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Looking beyond the Icons

Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism
Richard Longstreth

BUY Cloth · 288 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813936437 · $65.00 · Apr 2015
BUY Paper · 288 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813936444 · $35.00 · Aug 2016

Antoinette Forrester Downing Award, Society of Architectural Historians (2015)

Renowned for his extensive work in architectural history and historic preservation as an educator, scholar, activist, and public lecturer, Richard Longstreth is one of the most important architectural preservationists of the recent past. Looking beyond the Icons offers a generous and diverse selection of his writings over the past twenty-five years. The author explores a variety of topics related to midcentury (ca. 1945–70) preservation efforts, including practical, intellectual, and psychological dilemmas associated with preserving the recent past, preservation-related deficiencies in the urban planning process, and preservation of specific types of buildings. This collection offers a new understanding of the richness and variety of mid-twentieth-century U.S. architecture, landscape, and urbanism, and provides a detailed analysis of both the imperatives for and the challenges involved in preserving this legacy.


Richard Longstreth is one of the most respected architectural historians working today. He is best known as an expert on America’s commercial architecture and roadside vernacular, but, as this collection of essays demonstrates, his knowledge of the twentieth-century built environment is virtually encyclopedic. This is a thought-provoking volume that prompts one to rethink long-held assumptions about modernism—its failures and achievements as well as why it is worth preserving, no matter how ungainly its appearance or how ruthlessly it is perceived to have scarred the surrounding landscape.

Robert Wojtowicz, Old Dominion University, author of Lewis Mumford and American Modernism: Eutopian Theories for Architecture and Urban Planning

These old and new essays by eminent historian and preservationist Richard Longstreth are united by a common cause: their passionate advocacy for preserving our built heritage since the mid-twentieth century—perhaps the least appreciated period in American architecture. The kind of exemplary, in-depth historical analyses that Longstreth presents here should be part of any preservation review. Looking beyond the Icons is an important, thoughtful, and eye-opening book.

Dietrich C. Neumann, Brown University

Longstreth's essays are thought provoking and offer a real-time history of an increasingly important aspect of the historic preservation movement.


In their clarity, rigor, and broad reach, the essays in Looking beyond the Icons confirm the wisdom Longstreth has gained through his distinguished career in preservation, landscape studies, and architectural history.

Buildings and Landscapes

Longstreth offers a master class in looking at the ordinary environment. He hopes that when we know it, we'll decide to keep it.

Winterthur Portfolio

About the Author(s): 

Richard Longstreth is Professor of American Studies and Director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at George Washington University. He is currently president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and is the author, most recently, of The American Department Store Transformed, 1920–1960 and the editor of Frank Lloyd Wright: Preservation, Design, and Adding to Iconic Buildings (Virginia).

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