Architecture’s single greatest misconception is the idea that we build in three dimensions, when in fact we build in four. And any architect who deems to neglect that fourth dimension — time — does so at his or her own peril.
The modernists of the 20th century are already infamous for this oversight, to the detriment of their legacies. Many of our most celebrated modernist works — Mies’ Scharoun residence, Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Gropius’ Bauhaus buildings — would be in a sorry state indeed if not for the constant and fastidious curation they now receive.
Even so, they remain most impressive when seen in the handful of historical photographs that first wowed the world 80-odd years ago. It’s these old images, not the pampered works themselves, that remain the most compelling argument for modernism’s perfectionist aesthetic.
Move away from acknowledged masterpieces to the second and third tier of modernist works, however, and the story is different. Here, the high-finish industrial materials beloved by the modernists show the same confounding inability to patinate over time, but without benefit of landmark-caliber maintenance.