Report from the (Un)Loved Modern Conference



Sydney, Australia:  7-10 July 2009


The (Un)Loved Modern conference on the conservation of 20th century heritage was held at the Sydney Masonic Centre, in Sydney, Australia between 7-10 July 2009.  This conference was organized by key international organizations engaged in the conservation of 20th century heritage including Australia ICOMOS, DOCOMOMO Australia, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Twentieth Century Heritage, APT Australian Chapter, the Australian Institute of Architects and the International Union of Architects.  

The conference brought together approximately 230 professionals from twelve countries.  In addition to the keynote speakers, conference attendees included Gustavo Araoz, President of ICOMOS; Maristella Casciato, Chair of DOCOMOMO International; and Louise Cox, President of the International Union of Architects.


The conference combined two and a half days of papers with an afternoon of field sessions.  Each day commenced with two keynote lectures, followed by three parallel streams of papers grouped in the following themes:

  • (Un)Loved Modern
  • Re-engaging with Original Designers
  • The Single House under Threat
  • Managing 20thC Obsolescence
  • Re-thinking Colonial Heritage
  • War in the Pacific
  • Technical Challenges

Full details of the program, papers and authors are available from the conference website,


The keynote presentations commenced with a survey of the state of 20thC built heritage conservation in Australia by Dr Philip Goad, Professor of Architecture at the University of Melbourne.  He postulated that there are four fundamental difficulties in considering the conservation of 20th Century buildings: the difficult type, the difficult idiom, the difficult comparison and the difficult house.

The architect responsible for the Sydney Opera House masterplan, Richard Johnson, a principal of Johnson Pilton Walker, spoke about the challenges involved with this work, and in particular, the process of re-engaging Jorn Utzon.  His presentation was followed by a round table session involving key stake-holders in the management of the Opera House.

On day 2, Professor Leo Schmidt from the Brandenburg University of Technology at Cottbus gave a graphic demonstration of current trends in Germany involving the replication of traditional building forms at the expense of conserving modern constructions.  He challenged the audience to consider the difficulties in sharing their belief about the significance of modern architecture with the broader community.

Dr John Schofield, Head of Military Programmes with English Heritage, presented an alternative (archaeological) perspective on what constitutes modern heritage, and highlighted the importance of observing and recording what exists before it is lost because we probably don’t yet fully understand its significance.

The final day started with Dr Theo Prudon, of Prudon & Partners, and President of DOCOMOMO/US, whose presentation entitled “Housing Redux: the (Un)Loved and the (Un)Learned” explored the conflicting issues arising from efforts to conserve social housing constructed during the modern era.

Sydney’s own Susan Macdonald, now Head of Field Projects at the Getty Conservation Institute, talked about the materiality and monumentality of modernism, and concluded her presentation with 14 key points requiring consideration if 20th Century heritage is to be adequately recognized and protected.


At the concluding session of the conference on 10 July 2009, the participants identified five key issues or actions needed to advance the conservation of 20th century heritage:

1.    Expand and promote community appreciation of 20th Century heritage 

Expand and promote the scope of current programs for the identification and protection of 20th century heritage places to recognize the era’s richness and diversity beyond the architectural icons, and places of the Modern Movement.

2.      Record the legacy of the recent past

Recognize the accessibility of the recent past and initiate programs and actions to record its legacy using a variety of means to capture the living memory of the recent past.  Include records of personal experiences of places by communities and individuals.

3.      Engage with the original designers/creators

Record the direct experiences of the creators of the heritage of the recent past and use this information in identification and listing work. Capture the original architects’, engineers’, designers’ and commissioners’ ideas on significance and maintenance of the place while possible, and the creators’ thoughts on crucial issues for conservation which can be included, albeit contextualized, in any future change.

4.      Build support for and knowledge about 20th century heritage as part of protection and conservation programs

Recognize the need for identification and listing programs to move beyond existing procedures and include community promotion and awareness raising, engagement and educational/communication programs to build understanding about, and support for, 20th century heritage.

5.      Meet technical challenges through advancing practice & sharing information

Expand the repertoire of tools and technologies to meet the technical challenges for conserving 20th century heritage through sharing research, practice and publication, including developing methods to assess issues relating to cultural sustainability.

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