Distilling Architecture 1 - Preliminary Research

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Distilling Architecture

“Every conception that a man can find is in the stone itself, already there concealed in excess, but will still require a hand to free it that obeys the mind.� Michelangelo (1475-1564)

John Schneijderberg 0580821



As the final part in the masters phase of the architecture study program at the faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Technology Eindhoven, a research and design assignment will be executed. The graduation project will go through the different predetermined stages, demonstrating the personal competences in the fields of scientific research and philosophical reasoning as well as architectural conceptual design and technical proficiency. This first official booklet presents the ‘ouverture’ to what can be expected to follow, in the stadia to come later on in the process. It is at the same time a condensed summary of what has been done during the preliminary orientation in the various fields and the findings that resulted from this. Numerous essay-like chapters discuss a wide spectrum of topics but remain connected to one another in that they deal with the old, tradition and identity and how these central themes relate to architecture. The final two chapters reveal how the various subjects have led to the eventual chosen casus and how they are interrelated. They contain fundamentals for the following steps of the project.








On Memory & Identity


Historical frame Collective memory & identity Personal memory & identity Architectural Identity

P009 P011 P017 P023

On Nostalgia


Cryptomnesia Pastiche

P027 P029

On Preservation


Global awareness Cronocaos

P035 P037

On Transformation


Adapt to change Ruin or Restore?

P043 P045


Index On Identity & Decay


Human decay Decay of buildings Ruins Traces of use Wabi-Sabi

P061 P066 P071 P077 P081



Bunker Cultural significance Personal versus Collective memory Function Future Approach Precedents

P089 P091 P093 P096 P097 P098 P101

On the Sublime


Defining Sublimity Architectural meaning The Sublime in buildings

P115 P117 P123



Photographic acknowledgements





The preliminary orientation basically started out as an exploration of the possibilities that arise when considering the transformation of obsolete structures which appear unusable beyond their intended function. It aims to transcends the more common conversions of abandoned buildings like old schools and warehouses into luxury apartments or fashionable offices. The recent architectural practice shows a lot of this latter category; mostly aiming at superfluous restyling, the refurbishing interventions often destroy any traces of a building’s history, and in some cases even its dignity. It is by no means a given that these projects lack aesthetic qualities, on the contrary, but they will never measure up to the examples that deal with a building’s history and identity more thoroughly and appropriately. Properly incorporating the past into a new design that foresees a continuity for the future often demands a bigger commitment and better trained skills1. Quite soon after looking into this subject, closely related topics (resulting from the personal affection for decay in forsaken buildings) were added to the field of investigation. This lead to an increment of topics which quickly fueled the holistic research. The widening orientation, into numerous aspects that surrounded the initial idea, threatened to overshadow the focal point of the project. However, after spending time exploring the different facets of the topic it ultimately became more and more clear what the desired direction of the research was going to be. The effort that was put into studying the various themes, deriving conclusions and developing theories, was a vital part in the search for the right subject for the following research. Furthermore, all the knowledge gained has laid a foundation for the work to come, not just this process but for the entire future to come. 1

Johannes Cramer, Architecture in existing fabric, (Basel 1997) pp. 10


The eventual topic that was chosen in the preliminary phase was that of the sublime; a theme of irrefutable worth for the body of architecture, but often neglected in modern-day practice. Mostly related to in poems, paintings and philosophy there seems to be great potential in consciously exploring this field. In retrospect, out of all the subjects I came across during the initial research, the topic of the sublime matches the essence of the initial fascination surprisingly well. The structure of this booklet is laid out corresponding to the structure of the preliminary research. It can be seen as a collection of short essays on the various topics.2 Ranging from philosophy to built structures, and historic examples to future perspectives. The topics have been divided and classified into certain central theme as much as possible but since the topics are often quite heavily interwoven, one may still find certain topics dispersed over various chapters. Though it may seem arbitrary, I am convinced that this way of browsing through the different interrelated subjects is a striking way for dealing with the problem of laying the right focus. By constantly questioning oneself what is important to look for, determining recurring themes, and having the confidence to rely on intuition and personal affection, makes that the scope for the project eventually arose automatically from its ambitions. Starting off with, one might call more general themes, the booklet gradually starts narrowing in on specific topics in subsequent chapters until in the penultimate chapter all topics cumulate in a consideration that outlines their relevance to this project. The eventual research question took shape during the evolution -and as a result- of this research and is posed in the chapter Diogenes in the chapter of approach. It is in that part of the booklet that the further scope of the subsequent phase is set. 2

This report has a similar format as the pleasant to read Thinking architecture by Peter Zumthor



On Memory and Identity Popular philosophies argue that buildings tell us who we are, where we are and where we come from; they appear to be one of the most veracious demonstrations of cultures all over the world. Finding their origins centuries if not millennia ago, building traditions that evolved over numerous decades, appear the be a proper bearer of local identity. But architecture has a great impact as well, when it concerns the smaller, personal scale of an individual. Historical frame The fact that unique building traditions have been passed on from generation to generation had as an effect that their essence stayed the same for thousands of years without many progression. Crafts and techniques were passed on from father to son, something which has for ever been of great importance to mankind, as it allowed them to construct and maintain human civilization. These sort of customs is what we still cherish in, for example, indigenous tribes and populations that deny to lay down their traditions till this very day and strongly hold on to their way of life. “I believe architecture is a strong way a community identifies itself. Other countries use their buildings for hundreds of years, they seem to care more for their history. Simple preservation techniques could have kept these buildings viable, but now most are too far gone to renovate or too expensive to tear down. …I believe, if preserved, several of these buildings could still play a key role in Gary’s revitalization.”3


A comment by photographer David Tribby after capturing the decay of the abandoned city of Gary, Indiana


The ‘Paris Match’; attaining a new identity through competition


In our ever more rapidly globalizing society we nowadays seem to sometimes envy such cultural determination. Because in the, what we nowadays call ‘developed nations’, whose identities seem to become more similar by the year4, we also used to have our own strong traditions which distinguished us from other cultures. This situation was probably the most genuine until great metamorphosis, like the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, caused huge changes to arise in western countries. It was as if cultures were reset. New technologies became available, building and industrial production increased and experiments with innovative materials opened up new possibilities. We became able to build bigger, higher and lighter and faster. Accordingly, societies shifted into the highest gear, which not left us without consequences. A new architecture was deemed as an absolute necessity to convey the novel beliefs in technology, as it appeared to be both the best tool available as well as the most exquisite exponent of technological innovation. Collective memory and identity Ensuingly it were visionaries like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, the alleged founders of modernism, who appeared to aim at the abolishment of any trend that originated in tradition. Gropius rigorously reformed the intellectual body of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier seem to single-handedly rewrite the rules to architecture. But the creation of such radical schisms that negated all that man had been used to for such a long time evoked enormous resistance. A well-known product and example of this paradigm is of course Le Corbusier’s redesign for a major part of Paris, north of Ile de la Cité; the project which went down in history as ‘Plan Voisin’. It strikingly illustrates how the doctrine of Modernism almost despised ancient traditions and seemed to aim at a cataclysmic rupture with history. The plan basically involved obliterating anything that was both culturally viable and valuable, followed by a 4

Philip Urpsprung, Caruso St John: Almost everything, Barcelona (2008) pp.164-168


Plan Voisin


subsequent denial of (local) history. This was promoted as a logical condition –not even a necessary evil- for the creation of a new ideal which would become the Utopia of the future. But what it essentially embodied was the erasure of cultural memory in order to end up with a blank slate, upon which the new ground principles of the desired identity could be outlined. The consentient critiques were as the following: “A megalomania worse than Ledoux’s, a vandalism unique in history, the dreary uniformity, vanity and monotony of these skyscrapers . . . have been proved spiritually and materially injurious, a contempt for historic and artistic tradition”5 The repudiation of the site’s unique characteristics caused such a unanimous protest that it immediately became clear how deeply rooted the local identity actually was. But vice versa it was just as legit; how strongly people’s own identities depended on the place they called ‘home’. This homely bond we have can be explained in twofold. It is probably based upon the direct and personal identity we lend from a place, and the memories we have of it, as well as the indirect collective memories and identity we share with people from our societies. The increment of revolutionary ideas, such as Corbusier’s scheme for the destruction of the Paris city center, brought about a peculiar event; because of the rapid change in building and architecture it were not just the showpieces of the new dawn that became the noteworthy structures, but the utterly traditional buildings that decreased in numbers became relics of their time just as much. An example of how strongly these new types of buildings tried to provide an identity for a city or country is the Bauhaus architecture in Germany. But are these really the type of buildings that tells us something about a culture or the history of a place? Just the fact that it is often these types of renowned buildings that become monuments does not mean they contain the best traces of the past. 5

Charles Hancks, Le Corbusier and the continual revolution in architecture, (New York 2000) pp. 340


OMA’s conceptual schemes for Beijing’ss preservation


One could plead that the opposite is possibly true. It may very well be so that the utmost generic buildings, one can find anywhere within a country’s borders and are so ordinary that they are overlooked, prove to be the true ‘black boxes’ of local architecture. Correspondent to this idea, Rem Koolhaas’s OMA once conceived an idea of imposing an arbitrary scheme, in the shape of a huge bar code, onto the entire centre of Beijing: “the bands in the bar code could either be preserved forever or systematically scraped. In such a case, you would have the certainty that you preserved everything in a very democratic, dispassionate way—highways, Chinese monuments, bad things, good things, ugly things, mediocre things—and therefore really maintained an authentic condition.”6 But one should pay attention, a culture is not a stable entity. Cultures, with their collection of traditions, uses, languages and so on are in a constant state of change. That’s why even the most generic building will still differ from how it would have looked a century ago. So when considering what is of importance in order to conserve identities and continue tradition it is essential to acknowledge the significance of change. As evolution is a necessary aspect of human life, and nature in general, we should not strive for the conservation of every individual type of building or try to make everything resemble a certain stigmatized historic image. The latter is regularly the case in situations where local identities are ‘protected’ by very thorough measures. In these situations, any change is forced to follow strict regulations and still ends up looking like the old. (See chapter On Preservation for further elaboration on this phenomena, denoted by Rem Koolhaas as ‘Cronocaos’) Its contribution to the remembrance of the past and its ability to confirm our identity and culture, makes that the building seems to be a proper bearer of unique traditions. Moreover 6

Rem Koolhaas, Preservation is overtaking us, New York (2004)


Sacred architecture supports our ability to believe


it allows us to pass them on from generation to generation. As is also the case with history books, it is the condensed stories of our past stored within them which gives us our traces to our fundamentals. Fundamentals we use to base our future paths upon. Personal memory & identity That architectural styles and building traditions can strongly radiate specific cultural meaning in every country may be clear, but how does the individual position himself within the homogenic crowd through architecture? And what does this personally mean to the individual in terms of memory and identity? We all develop our own personal aesthetic preferences and, even though they are in general often reasonably similar, we all have our specific ideas of what a home should feel like. The modern philosopher Alain de Botton is renowned for his contemplations on what architecture means to the individual on an emotional level. A great deal of what he says about the value we ascribe to the buildings that surround us, is directly related to memory and identity. The house that affords us a place we call home does so because it helps us remember what we consider to be of real importance in our lives. Furthermore, it keeps us in balance with our counterparts and it provides in means by which this identity can be expressed to the outside world. And we do so in a way that transcends the sheer level of plain aesthetic preference. We surround ourselves with furnishings and buildings that, through their design and materiality, redeem us with a sense of beauty and goodness and thus lend us a feeling of safeness. All materialistic aspects that are of importance in our lives simultaneously emit our personal preferences and aspirations to others, in such a way that they constitute an important part of our identity. In his book ‘the architecture of happiness’ he argues that we are so sensitive to our surroundings because of a peculiar characteristic of the human psyche; we consist of many different personalities, in which we don’t always recognize ourselves. 17

