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The movement to preserve modern architecture can be a hard sell, especially when the structures are geometric abstractions and the materials colorless concrete.
But modernist architecture has a vastly underappreciated weapon in the service of making it more appealing to the public: the modern landscape. Like Ginger Rogers to Fred Astaire, the modern landscape uses many of the same moves—a penchant for flat planes and highly orchestrated arrays, for instance—but is often far easier on the eye and a lot more seductive.
From the subtropical forest sprouting lushly inside the Ford Foundation to the serene Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art and a handful of vest pocket parks, those mini-oases in Midtown, Manhattan’s relentless street grid is relieved by numerous mini-modern landscapes.
On the West Coast, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, once described as monumental stacks of tissue boxes, gets pumped full of organic life thanks to artist Robert Irwin’s cascading man-made stream. It is crisscrossed with bridges and descends to a still pool surrounded by an azalea-maze island, the heart of the entire complex. Thanks in part to urban renewal trends of the 1960s and 1970s, cities nationwide are dotted with elaborate fountains in plazas, such as the one designed in 1978 by Isamu Noguchi and Walter Budd for the Hart Plaza in Detroit. […]