All photographs by Robert Damora. Click photos to zoom.
When the architectural photographer Robert Damora died last year at the age of 97, we lost another link to modern architecture’s generation of post–World War II image-makers. Like Julius Shulman, Marvin Rand, and Ezra Stoller, he was a dedicated modernist who as a practicing architect worked diligently to frame buildings as their designers intended them to be viewed and experienced.
But Damora was also an activist for modernism, and it is here that he may have left his most important legacy. In the early 1960s, for example, he created and developed a campaign for both consumer and architecture magazines that he called Better Houses at Lower Cost. He meant this program to serve as a model for mass-produced houses using prefabricated components that could be adapted to varying sites and programs, yet avoid the conformity of most commercial housing developments. Damora built six houses for the program, and one for a proposed development on Cape Cod won him Architectural Record’s House of the Year award for 1962.
Perhaps his most influential initiative, however, was Seeds for Architecture, developed for Universal Atlas Cement. According to Damora’s widow Sirkka, United States Steel had acquired the cement company, turning to ad agency BBDO to create a public campaign promoting the creative use of concrete. The agency asked Damora to curate the program, and he selected 21 architects and engineers to work on 14 exploratory projects. Advertorials featuring the projects were published in Time, Fortune, and The Saturday Evening Post between 1956 and 1958. Seeds for Architecture was also published as a feature story in Architectural Forum in the magazine’s section on structural innovation.
Damora’s curatorial vision promoted a remarkably high level of projects in Forum designed by the likes of Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei, John Johansen, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. Among the most original of these designs were a tubular concrete bridge by Paolo Soleri, based on the notion of a split straw, and an airport by Victor Gruen and Edgardo Contini that allowed airplanes directly into a terminal facility to bring them closer to passengers. The popular and professional success of the campaign led to its inclusion in MoMA’s Visionary Architecture exhibition of 1960, and it stands as a model for how creative architecture can be used to sell a vision of the future.