As a consequence we can get caught in bothersome situations in which we feel like we lost track of who we are on a deeper level and what we consider to be the true inner-self. Unfortunately we aren’t always capable of invoking our genuine identity at such moments. Whether or not we can get access to it greatly depends on the places we happen to be when this happens; the color of the bricks, the height of the ceilings and the layout of the streets: “We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need –but are in constant risk of forgetting we needwithin. We turn to wallpaper, benches, paintings and streets to staunch the disappearance of our true selves.”7 The type of architecture that pays most attention to this psycho-emotional effect is that of religious aesthetics. De Botton deduces that buildings not only have to power to impose emotions but they can also greatly contribute to what we believe in: “It is the world’s great religions that have perhaps given the most thought to the role played by the environment in determining identity…The very principle of religious architecture has its origins in the notion that where we are critically determines what we are able to believe in.”8 But buildings can also carry out our identities in a more direct manner. Neil Leach uses the term ‘camouflage’ to explain how, through buildings and surroundings, the individual can

7 8

Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, London (2006) pp. 107 Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, London (2006) pp. 107


successfully position itself within the mass while simultaneously being both distinguishable and similar. “Aesthetic expressions of all kinds, from high art to popular Music, from jewelry to urban planning, operate as a form of mediation between the self and the World. Camouflage, then, is understood here as a mechanism for inscribing an individual within a given cultural setting…The role of camouflage is not to disguise, but to offer a medium through which to relate to the other. Camouflage constitutes a mode of symbolization. It operates as a form of connectivity.”9 A metaphorical project which is also interesting to look at in the frame of identity and architecture is the work by JR Photographer, combined in the so called ‘city galleries’. In these striking picture series the identity of people is literally inscribed onto the buildings and partially demolished sites that constitute their direct urban habitat. As a result of the further destruction and decay of these structures the identity of the people living there is instantly vanishing from site with it.


Neil Leach, Camouflage, London (2006) pp. 240


City Galleries; Identity inscribed ruins


As buildings are being demolished, physical traces of identity perish vanish it


Several proposed identity changes for the Bauhaus


Architectural Identity Buildings do not last forever, because materials do not. Its architecture however cån last forever, even though its appearances will change periodically due to the very same degradation of the material that constitutes it. Under normal circumstances, a building will last as long as its identity is being recognized and it gives home to a function. As soon as a building loses the component of use, it loses a part of its identity. From that moment on it is most likely to gradually age into an obsolete. During this process of dilapidation, the passive building is forced to sit powerless and undergo deprivation of the qualities it was once so loved for. But in every loss there is a gain; the structure takes on a different set of qualities as the elements of nature freely violate the building to their likings while the aging process takes place. For some of the buildings it seems as if they were meant, from the earliest sketch on, to end up on the list of (cultural) heritage as the built witnesses of bygone eras. These privileged buildings however aren’t the only ones fortunate enough to be regarded as capsules of time. Every now and then a building slips through the net that captures obsolete structures for destruction and new developments. By seemingly operating under the developer’s radar these buildings manage to retain their place in society without any apparent function. Sometimes it is a fortunate combination of circumstances or just plain luck that eventually determines that a building stays upright. A clear example of just what this luck can bring us is the renowned Bauhaus building in Dessau. Famous for its philosophy, the building and its education created the fundamentals of modernism. But if it had been for the Germans, the buildings would have been demolished during WWII. The situation at that time is actually quite special in the frame of preservation and monumentality as the belief back then totally opposes the view we have now. 23

The Reichstag has a more complexx layered identity than the current building suggests


The Nazi’s recognized in the Bauhaus building, and all it stood for, a manifestation of cosmopolitan culture that was hostile to the German nationalism, and therefore had to be destroyed. The Nazis wondered what else they could possibly do with the provocative building. Replacing the flat roofs with something that looked more ‘Germanic’ seemed an option as well as adapting the shape of the building to resemble the swastika when seen from the air10. While we are happy the building still remained after the war, we can question whether it would have been nice to have had these alterations as extra chapters in the already interesting Bauhaus history. One could suggest that such accidental souvenirs of time, built in wood and stone, might actually be the veracious ‘black boxes of architecture’. Either way, whether desired or accidental, each of these spatial residues has a story accumulated in their spaces, construction, furnishings and materials. If only walls could talk… Another example of how a building’s identity can fluctuate is the Reichstag in Berlin. In a hundred years, this renowned building has underwent at least four different incarnations, of which each was memorable. Built in 1894 by Paul Wallot, the Reichstag was supposedly set to fire by Marinus van der Lubbe. Before reconstruction began it were the artist Christo and Jean-Claudo who in 1995 wrapped the entire building on own expenditure. The last and current Reichstag incarnation - Foster’s - contains no traces of the earlier identities. One could argue whether this is a right way of dealing with a building’s history. (see chapter On Transformation for elaboration on an opposing strategy.


Architectures: Le Bauhaus de Dessau, Richard Copans, 2007



On Nostalgia In Basel 1678, Johannes Hofer coined a new term for a medical condition comprising symptoms of pain in the chest or stomach and feelings of emotional pain. What was later known as mal du pays or Schwiezerheimweh, was originally introduced by the term of ‘Nostalgia’11. The word is a compound of the Greek words nóstos which means ‘returning home’ and álgos which means ‘pain’ or ‘ache’. Even though it is no longer considered a medical issue, as it was during great wars, it is still accepted as a form of melancholy; a forebode of depression. Echoing the importance it had during Romanticism, the term still represents the strong interest man has in bygone eras. Images, sounds, smells or other happenings can suddenly trigger reminiscent feelings of a history which is then idealized and often referred to as the ‘good old days’. Cryptomnesia The fact that architecture can strongly allude such feelings to great extents is a wonderful power. At any time during an (architectural) experience it is possible that even the tiniest aspect of that experience triggers us on a subconscious level and reminds us of a specific part of our past. This even easily happens without us even noticing it. And as we miss out on the reference it has to the original event, we conceive of it as something completely new, while on an emotional level it is closely linked to the original experience that lays in our past. This phenomenon is called cryptomnesia and can best be described as a latent memory12.

11 12

Svetlana Boym, The future of Nostalgia, (New York 2002) pp. xiii-xiv Please heck http://www.answers.com/topic/cryptomnesia-psychoanalysis/ for an elaborate explanation


Hameau de la Reine; a pastiche rustic villa


Peter Zumthor alleges that we use our ‘latent memory’ rather actively when cognitively process atmospheric stimuli: “We all experience architecture before we have even heard of the word. The roots of architectural understanding lie in our architectural experience: our room, our house, our street, our village, our town, our landscape – we experience them all early on, unconsciously, and we subsequently compare them with the countryside, towns, and houses that we experience later on. The roots of our understanding of architecture lie in our childhood, in our youth; they lie in our biography”13. He even states that, as an architect, he trains himself in consciously assimilating these emotions into his work in order to achieve good architecture; which in his eyes, is both emotional and intelligent. Pastiche While this longing for the past still actually refers to personal but ‘forgotten’ memories it differs from the romantic ideas we often have of eras that lay hundreds or even thousands years in the past, far before we were even born. With this type of nostalgia it is often the case that we base our longing for these times on gratuitous feelings that romanticize the ideas we have of these historic periods. An extreme example of this is the Hameau de la Reine, otherwise known as the Queen’s hamlet; a fake historic and rustic retreat built in the gardens of Versailles for MarieAntoinette. In this anachronistic settlement, which was nothing more than a pastiche décor, she could escape from her life as a queen and behave as if she lived in poorer times. She even organized plays in which the queen and her attendants impersonated old milkmaids and shepherdesses14. It is a fair question to ask whether it is a good thing that we sometimes have the wish to falsify our buildings and adapt old aesthetics, and in doing so, completely deny and neglect our present era and appurtenant aesthetics. 13 14

Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture, (Basel 2006) pp. 65 Alain de Botton (reg.), The perfect home [documentary] – Channel 4, London (2006)


The Broadway Tower folly might not be what you expect to come across in Cotswold, UK


It is needful to state that as every virtue has its vice, architects should be careful not to exaggerate to nostalgic behavior and descend to the level of creating mere copies of the past. One should respect the fact that every architectural epoch has its own vernacular. Clashes of differing opinions and heated discussion on such a proposition evidently show that not everyone agrees to what extent architecture is allowed borrow from previous styles and traditions. During the 18th century it seemed completely normal to freely apply whatever style onto buildings. In an eclectic manner any tradition one liked was imported for any type of building, totally neglecting scale, type, location and function. It is no surprise that it was during this period that follies celebrated their heydays. Especially the English and French landscape, gardens featured Roman and Chinese temples, Egyptian pyramids, Tatar tents or ruined abbeys to symbolize classical virtues or ideals. Ruin-like buildings constructed for no apparent reason other than celebrating a romanticized ideas of ancient times and faraway places. This resulted in absurd combination of buildings from various differing epochs, cultures and continents, which often led to compositions that were not only anachronistic but anatopistic15 as well.


Anatopistic reflects something that is out of its proper place


Villa Castleward; please choose whatever style to your likings


The problem of having an unlimited choice of styles is that total chaos looms; an illustrative example is Villa Castleward in Strangeford Lough, Ireland. When an aristocratic couple decided to build a manor house they heavily disagreed to what style it was supposed to be build in. The Count was a strict classicist while his wife had a profound affection for the Gothic style. It was the architect who eventually came up with the solution; he would split the house into two parts with the front façade erected in a Classic design and the Gothic style applied to the rear façade. With the emergence of modern architecture, the number of cases like Villa Castleward rapidly diminished but it did not take long before a similar discussion entered the stage, when as a reaction, post-modernists like Michael Graves in his turn started to challenge minimalistic and industrial architecture. Nowadays there seems to be a growing resistance to a style which is denominated as the Neo-Traditionalism. As an answer to such architectural disagreement, it seems as if we are now trying to find the answer to these discussions in ‘bona fide’ authenticity, originality and what we like to call honesty. And that very quest is now proving to be a real problem.


Vacant NL: potential problems to the left, possible solutions to the right


On Preservation “There cannot be preservation without also having a theory about what should go.”16 Global preservation A conscious architect, urban planner, developer or philosopher anno 2011 is in one way or the other most likely to be involved with the topic of preservation. A clear representation of this global awareness was given at last years’ ‘La Biennale architettura di Venezia’. Even though the theme ‘People meet in architecture’ did not directly imply a link to the topic, a visit to the architecture biennale in Venice showed that architects all over the world were occupying themselves with the wide spectrum of challenges that are posed by preservation. Ranging from efficiently re-using materials and building parts to the regulations for conserving an entire city; questions on how to best deal with existing historical fabric were raised on every possible level. A number of exhibitions stood out on this topic. The Belgian pavilion, one of the very first one came across upon entering the Giardini, mainly revolved around the traces that past use left behind on building materials and parts. It explored the wearing down of architecture and analyzed the fine-tuning of environment and bodily gestures (see the sections Traces of use in the chapter On Decay). Right beside the Belgio building stood the Netherlands Pavilion. Being one of the main reasons for visiting the Biennale, the exhibition title ‘Vacant NL’ already made a clear suggestion of the topic discussed inside. Upon entering the building it appeared to be completely empty. The abandoned room with virgin white walls was filled by a heavenly


Hans Ulrich Obrist (reg.), Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews Rem Koolhaas – OMA [interview], NOW interviews, Venice (2010)


Entrance to the second part of the Cronocaos exhibition at the Venice Arcitecture Biennale 2010


blue aura emitted by a fragmented ceiling. When further entering the building and going up the stairs to the first floor, it became clear that the ceiling was actually comprised of five thousand suspended miniature foam-models that each resembled a vacant state-owned buildings in the Netherlands. An accompanying book, ‘The Dutch Atlas of Vacancy’, featured details of each of them and a diagrammatic scheme on the back wall provided visitors with the solution to this strange phenomena. Holland appears to be filled with empty buildings, and as on the other hand a big part of the creative industry is in constant need of new challenging spaces, a solution is proposed by combining both problems. Temporary use could give a positive impulse for innovation within the creative knowledge economy. The only things keeping this from happening are obstructive legislation and a passive attitude among owners and government.

