A review of:


Edited by Catherine Croft and Susan Macdonald with Gail Ostergren
Conserving Modern Heritage series of the The Getty Conservation Institute

These images, from “Concrete: Case Studies in Conservation Practice,” are from the chapter about concrete restoration at Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille.

Buildings are like human bodies: over time, things happen to them—generally not good things….Even when Modern architects had the best intentions, and relied on what they thought was forward-looking and scientifically derived construction methods, the “bodies” of Modern buildings are showing their age. Some repairs are easier than others: one can re-plaster or re-apply stucco without too much trouble. But some are head-scratchers, as when, during renovation, one finds that the original architect used a product that is no longer available. That happened when renovating a famous mid-century Modern house: a plastic corrugated panel (of a type popular in that era) was not made any more—leading to an expensive custom order. But among all the materials that present themselves for repair, concrete—especially exposed concrete as used in some of Modernism’s most iconic works—is among the most difficult to work with.

We’re all familiar with classic views of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation at Marseille—truly an icon of Modern architecture—but what of the reality when moisture has seeped below the surface and corroded the reinforcing, and parts of the surface have flaked off? Can it be repaired? [And by “repair”, we don’t just mean excising and replacing broken or decayed areas, but rather making the repair blend-in as much as possible, so that it does not look like a carelessly done patch. ]

Moreover, concrete buildings have their own special issues. When moisture reaches reinforcing, it not only leads to spalling (as the rusting steel expands), but also possibly undermines the structure itself—with serious consequences for the building’s integrity. Dirt from the atmosphere and streaks from flowing water adhere to concrete’s subtly fissured surfaces… Well, there’s no need to go on, as the indictments against aging concrete are already part of the pro-and-anti Modern architecture discourse—and particularly when discussing works that have been characterized as “Brutalist” [A term, by-the-way, which we dispute—but that’s another discussion.] Since a significant portion of Paul Rudolph’s oeuvre used exposed concrete—beautifully and artistically, we contend—we are naturally concerned about repair issues and techniques.

“Concrete: Case Studies in Conservation Practice” is a fascinating new book that offers hope and tangibly useful information on the repair of concrete architecture. They do it via case studies—and oh what “cases” they show: some of the most famous buildings of the Modern era!

Among their 14 case studies are:

  • Unité d’habitation by Le Corbusier

  • Brion Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa

  • New York Hall of Science by Harrison and Abramovitz

  • Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Yale, by Eero Saarinen

  • Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pampulha by Oscar Niemeyer

  • “Untitled,” an artwork by Donald Judd

Each had its own problems, and the many authors (34 contributors in all) show the unique issues of the buildings, the solutions proposed and executed—and, finally, the superb, fresh results of their ministrations.

Did we say that the book is beautiful? One doesn’t usually expect technically-oriented studies to be visually attractive but this volume shows it can be done. The writers and editors (with Getty’s book designer for this project, Jeffrey Cohen) have assembled a wealth of good photographs (many in color), intriguing drawings (some vintage, and may newly created), and vivid diagrams—and put them together in a way that is inviting. Each case/chapter’s text clearly describes the various teams’ approaches to their building, their careful investigations, their considerations in choosing which techniques were to be used, and the consequences. Yet, while fully informative, the amount of detail is not overloaded, and can be readily digested by the interested reader. We wish more architecture/construction-science books were so appealingly and richly communicative.

There is nothing as convincing as “before and after.” This book shows a multiplicity of projects—differing in their problems, sizes, scales, locations, and building types. It makes abundantly clear that, however grim and despair-inducing concrete repair problems can be, there are effective, creative, rigorous techniques for resolving them. Bravo to the authors and editors of this fine book—and to the Getty Conservation Institute for bringing it forth. We look forward to future volumes in their Conserving Modern Heritage series.

Valentines for Concrete Lovers




Oh, we know that fans of Paul Rudolph’s work (and the work of other, so-called, “Brutalists”) are often accused of having an excessive fondness for concrete: perhaps it could be called ‘Concrete-o-Phila’

Well, Valentine’s Day is coming up - tomorrow! At the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, our thoughts turn to romance, candy, hearts - and concrete of course…

It turns out that we’re not the only ones. There’s an army of maker-designers out there, rendering the most amazing shapes in concrete - including hearts!

Check-out these creative concrete conjurers:



  • Here’s a lovely ring, made of concrete, which had been offered by Concretely Shop:

Image: Concretely Shop

Image: Concretely Shop

  • On Youtube, Ali Coultas shows how to make lightheartedly colorful concrete hearts:

Image: Ali Coultas

Image: Ali Coultas

  • For the more literal, Anna Szabo has sculpted a series of organ jewelry, including an anatomically-correct (as filtered through cubism) heart:

Image: Anna Szabo

Image: Anna Szabo

  • And, while the choices could go on-and-on, we’ll end with this example—which shows that you can have an affinity for concrete—and a heart of gold:

Image: The Pink Hill Jewelry

Image: The Pink Hill Jewelry

Have a happy Valentine’s Day from the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation and remember when its made of concrete, you’re less likely to wind up with a broken heart!

