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Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Opens 194X-9/11: American Architects and the City

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presents 194X-9/11: American Architects and the City, an exhibition that examines the work of leading architects in light of the history of urban renewal in the United States. Exhibition open July 1, 2011–January 2, 2012.

The selections trace an arc from the idealism of the World War II years through the subsequent criticisms of the 1960s and ‘70s, to the threshold of today’s post-9/11 period and the debates catalyzed by the rebuilding of Ground Zero. On view from July 1, 2011, through January 2, 2012, in Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries, the exhibition comprises 85 drawings and models drawn from the Museum’s collection by renowned architects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Leon Krier, and Steven Holl, and rediscovered figures such as James Fitzgibbon. It is organized by Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Margot Weller, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

Louis I. Kahn. Traffic Study, project Philadelphia. 1952. Ink, graphite, and cut-and-pasted papers on paper, 24 1/2 x 42 3/4″ (62.2 x 108.6 cm). Image courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

The title comes from a project launched by Architectural Forum magazine in 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II. They commissioned a group of 23 architects, including Mies van der Rohe, Kahn, and Eames, to imagine the future of the American city and design projects for a hypothetical post-war era the magazine labeled “194X.” Published in the May 1943 issue of the magazine, the projects envisioned an optimistic postwar period of growth and prosperity that would begin as soon as hostilities ended. Though none of the architects’ designs were carried out, the exercise helped redefine both urban community life and the relationship between architecture and urban planning.

Over a half century after Architectural Forum’s “New Buildings for 194X” project, the United States is again engaged in global conflicts and—in the wake of 9/11 and the financial downturn—is undergoing a major reconsideration of urban space. This year marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that catalyzed a spirited civic debate over urban and suburban form and ushered in a new era of architectural anticipation and uncertainty, giving rise to a flurry of urban rebuilding projects for New York City, some of which are only now seeing the light of day at Ground Zero.

When World War II ended in 1945, influential projects by leading architects such as Mies van der Rohe, in Chicago, and Kahn, in Philadelphia, responded to new federal urban policies. Among the results were superblocks—large-scaled city blocks that introduced pedestrian circulation, civic and cultural centers around raised plazas, and free-floating apartment complexes—that challenged existing city grids and scales. Among the most symbolically charged building project of the immediate postwar period was the creation of a building in New York City for the newly formed United Nations. The modern design, drawn largely from contributions from Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier, and directed by the American Wallace K. Harrison, attempted to supplant national traditions and prejudices with a universal, progressive design, comprising the two central components of 39-story office building and assembly hall constructed within a large civic square. Early schematic drawings as well as a model of the Assembly Hall will be on view.

The exhibition also presents a selection of works by Mies van der Rohe, including the Illinois Institute of Technology Master Plan (1939-40), a spatial and landscaping plan between the pedestrian campus and the existing city grid upon which the campus was overlaid; the Concert Hall project (1942), a proposal for an unbuilt concert hall where Mies illustrates his idea through a collage on a photograph of a former World War II bomber factory; the Museum for a Small City (1941-43), an unbuilt plan that, as Mies wrote, establishes a museum “as a center for enjoyment, not the interment of art”; and the Convention Hall project (1954), where Mies creates vast, uninterrupted spaces using clear span construction methods. Through these projects, Mies was able to tackle the idea of the city as a landscape, capable of reordering through systematic development and strategy. It is under these auspices that Mies developed and often realized projects that stimulate or even override the existing city grid.

The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 708-9400

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