Cronocaos Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture probably offered the most holistic overview on the topic of preservation through their ‘Cronocaos’ exhibition. The term connotes a short circuit between historical layers resulting from a lack of theory on how to deal with ever growing preservation aspirations. In a plea that Koolhaas wrote earlier, called ‘Preservation is overtaking us’ he elaborates on his statement that preservation is a modern invention. He underpins this by going back in history to the French revolution when the first law ever on preservation was defined. The last decade of the 18th century was a period in which the general consensus was to literally leave most of the country’s history behind; a situation in which laws on preservation can be understood as highly peculiar. The second moment of importance was 1877 in Victorian England. This second time a preservation condition was coined it happened during the most intense moment of civilization. While on the one hand it might appear illogical to think 37

of conserving the old at such times, it might on the other hand actually not be that strange after all to start thinking of what to preserve. Eventually, modernization seems to raise the issue of what to keep, whether pronounced or not.17 But isn’t it fairer to state that preservation is a western luxury instead of a western invention? After all, in the less wealthy and developing countries, preservation is the order of the day in order to survive. In these cases, preserving and re-using the very little one has is not just a standard conviction, but moreover, an utter necessity. All in all, triggered by a commission from the Beijing government in 2003 to research a specific form of Chinese preservation, Koolhaas appeared to be ahead of the craze that we know to surround the topic nowadays. When OMA looked at what had exactly been preserved throughout the subsequent eras by mankind, they came to an interesting conclusion which showed that the ideas on preservation has undergone a radical shift. Logically man originally started with the conservation of ancient monuments, followed by less and less sacred structures. We have now come to the point where we preserve department stores and amusement rides. It seems as if these days anything is potentially susceptible to preservation. There are even plans to protect a part of the moon as our most important site. Apart from it being an absurd proposal, this development makes it strikingly clear that it is no longer just a privilege of single buildings to be granted a protected status; entire cities and landscapes can become safeguarded by UNESCO-regulations. At the moment we are at a point at which 12% of the earth’s surface is frozen in because of this exorbitant protective behavior. What kind of severe consequences are actually related to cronocaos on a smaller scale becomes clear in cases where for example historic town centers are ‘protected’ by very stringent measures. In these situations, new designs are forced to follow strict regulations 17

Rem Koolhaas, Preservation is overtaking us, New York (2004)


and end up mimicking the old, without any apparent value of their own. This mandatory copying of monumental characteristics creates a sort of blur. A blur which as a consequence makes that the new looks like the old, and the authentic buildings lose their historical distinct value, as they no longer stand out.18 What we should do, is pay great attention to what we consider to be of importance to our culture and rethink what is worthy of conservation and protection. Correspondingly, another interesting conclusion from OMA’s study on preservation is to what term (in sense of time) is needed before a building, site or object can acquire a protected status. In 1818 the interval between the present and what was preserved totaled 2,000 years, in 1900 this was only 200 until in the 1960’s it became merely 20 years. So the current period could actually be considered an extremely unique moment in time, rather since preservation is overtaking us. We are at the verge of witnessing preservation becoming a prospective activity instead of a retrospective one. According to Koolhaas this makes perfect sense since, “it is clear that we built so much mediocrity that it is literally threatening our lives. Therefore, we will have to decide in advance what we are going to build for posterity sooner or later.”19 A challenging question OMA asked at the Architecture Biennale as well was whether dilapidation could be preserved? But as decay is the only thing certain in this world, you could say it is self preserving, making the question irrelevant. But new things will arise from what has perished, it is just the configuration that changes, as according to Carl Sagan, “all there ever was, will always be”.20 (see the paragraph on Wabi-Sabi of the chapter On Decay for further elaboration on destruction and construction) In retrospect it might be interesting to that it was already in 1978 that Koolhaas had his first 18

Domus, OMA: Preservation [interview with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli], Venice (2010) Rem Koolhaas, Preservation is overtaking us, New York (2004) 20 Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist. The quotation in the text is derived from the law of conservation of atoms and energy. 19


Unesco’s protective convention aside AMO’s alteration


radical epiphany regarding the conservation of existing fabric when he made a scheme for an extension of the Dutch Parliament in The Hague; “Preservation embodies a revision, a distortion, a redesign, and that only architecture that is unapologetic about its modernity can preserve or articulate the tradition of appropriation.“ This early premise already shows his very critical attitude towards the topic. One could wonder whether this is where his ‘theory on what should go’ originated. In conclusion it is needful to say that an important reason for the preservation-rage are possibly the deficient selection criteria that determine whether something is worthy of a UNESCO-status or not. This is because these criteria are by definition vague and elastic as they need to embrace as many conditions as the world contains. This makes them applicable to some of the most generic buildings; the whole reason why Koolhaas decided to rewrite UNESCO’s ‘convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage’ and made it into AMO’s ‘convention concerning the demolition of world cultural junk’. The fundamental problem that leads to cronocaos appears to be a contradictive dichotomy between past and future. A problem to which we not yet seem to have the proper answer; “There is no theory about how the world can live with on the one hand radical change and on the other hand radical stasis. Because that is what I think is going to happen. That is why we called our exhibition Cronocaos because it means that there is a short-circuit in the whole concept of chronology and that all the times are becoming to live at the same time and I don’t think we have an apparatus to really think about that yet.” 21 Maybe it is possible to keep the old but lend it a contemporary meaning and value, which surpasses the level of plain aesthetic preservation, and in that way appropriate the old so that it can fulfill the needs of the future? 21

Hans Ulrich Obrist (reg.), Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews Rem Koolhaas – OMA [interview], NOW interviews, Venice (2010)


Analytical drawing from OMA’s study on the panopticon prison


On Transformation “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Adapt to change According to Darwin’s evolution theory, change is an utter necessity in order to survive. To the preservation of architecture this seems to apply as a necessary evil just as much; transformations are essential in order to guarantee a continued existence. “People gradually seem to leave the areas that are not allowed to change are and therefore unable to transform to absorb modern functions as they remain frozen in time by becoming labeled as Unesco world heritage. If you take a boat over the Grand Canale in Venice for instance you see a lot of empty buildings; buildings that are not used because they cannot be transformed to adapt to new uses.”22 This phenomena occurs anywhere in the world, strikingly underling the necessity of an ability to transform in order to persist. What makes it all the more frustrating is that in most cases where buildings become obsolete, it is not so much a lack of aspirations to change, but confining legislation –whether or not related to monumental statuses - that signs the death warrant of many historic buildings, in the pretence of doing good.


Domus, OMA: Preservation [interview with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli], Venice (2010)


Ruskin vs Viollet-le-Duc; who is right?` 44

Something that works in the advantage of redevelopment projects is that in the past, buildings were generally provided with bigger dimensions of both spaces and structure. OMA came to the following conclusion after performing a study in 1980 on the possible renovation of a panopticon prison in Arnhem; “The beauty of historical architecture is very often that it is so big, that it has so many symbolic, extra space and extra dimensions that actually it turns out to be much more flexible than modern architecture that is always trying to be very precise about program and organization. This is an awareness that the extra dimension of historical architecture also translates into a beautiful kind of flexibility which even flexible architecture in the contemporary sense very rarely has.”23

Ruin or Restore? Transformation in order to facilitate adaptation to shifts of cultural and economical paradigms appear to be the best strategy for preservation. Ever since the first real thinkers (and supposedly the last ever after) on dealing with historical sites there seems to have been a dichotomy which can still be recognized when roughly dimidiating the type of transformation today. These leading historical figures in the field of preservation are the renowned John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879). Their mutual disagreement on this topic has been one of the best known disputes in the history of architecture.


Hans Ulrich Obrist (reg.), Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews Rem Koolhaas – OMA [interview], NOW interviews, Venice (2010)


Picture of a panel at Cronocaos exhibition showing Harvard’s gutted building


“Two conflicting ideologies continue to subject preservation to a systematic schizophrenia between RUIN and RESTORATION. Preservation needs a ‘unified field’ theory to resolve this contradiction.”24 According to this schizophrenia restoration resembles the type of project that guts the building in question and results in a farce in which the ‘historical structure’ becomes an entirely new building in itself. Many of the bureaucratic envelopes of preservation advocate such radical transformations as their language and codes are too blunt and primitive to realize their aim of generating a ‘fit’ between what exists and what is new. This in fact often results in a total rebuilding which produces an entirely new architectural language of disguised consumerism.25 An condensed example of such events is the Harvard University campus where most of the historical buildings have been gutted and entirely made over more that once during their lifetimes. Opposing to this stands the celebration of the ruin, of which Ruskin was a proponent. Decay was something to favor, not to repair; "For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, not in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity.”26 Recently, Christian Schittich reaffirmed this by once again pointing out what the general scope of preservation processes look like; “The desire to preserve and protect old buildings is the central point of departure for many conversions. Aesthetically, visual reference to the historic image of the original plays a 24

Rem koolhaas, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°380 November 2010 (Paris 2010) pp. 52 L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, n°380 November 2010 (Paris 2010) 26 John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, New York (1880) pp. 186 25



decisive role. A standard role is to resort to cultural functions: castles are maintained virtually unchanged as museums showcasing the lifestyles of the aristocracy, old manor houses are used as libraries. The interior of the building is preserved and simultaneously opened to the public. Preservation of the authentic structure is the goal of many local history museums or industrial museums, where the buildings themselves are the most important exhibits…The opposite to this ideal of authenticity is the strategy of the controlled decay of buildings or monuments. Here the aesthetic focus is on an original, or rather on that which remains of the original. This strategy is employed when chances are low that an important monument can be preserved in the long term. Thus, the Völklinger Hütte, a former iron and steel works which has been designated a world heritage site, has been exposed for some years to a process of continual erosion. The staging of disappearance and the finite nature of the object becomes an expression of ‘radical honesty’.”27 Either way, this chapter is meant to show that transformation can be used for the good; adding to the architectural, historical and cultural value while catering the preservation of the past. It is clear that there is no way of compiling a total overview of how architectonic transformations can contribute to a building’s identity and extend its expiration date. The delicate nuances in the numerous possible interventions are far too many and a lot of books attempting to comprise such overviews are already high in number. That’s why for this part it was chosen to focus on architectonic redevelopments that deal with a building’s layered history and tend to respect all of them in a manner that seems appropriate.


Christian Schittich, In detail : building in existing fabric: refurbishment, extensions, new design, (Berlin 2003) pp. 17-18


Exploded view from Ungers’s Thermenmuseum, showing the layered structure e and history of the site.


