Modernists Lose the Battle of Gettysburg

cycloramaOn Saturday March 9, the modernists lost a beloved building by the modern master, Richard Neutra when his Cyclorama building was torn down on the Gettysburg battlefield. It was a typical battle of architecture: modernists versus the public who despise modernism. It was built in 1963 to house the 27 ‘ high, 277′ long 1883 painting depicting Pickett’s Charge which has been relocated to a new visitor’s center a mile away.  It took a fourteen year legal fight for the National Park Service to get rid of the building but in the end they won. The controversy brings up the axiom that what architects love, the public hates. And the public really hated this building. Besides calling it ugly ( as all modernist buildings are called), it rankled Civil War buffs because it stood on Cemetery Ridge exactly where the Union line was located that withstood Pickett’s Charge. Fifty years ago it seems, the Park Service had no problem spoiling (or defiling, I believe) a historic site by a putting a building on it, but thankfully that philosophy has changed. It was a bad choice to obliterate an important site of American history with a building whether it was modernist or not. If Pickett’s Charge had succeeded and the Confederacy had won the pivotal battle and gone on to Harrisburg and Philadelphia or south to Baltimore, American history would be quite different today. With the building gone, the battlefield site will be restored for the 150th anniversary of the battle this summer. Neutra was great and it was a pretty good building but it was in the wrong place.


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This entry was posted in Battle of Gettysburg, Civil War, Demolition of historic buildings, historic preservation, Modernist architecture, National Park Service, Preservation of modern architecture, Richard Neutra and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Modernists Lose the Battle of Gettysburg

  1. Vanessa says:

    Wow that’s tricky. I would have been against building anything on the battlefield in 1963. Gettysburg has not been as preserved as other sites such Antietam, which is annoying considering how important it is in our history! But I would think they’d oppose tearing the modernist building down since at this point it’s also historic. Hmmmmm….

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