Karl Marx School Wins Preservation Prize

John Hill
14. November 2018
After photo of Karl Marx School (All photographs courtesy of WMF)
Before photo of Karl Marx School

The biennial WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize, established in 2008, recognizes architects or designers who have demonstrated innovative solutions to preserve or save threatened modern architecture. The 2018 Prize goes to Karl Marx School, which was designed by French architect André Lurçat and was inaugurated in 1933. Heralded at the time as "the most beautiful school in France," the complex was in danger of being lost come the 1990s due to poor maintenance. It was listed as a French National Historic Monument in 1996 and subsequently underwent seven years of research and three years of physical restoration; the latter also included the construction of a new wing to accommodate additional students.

After photo of Karl Marx School
Before photo of Karl Marx School

Barry Bergdoll, chair of the 2018 jury*, said in a statement:

The Karl Marx School in Villejuif is one of the landmark school designs of the twentieth century. Restoration under the guidance of Agence Christiane Schmuckle-Mollard not only took on the challenges of recovering the interconnected interior and exterior spaces in the context of changing educational practices and standards, but recovered as well the lost color scheme of the building. It resonates today with the idealism and optimism of its original creators, the municipality and the architect through this sensitive and erudite restoration.

The 2018 WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize will be presented during a ceremony at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City on December 4th. The event is open to the public: RSVP to [email protected].

After photo of Karl Marx School
After photo of Karl Marx School

And for the first time in its ten-year history, the WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize has recognized a special mention: Harboe Architects' preservation of Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, just west of Chicago. Completed in 1908 not far from Wright's own house and studio, Unity Temple is considered one of the architect's most important works and one of the greatest pieces of modern architecture in the world.

Although the building underwent restoration in the 1970s and 1990s, decades of deferred maintenance meant the cast-in-place concrete building need a major preservation effort following its centennial. Work, which started on site in 2013, included extensive structural concrete repairs, installation of new roof systems and two large skylights, and the restoration of all interior plaster, paint, wood finishes, art glass windows, and light fixtures.

After photo of Unity Temple
Before photo of Unity Temple

*The 2018 jury included:

  • Barry Bergdoll (Chair), Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
  • Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University
  • Dietrich Neumann, Professor of the History of Modern Architecture and Director, Urban Studies Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Brown University
  • Susan Macdonald, Head, Buildings and Sites, The Getty Conservation Institute
  • Theo Prudon, President, Docomomo US, and Adjunct Professor of Historic Preservation, Columbia University and Pratt Institute
  • Karen Stein, Executive Director of the George Nelson Foundation

After photo of Unity Temple
Before photo of Unity Temple

Past winners of the World Monuments Fun/Knoll Modernism Prize, which was established in 2008, are:

  • 2008: Brenne Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH, headed by Winfriend Brenne and Franz Jaschke, for the restoration of the Bauhaus-desinged ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau, Germany
  • 2010: Bierman Henket Architecten and Wessel de Jonge Architecten for the restoration of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands
  • 2012: The Architectural Consortium for Hizuchi Elementary School in Yawatahama City, Japan
  • 2014: The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library, with the Central City Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg, for the restoration of Viipuri Library in Vyborg, Russia
  • 2016: Molenaar & Co. architecten, Hebly Theunissen architecten, and Michael van Gessel for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Justus van Effen complex in Rotterdam

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