Oswald Matthias Ungers: Thermenmuseum – Trier, Germany An enormous amount of redevelopment projects nowadays use historical leads as starting points for their designs in one way or the other. A good example in which the layered history of the site has been incorporated into the design of a new building is the Thermenmuseum am Viehmarkt28 in Trier by Oswald Matthias Ungers. As Germany’s oldest city (founded 16 BCE) it was radically transformed many times during the numerous eras and consists of Roman, Celtic, Medieval and more modern layers as a result. In this project – which Ungers named ‘Fensters in die Geschichte’ – he does not solely expose the archeological findings that were discovered during excavation for the initially planned car park, but he also displays the layered history of the city of Trier. He does so for instance, by integrating a Roman principle of city planning; the concept of the Cardus and Decumanus Maximus, into the new design for the layout of the square. On top of the stratified site he adds a new layers in the shape of his show-case like museum.


For an extensive analysis of the architect O.M. Ungers and this project in Trier please consult the report I made on the case for Strategies & Places at TU/e; John Schneijderberg, OMU: Heerlen-Keulen-Trier, (Eindhoven 2009)


Carlo Scarpa’s redesign of Castelvecchio exposes the different chronologic layers


Carlo Scarpa: Casterlvecchio – Verona, Italy The classic textbook example of how the principle of layering could manifest itself in a building is Carlo Scarpa’s Castelvecchio in Verona. In this refurbished medieval fortification, the later additions are clearly legible as new components. The mannerist style of these elements, which is Scarpa’s distinct signature, differs from that of the older ones but without becoming dissonant. He respects the various additions and alterations that were made during different ages and exposes them as such. As a result, a spatial tension arises between the different temporal and iconic layers; especially since they are so closely intertwined. All the different layers together however, formulate a new whole as a result of their interaction.


Multichronism: different chronological layers coexisting successfully, the old identity combined with a new function as museum of modern art


Palazzo Fortuny: Architect unknown – Venice, Italy A personal favorite of how to respect multiple chronologic layers within a building of multifaceted identity is shown by the exquisite example of Palazzo Fortuny in Venice. The former city villa and atelier was built in the 18th century and now houses a museum in honor of its original owner, Mariano Fortuny, who was famous for his luxuriant fabrics and elegant dresses. The life of its former owner became an important aspect to determine the building’s identity. During the ARTEMPO exposition an apparent curtain hang from its façade. It reached so far that the part in front of the entrance had to be lifted a tiny bit in order to create a clear passage. The subtle folds that resulted from this ingenious action were just enough to immediately make it clear that it actually is a sort of cloth hanging down and not a stiff element which is part of the façade. This cloth evidently referenced the former owner of the building and the original use as a fabric workshop. While meandering through the building the interior beautifully captures not only the history of the building, but also its age. On each of the three stories, the scale and intensity of the architectonic interventions vary. The ground floor has been completely restored to the old atmosphere of the 18th century Palazzo when it was still an urban villa and workshop. The first floor has been untouched since the building was donated to the city of Venice some thirty years ago. This level breathes the age of the Palazzo, conveyed by the clearly visible scars and defects. The top floor has been retouched the most and is probably the part of the building that lives on to modern expectations of what a museum should look like. While the building is in use as a museum for both the fixed exhibition of the works of Mariano Fortuny as well as the changing exhibition of modern art and photography, the strong presence and identity of the building filter through, creating a unique atmosphere. As a whole the building is a clear example of ‘multichronism’: a place where the conglomerate of different styles, materials and traces of various era’s manage to form a strong whole.




Stark contrast between the authentic building and the new intervention 58

Judging from these precedents, some challenging enquires arise. To what extent is one able to preserve the qualities that are brought into a building by decay, without losing its ability to house a function. On the other hand it is also the question to what extent, and in which way, we should design the new to either cohere or contrast with the existing fabric. Especially this last question becomes apparent in times of (post)modernism, a time in which perfection is abundantly strived for and every design is developed to the level of the most minute detail. As a result the decayed, old and imperfect become clearly more visible when bringing it in stark contrast with the new and flawless. Developing a professional attitude towards challenges posed by preservation is becoming more and more important as the ratio between new developments and redevelopments is increasingly becoming in favor of the latter. In line with this revolution we reached a point where the architectural discourse is largely focusing on these type of projects. “There can be no greater proof of reversal, which the perception of what innovation means has undergone from the ‘New New’ to the ‘New Old’ or rather the ‘Old New’ than the fact that new building typologies are evolving from conversion.”29


Christian Schittich, In detail : building in existing fabric: refurbishment, extensions, new design, (Berlin 2003) pp. 15



_ On Identity & Decay Leaky drains, flaking walls, old machinery, cracked floors, broken windows, failing roofs, collapsed trusses and rusty columns; a peculiar type of attraction surrounds the aesthesis of decay. But what is it exactly, that pulls our curiosity towards these dilapidated sceneries? What qualities are embodied in deteriorating materials and overgrown buildings? Philosophers, writers, painters, architects, urban planners, and other artists and thinkers have been intrigued by the topic of decay for centuries. Take G.B. Piranesi’s etches30 of perishing buildings for instance, the landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted during the Romantic period or the ideas put forward by John Ruskin in the 19th century31. After a period of silence, during which most of the attention to the topic appeared to have vanished as a result of antipathy, it seems as if the current architectural discourse is being influenced by it more than ever. But it feels as if this populist interest is still somewhat superfluous. The present-day appreciation for things that are old and faded seems to be(come) nothing more than a pastiche décor for a modern society. (see chapter On nostalgia) In order to investigate a possible appreciation for decay it appeared to be useful to find an analogy between the entropy of our buildings and that of our bodies.


A book containing a nice overview of Piranesi’s graphic work; Luigi Ficacci, Giovanni Battista Piranesi : the complete etchings, (Köln 2000) 31 John Ruskin, Seven lamps of architecture, (London 1890)


The Afghan girl photographed at age 13 and 30


Human decay As architecture exists within the dynamic milieu of interrelationships between man and its buildings it is fruitful to investigate how phenomena such as the process of deterioration affects both of them. In this case it lead to the understanding of an interesting parallel which showed that even though decay is absolutely inevitable, it is regrettably also something most undesirable. If we want to turn this situation around, acceptance of the inescapable is key. If we manage to do so, we become ready to open our eyes to the beauty that age brings into things. Our way of dealing with human decay is generally quite problematic. It is an aspect of life we would rather prevent from happening. We rather not pay too much attention to defects and imperfections as we tend to overlook all that is old and ugly in an attempt to deny the certainty of aging. A clear example of our preference for the young and beautiful instead of the old and marred are the two photographs of the woman known as ‘The Afghan girl’. During the Afghan war, Steve McCurry took a picture of a thirteen year old girl in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pesjawar, Pakistan. Almost two decades later, after the war had ended in 2001, the photographer went back to Afghanistan to find the by then 30 year old woman, and with success. He took a similar photo in a same setting through which he strikingly captured the prejudice that was caused by the wear of time and the burden of war. Even though the most publicity generated after he managed to take the second photograph it is almost solely the picture of the girl at age thirteen which is still widely known today.


Hannah Wilke at the height of her career, Starification Object Series, MoMa NY

Hannah Wilke’s last picture series, Intra-Venus, Ronald Feldman Gallery NY


Connected to this behavior are the abundant adds and commercials for plastic surgery and anti-aging creams; panaceas that will only temporarily fool the ones who make use of them. What happened to aging well and appreciating the idiosyncatics of wisdom and experience, the earnings life? A sad story of how not time but disease can lead to dreadful decay and a radical impact on person’s identity is shown by the story of Hannah Wilke who died of lymphoma in 1993. As an artist Hannah Wilke was amongst other activities mostly known for her performances and photography. She is considered to be one of the early feminist artists dealing with the taboos surrounding the female body. Being a beautiful woman she did not hesitate to stand in front of her own camera, using the female characteristics not solely as the force of her work but also to show that beauty and identity lie in the different aspects of the female body. After being diagnosed with cancer Hannah did not stop with her autobiographic photography. Acknowledging the fact that her disease was something she had to live with and was part of who she was, her pictures changed from a girl in the heydays of her youth to a woman with a slowly languishing health. Her last work ‘Intra Venus’ records her physical transformation and deterioration resulting from chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. She also arranged clumps of hair, that fell out due to these treatments, as objets d’art. In doing so she showed how strongly popular ideas of female beauty and femaleness itself are associated with hair, and how rapidly decay can impair identities by eliminating certain characteristics. As she gradually lost her hair, a big part of her identity was lost with it, as decay radically transformed who she was, or at least, seemed to be.


One of her last pictures however shows how she seemed to be at peace with her physical condition which opened up the ability to further accept it as a part of who she was. This peace emanates a transcended beauty. Just the fact that it is still quite hard to discuss suchlike situations underlines the fact that even in the present society, in which there is little or no space left for taboos, it is still very difficult to show human decay. Now that we have come to an understanding of how we tend to deal with the topic of identity and decay when it comes to our own personal bodies, one can easily imagine what this means to our appreciation for decay of the built environment that surrounds us. To architecture, this analogy strikingly applies; these days there seems to be a growing wish for our buildings to breath an historic atmosphere but we refuse to accept the scars and defects that testify of their age.

Decay of buildings All things are impermanent. Even things that have all the earmarks of substance—things that are hard, inert, solid—present nothing more than the illusion of permanence. All comes to nothing in the end. Everything wears down. The planets and stars, and even intangible things like reputation, family heritage, historical memory, scientific theorems, mathematical proofs, great art and literature (even in digital form)—all eventually fade into oblivion.32 The manifestation of a building’s decay, by means of physical deterioration and vegetative overgrowth, can be a strong determinant in the genius loci. Subsequently, the degree to 32

Leonard Koren, Exquisite Decay (2001) Utne Reader #107 pp. 52 (excerpt from Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers (Berkeley 1994)


which the dilapidation has extended will also obviously define the character of a site. With limited traces of decay, a building could breathe an atmosphere of faded glory while severely tattered structures will rather evoke feelings of anxiety and insecurity. But something which seems to be fact, is that we will only start appreciating decay when it has advanced to a certain stage and passed some sort of emotive intangible line. Even though everything in our entire universe is in a certain state of decay -inasmuch it concerns a continuous process- we will presumably dislike it, when a perceptible state of decay finds itself between what we consider as beautifully new and the esteemed old. French writer Gustave Flaubert fulminated heavily against the reconstruction-craze let loose on monuments in the 19th century. In 1853 he strikingly demonstrated the importance of decay: “What a preposterous inclination to want to restore anything that has decayed. Please let perish, that which does not want to exist anymore. A few ruins please, they are a necessary part of the historic landscape�. The fact that traces of decay often not solely convey the age of a building, but just as much its history, frequently offers interesting perspectives. In this way, sites are not uncommon to possess a complex set of historical layers. Unraveling their stratification can expose different types of decay in subsequent layers. Again, decay in this context, is not only to be seen as the physical deterioration of materials, but also as the superseding of outdated techniques and building methods, or as the languishment of evanescent styles. (see chapter On Preservation for elaboration on projects by Carlo Scarpa and O.M. Ungers that deal with these historic layers) It is not so much about the fact that something is old, as it is about the fact that it refers to bygone eras. And when we find ourselves amidst -or in the presence of- old sites, buildings or other relics, we feel linked to these unfamiliar times for which we often cherish



romantic feelings. It is the mysteries that surround these anachronistic artifacts that claim our fullest curiosity. Besides that, referring to what we know of our history, also seems to give meaning to the things we do today, and with that, foresees a continuity for the future. This has to do with the fact that decay uses a comprehensive vocabulary to communicate a site’s history. Rotten wood or decomposed bricks might tell us a building has already been standing there a long time and people have neglected their plain presence. But looking beyond this notion, there is a much bigger source of information which may tell us far more about the history of the building. It is not just about the fact that, for example, the iron is corroded, but moreover about the type of truss in which it was used or the dimensions of the elements, that might give us information with what knowledge the construction was built. And it is not just the state possible ornaments are in which is interesting, but the fact they are there indicates a possible function of the room or the wealth of the former owner. Even an analysis of the design might point out to which style it belongs or in which period it was made. In this way, decay does not just lend us qualitative information – the fact that it’s old – but also quantitative insights. Of course all of this is dependent on the materials used and the type, scale and location of the building.


