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Getty Conservation Institute New International Initiative Focused on Conserving Modern Architecture

Despite increased recognition of the cultural significance of modern architecture, there is still a dearth of information on how best to conserve it. The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles announced a new international effort, the Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, or CMAI, that intends to add to the effort.

Eames House, also known as Case Study House No. 8, Pacific Palisades. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1949. Photo: Getty Conservation Institute, Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative

“This research based initiative will increase knowledge for the field and develop new tools to assist practitioners to conserve the architecture of the modern era,” said Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute. “Our scientific resources and experience conducting field projects worldwide provide us a unique platform to pursue this agenda and to contribute to the safekeeping of these remarkable buildings.”

Complementing the GCI’s international role in advancing the conservation of modern and contemporary art, this initiative builds on the GCI’s scientific research capacity and practical conservation expertise in modern materials.

“The GCI hopes to be a catalyst for discussion and the advancement of knowledge in this increasingly important area of conservation,” said Susan Macdonald, who oversees Field Projects, including the Modern Architecture effort, at the GCI.

The conservation of modern architecture emerged as a new challenge to the conservation field in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the seminal works of the Modern Movement began to reach fifty years of age, the point at which buildings typically become eligible for heritage protection. The innovative construction methods of this period, which largely abandoned traditional detailing, together with the use of new and sometimes experimental materials, has challenged traditional conservation approaches and techniques, and in the process, raised new conservation issues.

The CMAI will identify key research questions and issues affecting the conservation of modern architecture, and investigate and research those concerns with relevance across a wide range of building types and geographic areas, including technical, methodological, and implementation problems. It also aims to add to the literature on the field as a resource for practitioners tackling these challenges.

The first project of the initiative will be a collaboration with the Eames House in Los Angeles, an iconic landmark of mid-20th century modern architecture built in 1949 by husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames.

The Eames House, with its extensive use of glass, exemplifies the relationship between indoors and outdoors so characteristic of the architecture of this period. This creates challenges for managing the environment for Charles and Ray Eames’ unique collection of art, furniture and objects.

With the Eames House project, The GCI team will undertake investigative work and analysis in order to understand the current condition of the house, its contents and its setting, and assist the foundation in developing a plan for the long-term conservation and care of the house.

“The Eames Foundation looks at preservation of the Eames House as a 250 year and beyond type of process. To have the support of the GCI in deeply and rigorously understanding what that means for the wood, paint and climate control, has already been incredibly valuable and we look forward to the even more extensive cooperation that has been announced today,” said Lucia Dewey Atwood, Director of the 250 Year Project at the Eames Foundation, a Board Member, and a granddaughter of the Eameses.

Supported by the Getty Conservation Institute’s Council, the Eames House Conservation Management Plan prepared in partnership with the Eames Foundation, will serve as a model for the conservation of buildings of the modern era. It will demonstrate the application of an international model used for traditional building types. A key component of the project also will be to disseminate the information learned for use on other similar projects both locally, nationally and internationally.

Kyle Normandin, a trained architect skilled in conservation issues most recently with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. in New York City, joined the Getty Conservation Institute in January to manage the CMAI, overseen by Macdonald.

The initiative dovetails with the strengths of the other programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Research Institute’s rich collections related to modern architecture provides the potential to further explore the relationship between modern art and architecture so characteristic of the era. The Getty’s iconic building, its location in Los Angeles—a laboratory for architecture of this period—and a network of experienced local professionals add to the effort.

As a first step in this new initiative, the GCI has undertaken the compilation of Conserving Twentieth-Century Built Heritage: A Bibliography, an extensive subject bibliography on the conservation of modern architectural materials. The GCI is currently seeking input from professionals working in the field on the bibliography’s content.

To learn more, visit, or subscribe to the GCI’s E-Bulletin by visiting

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