“Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space,” Mies van der Rohe famously wrote in 1924, putting forth a case for Modernism. His argument, like many of the era, sought to break with the stodgy past and its artisanal techniques.
While the oft-quoted line couples buildings and culture, later in the same text Mies mandates timeliness over timelessness, suggesting that design is subject to the forces and flows of the current moment. The art of building, he mused, “can only be manifested in living tasks and in the medium of its epoch.”
But what happens when architecture is subject not to its own time but rather to the ravages of time? Materials age and uses obsolesce. Curtain wall gaskets wither. Laminates come unglued. Architectures designed to propel us into the future are thus welded to the past. The strategic upkeep of Modernist buildings is the key concern of two ongoing and sometimes dovetailing programs: the Getty Conservation Institute’s (GCI) Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI) and the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern grant.