Up, Up, and Away! It’s a bird, it's a plane - IT’S CONCRETE?


There’s concrete that floats—“aerocrete”—and boats have been built of concrete. Now they’re seriously testing the material for the construction of submarines.

Photo: Wilfried Ellmer

Photo: Wilfried Ellmer

But can it also be used for flying?


For a long time, the phase “like a concrete balloon” has been used to denote an extremely unworkable or unpopular idea. Yet the idea that concrete may have a place in the air has left traces through history. The Ilyushin II-2, the prolifically produced Soviet fighter aircraft of WWII, had many nicknames, and German pilots sometimes called it “Betonflugzeug” (concrete plane)—presumably for its toughness.

But has concrete ever actually been used in aeronautics (other than its widespread use for runways)?

It’s not for lack of trying. David Haberman and Tyler Pojanowski, a couple of clever students from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, built a remotely-controlled model aircraft which successfully flies and lands - and its 18 pounds include 40” wings, tail, and body - made of made of concrete!

Photo: Debra Cleghorn

Photo: Debra Cleghorn

Beyond that, the pickings are slim—and we may have to look in other directions.


There are flying structures which have been made to look like buildings, like this flying cathedral:


And the late publisher & collector Malcom Forbes was famous for his unique set of joyously diverse balloons, one of which was designed to look like one of his own homes, a chateau on France:


And then there are buildings which are not literally flying—but which look like they could. In that category, there are numerous examples to choose from—like this one, which looks like it just landed (but from what planet?): the Buzludzha Monument, built in Bulgaria and opened in 1981:

Photo: Mark Ahsmann via Wikipedia

Photo: Mark Ahsmann via Wikipedia

And there’s Will Alsop’s OCAD college building in Ontario, which looks like it would float off, were it not tethered to the ground:

Credit: Photograph by  Taxiarchos228 , with technical assistance by  Niabot

Credit: Photograph by Taxiarchos228, with technical assistance by Niabot


And that brings us to a last category: buildings made for flight - that is to say, to serve the world of aviation. Buildings in this category would include hangars - a fascinating building type in its own right. Some of the most amazing were made to store and protect large dirigibles and airships - and the structures had to be correspondingly huge, with substantial clear spans.

A famous example is Hangar One at Moffet Field in California - one of he world’s largest freestanding structures:

The USS Macon inside  Hangar One at Moffett Field  on October 15, 1933 — following a transcontinental flight from Lakehurst, New Jersey. Photo:  Moffett Field Historical Society

The USS Macon inside Hangar One at Moffett Field on October 15, 1933 — following a transcontinental flight from Lakehurst, New Jersey. Photo: Moffett Field Historical Society

Much more familiar to us are the airline terminals themselves—after all, most of us are more likely to use and experience them, rather than any other kind of airport building. Some architects have certainly tried to instill a sense of the spirit of aviation in their buildings—and a fine example is by Hellmuth, Yamasaki and Leinweber (a predecessor of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum). Their Lambert-St. Louis airport in St. Louis, 1951-1956:

Photo: Art Grossman

Photo: Art Grossman

And this really brings us to the ultimate expression of flight, via concrete: Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center, at New York’s Kennedy Airport. Saarinen (1910-1961) was, like Paul Rudolph, considered a “formgiver” architect. What they meant by that term can be discerned from what architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote of Saarinen’s work: 

“Buildings like Saarinen's TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport or his Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. … were of interest to architectural cognoscenti and laymen alike. Their swooping forms and sense of adventure excited everyone….”

Rudolph, Saarinen, Johansen, Yamasaki (as in the air terminal noted above), Belluschi, Le Corbusier - in his later phases - and others brought an exciting bravado to the forms they produced.

Even Wright’s Guggenheim Museum could be seen to be part of that set of boldly shaped buildings - and not only did it have a readily identifiable shape, it also had a sense of movement. Ditto for Paul Rudolph’s Temple Street Garage in Boston - an exceptionally fine part of his oeuvre - and one that celebrated automotive movement through the buildings dramatically sculpted curves.

Photo: New Haven Preservation Trust Archives

Photo: New Haven Preservation Trust Archives

But of all the works designed during that period, Saarinen’s TWA must be placed at the top of the pantheon of buildings dedicated to the constituent spirits of aviation: swiftness, arising, loftiness, adventure, transcendence, and grace. While often likened to a giant concrete bird, Saarinen said it was not meant to look or symbolize an avian, but rather to convey the spirit of flight itself. If concrete could ever be said to take flight, it was here!


First image: 

Credit:  Roland Arhelger
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Balthazar Korab Archive at the Library of Congress

Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Balthazar Korab Archive at the Library of Congress

Credit:  pheezy

Credit: pheezy

Eero Saarinen received the commission from TWA in 1955, and the building had a long, fascinating development and seems to have been very successful—all of which is delightfully recorded in a monograph devoted to it. The great architectural photographer, Ezra Stoller, made the canonical photos of it, and they too were collected into a volume. It opened in 1962—the year after the architects sad, sudden, and early passing—buy in the wake of TWA’s financial troubles, operations at the terminal ended in late 2001. 