Nave, Trois-Fontaines Classical cloister ruin 1990 70

Ruins “It is only between the reality of things and the imagination that the spark of the work of art is kindled.” - Edward Hopper Among the structures that have the ability to capture our attention to the fullest and exalt our imagination to extremes, the ruin probably takes first place. “A ruin in harmony with nature is able to evoke extraordinary states of mind. The thought that all which is built will eventually pulverize again, can induce both pleasant and sad emotions. Ruins raise feelings you either assimilate in silence or translate into a poem or painting. No other building has ever been a more fertile source of inspiration than the ruin.”33 Even though they often seem to be no more than the arbitrary remains, of what was once possibly an adorned building, the most appealing ruins appear to be in a very delicate state. A state which is determined by a sensitive equilibrium of that which is already gone and that which still remains. The dilapidated state of buildings merely composed out of deteriorated bricks, rotten wood, shattered glass and weathered concrete tell about the past of these buildings just as much as they raise questions to what they once were. The residuals that remain are like leads which point out to us what the history of such a place looked like; the overall state, signage or machines that remain, the materials used, applied techniques and the style in which it was build altogether emanate an atmosphere of historic meaning. They indicate an approximate age, give a hint of the original grandeur, intended function and what it must have been like to live and work in those bygone times. On the other side of the scale it is


M.J. Kuijpers-Verbuijs, Ruïnes in Nederland, Zwolle (1997) pp. 7 (vertaling)


Powerplant, modern ruin 2010


the collection of blank spots, ambiguities and obfuscations that causes ignorance; an incapacity of knowing what exactly the stories are behind ruined sites and buildings. This makes that we need to address our imagination and commission our chimera to fill these blank spots with personal figments. Such situations give us the opportunity to create the most inspiring but simultaneously gratuitous fantasies. This possibility ascribes the ruin a maximum interpretability and is most likely to be the source of what makes it so appealing. We should note that it is probably in a similar unsubstantiated manner that romanticism and nostalgia are born. Underpinning such a premise are quotes by Peter Zumthor and Edmund Burke who both suggest that clarity or totality are anything but a necessity to create powerful impressions. “Architectural drawings try to express as accurately as possible the aura of the building in its intended place. But precisely the effort of the portrayal often serves to underline the absence of the actual object, and what then emerges is an awareness of the inadequacy of any kind of portrayal, curiosity about the reality it promises, and perhaps-if the promise has the power to move us-a longing for its presence. If the naturalism and graphic virtuosity of architectural portrayals are too great, if they lack “open patches” where our imagination an curiosity about the reality of the drawing can penetrate the image, the portrayal itself becomes the object of our desire, and our longing for its reality wanes because there is little or nothing in the representation that points to the intended reality beyond it. The portrayal no longer holds a promise. Its refers only to itself.”34 “So far is clearness of imagery from being absolutely necessary to an influence upon the passions, that they may be considerably operated upon without presenting any image at all…It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration and chiefly excites our passions…even in painting a judicious obscurity in some things contributes to the effect of 34

Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture, (Basel 2006) pp. 13



the picture; because the images in painting are exactly similar to those in nature; and in nature dark, confused, uncertain images have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander passions than those have which are more clear and determinate.”35 According to these theorems, architecture could greatly benefit from obscurity and incompleteness. Nevertheless, ruins are of all time, whether classical or modern, almost completely decayed. It is this persistence of this type of building which does not just bridges eras but also connects them, that makes them all the more valuable. “Ruins signal simultaneously an absence and a presence; they show, they are, an intersection of the visible and the invisible. Fragmented, decayed structures, which no longer serve their original purpose, point to an absence – a lost, invisible hole. But their visible presence also points to durability, even if that which is no longer what it was. Ruins speak to us in ways that things made by Nature cannot. In their persistent presence, ruins speak to us of the structures they once were, of the people who made them, of those who commanded them to be made, and of those who for a time made use of them. In their evocation of absence, they speak of those who destroyed them or abandoned them or failed to protect them from the irresistible ravages of Time. In their present state, ruins speak of those who have tried to make sense of them, or have been drawn to represent them, or have used them as objects of memoralization.”36


Edmund Burke, A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, (London 1958) pp. 60-62 36 Michael S. Roth, Irresistible decay: Ruins reclaimed, (Los Angeles 1997) pp. 7



Traces of use The way in which we use and treat the buildings and furnishings we come across in our lives obviously contributes to the way in which they deteriorate. This anthropogenic impair is usually conceived of as unwanted and regrettable. As with any type of decay we are hostage to the modernist doctrine that confines us to strive for perfect conditions to which any alteration or depravation is strongly undesirable. How did we get up to the point where we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we could ever accomplish an immutably immaculate state of things? We know that everything is subject to entropy and decay so we should better learn to accept this and come to an understanding of this insurmountable fate. In this awareness lies also the key to the appreciation of transience and imperfection. Tactile signs that result from the way in which objects and buildings are used resemble testimonials which designate what the applied methods and rituals must have looked like, and thus tell us how the object of building is most likely to be used. “As a trace of use, wear reminds us that most of the time other users have gone before us, and still more will follow. In some cases, wear even provides a valuable clue as to the nature of these uses. In this sense, traces of wear play a vital part in our ability to read our environment and, by extension, appreciate it.”37 Traces that are left behind by repeated use evidently show how very connected we are to the objects we use, the houses we live in and the world that everything is part of. It makes it clear in a very trivial way how strong and direct we are related to the things we employ to live our daily lives. They are the faded letters on the buttons of our keyboards belonging to the letters we most use. They are the scratches in the paint around the keyholes of our 37

Rotor & al., Usus/Usures, État des lieux, Editions de la Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles, Brussels (2010) pp. 17


Steps exhibiting traces of use at Usus/Usures exposition, in Belgian Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale 2010


cars that we caused when we were in a hurry. They are the pale paths in the middle of the floor-coverings that lay in our hallways which show the most used trajectory. They are the rounded-off edges that used to be sharp, the broken-off protrusions that used to stick out, the matte finish of what used to be shiny, the opaque which used to be transparent, the scratched which used to be smooth and the faded which used to be bright. “Wear opens the way for encounters between materials and their uses, for alterations produced by repeated actions, for hybrid transformations that occur over time. Wear forces us to listen to material, to examine it more closely, to explore it so as to become familiar with its qualities.”38 To loathe the traces of use which are strikingly enough caused by our very own use, is mainly a vice of western societies. In Asian countries like China and Japan, the course of history mothered ancient traditions and convictions which still constitute fundamental principles in the lives of people up until this very day. In these beliefs, the deficiencies and imperfections of the things we use contribute greatly to the character, and with that the respectability, of those very things. For them, the patina on the surfaces we repeatedly get in contact with is something to praise, not eschew.


Rotor & al., Usus/Usures, État des lieux, Editions de la Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles, Brussels (2010) pp. 17



WabiWabi-Sabi Two characters, shared by the Chinese and Japanese stand at the basis of the meaning of the two words; Wabi 侘, meaning ‘despodence’, and Sabi 寂, meaning ‘solitude’. It is very important to note that these are words for emotions, not physical appearances. The terms try to embody profound aesthetic sensibility that originated in ancient Chinese art and literature. The dawn of Zen Buddhism in Japan lead to an unintentional popularization of Wabi-Sabi, which was mainly caused by the adaptation of the concept for the ritual of the tea ceremony, or Chanoyu. Before further elaborating on the topic of Wabi-Sabi, it is an absolute necessity to make it utterly clear that Wabi-Sabi is actually in itself impossible to explain in any written or spoken language. "Defining wabi sabi in physical terms is like explaining the taste of a piece of chocolate by its shape and color."39 This is because the term cannot be -and does not aim to be- elucidated by means of fixed requirements or conditions as it is not a strict entity that consists out of a confined set of ingredients and parameters. “When asked what Wabi-Sabi is, most Japanese will shake their head, hesitate, and offer a few apologetic words about how difficult it is to explain. Although almost every Japanese will claim to understand the feeling of Wabi-Sabi –it is, after all, supposed to be one of the core concepts of Japanese culture- very few can articulate this feeling.”40

39 40


Tim Wong, Ph.D., Wabi Sabi - Learning to See the Invisible, Santa Fe Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers, Point Reyes (2008) pp. 15


Wabi tea cup


This is also maybe the reason that Wabi-Sabi is not something taught at schools or institutions. It is more like the cultivated art-form of living. It is developed through an enduring exposure to classical literature, calligraphy, brush painting and poetry. The abilities and qualities are attained through constant practice from the earliest moments on, at every level i.e. material, moral, emotional, spiritual and metaphysical. And in this last manner the essential knowledge of Wabi-Sabi is, as in Zen, transferred from one mind to the other, “Those who know don’t say; those who say don’t know.” Language is deliberately evaded in order to reduce the misinterpretation of easily misunderstood concepts. “Translation is always a treason, and can at best be only the reverse side of a brocade - all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of color and design”41


Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, New York (2001) pp. 28


Japanese woman showing traditional preparation of the tea ceremony


Wabi-Sabi does not so much appear to be an inherent quality of an object nor does it depend purely on the understanding capabilities that belong to the beholder. It is more like an aura surrounding both object and subject, forging a connection between the two, that surpasses the level of plain aesthetics. In Wabi-Sabi acceptance of nature and its ingenerate cycle of growth and decay is a central theme. The general believe is that everything is either evolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness, while still leaving subtle traces. The following anecdote is a powerfull expression of just this: ''As dusk approaches in the hinterlands, a traveler ponders shelter for the night. He notices tall rushes growing everywhere, so he bundles an armful together as they stand in a field, and knots them at the top. Presto, a living grass hut. The next morning before embarking on another day's journey, he unknots the rushes and presto, the hut de-constructs, disappears, and becomes a virtually indistinguishable part of the larger field of rushes once again. The original wilderness seems to be restored, but minute traces of the shelter still remain. A slight twist or bend in a reed here and there. There is also the memory of the hut in the mind of the traveler - and the mind of the reader reading this description. Wabi-sabi, in its purest, most idealized form is precisely about these delicate traces, this faint evidence, at the borders of nothingness''42 The principles of Wabi-Sabi lay in simplicity, naturalness and the acceptance of reality as in Taoism and Chinese Zen Buddhism. It celebrates the marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. This is one of the reasons that Wabi-Sabi is often explained in terms of a predilection for things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete having appreciating for that which is modest and humble. The most comprehensive exhibition -and product- of Wabi-Sabi is most likely the tea ceremony. 42

Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers, Point Reyes (2008) pp. 15



Sen no Rikyu is widely considered as the most important historical figure who thrusted the evolution of the tea ceremony and was the only one to truly master the art. He perfected the etiquette (which is still followed today) at a time when Japan was swept by civil war and was on the verge of total isolationism. This situation trained them in introspection, meditation, restraint, frugality and poverty. The tea ceremony evolved into a social art form that combined many aesthetic disciplines like architecture, interior and garden design, flower arranging, painting, performance and food preporation. The practitioners of ‘The Way of Tea’ are expected to orchestrate all these dominions into a quietly exciting artistic experience. The tea ceremony aims to lead to a profound synesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance. But even though it is this ritual that is the most well known, the main focus of Wabi-Sabi has been the emotions which were originally caught in poetry; the discipline from which the term originally sprung;


From a mountain temple


the sound of a bell struck fumblingly


vanishes in the mist

This haiku by the Japanese poer Yosano Buson summons a deep aesthetic consciousness, a bittersweet mix of loneliness and serenity, a sense of despair invigorated by unrestraint from material hindrance.





