Brutalism at IKEA

I’m a preservationist, but I live in a small condo, in a new building in Vermont. This sounds opposite of a what a preservationist would choose, right? Well, sort of. While the building was constructed in 2014, it was constructed on a parking lot in downtown Burlington. I can walk everywhere and choose to use the car as minimally as possible, embracing an urban lifestyle and shopping local when feasible. Because my condo is small, I have come to embrace IKEA design. It’s minimal, modern, streamlined, and perfect for small space living. I can spot an IKEA piece from across a room or from a glimpse at a photograph and know what is worth buying and what isn’t. Anyone with me?

Recently, I visited IKEA New Haven (CT). I’ve blogged about this IKEA before. It’s the one that sits next to the (now IKEA owned) former Pirelli Tire Building, a 1968 building designed by Marcel Breuer in the Brutalist style. IKEA demolished the two-story wing, but the main block remains. Not the best preservation story.

During my recent visit, I peaked in the windows of the building. It’s still empty. However, news reports say that IKEA is considering rehabilitating the building into a hotel. It’s just a rumor, it seems, but it sounds promising, and maybe would serve as (belated) mitigation for the adverse effects to the building. It would make IKEA a destination, for sure. Ha.

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View from the IKEA cafeteria. 

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Reflected in IKEA. 

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Exterior details. 

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Looking up.

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Peeking inside the bottom floor of the Pirelli Tire building.

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Sitting in the IKEA cafeteria, you can gaze upon the Brutalist architecture. 

What do you think? Do you appreciate Brutalism more as time goes on? Do you love IKEA or steer clear? And where do you live? Urban? Suburban? Rural? New? Historic?

Seasonal Buildings: Union Church in New Haven Mills

White, gable-roofed churches with tall steeples are anchors in Vermont’s villages, historically and visually. Small towns often have more than one church, speaking to a time when people attended churches and community meetings in greater numbers. In modern day Vermont, these large buildings remain in the same small villages, whose populations and budgets are fading. As you can see in Abandoned Vermont posts, some are empty, and others are used only seasonally:

Seasonal churches are used in the summer when the building does not need to be heated and lack of electricity, perhaps, is not a hindrance to use. Buildings closed up for the winters are not uncommon in the colder climates; many summer camps and cottages are winterized and sit alone for the winter months.

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Union Church of New Haven Mills, VT, built 1851.

Union Church in New Haven Mills, VT is one of the seasonal churches. For decades it was used once per summer month for a church service, and the occasional special event.

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View through the window. Front entrance to the right.

Union Church was constructed in 1851 as a church and meeting house to accommodate the growing community of New Haven Mills. Local craftsman Eastman Case constructed the building; his study of Asher Benjamin is evident in his design. Union Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a well-preserved example of a wood frame Greek Revival style church with features that including the temple-front gable entrance, corner pilaster, full entablature and pediments, oversized windows, and interior details. The Queen Anne style belfry was added ca. 1880.

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Greek Revival details.

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Interior details: pews, plaster, tin ceiling.

The 20th century brought floods and fire to the community, which led to the demise of the town and its lumber industry. The church sat empty throughout the 1930s, until Burt Rolfe, a Middlebury College student, took on the role of caretaker and preacher. Mr. Rolfe died in World War II. Neighbors, Langdon and Colleen Smith began taking care of the building and holding one monthly summer service for the next 40 years. When the Smiths died, neighbors continued to maintain the building. The church survived because of the neighbors and the community’s efforts to host events, raise money, and preserve the building. (Read the project file here for additional info.)

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Through the window: failing plaster throughout the church.

The Preservation Society of the Union Church of New Haven has continued repairs as part of the long-term preservation project since the 1990s.  In 1997, the Preservation Society applied for and received a grant from the Division for Historic Preservation to stabilize the foundation and paint the building. In 2011, the Preservation Society received another grant to repair the 20/20 double hung windows.

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New roof, 20/20 windows restored. Greek Revival details: pilasters, wide frieze, cornice returns, gable temple front.

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In need of exterior maintenance.

