Architecture of the recent past: Why care?

Posted in: Cultural Resources

Pann’s Diner in Los Angeles, CA
Pann’s Diner in Los Angeles, CA

Buildings constructed after 1945 are everywhere. So many seem to look alike and they often do not feel especially important, especially if you remember them being built. Which begs the question: If post-World War II architecture is so common, why should its preservation matter?

The short answer: historic preservation regulations may require it. Buildings from the recent past must be considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and state and local registries. The 50-year guideline of the NRHP covers buildings constructed through 1967, soon to be 1968.

The long (and better) answer: this is a period marked by rapid growth, social change and new technologies. And architectural historians need consensus on what is truly important from this period.

Mid-Century Modernist styles are increasingly being regarded as important. We see these styles being popularized in Hollywood, such as the set of the cable TV series Mad Men. This exposure leads to a greater appreciation of architecture of the period.

Rod’s Grill, interior featured in Mad Men
Rod’s Grill, interior featured in Mad Men

But what about the more ubiquitous, common buildings of the period? At Mead & Hunt, we are always looking at the recent past. It’s what we do.

Providing answers to questions about architecture from this period requires a firm understanding of the historic context. Sounds simple, right? Researching social trends, development patterns, transitions in design, construction methods, use of new materials, innovative technologies, etc. can be quite daunting.

Fortunately, there are helpful resources to start with. For example, check out A Model for Identifying and Evaluating the Historic Significance of Post–World War II Housing that addresses residential architecture.  There are also case studies of citywide studies, such in Detroit and current efforts by Sacramento address post-war architecture.

Stay tuned for more blog posts as we address the question, “Why do we care?” about the recent past.

Liz Boyer

About the Author

Liz Boyer specializes in historic and archival research, reconnaissance-level surveys and evaluation of National Register eligibility. Her experience includes Section 106, Section 4(f), HAER documentation, and NEPA compliance. She lives one block off Route 66 and states that she loves “hands-on history and finding new ways to experience a historic place.”

Read more posts by Liz Boyer

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