President’s Column April 2024: Confronting Challenges and Making Memories at the National Symposium


Katie Horak


Docomomo US Board President


U.S. Board, national symposium, President's Column
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Here we are already in mid-April, a little more than a month away from our National Symposium in Miami. Hopefully you have already registered and are planning to join us there!

The Symposium in Miami represents a return to Florida for us; we held our first official National Symposium in Sarasota in 2013. Before then, Docomomo US had a long history of face-to-face convenings of members and leadership in cities across the US, understanding the value of getting together in person to share ideas, celebrate and promote local modern traditions, and form new friendships.

Some of my favorite memories are from various Docomomo symposia over the years: watching our tour guide arrive at Detroit’s GM headquarters in a 1950s red Corvette to the sound of a live brass band (Detroit 2016); sitting in one of America’s most photographed sunken living rooms at Saarinen’s Miller House in Columbus, Indiana (Columbus 2018); and eating donuts in front of Marcel Breuer’s St. John’s Abbey while the church bells rang (Minneapolis 2015). Maybe these are some of your favorite memories, too.

Our Symposium offers not only the chance to experience Modern design traditions unique to a particular place, but also the rare opportunity to engage in conversations with those who may have different viewpoints than our own but with whom we share a common love of Modernism. I’m thinking of the panel discussion about the Philadelphia Police Administration Building, or Roundhouse (Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham, 1962), during our 2022 Symposium closing keynote in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Beth Sholom Synagogue. The Roundhouse is an important example of Brutalist design that some say should be preserved and given new life, while others maintain its presence is a painful reminder of the history of police brutality associated with the site. This discussion made clear that a building can be many things to many people, and we would do better to include a wide variety of stories and voices when considering our preservation campaigns.

I anticipate the discussions we have in Miami will be equally compelling. Our diverse lineup of speakers includes opening keynote speaker Rosa Lowinger, Cuban American art conservator and part-time Miami resident; closing keynote speaker Uta Pottgiesser, Docomomo International Chair and Professor of Heritage & Technology at TU Delft, the Netherlands; and a distinguished group of colleagues who will lead a memorial reflecting on the legacy of Jean-Louis Cohen, whose loss continues to be deeply felt by our community.

In many ways, Miami is the perfect backdrop for conversations about the most pressing issues impacting preservation and the built environment today: resilience in the face of climate change and sea level rise, housing attainability, and documenting sites of underrepresented history are just some examples. We would be remiss if we sidestepped these challenging conversations; they are important companions to the celebrations of Modernism we enjoy at our annual Symposia. As an organization, we are reminded of the vision statement that serves as our north star: “A world where people value Modern heritage and use it to shape vibrant communities.” Community is a critical, operative part of our vision.

Incredible beauty awaits us in Miami, and more memories to be made. I hope you will be there with us – participating in the great Docomomo US tradition of sharing ideas, celebrating Modernism, and creating new friendships.


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