It’s a beautiful building in a striking setting, overlooking the small village of New Haven Mills and set adjacent to the Lampson School. However, buildings are meant to used and if they stand in year-round communities with only seasonal use, there is lost potential. Keeping a building seasonal allows the greatest amount of preservation. No wiring is needed; the building needs to be maintained, but not altered or disturbed. However, in our cold climate, that limits the months. And what a shame to not be able to use this building all year round. Perhaps minimal modernization and addition of systems would be worth it in order to use the building.

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The view as you approach from East Road. To the right is the Lampson School.

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View from the Union Church, looking to the Lampson School and a farmstead.

It’s a good preservation theory discussion. What do you think? If there is use, keep the buildings as-is for the warm seasons or disturb them for year-round use?

Preservation Photos #165

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   The New Haven Congregational Church in New Haven, VT, constructed 1929 after the 1890 structure was destroyed by fire. The architectural style can be described as Ne0-Gothic. It was designed and built by Clinton Smith, a well known architect in Addison County. 

Pirelli Tire Building

What remains of the Pirelli Tire Building, as seen from the Ikea parking lot in New Haven, CT.

Passing through New Haven, CT on I-95, you might notice a large mid-century concrete building – if you’re not blinded by the blue & yellow Ikea building just south of the concrete building. Or perhaps the Ikea advertisement on the building distracts your attention.  I hadn’t paid too much attention on this section of I-95 before, and Ikea may have caught my attention first (usually we’re traveling this way after daylight hours).

Vinny and I recently stopped at the New Haven Ikea on our way back to Vermont and once I had the time to look at this building, I was struck by its beauty. Normally I wouldn’t characterize mid century concrete buildings as beautiful, but there was something about this one. And it’s smack in the middle of an Ikea parking lot, which seemed odd. We figured it must be Ikea offices. It looked modern, like the general aesthetic of Ikea.

Once I started looking, it was not hard to find information about this building. It is the Pirelli Tire/ (originally) Armstrong Rubber Company Building designed by Marcel Breuer in 1968. The building was meant to serve as a gateway to New Haven, since it is located near the I-91/I-95 interchange and to mark the cultural rebirth of the city, hence, the choice for a modern building. Read more about the design of the building on the DOCOMOMO_US record. The building was listed in the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places in 2000, which makes it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The building has been vacant since the 1990s and there have been a few unsuccessful plans to rehabilitate the building.

In 2002, Ikea announced its plan to demolish the Pirelli building in order to create enough parking for its big box store. (It was a huge news story in the preservation world, but that was when I was just learning of preservation so I missed it back then.) Fortunately, they were not successful, at least not completely. The image you see above is only a portion of the Pirelli building; originally the two stories on the bottom extended and those floors served as a warehouse as well as a research and development wing. This image from Architecture Week shows the original building.

Pirelli Tire Building. Image via Architecture Week. Click for source.

Now, the Pirelli building is overshadowed by the Ikea building. The green space is gone, and the two-story wing is demolished, which destroyed its iconic asymmetry (and possibly its architectural integrity). The building is surrounded by a parking lot. Ikea uses the building as a billboard. See the original extent of the building on A Daily Dose of Architecture.

What is the worst part? The building is empty, not even one floor is used for offices or business or anything else. Ikea owns the building. Ikea is probably waiting for the right time to attack and destroy the iconic building (though the company says it is in agreement with the City of New Haven that the building should remain).

What is interesting about this? Ikea and Marcel Breuer, Pirelli building architect, have a lot in common. Ikea is known for its modern design using affordable materials and production and distribution.  Marcel Breuer, is known for mass producing objects with common materials, such as bent steel tube chairs and Ikea. Wouldn’t you think that Ikea would find this to be an ideal location and a wonderful building to showcase the company? Instead, the building is a billboard for Ikea. Why couldn’t Ikea think creatively about a building? A 2003 Preservation Nation post ponders whether saving half the building was a bad decision or a good compromise.

Ikea demolished a significant building (a portion of one, but took integrity with it) for parking spaces – more asphalt.

As always, local zoning and architectural appreciation by city officials could have helped to preserve this building or come up with an actual compromise. Of course, retailers such as Ikea should be culturally responsible, too.

And now I feel guilty for shopping at Ikea.

Preservation Photos #77

A lone barn in New Haven, VT on a cold, gray March morning. It is waiting for spring, like the rest of us in the north country.