“The recent past falls into limbo – too young to be classed as heritage and too dated to be current and cutting edge. Insufficient time has passed to allow a sense of legacy and value to mature. In a world with an already short attention span, and an increasingly disposable society, it is yesterday’s past that is at greatest risk.” (World Monuments Fund)
All eras have been marked with innovation and development, at least relative to the time, but the Twentieth Century experienced a level of unprecedented change unlike any preceding period.
At least in part, this is due to the great events that shaped the world, but new technologies, inventions and innovations have also pushed architects, designers and builders to consider design and construction in ways that had previously been inconceivable.
The Twentieth Century was also a period of rapidly changing tastes and one generation soon rejected what the preceding generation had embraced.
Perhaps this rejection has led to under-appreciation for much architecture and style, but also society does not seem to be ready to define ‘modern’ architecture as heritage, even if this period has spanned roughly 100 years.
“Many of these buildings have not aged well. The new and innovative construction methods and materials that typify the era challenge traditional conservation approaches and raise new methodological and philosophical issues. Despite increased recognition of modern architecture’s cultural significance, there is a lack of practical conservation knowledge that addresses the many complex challenges. Effectively tackling these issues demands leadership, strategic research, and brokering with industry to develop appropriate repair techniques that translate research into practice and achieve conservation aims. A concerted effort to bring together and distribute existing information as well as identify and fill information gaps is also needed.” (The Getty Conservation Institute)
While for many a 1950’s building does not elicit the same emotional and visceral response as a 1850s building, the more recent building is still part of the long lineage of design and aesthetics that describe time and society.
Modernism is not a new concept, but has been with us for over 100 years. Major architectural statements and styles have defined the Twentieth Century and have shaped new ways of living and relating to the environment.
The concept of heritage is not fixed in time, but it is ever expanding. It will be critical to recognize and accept heritage as an evolving practice, and to recognize the architectural achievements of the Twentieth Century, before it is too late and we no longer have the important markers of our recent cultural heritage.
Challenges facing Post War, Modern or Twentieth Century Heritage
(from Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter)
The Collingwood library opened on the corner of Rupert and Kingsway in July 1951, part of a push to expand the Vancouver Public Library system beyond its seven branches at a time when the city as growing out from the core. Shortly after its opening, the branch is said to have recorded the highest circulation of children’s books of any branch in the Vancouver Public Library system. For many years the Collingwood library was the home of the bookmobile providing a mobile book service to outlying neighbourhoods.
Designed by Vancouver architects Harold Semmens and Douglas Simpson, the striking modern library building was a light and open structure, reflecting contemporary ideas of openness and accessibility. “This was the first example of Modernist architecture in the Vancouver Public Library system,” according to Heritage Vancouver. The design was intended to make library services more accessible and inviting, in contrast to the “closed, intimidating style of some older branches like the Carnegie Library at Hastings and Main. The Semmens and Simpson partnership was an intense but short-lived collaboration that produced some of the finest modernist buildings in Canada. Their designs won the firm the Massey Medal for Architecture more than once. Because of the success of the Collingwood branch, Semmens and Simpson received the commission to design the new main branch of the library at Burrard and Robson Streets in 1953-57.
The modernist 1950s aesthetic of VPL’s Collingwood Branch has largely been lost due to a number of unsympathetic alterations.
The façade has been significantly altered with the application of large blue panels covering the east end of the building and obscuring full-height glazing. The same siding has been used to cover second-floor area (west end); exterior stairs, fencing and a utility door have also been added to this upper area.
Heritage Vancouver added the library to its 2011 Watch List, urging restoration of the façade, preparation of a Statement of Significance, and entry on the Vancouver Heritage Register. These have not been accomplished as of 2018.