People in Glass Houses: The Practical and Conceptual Challenges of Public Access in Mid-Century Modernist Residences

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Historic Preservation and Conservation
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Bevk, Alexandra

High Modernist residential architecture of the mid-twentieth century embodied an austere beauty of simplicity and purity of form. Applying strict design theory to material and structure, architects connected man, architecture and nature in a way that enabled a surreal experience, pushing a residential structure beyond a dwelling to a spiritual place. Over time, some of the most famous and iconic pieces of this architecture have shifted ownership and are no longer used as residences. A new demand for public access and visitation has transformed them into museums and public spaces, turning each into a piece of art in its own right. The function has now shifted in part into the public sphere. As ownership shifts, places originally designed as private retreats for their occupants are now under pressure to open to the public for view and exploration. Highly appreciated as works of art, they draw crowds eager to experience the unique and sensational lifestyle they provided. While this transformation gives a second life to buildings that otherwise might be threatened by destruction or unsympathetic ownership, it also presents problems. Issues of practicality (public access), integrity (durability of physical fabric), and theory (conceptual continuity) raise questions about the most appropriate future for Modernist residential architecture.

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A thesis in Historic Preservation Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of Master of Science in Historic Preservation 2008. Advisor: Randall Mason
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