Montgomery’s ‘Mad Men’ modern buildings — are they worth protecting?
By Katherine Shaver, Published: February 28
Even with its glistening emerald-green glass, the boxy 1960s-era Zalco Building in downtown Silver Spring is hardly noticed by many passersby, let alone thought of as a historic structure.
- a shining example of International style. It’s time, they say, for it and other “mid-century modern” buildings and homes — those with sleek, boxy designs from the 1950s and 1960s — to be considered for historic preservation.
- Popular interest in mid-century architecture and interior design has surged in the past few years with the success of the “Mad Men” TV series. But architectural preservationists began paying closer attention over the past decade as more modernist buildings passed the 50-year mark, traditionally the minimum age for consideration as historic.
- some people consider modernist buildings too young — and, in some cases, too plain or ugly — to warrant protection. It’s not about age or looks. It’s about preserving critical pieces of architectural history from the post-World War II population and building boom that transformed suburbs such as Montgomery from rural bedroom communities into dense subdivisions and commercial districts.
- The buildings generally lack classical details such as columns and ornamentation, and often have construction materials — concrete, glass panels, steel frames — embedded in the design. Mid-century modern houses typically have open spaces, a casual feel and extra-large windows to mesh living spaces with nature.
- Planners will focus on those designed by noteworthy architects, those who have won major architectural awards and designs that best exemplify modernism.
- Montgomery appears to be at the forefront of trying to fully document mid-century modern architecture. The District’s historic preservation office published a sample of significant mid-century modern buildings in 2008, but no citywide analysis has been done, said Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League.
- mid-century houses appeal to people looking for a more casual, open feel, often at more moderate prices.
- people soon will appreciate the historical significance of mid-century modern like they now cherish the Victorian homes and art deco buildings once considered outdated and ugly.