William F. Buckley, Jr. famously said, "A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'"
While we can't picture anyone actually standing athwart, say, the strangely boot-shaped Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany, protecting the iconic structure from the wrecking ball, that's essentially what the Getty Foundation is doing with its Keeping It Modern conservation initiative.
Getty wants to discover ways of maintaining and preserving modern structures based upon the unique challenges presented by the building materials. The foundation recently announced a second round of grants for this initiative—$1.75 million awarded to 14 buildings built in the 20th century across eight countries, including India and Brazil.
The inaugural Keeping It Modern grants announced in the fall of 2014 provided funding for the study of 10 landmark structures including Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House in Australia, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago and the Ray and Charles Eames' residence in Pacific Palisades. Second-round winners include Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany; Marcel Breuer's St. John's Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, Minnesota; and James Strutt's residence in Ottawa, Ontario.
Getty's work shouldn't be described as "conservation for conservation's sake." Each structure is different. Planners need to acknowledge things like climate, age, concrete, water leakage, and the materials with which they have to work. In short, there's a right way and a wrong way to conserve these buildings, which is why Getty's emphasis "has always been on planning and research," as Getty Foundation Director Deborah Marrow said. "That's the part that's harder to fund and always gets overlooked. Without research, you won't be able to come up with a truly thoughtful implementation plan." (That being said, while prior grants have been used strictly for planning and research, this recent round found Getty its first implementation grant to Wright's Unity Temple.)
Furthermore, what works in Germany may not work in Brazil, which is why round-one winners will convene in London this month to share their best practices with round-two winners. This is also why the foundation selected each structure based upon its ability to present a model for conservation practices.
"When we talk about modern architecture in a global context, there are regional approaches to addressing a certain problem," Getty Foundation Senior Program Officer Antoine Wilmering said. "So we'd like to have people share how they go about solving issues. That way they can all learn from each other despite different cultural backgrounds."
Our suggestion for round three? Country legend Merle Haggard's childhood home in Bakersfield, California, which, alas, has more of a crumbling "boxcar"-vibe to it.