the lower floor reference John Brown's Fort and The Armory. While the rectilinear mass of the upper floor hovers over the entry level plaza, supported on exposed sonotubes, complexifying the interplay between interior and exterior space. A sophisticated, modulated and interesting building that uses materials and massing to fit itself into the site.
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A function of facility dedicated at the production of objects, the interior of Harpers Ferry Center feels industrial, with an unfinished, exterior walls of cast concrete, and concrete masonry units, and gypsum board on the interior stubbed walls.
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Polished floors and high traffic areas are durable and cleanable, while lights and ducts hang from the ceiling unobscured.
35:18
Following the completion of Harpers Ferry Center, Franzen continued... Franzen's career continued successfully, buoyed by the praise he received for the careful, precise, and powerful building he designed for the Park Service. In 1971, just a year after the completion of Harpers Ferry, the Philip Morris Research Tower II opened. Located south of downtown Richmond, Virginia, and directly west of interstate 95, the highly-visible eight story building punctuates the south end of the large Philip Morris campus,
35:49
where no other buildings rise above 1 or 2 stories. Prow-like oriel windows rise the full height of the east and west facades, while the north and west, north and south facades are dominated by windowless brick cylinders. A fully-realized structure of sculptural complexity and interest, the building is also hilarious, visually referencing the cigarette production that occurs on site. It is architecture parlante at its very best.
36:16
Franzen was 49 when Harpers Ferry Center opened,
36:19
and would be 99 today. But the architecture is... but architecture is an old man's game, and the structure represented an early high note in a career of distinguished design. In 1975, he designed two new structures for Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Skybridges supported on an external concrete framework connect Franzen's new buildings, improving circulation for the school.
36:40
Cornell University regularly patronized Franzen, including the 1981 Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research you see on your right. His 1984 Philip Morris Headquarters in Manhattan was amongst his last major works, although he continued residential commissions into the 1990s. Franzen and his wife Josephine retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he died in 2012 at the age of 91.
37:04
Buildings in their 40s and 50s are an endangered breed, often considered stylistically out of fashion, but not yet old enough to be appreciated for their qualities that transcend style.
37:15
Brutalist buildings of the '50s to the '70s currently exist in that risk window and the easily misinterpreted name often can make it difficult to rouse public sentiment... the public sentiment necessary to save these historic structures.
37:28
The American landscape has lost some great Brutalist works in recent years. At the bottom left, you see what remained of IM Pei's Third Church of Christ Science in DC. And at the bottom right, you see the remains of John Johansen's Morris Mechanics Theater in Baltimore. Buffalo Shoreline Apartments by Paul Rudolph have also been lost. In contrast, thankfully, appreciation for the Harpers Ferry Center is high.
37:53
In 2017, the Park Service completed a ten-year renovation effort, including a new roof, new heating and air conditioning, and other systems and accessibility updates to ensure the Center remains useful well into the 21st century. The West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office has recognized the structure as one of the state's finest examples of Brutalism, as well.
38:14
Today, it seems that architecture seeking to be contextual too often simply cloaks its modern character in the fabric of the past. In some ways, a response that lacks vision and self-confidence. Assuredly, careful contextualization is a value in architecture, but contextual design should take inspiration from works like the Harpers Ferry Center, a younger friend that sits easily amidst his older companions, but one with a strength of character that rewards further examination. I'd like to extend thanks to Nancy Russell, Janice Wheeler, and Peter Dessauer for the help that they provided during this presentation, and I'd like to thank you all... Thank you all very much for attending.
38:51
Thank you.
38:55
CHAD BEALE: Thank you, Elizabeth. We really appreciate you taking the time to be with us today, and we'll open it up to questions if anybody...
39:04
has a question for Elizabeth, just submit it through the question panel, and I will submit that to her, and she can answer that directly, on the on.. on set or on the screen.
39:22
I do have a few questions, Elizabeth, [ELIZABETH: OK!] since I have a mic...
39:29
First one is, how involved was the park, and you may not have an answer to that question in terms of the design that you had mentioned, I think, in your presentation, some comments or some delays that, maybe, as a result of their input.
39:44
ELIZABETH: Yeah, well, we have a nice oral.. well, it's written, it was a history written by Everhart, and his, he was very well, indeed, very aware of details. He said that Franzen and his office staff worked with them very closely. So I think there was, there was a great deal of back and forth between them now.
40:06
Certainly, in terms of like programming space, I can't, I don't know. You know... did they have, like, design charrettes, where people asked Franzen to justify the breezeway, or whatever or... you know, the interesting wormhole entry. I'm not sure of that, that wasn't mentioned. But, I do get a sense that they were working closely together.
40:30
CHAD: We do have a question from the audience, if you want to check that, Elizabeth. Was there an elevator in the original plan?
40:40
