Announcing the winners of the 2023 Modernism in America Awards
Docomomo US is pleased to announce the thirteen recipients of the 2023 Modernism in America Awards. These projects highlight the best in preservation practice by today’s architects, designers, preservation professionals and advocates. Showcasing a broad range of scale, budgets, and typologies, this year’s awards prove that where there is a will to preserve, there is a way. Many of these projects, easily “tear downs” had they fallen into different hands, became labors of love completed with care and dedication, and we are all the better for it.
Now in its tenth year, the Modernism in America Awards, led by jury chair Barbara Bestor, FAIA, and a distinguished panel of experts, showcases projects that represent the best of modern preservation, documentation, and advocacy work. As in past years, the jury continues to value holistic approaches in all categories
This year saw a welcome uptick in the number of projects that combine the rich cultural heritage of historically underrepresented communities with Modern design. Receiving an Advocacy Award of Excellence, the Ebony Test Kitchen was used for decades by Ebony Magazine food editors. It was originally located within the Johnson Publishing Company Building, designed by pioneering Black architect John Moutousammy. Thanks to Landmarks Illinois and many partners, it has now found a permanent home at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
One thousand miles due south, the Eldorado Ballroom, a Streamline Moderne building that offered live music for Houston’s Black community during the Jim Crow era, has received a full restoration initiated by Project Row Houses. After sitting vacant for decades, the Ballroom has returned as a vibrant community anchor.
Another awardee, the Dogan Gaither Flats, a midcentury motel-turned supportive housing, has a story that touches nearly all areas of Black history and culture. Receiving a Commercial Design Citation of Merit, it was the first Black-owned motel in Knoxville. The Gaither Brothers faced redlining and discrimination – they were refused financing by both white and Black-owned institutions, and later urban renewal caused the original motel to relocate due to a highway project. The motel was featured in the Nationwide Hotel Association Directory and Guide to Travelers, a rival Green Book publication, and hosted a who’s who of famous musicians and civil rights activists.
“Creative design and preservation go hand in hand, as evidenced by this year’s Awardees,” said Docomomo US Executive Director Liz Waytkus. Demolition or insensitive alterations are too often the easy way out. In the case of Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, formerly the Berkeley University Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, community pressure helped delay demolition long enough for a creative vision to emerge. A little imagination and strong partnership were all it took to transform this long vacant Brutalist building into a modernized, seismically sound, and operationally carbon neutral space for scientific innovation. This formula can be replicated for any site that is threatened today, keeping unnecessary waste out of landfills and preserving our Modern heritage for the future.
Speaking on the projects recognized and the impact of the Awards program, Docomomo US Board Member and Awards Committee Chair Meredith Arms Bzdak noted, “This year's Modernism in America Awards celebrate the ongoing journey of Modern preservation. These projects not only reveal the richness of our Modern heritage but also serve as catalysts for fostering creativity, sustainability, and inclusive design in our ever-evolving built environment." Liz Waytkus, Executive Director of Docomomo US, concurred and expressed her enthusiasm for the awarded projects, stating, "These projects are beacons of inspiration, showcasing the transformative power of preserving and reusing Modern sites. I am so proud to be able to honor more projects that celebrate the rich culture and heritage of Black and underrepresented communities.”
The winners will be honored at an Awards Ceremony on November 2nd at the Design Within Reach Third Avenue Showroom in New York City.
Individual tickets and sponsorship opportunities are now available.