“In the world there are two kinds of ruins; official ruins like the temples in Rome that are typical tourist sites , and the unofficial ruins which are high-rise from the 60’s and bunkers…We try to constantly renovate cities today, everything has to be fixed, we have to keep a façade. I think eventually all architecture will end up same. That’s the natural course of things, the natural law of entropy; everything will decay and will eventually become a ruin. That’s why I see a lot of truth in the bunker, in the brutality of it. It’s something extremely beautiful, the idea of ruin, we have to accept it.”43 Bunker A concrete mastodon hides in the forest a forest only 5 kilometers away from the city centre of Arnhem. It is a WWII bunker built by the Nazi’s in 1943 which carries the codename ‘Diogenes’. Measuring 60m x 40m x 23m it might not be what generally comes to mind when one hears the word bunker. It may be clear that this building isn’t just any bunker; it embodied the nerve center of the German Luftwaffe and essential pivot of the Nazi air defense. From the building’s central room an air defense line was coordinated, called the Kammhuber Line, which ran from the north of Denmark all the way down across Holland to the middle of France. Around this 32m x 14m x 15m room, which actually forms a smaller bunker within the heart of the building, the rest of the functions were organized. The total building, which is partially constructed subterranean, consists of the main bunker, an addition with offices on the east side and an external entrance to the south side. With wall thicknesses up to 3.5m and roofs up to 2m of reinforced concrete, the building is ,apart from the addition with offices, basically without openings due to protective measures. The building could operate 43

Cyprien Gaillard, ‘bunker als kunstobject’ [nieuws item] - Omroep West, Den Haag (17-02-2009)


Unsuitable futures for war heritage as backyard shed and unimaginative museum


independently from externalities as a result of its personal sources of electricity, heat, air and water, which made it a true autark. Apart from ‘Diogenes’ being a codename, a second interesting story surrounds the building’s eponym as it was also an important Greek philosopher. He lived in solitude and was known for turning extreme poverty into a virtue as he lived in a tub at a marketplace and his belongings were limited to a robe, a wooden bowl and a lantern. After witnessing a peasant boy drinking from the hollow of his hands he also destroyed the bowl. The story goes that Alexander the Great heard of his story and developed a great interest in Diogenes the Cynic. When he went to visit him, he told Diogenes he could get anything he wanted to which the philosopher replied, “If I can get anything I want, would you then please step aside, you’re blocking my sun.” As a lot of the convictions in his life seem to correspond to the unpretentiousness and simplicity of Wabi-Sabi this might offer interesting starting points for the development of the future intervention.

Cultural significance When considering the bunkers play in society, a somewhat strange phenomenon comes into play. There seems to be a paradoxical relation between the deteriorating process of the bunker on the one hand – not just considering the physical aspect but moreover its cultural significance – the fact that the bunker, and this goes for all war heritage, is gradually becoming part of the collective memory of new generations and the ones to come. This is simply the result of the robustness of these types of buildings that enables them to outlive us, and become cross-generational built heritage. Imposed onto the postwar society, we now choose to conserve the built heritage as physical traces of the times that once were.


Typical layout of Diogenes


Personal vs Collective Memory Bunker, war, pain, destruction. The simple meaning of the word ‘bunker’ seems to evoke unanimous images to come to mind. Images from a shared past to which we owe our current society and prosperity. And even though we all share thorough knowledge of terrible events like the second world war, the images that spring our minds are no real memories. The truly personal recollections of the last great war belong only to a limited number of people. A number which will keep diminishing until there are no ‘real’ memories left. This is the decay of primary memories. Analogue to the diminishing direct memories of WWII is the continuously changing role that bunkers play in cultural society. Having fulfilled their task, the demand for their intended function has since vanished so that they now remain remnants of the past; silent witnesses of long gone cruelty and despair. But is it really necessary that we uphold this idea of the bunker by which we artificially nourish its terrible image? It seems not, especially since there are already some clear examples that indicate the changing role of bunkers in present society. Thousands of bunkers in all shapes and sizes lay scattered across Europe, a lot of which are treasured by governments, cultural institutions, historians, and lots of other interested parties. Most of them wish to keep the fortifications and other buildings from that era as relics of war and try to get them listed as monuments. By successfully acquiring that status, lots of potential for creative future use is lost as the accompanying legislation dictates great restrictions. This way the bunkers become frozen in time (see chapter On Preservation for Cronocaos phenomenon). Because of this and a lack of creative incentives the buildings often become commonplace museums, caught in their banal expressive capacity. How many war museums and memorials do we need?


Bunkers and their connected negative emotions are gradually disappearing


Artistic treatment of the bunker aimed at drastically changing their identity


But there are other cases, which circumvent the fates just mentioned, that seem to give different meaning to the position of bunkers. They try to break through the general ideas of such historical buildings being dissonant heritage. Such projects seem to encourage us to better accept and appreciate history in all its aspects as it can be a great source for our future.

Function The dissipated function was obviously one of a unique character. Housing the very nerve center of the Atlantikwal, its main functionality was to keep out everything that was unwanted. The building was designed to withstand any kind of force one could think of and actually exceeded expectations doing so. Hidden in the forestry areas of the Veluwe its massive walls and roof of reinforced concrete withheld several strikes effortlessly. The building even proved to be indestructible from the inside; when the Nazis were forced to flee as a result of the Allied advancement, they tried to destroy the bunker and any evidence with it, by setting off bombs in the building itself, the moment they had to abandon it. The concrete structure however proved to be so massively robust that the damage only left some minor marks that can still be seen till this very day. After the allies captured the building and found out about this happening, the buildings function actually inversed. During the first period after the liberation of Holland and the re-establishment of peace, the building quickly became the pronounced place to safely set off any remaining bombs that were found in the area. But it was not just sheer force that had to be opposed by the thick concrete shell. In case the command centre was confronted with a gas attack it was possible to close off the main part of the bunker by means of several gas locks. Furthermore, for suchlike situations, 96

the complex was provided with its own aggregates and could thus operate independently from external power sources. This resulted in quite a unique set of characteristics; designed to keep out anything detrimental while fully assisting the internal functions; a building which seemed to aim at total independency.

Future “It is a rare occurrence for a great building to be completed by the same person who began it’ – Leon Battista Alberti, 1404-1472 What will the future of the bunker look like? What type of treatment is worthy of the concrete mastodon. Probably it could serve as an archive and storage for many years to come but is this really a suitable function for such a unique building? (The answer is probably not hard to figure out) Moreover this type of use will probably only last until better facilities are found for this function too. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that vacancy costs too much money. So for what other purpose would the bunker lend itself? And shouldn’t the building, given its collective cultural significance, be more publicly accessible? The fact that it has a severely closed and massive structure might make it appropriate to house a club or discotheque. Or simply turn it into a(nother) museum of war, like it was done with so many other residuary buildings from the same era. But is this not an already saturated sector, and how will the negative trend, of the interest in a war almost nobody experienced firsthand, develop in the near future? Above all it might even be quite eligible to get rid of its negative war-related image and to end the discussions concerning its ambivalent past. After all, the bunker itself does not have a horrible history like Camp 97

Westerbork for instance or even Auschwitz and neither does it contain the personalemotional atmosphere of the renowned Anne Frank house. All in all, what may be an interesting thought is that the building could better perish gloriously after being of great value once more to both individual and society, than attempt to artificially keep the building alive in a decrepit state, which actually infers that life will slowly ebb from the dissonant relic. After all as John Ruskin said, “The fact of death cannot be denied”. “A ruin at its best exhibits the appearance, image and atmosphere that are, because of their composition and vulnerability, irreversible. From that point of view any intervention seems one too many…All the more reason to be careful when interfering. Therefore, it is presumably the best solution to disengage from the process of decay, possibly delayed within certain margins.”44 Accordingly, building for eternity has never been and will never be an option. We need to acknowledge and accept the fact that everything will eventually vanish. This awareness will open our eyes to the appreciation of decay and imperfection.

Approach “It is by no means a given that there is an identifiable demand or rather functional concept for converted buildings. This is the case, for example, with specialized objects for which workable new uses are virtually impossible to determine and which would, at the same time, be too expensive to demolish – for example, bunkers – or other projects, which assume the function of creating an identity for the particular spatial context and which must 44

M.J. Kuijpers-Verbuijs, Ruïnes in Nederland, Zwolle (1997) pp. 87 (vertaling)


therefore be preserved. In these cases, it is necessary to develop a function tailored to the building and the location in order to establish a new relationship between space and function. The search for a concept that might be applicable to such difficult, massive buildings frequently culminates in hybrid uses, combinations that would be unthinkable in quite the same manner at any other location.�45 Every project that encompasses the redevelopment of existing sites and buildings has its own unique characteristics that form the focal point of the assignment. The extant fabric can differ in scale, typology, history, location, context, construction, materiality, age and in many other aspects that altogether determine the physical and non-physical identity of the site and building. This makes that the scope and approach of each project that focuses on architectural interventions should be different. The refurbishment of an old prestigious Horta city villa poses other challenges than the redevelopment of an old rusted silo on the outskirts of a industrial site (see chapter On Transformation). In some cases you might look for stark contrasts and introduce modern interventions on a big scale, for other projects a more humble approach may be more appropriate in which the modification are more subtle and aim to create a harmonic coexistence with the original building. Whatever the design strategy may be, the topics discussed in this booklet are probably all applicable to great extent, even though they are already specified to a distinct type of ‘re-architecture’. The prime research of the graduation project -of which this booklet is the holistic report of the preliminary part- focuses on the themes that are of great importance in order to successfully engage in an architectural redevelopment. The forgoing paragraphs of this penult chapter comprise a more specified elucidation on what the discussed topics mean for the domain of war heritage buildings, among which bunkers.


Christian Schittich, In detail : building in existing fabric: refurbishment, extensions, new design, (Berlin 2003) pp. 16


“Every conception that a man can find is in the stone itself, already there concealed in excess, but will still require a hand to free it that obeys the mind.” – Michelangelo The scope of the graduation project will focus on what type of latent qualities can already be found hidden within the existing fabric of the bunker. The aim will be to distill these valuable characteristics and make use of these potentials mainly by exposing and extracting what already exists on site, hence the name ‘Distilling Architecture’. The themes discussed so far are of great importance to do so correctly. The research question is as follows; In what way can the potential qualities of the existing building best be utilized in an architectural redevelopment, that shapes a new use and future of the bunker, while respecting and contributing to the physical and psychological identity of the site? The answer to this question will be given in the form of an architectural design explained through diagrams, sketches, drawings and models with a thorough theoretical base consisting of literary research and essays -such as this work- as well as architectural studies, models and analyses. After the theoretical phase which constituted this booklet, the subsequent phase will mainly aim at the direct architectonic components of the process through model studies and architectural analysis. The new use and corresponding program will be formulated and will together with the personal vision lead to an architectural strategy and concept. These are to be further elaborated on in the booklet belonging to the successive phase, which also comprises the interim presentation. We must resolve the possibilities of a shapeless future with the significance and meaning of established forms and experience. That which has been with that which could be, memory and imagination.” - David Chipperfield 100

Precedents As stated in the above paragraph on the future of bunkers, there are definitely possibilities for extending the life of a bunker by ascribing new values and functions to it. The fact that bunkers are part of a collective memory and heritage makes it appropriate that these new purposes are often open to the public. But this does not mean they all need to be turned into historical museums as the following projects will show.


