Docomomo US has announced the 13 winners of its 2018 Modernism in America Awards. Now in its fifth year, the program honors exemplary work in the preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation of modern architecture. For the first time in the awards program’s history, a film—Starship Chicago: A Film by Nathan Eddy—earned recognition, alongside more traditional building refurbishments that yielded a total of seven recipients of design awards of excellence, five citations of merit, and a special award of restoration excellence.
Starship Chicago is a 16-minute short film that examines Helmut Jahn’s 1985 James R. Thompson Center in Chicago through interviews with Jahn and other architects and critics. The outcome of the Thompson Center—whose occasional nickname of “the Starship” gives the film its title—remains unclear: In April, Chicago-based preservation group Landmarks Illinois included the building on its endangered list while simultaneously releasing a proposal that adds a tower to the existing building. Docomomo US board members praised Starship Chicago for calling attention to the Thompson Center’s plight while there is still time to save it: “When most preservation efforts are reactionary, Nathan Eddy has taken a unique and proactive approach and sparked much needed conversation and action before a building faces demolition.”
Eero Saarinen and Harley Earl’s General Motors Design Dome & Auditorium in Detroit received a design award of excellence for its restoration at the hands of SmithGroupJJR, which allowed the client to retain the structure’s purpose while updating it with current technology; a juror commented: “It is noteworthy and commendable that General Motors was willing to invest and upgrade the building for its original use to keep up with the company’s transformations over the intervening decades.” Another of Saarinen’s projects, University of Pennsylvania's Hill College House in Philadelphia, was also honored for a restoration at the hands of Mills + Schnoering Architects that brought the residential building to 21st century (and LEED Gold certified) standards.
An exhibition 1950s development in Pittsburgh won this year’s documentation award of excellence. “Imagining the Modern: The Architecture and Urbanism of Postwar Pittsburgh,” was initiated by Chris Grimley, Rami el Samahy, and Michael Kubo, the latter of whom gave Docomomo DC’s 2017 Tour Day lecture on Rediscovering Brutalism. The team’s research and exhibition will be collected into a forthcoming book in 2019.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., received the special award of restoration excellence for the care and attention Harboe Architects lavished on its restoration. “This is a comprehensive restoration of one of the canonical and pioneering works of American modern architecture,” juror Eric Keune said in a release. “It allows future generations to not only use, but learn from, and see this building as it was originally designed by Wright.”
This year’s design and survey juries were led by Aaron Betsky, who is president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, and included Meredith Arms Bzdak, who serves on the board of directors at Docomomo US and is a partner at Mills + Schnoering Architects; Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University; Eric Keune, who is a design director at SOM’s Chicago office; Theodore Prudon, who is the current Docomomo US president and practices architecture in New York; and Susan M. Rademacher, the Pittsburgh Parks Conserancy’s Park Curator. The Docomomo US board of directors awarded the Advocacy prize.
The full list of winners can be found at Docomomo US.