Industrial Modern

I confess to a mild fascination with old industrial cities and districts to the point where I was a bit disappointed, during a trip to Pittsburgh in September, to learn that the steel mills, which had been located along the Allegheny River (or was it the Monongahela? I already forget) and had been shut down in the early 1970s, were in fact torn down. I would have loved to see them.

I love the handful of Precissionist paintings of Charles Sheeler's that I've seen; they turn industrial buildings into modern art (there are a bunch here).

One of the stories on the Times' list of most-emailed stories was Nicolai Ouroussoff's Arts & Leisure piece about Buffalo, an old industrial city if there ever was one. Here's an excerpt:

Buffalo was founded on a rich tradition of architectural experimentation. The architects who worked here were among the first to break with European traditions to create an aesthetic of their own, rooted in American ideals about individualism, commerce and social mobility. And today its grass-roots preservation movement is driven not by Disney-inspired developers but by a vibrant coalition of part-time preservationists, amateur historians and third-generation residents who have made reclaiming the city’s history a deeply personal mission.

At a time when oil prices and oil dependence are forcing us to rethink the wisdom of suburban and exurban living, Buffalo could eventually offer a blueprint for repairing America’s other shrinking postindustrial cities.

Touring Buffalo’s monuments is about as close as you can get to experiencing firsthand the earliest struggles to define what an American architecture would look like.

The city’s rise began in 1825 with the opening of the Erie Canal, which opened trade with the heartland. By the end of the 19th century the city’s grain silos and steel mills had become architectural pilgrimage sites for European Modernists like Erich Mendelsohn and Bruno Taut, who saw them as the great cathedrals of Modernity. In their vast scale and technological efficiency, they reflected a triumphant America and sent a warning signal to Europe that it was fast becoming less relevant.

The whole thing is worth reading (here). One of the points it made implicitly was about Frank Lloyd Wright's longevity. Ouroussoff writes about FLW's Dwight D. Martin House. Gina looked at the photo and said she really didn't love the house; I agreed. But then we looked at the date -- it was built in 1905, a modern building that predates Modernism. Although we still don't love it, you have to admire the innovation. -- ta

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