ELIZABETH: Um, you know, I don't know... The plan I was able to find was actually published in a Japanese architectural journal, and I can go back and look. I didn't, I didn't take note of that. I kinda think there would have been, but I'm not sure, I'm not sure.
40:56
Yeah, I have to, I have to admit that, you know, I intended to come visit this building in March, and then everything got canceled so I have seen the outside of this building, but I actually have never, I haven't gotten to be able to visit the inside yet and I do look forward to that. So...
41:13
CHAD: Another question: Was the local community residents' considered in the design? What were some features that were considered to be left out?
41:24
ELIZABETH: Well, I, you know, I didn't find much information about about local local design. Now, this was...
41:34
a little bit before we really hit... the Park Service really had sort of our Section 106 public comment sort of process kinda going, from my understanding, certainly from a historic perspective, so, I'm not sure, I'm not sure what they would have done. And given its location, it's not...
41:56
there... there was a neighbor, there's an adjacent neighborhood, and certainly everybody is affected by it, but I'm not sure that there was there was much public comment.
42:03
And, um, you know... reading the program, it seems like they were able to accomplish most of what the park had initially asked for, or what the staff had additionally asked for. So I don't know of, it didn't seem like there was tremendous pressure to eliminate things... I didn't get that sense from kind of looking at the program and then looking at the, at the plan. So I think, I think, there, there weren't a lot of things they had to leave out. I got to... based on Everhart's texts, sort of his writing... They wanted a very industrial, sort of, you know, a kind of environment that you could kinda hose down is something that the, that the staff was interested in . This was, you know, this, they make exhibits here, like, things are produced here, and they were, they were pretty clear in their, in their writing that they wanted something that was durable, that wasn't bigger than it needed to be. The staff was very aware of budgets and very concerned with budgets, so I don't think that they were asking for the moon.
43:11
CHAD: While we might be waiting for more questions, what is the... Another question for you, Elizabeth - What is the trend now? Is there an "-ism" so to speak, that's prevalent now? And then, that's, sort of, in the industry... And then, is there one in the NPS today?
43:30
ELIZABETH: Well, I know, and I have, I have a friend who has coined current architecture as "Jenga architecture," because currently, like for some reason, architecture designing things, where are these, like volumes kinda go in and out. So, he's like, "Oh!, another Jenga building!" So, you know, everybody is always a little bit reluctant to to name a style for a little while.
43:54
So I'm not sure exactly what... everybody would call what's going on today in anything more than sort of a, you know, Jenga sort-of way. I think in the Park Service...
44:10
You know, I am... So, I work as the historic architect for the area and so I do a lot of review for the parks.
44:17
And I do fear that, you know, I think though, I think that we produce some very nice, contextual design...
44:30
Thoughtful, thoughtful work.. So often, and we're not building new buildings very often anymore, often, we're changing... changing existing buildings...
44:38
So... the parameters are a little bit smaller now, yeah.
44:46
So, yeah. And so, and so, the projects for most of those are really, really, very contextual.
44:56
CHAD: Interesting. So, we've got a bunch more questions rolling here, Elizabeth. Here's one:
45:01
Were the John Brown Fort windows called out
45:05
as such in his plans? What does the term "wormhole" come from?
45:10
ELIZABETH: He was, they were always very specific that those arches, which are not terribly visible, I mean, they're not at all visible from the, some sort of the foot approach. He was always very specific that those were a reference to those important buildings in Harpers Ferry. But also, those arches are a very traditional way to solve that particular architectural problem- that sort of lower story where you have really high loads.
45:36
So historically, that's just, that is a very simple answer. So, it is a nice contextual gesture, but it was always very specific. And, and I made up the term, wormhole. I don't know what they called it but it is a... it is an interesting-looking entry that I really did not find as much information on as I wanted. Because it is, it is so interesting. And I would like to, like to understand more about what the thinking was other than the fact that it's a nice vestibule. So you kinda get dried off and it's not quite so windy inside the lobby. Like it has, it has good function.
46:07
But, but I would like to know more about it.
46:11
Um, there was, uh... A Japanese architecture magazine called "Progress," did an entire issue on Franzen in 1979. And as sort of a testament to the importance of the Harpers Ferry Center, that was the project they went into most depth... in most depth, like they had really identified five qualities that typified Franzen's architecture. And they found all five of those qualities at Harpers Ferry and provided a lot of information.
46:41,
And one of those qualities was... they mentioned, and I use this word a couple of times, "idiosyncratic design," like the sort of, you know, obvious and sort of the, you know, if you think back to his house, the house we saw in Rye. You know, you've got those those funny roof forms that are the most obvious thing you see as you approach the house. And they said he always... Their understanding of his architecture was, he always had this sort of love for the odd gesture.
47:12
CHAD: So, as a follow up, someone's asking, Which arches are we referring to? And they're not pictured in the slide that you see now.
47:21
They would be on the, I guess the front/back, whichever...

