28 October 2008

Serial Murder of Modernism

In a letter to the editor entitled "None is Less" published in The American Spectator, Christopher Orlet writes about friends in his hometown of Saint Louis who purchased a demolished a Harris Armstrong designed Prairie Style home in Ladue to build their "dream home / starter home". The house was much larger and up-to-date than suggested in Orlet comments. (I'll post a piece I wrote at the time of it's demolition). In it's place, a superficially faux-Tudor home was placed. This loss was a tragedy for Saint Louis modernism.

Here are some views of the Stuebner House of 1939 designed by important modernist architect Harris Armstrong. The color photograph of the exterior was taken in 1992 by the author prior to its demolition.

The black and white views that follows were part of a series of photographs commissioned by Armstrong following the house's completion.

Within a few years of having constructed their multi-story picturesque high-cost builder home, did they move on to affecting the destruction of an even more significant work of International Style modernism in Saint Louis, the Morton May House by architect Samuel Marx.

With only some exaggeration, the article remarks, "If the Williams' live long enough, they could conceivably demolish every Modernist masterpiece in St. Louis." Provided the support of many of other homeowner-developers, they could very well contribute to such tragic fate.

Although the current credit crunch and economic crisis is hitting real estate hard, it's unclear how these circumstance will effect high-quality modernist works of cultural and aesthetic value. There's a danger that falling property values will only accelerate the process of destruction. Disturbingly, home builders have learned that a "virgin" site is typically more marketable for those seeking to build multi-million dollar McMansions. So the destruction of these works continues apace even in the absense of a buyer.