Bunker 599 is cut in half exposing its interior


Bunker 599 – Rietveld Landscape & Atelier de Lyon In 2010 a collaboration between Rietveld Landscape and Atelier de Lyon lead to the cleavage of one of the 700 bunkers forming the New Dutch Waterline, a military defense line which was in use from 1815 until 1940. Slicing the bunker in half and introducing a publically accessible walkway right through its center creates the possibility to experience and get to know the interior of the bunkers, as they are all alike. If you would enter any of the other bunkers it becomes clear what a unique experience this generates. “You go inside, and you can no longer connect the inside to the outside. You don’t know anymore what the inside and the outside have to do with each other.”46 The hermitically closed rigidity of the bunker effectuates a complete shut off from the world around it. And even though you might feel trapped within it, the building simultaneously evokes a feeling of peace and security. The bunker effectuates this a dual experience of exciting sensation but at the same time invokes a tranquil state of mind; a seemingly strange phenomena for a building of war. The darkness and brute aesthetics of a bunker are the driving forces behind its mysterious character, not just when seen from the outside, as it is also what the massive structure feels like from the inside, that contributes greatly to its charm. “It’s very dark at the centre of a stone. Miserably so perhaps. I could drill a hole to towards the centre, but as soon as my drill gets there, and I retract my drill, light falls into the centre and I still won’t know the secret of the stone.”47 46 47

Ronald Rietveld, Bunker 599 [short documentary], Living Picture Film (2010) Ronald Rietveld, Bunker 599 [short documentary], Living Picture Film (2010)


The parasite entails a special relation with the existing bunker


Basecamp Nesheim - Bunkerologi An old Germand Atlantikwall bunker is embedded in the surroundings of Nesheim. The scattered remains of the old defense line along the Norwegian coastline are spontaneously being used by visitors in new ways. The new addition aims to facilitate such frivolous forms of use by placing a light, wooden structure on top of the heavy concrete bunker as a resting place and viewpoint. In all its innocence, it shows that the war heritage is still alive. Basecamp Nesheim, a name that refers to its military history, puts a focus on the exGerman bunker as cultural heritage, new ways of using it and the communication with it agricultural surroundings. Narrow openings, which capture the characteristic agricultural surroundings, remind of original openings in bunkers. The interior of the addition gives a safe and comforting, but at the same time narrow and frightening feeling. When lit at night, the outboard construction gives the bunker an unexpected livelihood. The wooden parasit is a comment of a new generation, which rediscovered the bunkers of the Atlantikwall.


Numerous LED lights guide the inner street


Saint-Nazaire AlvÊole 14 – LIN Finn Geipel + Giulia Andi A far bigger interventions was necessary in order to facilitate a future reuse of just a small part of the submarine bunker in Saint-Nazaire. While transforming the hulking concrete shell into a cultural center, the project simultanously aimed at restitching the city to the waterfront from which the bunker itself disconnected it in the first place. A competition for the reuse of the immense structure , measuring 300m x 130m x 18m, rescued the building from destruction. The winning entry embodied a plan that consisted of an International Center for New Art Forms, a contemporary music venue, an internal street and a rooftop cupola. The raw structure with wall thicknesses up to 9 meters was transformed with minimal interference keeping the roughness exposed. The subtlety of the intervention is exhibited at the internal street where nearly 400 led’s in means of fragility create a contrast and tension between new and old.


Infill spaces remain dettached from the original structure


One of the 14 submarine docks is now in use as music venue


The bunker itself becomes part of the artwork


Sammlung Boros – Realarchitektur In order to accommodate the personal art collection and realize a private residence in the vicinity for the Boros family, Realarchitektur converted a second world bunker near the city centre of Berlin. 3000m2 of exhibition space was created within the bunker mainly by puncturing walls and floors while on the rooflevel a 500m2 addition provides living space for the client. The listed building was constructed in reinforced concrete in 1942 and was appointed to shelter 3000 people in case of air raids. After the war the bunker serviced as a vegetable store and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 the building was used as a techno club and for temporary exhibitions. After conversions the bunker now has 80 rooms distributed over 5 floors arranged around a central core of spaces which houses the vertical methods of transportation, all the way to the private residence. In addition to the traditional so called white cube spaces, where part of the existing collection is shown, a structural and spatial interaction between art and architecture has taken place. The new spatial layout allows for the experience of art from multiple levels resulting in different perspectives and an enriched experience of the private museum.


The bunker and addition as seen from outside street level


Floors become interconnected and new spatiality arises by removing walls and floors



On the Sublime After confronting Diogenes it was clear immediately that this was the building that embodied the totality of this theoretical frame. The studies of the, among others, numerous topics that were discussed thus far, culminated into the theme of the sublime, a word whose meaning is incredibly comprehensive.

Defining Sublimity Before elaborating on the topic of the Sublime it is a necessity to state that, similar to the paragraph on Wabi-Sabi (see chapter On Decay), the treatise of this topic is subject to the problem of having to explain an emotional state, which finds its origin rooted so deep in the senses of mankind, that it is an extremely hard, if not impossible, task to do so through words and images. The true sublime is only to be experienced, not to be conveyed by written or spoken language. A understanding of ‘das Unheimliche´ and ‘das Erhabene’ combined into a single experience might render the closest conception to the meaning of the word. “…the sublime is kindled by the threat of nothing further happening*. How does one explain the pleasure of a pain that is stronger than satisfaction, for example the fear of impending death? Lyotard recognizes a double move in Burke’s account; terror must threaten and be kept in check, this holding terror at bay results in a kind of pleasure which is not a positive satisfaction, but a feeling of relief. There is a deprivation of a greater deprivation, privation at


one remove. This secondary privation is named delight.” (* The Lyotard Reader, ed. Andrew Benjamin, pp. 204-205)48

The following explanatory paragraph will elucidate what it is exactly, that Healy means when he talks about the ‘pleasure of pain that is stronger than satisfaction’ and the ‘deprivation of a greater deprivation’. In his book ‘a philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful’ Edmund Burke states that feelings of pain and fear are stronger emotions than those of delight and happiness as they inflict more powerful impressions on our body and senses, and as a result stay with us for longer periods of time. Even the relief that arises at moments when impending dangers wear off effectuates a more intense positive experience compared to situations in which we behold immediate beauty or safeness. This phenomenon is supposedly the result of a reciprocity between the initial tension or anxiety that precedes the subsequent alleviation. In such situations it is perhaps that first alarming sensation of not knowing exactly what we are experiencing that, through our endocrine system, causes a heightened state of awareness which ensuingly increases our sensory and emotional susceptibility. The following positive emotion –which Burke describes as a sort of relief- will as a result nestle itself more thoroughly in our sensory experience because of the amplified activity of the emotional receptors. Consequently this could greatly contribute to an intensified architectural experience. In an attempt to clarify the Sublime, Burke tries to explain by means of numerous linguistics how closely related fear and astonishment are related to one another;


Patrick Healy, Beauty and the Sublime, Amsterdam (2003) pp. 16


“Indeed terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently the ruling principle of the sublime. Several languages bear a strong testimony to the affinity of these ideas. They frequently use the same word, to signify indifferently the modes of astonishment or admiration and those of terror. Θάβος is in greek, either fear or wonder; δειѵóϛ is terrible or respectable; αίδέω to reverence or to fear. Vereor in latin, is what αίδέω is in greek. The Romans used the verb stupeo, a term which strongly marks the state of an astonished mind, to express the effect either of simple fear, or of astonishment; the word attonitus, (thunderstruck) is equally expressive of the alliance of these ideas; and do not the french etonnement, and the English astonishment and amazement, point out as clearly the kindred emotions which attend fear and wonder?”49

Architectural meaning When translated to the field of architecture the initial fear will rather resemble feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, ignorance, solitude, unfamiliarity and estrangement. Emotions of ‘das erhabene’ seem related to ‘das unheimliche’. For example this could mean that after a first confusing encounter with a vast, dark, empty or overwhelming space, when its contours and appearances gradually start to become clearer, we start to realize that the space embodies nothing of a threat so that feelings of respect, admiration and astonishment can find a way to our hearts. The emotional ambiguity of the sublime experience is born. Situations in which suchlike effects have a greater efficacy and better chance of success is when the representation does not coincide with ‘das ding an sich’ i.e. there is room left for 49

Edmund Burke, A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, (London 1958) pp. 58


interpretation. When architecture presents itself too strong as what it intends to be, it actually limits itself, and will never become more than that distinct presentation; it will never rise above itself and transcend to higher meanings. By means of aesthetic layering or delaying the moment of comprehension this effect can be toned down to a certain extent. But what often proves to be more effective is when architecture rather gives suggestions to what it could be, that it is somewhat incomplete and that it contains holes that can be filled with the imagination of whoever perceives it. This will lead to a higher exalted experience in any individual case. This is where the sublime surpasses beauty. While the things beautiful can be identified as so directly, it requires little effort understanding them for what they are, resulting in a ephemeral excitement which wears off in the longer term. The total absence of danger and inconsistencies is the source from which aesthetic beauty derives its power. Whereas the sublime with its ambiguity will always demand more exertion and creative supplementation to comprehend what is exactly is, one is looking at, sustaining this effect on the long-term. Dependent on age, knowledge and even the mood you are in, the experience will noticeably alter. The fundamentals of sublimity in buildings has to do with our inability to imagine an experience or comprehend a manifestation through an overload of stimuli on our senses, unclarity of presentation, or the impossibility to rely on precedent recollections. Immense scales, vast numbers and obscurity appear to be important factors in effectuating the sublime as they seem to present to us an idea of infinity, which is in itself something we simply cannot get our head around. Another important point, which is closely related, is the fact that in order for an object, building or environment to be sublime, it needs to impose on us what we can and cannot or do not want to do; it needs to subject us to its will.


“This is, according to Longinus, because in nature it is for man simply not the brooks that are restrainable and useful to him, but the mighty rivers he fears and does not control, that obtain his admiration. The necessary he knows how to produce, even with ease, and for that he subjects small nature. Yet it is big nature, which he never controls and which does not lend itself to man’s needs, that gives him an idea of freedom. And that is what he admires.”50 Further elaboration on this point indicates an important aspect of the relationship between nature and the objects, buildings and cities we construct. Directly related to this relationship is the position occupied by ourselves. The decay of buildings often encompasses an interesting paradox; while it involves the physical decomposition of building materials it is usually also characterized by the accretion of overgrowing vegetation. Such occurrences are clear manifestations of nature taking over temporal manmade structures, recapturing what was hers in the first place. If it concerns buildings in such cases that subjects and transcends us as humans, and is in that sense sublime, it will only further amplify the understanding we have of nature’s sublimity. To this understanding a personal conviction applies: “We will only achieve that, which nature allows us to.” A striking example of such an experience is a visitation of the Ta Prohm (Rajavihara) temples at Angkor in Cambodia. The strong sense of the place, radiated by the robustness of the archaic stones, makes it clearly tangible that you are in ancient sacred territory. The 50

Gijs Wallis de Vries, Piranesi’s Prachtstad (Eindhoven 1988) pp. 18 [translation] - original text: “Dat komt, zegt Longinus, omdat de mens nu eenmaal in de natuur niet de stroompjes die hem nuttig zijn en die hij benut, maar de machtige stromen die hij vreest en niet beheerst bewondert. Het nodige weet hij wel te produceren, met gemak zelfs en hij onderwerpt daartoe de kleine natuur. Doch is het de grote natuur, die hij nooit beheerst en die zich niet voor zijn behoeften laat aanwenden, die hem een idee van vrijheid geeft. En dat bewondert hij.”