ELIZABETH: Yeah, they're on the cliff side. Lower level. 

CHAD: Lower level. I work in that area, and certainly I see them every day, but they are...
47:35
There's none on this side of the building, but they're definitely prevalent on the bottom that side.
47:42
Another question was about the entrance- Does the main entrance reference other buildings?
47:51
So I assume the...
47:54
the question is referring to the, sort of, concrete entrance...

ELIZABETH: As somebody who works in the building, do you guys call it something?
48:07
CHAD: [laughs] You know what... quite honestly, I thought it, as I thought it was an afterthought. I thought it was something that, you know,
48:15
they didn't consider the weather, and you know, it's a glass sort of entrance and later they added that as protection against the weather. But, you know, seeing the plans and seeing the drawing, it was part of the design. It just looks so out of place from, from my eye.
48:32
ELIZABETH: Not just your eye.
48:33
It's, it's a weird thing, but it's kind of... I know it makes you feel like it's kind of an adventure or you know, like it... it feels like, it almost feels like childlike. Like, you're kind of going down a tunnel. You know, it's, it's such an interesting, and, you know, I had hoped...
48:52
Franzen's papers are up in... at the Graduate School in Design at Harvard, and I had... I had hoped to find a reason to go up there and look at them and it didn't happen. We're not going anywhere these days, and so there's more to find... There's more information to be found. And I would like to do that, but... but from the information I had, I didn't find anything specific about that very interest, interesting entryway.
49:19
CHAD: Question: I noticed that they originally envisioned around 85 people working in the building.
49:26
Interesting enough, we're close to that in terms of the entire campus, but there had been close to 150 at one time. Did you find any information relative to staff increases or reductions, or issues around capacity?
49:42
That's what the question's referring to.
49:44
ELIZABETH: Yeah... No... When I, what I reviewed was sort of what the program that the park expected at the time.
49:54
CHAD: And we're getting people saying, "We call it the concrete tunnel, or the front door." So that's what some call it. [laughs] The question- can you speak more to the original design intent for the campus collaboration integration?
50:07
So, you'd mentioned the bricks as that being a choice for the facade. Is there any other?
50:13
ELIZABETH: Well, I think the siting...
50:15
Um, you know... it wasn't, It was a very tricky... When you, when you start to look at the site plan...
50:23
You know, it's a, it's a very tricky thing that he was... that he had to do because he had this assemblage of buildings that weren't... weren't really... They existed as a campus, but they weren't built sort of in clear relationship to one another. And so... And then he had to kind of, like, close out a composition, that was never really...
50:42
so... designed as a composition. And he, you know, by... you know, by not trying to impose a grid... by just sort of like essentially drawing a curving line between the two stone buildings... He just did a, really, I think a really beautiful job of resolving that problem. Yeah, yeah... And then, in terms of materiality, you know... I think, in terms of budget, but then also, you know, brick makes all the sense in the world
51:13
in this location, and he also seemed to like brick. He used a lot of brick. There was reference to the fact that he really enjoyed the precision of the material, and also how durable and hard-wearing it was, which is something that the Park Service certainly would have enjoyed as well, or would have appreciated.
51:31
CHAD: OK, we have time for one more question here. Whether it be architecture or any other Park Service venture, do you personally think there will be ever be another opportunity where the combination of innovation, boldness, and funding you mentioned ever come together again? It seems all the protocols, safeguards, and restrictions suppress such potential greatness.
51:53
Great question.

