After reading "Defining merit in historic preservation" (Editorial, Jan. 11), regarding saving modern-era buildings, and specifically the proposed demolition of the former Knutson Co. office building at 21 N. Washington Av. in Minneapolis, I'm compelled to offer some thoughts on preserving even buildings we may not like.
We often look at buildings that are to be demolished and think, "What's so special about that building that we should save it?" That is an appropriate question. Progress often requires removal of existing structures to build something new. But the answer ought not be determined by whether we "like" the building in question.
Assessing the historic value of a structure (building, site, landscape or object) is not a Facebook exercise — selection by liking.
Deciding what to value and save should not be a matter of taste but rather a collection of considerations that transcend transient tastes. History has shown today's trash becomes tomorrow's treasures.
As to buildings — popular opinion once disliked Victorian-style houses, which were later embraced by the youth culture and are now accepted as beautiful historic treasures.
It once would have been hard to imagine our cities' warehouses becoming highly valued housing — much less the extent to which new construction mimics the style of what once was seen as the old rough, dirty warehouse.
Modern is the current unloved style. Yet it is an integral part of America's postwar history. The style was born of a desire to espouse a spirit of social and technological progress. It was about social democracy, achieving freedom and independence through technology and innovation.
The structures were constructed of new and experimental materials that drove American industry to develop and upgrade and help move the country into a new future. New products and structural innovations freed us from thick masonry walls and small windows, allowing us to embrace nature with expansive views and natural light.
It was an age that brought television, computers, microprocessors, e-mail, photocopiers, mobile phones, ATMs, the Apollo Project and the Viking 2 Mars landing. It was an age of social change including pop art and music, the civil rights movement, the "Pill," the end of the Vietnam War. The federal government began to take an active role in public housing, transportation programs and urban renewal. And we celebrated America's bicentennial. It was the longest continual period of growth in our nation's history.
Perhaps these modern-era structures have some social and even some architectural merit — we have evaluation metrics in place to assess that and reach conclusions. But these structures also have embodied energy, and a reused building is the most sustainable building. Rarely is an old well-built structure replaced with a better built structure — often it is just "newer." Demolition is a messy process that disrupts the daily life of a city and removes, piece by piece, our social continuity.
Acknowledging that many structures of the modern-era were constructed of experimental materials and single pane glazing — built when crude oil was $2.77 a barrel and by the 1980s had shot up to $119.83 a barrel. These buildings were not well-suited to address the energy crisis of that day. There were changes to them to meet new demands and this has impacted their integrity, but not their significance and role in our country's great development.
The intent was to change our lives through technology and innovation — that happened.
Across the world young people are, once again, embracing that which the establishment views as old and worth forgetting. They are rushing in to save those modernist structures and reclaim them as their own. They see them as representative of a "can-do spirit."
It's something that should never go out of style — it should be celebrated and appreciated.
Michael Bjornberg, of Minneapolis, is an architect.