This tour encompasses Modernist buildings, mostly churches, scattered around St. Louis County.
After World War 2, architects turned away from traditional styles, drawing new inspiration from pure geometric forms, volumes of space, and the possibilities inherent in new materials. It was a time of possibilities, of optimism about the future, and of fervent artistic creation; it was a movement known as Modernism.
Plunging headlong into uncharted territory, Mid-Century Modern architecture suffered many failures; worse, it was often simplified to the point of banality. It grew to be hated by many; for some it came to represent all that was wrong with contemporary architecture and art. Worse still, as the style of preference during a time of massive urban upheaval, Modernism was often unfairly tied to fundamentally flawed theories of urban planning, with a resulting stigma as an "inhuman" architecture.
But the movement also produced numerous triumphs -- buildings whose beauty and magnificence (or quirky stylishness) perserveres today.
Modernism, as intended by its originators, was not even about a "style", but a method of problem-solving; that approach can be seen in a number of buildings here that are wholey unique creations. Others capture the spirit of their era: a sleek and stylized future, a combination of mass production and craft, a flowering of technology, creativity and possibility.... a movement known today as Mid-Century Modern.
Beginning in the 1940s, Victorian-era architecture began to accumulate numerous derogatory terms: "old-fashioned". "Outdated". "Obsolete". "Outmoded." Handsome, even spectacular buildings were swept away en masse by the wrecking ball. For some 30 years, nobody gave it much thought; then some time in the 1960s, a few people began looking around and realizing what was being lost.
It was this attitude that cost New York City its Pennsylvania Station; the same attitude destroyed innumerable Louis Sullivan works in Chicago. They were priceless treasures which can never be regained or replaced.
Will we make those same mistakes today with the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s? Those buildings -- like the ones shown on this tour -- are beginning to enter the deadly span of age from 40 to 80 years, when a building is too old to be new, and too new to be historic.
It is not too early to begin looking afresh at this generation of architecture and recognizing its value. Already, many Midcentury buildings are being abandoned and destroyed. Prominent examples include:
River Roads Mall
Northland Shopping Center
The Aloe Building
The Coral Court Motel
The Doctors Building
The threat to these buildings is real and growing. The time to start seeing them - and saving them - is now.
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