ELIZABETH:  Well, as somebody who is responsible, often, I feel, for suppressing creativity, [laughing] I worry about that a lot. I really do.
52:04
I think... I think... I don't think it is impossible, and you know, this is, this is not particularly the audience for it, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it. I think a lot of times, you know, I do... I you know, I... I work with parks and you know, work...work in compliance along with a great team of people.
52:21
And I feel like, often people assume I want things to look like they're old and I certainly don't. You know, I think this is a beautiful example of contextual design. 
52:37
You know, if it, if it had been... you know, something, you know, that was more sort of referential, it could have been OK. But, I think this is a very good example. So, um, and I feel like a lot of times... One thing that's really interesting, is, whenever you're reading about the history of brutalism, you always hear people hate it at first, and then they come to love it. Like, that's kind of, like... And then, I don't know, sometimes they never love it, like, the...
53:04
I showed you a picture of the demolition of the IM Pei Church in Washington, DC,
53:09
and the struggle there was that... Well, the congregation claimed to hate the building. So that was... That was a hard preservation argument to make when the owner was, was not appreciating the building... Now they tore it down and then built a giant, like, office building, and then put their church in it, so they made a lot of money...
53:27
So anyway, I digress... I hope, I hope it is possible, but I... I also... I also do understand... 
53:38
I hope... I hope that is possible.
53:40
I... When people are coming up, people should not assume that people who are doing... or concerned about compliance and concerned about contextual design,
53:52
they don't necessarily want things to look old. Like, that isn't... that isn't ever what I want. And I think a good conversation about that is really something that we could have. So, I think that is something we... a conversation we should have more of. So, I think it is a point well taken.
54:11
CHAD: Well, thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate all the time you spent today, and sharing that today. Thank you for the audience, for submitting those questions.
54:21
I have sent... I have just sent everyone Elizabeth's e-mail in the chat, should you have any follow-up questions that you would like, or discussion... Or anything else you'd like to talk to Elizabeth about, that e-mail is there for you to use.
54:35
As a reminder, HFC is hosting a summer-long film festival with films posted every two weeks. We're also hosting additional live events throughout our 50th Anniversary celebration.
54:46
Please link to the HFC 50th website off our main site at NPS.gov/HFC. And be sure to subscribe to our Facebook or Instagram pages to see our themed media posts all summer long.
55:00
And keep up-to-date on all our events. Again, we thank you for attending our event, and we look forward to seeing you back again this summer. Everyone have a great rest of your day. Thank you. 

ELIZABETH: Thank you.

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Duration:
55 minutes, 18 seconds

Last updated: July 14, 2020