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In May, I had the great pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on historic resources of the “recent-recent past” at the California Preservation Foundation Conference in San Diego. The phrase “recent-recent past” was meant to distinguish between those resources about to be eligible for the National Register’s 50-year threshold to be listed, and those from the 1980s forward, which are increasingly becoming part of the dialogue.

California is a leader in preservation practices for 20th-century buildings. As a result, forward-thinking city planning departments are beginning to think about architecture’s cultural contexts from the late 20th century. The recent adoption of the LGBT context for the City of Los Angeles’ SurveyLA project is just one example of this trend.

Co-panelist Adrian Scott Fine, Advocacy Director for the LA Conservancy, provided a compelling presentation on the importance of Latino heritage and the identification of resources that reflect that specific architectural, cultural, social, and political history.

Katie Horak, Senior Associate at Architectural Resources Group (ARG), shared the current plight of Mariners’ Village (Peter Kamnitzer, AIA, 1972), a 23-acre multi-family residential development in the unincorporated area of Marina Del Rey. The complex’s shed-style modern design of wood shakes features a central view tower and lush landscape with ponds. Modernization plans to add more retail and density don’t seem to jibe with the site’s history.

The Mariners’ Village scenario highlights how ill prepared many architectural historians are for understanding the relative importance of architecture from this era. Is it good? Is it exceptional? Is it important? How do architecture and planning balance one another in 1970s-era development? What are the very best examples of this type of development, and why do those rise to the top of the heap?

Over the decades, art institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art and LACMA, have curated shows from “The International Style” to “100 Years of Architecture” to help us place our built world in context. A survey of the recent exhibitions by these institutions suggests museums have abandoned efforts to connect the dots, in favor of monograph exhibitions that focus on the work of a singular architect. Would it not be more interesting to understand Southern California’s role in the rise of Deconstructivism, instead of a singular focus on Frank Gehry, FAIA? While there is no denying the importance of work of the master architect, understanding the work of other deconstructivists is important as well, and set Gehry’s work in greater context.

SAH/SCC has an opportunity to play an important role in educating people about our recent-recent past. Soon, we are proud to present a lecture by Coy Howard—designer of one of the few seminal deconstructivist houses. His perspective will help us all as we attempt to write the ongoing history of Southern California architecture.

With that in mind, I challenge you all to broaden your interests. Embrace the recent past—even if you lived it the first time around. SAH/SCC welcomes your suggestions for programs that take us beyond the norm. Let’s explore together.

Sian Winship

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