Jefferson University’s New Center Celebrates—and Studies—Modernism

Whether exploring the landmark-rich streets of Philadelphia, the Bauhaus Building in Dessau, Germany, or the Giuseppe Terragni Archive in Como, Italy, students at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) are about to receive a thoroughly modern education. Opening in April, the Center for the Preservation of Modernism is a key facet of the school’s newly launched master of science program in historic preservation; the new degree program, which will debut next fall, will focus on preservation, restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and sites.

Philadelphia is an appropriate home for the program : As the first UNESCO World Heritage City in the country, its buildings range in era and style from 20th-century modern to 18th-century Georgian. Students can also choose to venture farther, with opportunities to do research at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles and to study preservation abroad in Dessau and Como. The center itself will serve as a research hub and community, with lectures and programming on the movement, as well as provide an archive.

A special purchase led to the university’s new center. Barbara Klinkhammer, executive dean at the Thomas Jefferson University College of Architecture and the Built Environment, explains, “Jefferson’s recent purchase of the Hassrick House, a significant design by Richard Neutra and an exemplar of midcentury modern architecture, strengthened our conviction that this period should be one curricular focus of our graduate program, and an area in which Jefferson can make a significant contribution. Early and midcentury modern architecture is the next preservation frontier as these building stocks age. This period presents unique challenges in terms of condition assessment, material restoration, structural stabilization, and curtain-wall facade retrofitting, while embodying distinctive social, cultural, and historical significance.”

Students may choose one of two tracks for the new degree program: Research and Documentation or Preservation Design. As Suzanne Singletary, director of the historic preservation program, puts it, “These two tracks will appeal to students from a broad spectrum of undergraduate disciplines, such as architectural history, archaeology, and urban planning. The Preservation Design track, in particular, is distinctive to our program and is geared toward the unique role in preservation played by architects and designers.” Additional studies include those that dovetail with students’ intended track within the College of Architecture and the Built Environment’s graduate classes, namely sustainable design, geographic information systems, façade technologies, architectural history, and real estate development.

The program’s faculty includes leaders in the field, among them architectural historians Barbara Klinkhammer, David Breiner, Grace Ong Yan, and Singletary herself; preservation architect Andrew Hart; Dean Klinkhammer, who is also a specialist on Le Corbusier and color; and a number of adjunct faculty, including professionals like Suzanna Barucco, a specialist in adaptive reuse design, materials conservator Lorraine Schnabel, and preservation architect Carl Dress.

The city itself will also serve as a de facto teacher. “Interacting with the City of Philadelphia and its notable landmarks is nothing new to Jefferson students,” Singletary explains. “Our undergraduate architecture students have routinely worked on heritage sites as part of the historic preservation minor, studying and developing design solutions for historic religious properties, house museums, and industrial sites, to name a few. Students in the M.S. in Historic Preservation program will continue to have opportunities to document and develop preservation solutions for individual historic sites, but also will delve deeper into the economic, environmental, and social benefits of preservation at the community level.

The Center for the Preservation of Modernism opens its doors on April 8 for its first event, with a keynote from Theodore Prudon, founding director of nonprofit Docomomo, and guided tours of Jefferson’s Hassrick House.