Overgrown temple of Ta Prohm in Cambodia is a clear demonstration of nature’s supremacy


temple grounds, built in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire, have literally been undermined by the enormous silk cotton trees growing from within and on top of the monumental shrines. Furthermore, large parts of the area are completely littered with large stone blocks; chunks of the temples’ crumbled parts. Following are some captions from Edmund Burke’s literary key piece on the sublime ‘Philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful’ that support the above stated premises and further expatiates on the topic to convey its meaning; “Whenever strength is only useful, and employed to our benefits or pleasure, then it is never sublime; for nothing can act agreeably to us, that does not act in conformity to our will; but to act agreeably to our will, it must be subject to us; and therefore can never be the cause of a grand and commanding conception.” 3x (pp. 66) “Another source of the sublime, in infinity…Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect, and truest test of the sublime. There are scarce any things which can become the objects of our senses that are really, and in their own nature infinite. But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds of many things, they seem to be infinite, and they produce the same effects as if they were really so.” 3x (pp. 73) “To the sublime in building, greatness of dimension seems requisite; for on a few parts, and those small, the imagination cannot rise to any idea of infinity.” 3x (pp. 76) “Infinity, though of another kind, causes much of our pleasure in agreeable, as well as of our delight in sublime images…this is because the imagination is entertained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce in the present object of the sense. In


unfinished sketches of drawing, I have often seen something which pleased me beyond the best finishing” 51 (pp. 77) Burke also elaborates on the notion that in older buildings the crudity of work and material finishes, that result from the enormous amount of labor, dedication and force that went into the work –most likely because of a lack of modern tools and techniques-, leads to an awareness of great cultivated sublimity. “Another source of greatness is Difficulty. When any work seems to have required immense force and labour to effect it, the idea is grand…Nay the rudeness of the work increases this cause of grandeur, as it excludes the idea of art, and contrivance; for dexterity produces another sort of effect which is different enough from this.” 3x (pp. 77) The list of qualities and sources of the sublime is much more extensive and it would be . In order to get a holistic overview a good recommendation would be to read Burke’s book on the topic. In conclusion, a shortlist of further terms, causes and passions of the sublime discusses in that book is given here: Terror Obscurity Power Privation Vastness

Infinity Succession Uniformity Magnitude Difficulty

Light Color Sound Loudness Suddenness

Intermittence Smell Taste Feeling Pain


Edmund Burke, A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, (London 1958)


The sublime in buildings Across the entire globe examples can be found of buildings that each invoke different qualities of sublimity. Whether the architects were actually focusing on creating sublime architecture whether they succeeded in doing this is not important here. Even though the characteristics are there nevertheless does not directly mean they resulted in the sort of transcendent exaltation you would look for in sublimity, supporting the premise stated in the introduction of this paragraph, saying that it is not merely a fixed set of conditions and ingredients that will lead to sublime architecture.


Void of memory, Jewish Musem Berlin relates to Terror, obscurity, Difficulty, privation loudness, infinity


Holocaust tower, Jewish Musem Berlin relates to terror, obscurity solitude, vastness and suddenness


National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh relates to power, vastness, magnitude and light


The he great pyramids relate to power, vastness, magnitude, infinity, privation and difficulty


Stonehenge relates to difficulty, privation and power


Chiesa di San Paolo, Foligno,Italy relates to terror, power, magnitude, light and sound


Church of the redeeming savior, Tenerife, relates to power, obscurity, light and magnitude


How the human scale relates to the Church of the redeeming savior, Tenerife


Bete Giyorgis, Ethiopia, is a church carved out of the solid mountain rock by hand and relates to power, privation magnitude, difficulty, and obscurity


The WTC memorial, NY relates to pain and infinity


The (burnt) Uchronia structure at Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, relates to vastness, succession & uniformity and infinity


Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds at Tate modern, London, UK relates to vastness, succession & uniformity and infinity


Miroslaw Balka’s ‘How it is’ at Tate modern, London, UK relates to vastness, obscurity, sound, terror and magnitude


Eduardo Chillida’s proposal for the excavation of Tindaya cave, Fuertaventura, Spain relates to vastness, light, obscurity, sound, power and magnitude




- Edmund Burke / A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful / London / 1958 - Alain de Botton / The Architecture of Happiness / London / 2006 - Svetlana Boym / The future of Nostalgia / New York / 2002 - Vincent Carnizaro / Architectural regionalism: collected writings on place, identity, modernity and tradition / 2007 - Johannes Cramer / Architecture in existing fabric / Basel / 1997 - Irene Curulli / De-Cay or Re-Vamp / Eindhoven / 2008 - Irene Curulli / Industrial Wastelands / Eindhoven / 2007 - Luigi Ficacci / Giovanni Battista Piranesi : the complete etchings / Cologne / 2000 - Charles Hancks / Le Corbusier and the continual revolution in architecture / New York / 2000 - Robert Harbison / The Built, the Unbuilt and the unbuildable / 1991 - David Heald / Architecture of Silence / New York / 2000 - Patrick Healy / Beauty and the Sublime / Amsterdam / 2003 - Mélanie van de Hoorn / Indispensable eyesore / 2005 - Robert Hutchinson / Spying on an eyesore / 1999 - Zuzana Karasova / Ruins: The Black boxes of architecture / 2009 - Leonard Koren / Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers / Berkeley / 1994 - M.J. Kuijpers-Verbuijs / Ruïnes in Nederland, Zwolle /1997 - Neil Leach / Camouflage / 2006 - Rose Macaulay / Schoonheid van ruines / Amsterdam / 1965 - Noëleen Murray / Desire lines: space, memory and identity in the post-apartheid city / 2007 - Kakuzo Okakura / The Book of Tea, New York / 2001 - Rem Koolhaas, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui / Paris / 2010 / n°380 November - Rem Koolhaas / Preservation is overtaking us / New York / 2004 - Richard Roger / Testimonies of the city: identity, community and change in a contemporary urban world / London / 2007 - Michael S. Roth / Irresistible decay: ruins reclaimed / Los Angeles / 1997 - Rotor & al. / Usus/Usures / Brussels / 2010 - John Ruskin / Seven Lamps of Architecture / London / 1849 - Christian Schittich / In detail : building in existing fabric: refurbishment, extensions, new design, / Berlin / 2003 - Philip Ursprung / Caruso St John: Almost everything / Barcelona / 2008 - Axel Vervoordt & Tatsuro Miki / In het spoor van Wabi / Arnhem / 2010 - René Vossebeld, Geschiedenisboek Diogenes, (2007) - Gijs Wallis de Vries / Piranesi’s Prachtstad / Eindhoven / 1988 Wabi Sabi - Learning to see the invisible / Santa Fe / 2007 - Tim Wong, Ph.D. / - Peter Zumthor / Thinking Architecture / Basel / 2006




Photographic acknowledgements

- Fingerprint: http://www.dutchbuttonworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/FINGERPRINT.jpg - Paris Match: John Schneijderberg, photograph from panel at Cronocaos exhibition at Venice Biennale - Plan Voisin: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_CijcaA9yq58/TO_FTZK5ocI/AAAAAAAAIHw/v4Mk7RRYEaw/s1600/ Le%2BCorbusier%253B%2BVoisin%2BPlan%2Bdrawing%252C%2B1925.jpg - Beijing preservation schemes: http://www.designboom.com/cms/images/erica/--part4/beijing01.jpg - Hameau de la Reine: http://pixdaus.com/single.php?id=170296 - Broadway tower folly: http://lukemcreynolds.com/files/wallpaper/Broadway_tower_edit.jpg - Castleward front facade: http://www.heritageinterp.com/_borders/NT_N.Ireland_Castle_Ward.jpg - Castleward rear facade: http://www.gocaravanning.com/siteimg/castleward.jpg - Harvard University campus: http://www.designboom.com/cms/images/erica/-/tour18.jpg - Vacant NL pavilion at Venice Biennale: http://www.rietveldlandscape.com/images/000545image.png - Cronocaos at Venice Biennale: John Schneijderberg - Unesco vs AMO convention: http://www.designboom.com/cms/images/erica/-/tour08b.jpg - Thermenmuseum am Viehmarkt: Büro Ungers, Köln - Castelvecchio: John Schneijderberg - Palazzo Fortuny: Jean-Pierre Gabriel, Marco Tirelli a Museo Fortuny, Milan (2010) - Stark contrast old/new – Fiat lux: http://cdn.archdaily.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/1270648990fiatlux02.jpg - Panopticon study: OMA – Office for Metropolitan Architecture - Abbey ruin: David Heald, Architecture of Silence, New York (2000) - Modern ruin: Arno Raps photography, http://arnoraps.com/ - Traces of use from gate lock: http://a6.idata.over-blog.com/2/69/57/15/400-et-plus/L-usure-du-temps.jpg - Worn off steps as works of art in the Belgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale: John Schneijderberg - Wooden square in Wabi wall: Axel Vervoordt & Tatsuro Miki, In het spoor van Wabi, Arnhem (2010) - Wabi tea bowl: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_SC7mW1pU6nw/TAX6UWDTeII/AAAAAAAAAh4/exrGQ5Y5vdM/s1600/wabisabi.jpg - Japanese tea ceremony: http://www.spaciousplanet.com/images/world/japanese-teaceremony53212601687802493.jpeg - Diogenes: Geschiedenisboek Diogenes, ViCie vossebeldconsult - Backyard bunker: http://www.grebbelinie.nl/newsitem/47 - Bunker museum: Bunkermuseum Ijmuiden, http://www.historischekringvelsen.nl/velisena/images/070902001-Bunkermuseum-ehb.jpg - Beach bunkers: Markus Oberndorfer – Disappearance, http://congres2010.atlantikwallplatform.eu/images/expo/


- Bunker Mule: http://www.billwoodrow.com - Cut in half bunker: Bunker 599 – Rietveld landscape & Atelier de Lyon, http://www.rietveldlandscape.com/en/projects/7 - Submarine bunker: Saint-Nazaire Alvéole – LIN Finn Geipel + Giulia Andi, http://archidose.blogspot.com/2008/02/half-dose-44-saint-nazaire-alvole-14.html - Basecamp Nesheim: Bunkerologi, http://congres2010.atlantikwallplatform.eu/images/expo/PicBunkerologi.png - Museum bunker: Sammlung boros – Realarchitektur, http://www.realarchitektur.de/work_bunker.html - Folly Worcestershire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Broadway_tower_edit.jpg -Vacant NL at the Venice Biennale by Rietveld Landscape: http://www.rietveldlandscape.com/images/000545image.png - Ruskin versus Le Duc: OMA - Office for Metropolitan Architecture - Hannah Wilke – S.O.S.: http://www.hannahwilke.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/sosmoma.jpg - Hannah Wilke – Intra-Venus: http://www.feldmangallery.com/pages/exhsolo/exhwil94.html - Reichstag: OMA - Office for Metropolitan Architecture - Plan Voisin: Charles Hancks, Le Corbusier and the continual revolution in architecture, (New York 2000) - Bauhaus transformations: Architectures: Le Bauhaus de Dessau, Richard Copans, 2007 - Reichstag 4 identities: OMA - Office for Metropolitan Architecture - Ta Prohm: National Geographic, photograph by Robert Clark - Holocaust tower - Jewish Museum Berlin: http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=holocaust+tower&m=text - How it is – Miroslaw Balka: http://achromaticlight.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/balka-161.jpg


Distilling Architecture

“Every conception that a man can find is in the stone itself, already there concealed in excess, but will still require a hand to free it that obeys the mind.� Michelangelo (1475-1564)

John Schneijderberg 0580821

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