But that was not the end. Numerous proposals for the buildings use have been offered—like it becoming a conference center or museum—and the building was to be part of Jet Blue’s operations at Kennedy Airport. Yet the building has been largely empty for nearly 2 decades, and nothing ever seemed to fully develop to the point of construction.

Until now.

MCR Development is the 6th largest hotel owner-operator in the US. One project of theirs, of especially architectural interest, is in a mid-1800’s building: they’ve transformed a portion of the Union Theological Seminary, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, into a stylish hotel. And MCR is now moving ahead with the transformation of the TWA terminal into a luxury hotel.

Image: MCR Development

Image: MCR Development

Groundbreaking was in December, 2018, and some time in 2019 they expect that you can come to Saarinen’s masterpiece to stay the night, dine, wed, confer, swim—and enjoy this superb work of Modernism.

Can concrete fly?

Yes, the way that Saarinen did it at Kennedy Airport—and TWA’s great building flies again!

Image: Time Out New York

Image: Time Out New York


When you want to build a Rudolph, but lack the upper body strength. Photo: Mini Materials

When you want to build a Rudolph, but lack the upper body strength. Photo: Mini Materials


 You’ve probably seen the growing number of Lego kits devoted to great architecture: sets that allow you build distinguished buildings such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, his Fallingwater Residence, London’s Buckingham Palace, Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate, and even Mies’ Farnworth House!  [Hint: These special sets, in Lego’s “Architecture” series, often sell out - so if you’re a design-oriented Lego-phile, get them while you can!]

Fallingwater in Lego. Image: Amazon

Fallingwater in Lego. Image: Amazon

One has to admit that it must have been a challenge to translate some of these buildings into such sets: not all of these buildings’ geometries readily lend themselves to the modules of Lego’s system. Even so, we commend all attempts to encourage more audiences to appreciate architecture—and especially salute Lego’s efforts.

But hey, Lego! - Why don’t you take on a building that would wonderfully translate into an impressive Lego structure:  Paul Rudolph’s most famous design, the Yale Art & Architecture Building (now redidicated as Rudolph Hall).

Now that would make an exceptional Lego set!

Anybody want to start a petition?

Imagine this - in Lego! Photo:  Gunnar Klack  from Wikipedia

Imagine this - in Lego! Photo: Gunnar Klack from Wikipedia

Meanwhile:  What’s the table-top builder to do?


 There is an answer!

 For those of you who want to build at home - or rather, in your home, right on your kitchen table - there are sets of diminuitive construction materials that will allow you to get started.

For example:

  • There are miniature concrete blocks, made of real concrete, and real miniature bricks—which can be laid with minute amounts of mortar.

  • There are scale sets of miniature wood 2x4’s, 2x6’s, and plywood—all ready for your handy hands to assemble!

  • There are even mini palettes, to help you transport these materials across your table-top construction site! [And it’s been suggested that they make good drink-coasters too.]

Take a look at the full range of materials and accessories that Mini Materials offers. We’re sure you’ll be inspired to get building!


The only problem:  

There are no ribbed concrete blocks—like the kind that Rudolph created & used for many of his projects. 

Anybody want to start another petition?


Wolf Vostell, Concrete Traffic, 1970. Campus Art Collection, The University of Chicago. Photo by Michael Tropea. Art © The Wolf Vostell Estate.

Wolf Vostell, Concrete Traffic, 1970. Campus Art Collection, The University of Chicago. Photo by Michael Tropea. Art © The Wolf Vostell Estate.

Wolf Vostell (1932-1998) might not be a readily-recognized name today, but - primarily from the 60’s -to- the 80’s - he was known as one of the world’s most creatively provocative artists. He often made stimulating & challenging visual statements by incorporating the products of industrial civilization - cars, motorcycles, planes, and [especially] televisions - into his work, and he’s reputedly the first artist in history to integrate a television set into a work of art.

Even if less known today, Vostell might be familiar to the generation of architects educated in the 1970’s, as he was co-author of the 1971 book Fantastic Architecture - a wonder-filled little compendium of artist-generated projects with architectonic flavor.

The simple-minded think that Brutalism is just about concrete - but we know that’s not even close to accurate. Even so, it is often-enough identified with concrete - and that’s where the intersection with Vostell comes in. The man had an intense relationship with both cars and concrete—and in a number of his works, he encased whole automobiles in the material.

One such example is his 1970 artwork, “Concrete Traffic”, now located in a garage in Chicago:  it is a 1957 Cadillac, to be precise, which is entombed in 15 cubic yards of gray loveliness!

It’s an extraordinary sight - Brutalism that looks like it’s about to speed off! - and additional views (and more) can be seen here.

A rear view of Vostell’s concrete car. Photo by Michael Tropea.

A rear view of Vostell’s concrete car. Photo by Michael Tropea.