ARCHITECTURE + ASSOCIATION HOW DOES REDEVELOPING A PLACE RELATE TO ASSOCIATION ?
PHILOSOPHY IN ARCHITECTURE T.J. HENRY DR. J.C.T. VOORTHUIS 05/2012
â€œWe may live without her, and worship without her,
but we cannot remember without her.â€?
- John Ruskin about architecture, 1849
Architecture + Association How does redeveloping a place relate to association?
T.J. Henry - Philosophy in Architecture Architecture + Association
Now some months ago, I was walking through an alley submerged in shades, shifting with warm sunrays that were flowing over the irregular roofs on my side. Moving towards my goal, I had no rush or whatsoever, enjoying the sounds of birds in between old ladies talking to one another in their balconies. The alley had a slight curve, and as much as I knew my destination, I did not know the things to come which my eyes could not yet see. It was spring time, and near sunset, the time to walk your dog and so it happened. The sun, still trying to reach every corner of the alley, created deep shadows along the balconies and in between the window frames, pointing out the alleys clean shapes and angles but also its irregularities and flaws from its age. Life was almost bursting out of the cracks in the walls; giving the impression this alley had a story to tell. What a happy place this was. But, what made this place an appreciated place? Beautiful as it is in my memory, what would remain of the memory if it was raining at that specific time and the old ladies were drinking coffee inside? It seems that association has its part in this matter. Everything seems more pleasant under a blue sky. You can ask yourself why.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, (1849), p. 171 02.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, (1849), p. 178
Beauty in age Architecture is regarded with serious thought since it is all around us and plays a major role in our daily lives, all throughout history. It is the scenery of our lives and thus of our memories. It are these memories that link with age, as it is that we build for the ages, not for the present. This thought was formed by John Ruskin, art critic of the Victorian era: “[…] when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, “See! This our fathers did for us.” For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age […].” 01 From Ruskin’s thought comes a certain appreciation for the history of a building. This has to do with a way of respect, honor and - more personal memories. Ruskin goes on about this sentiment of age, where a certain beauty can be found. Going back to the alley, the cracks in the wall tell me the building has endured at least several decades in - highly probable - changing conditions. Would I have known this if the wall was restored? Ruskin expresses this by the term ‘picturesque’ and this can be interpreted as the beauty he finds in buildings, coming from its decay and thus, age. To strengthen his thought; he thereby thinks “a building cannot be considered as in its prime until four or five centuries have passed over it” 02, leaving its marks and scars. This is true, as far as the age of a building gives the building its picturesque characteristics, that Ruskin so worships. But it are also these characteristics that make you associate with history and make you realize the building is already there for a long time, almost enforcing you to respect it. We are talking about architectural components like broken lines, strong oppositions of
light and shadow due to irregularities on the surface, or highly contrasted color; all worn down in time. These are basic architectural elements we still see nowadays. Modern times Making a jump in time, a lot has happened in between Ruskin – who lived in the 19th century - and the present, on the sly mentioning the industrial revolution which led to a modernist movement in the early 20th century, where Ruskin’s influence could be found in e.g. William Morris and his Arts and Crafts movement, highly inspired by Ruskin. Still, old and worn down buildings are all around us and how to deal with these buildings has become a current topic these days. Since the building industry grew enormously, space is getting scarcer and we had to start thinking what to do with this situation, if it was not already too late. The idea of preservation in the extreme way Ruskin saw it, could never cope with the developments in building happening in the 20th century. Cities grew faster than ever making their buildings bigger with the help of new technical possibilities. When we look at recent developments in the architectural scene, it seems we are getting overflowed with hypermodern design, which started about 15 or 20 years ago. Flashing websites or pictures and renders in fancy magazines have to convince us we should realize such a design while these only seem to exist for themselves, regardless of their context. This so called Iconic Architecture – or Magazine Architecture – is the urge to create an icon by being the biggest, most striking or most renewable. Iconic Architecture asks for criticism. What are the values? Criteria? Their purpose mainly (if not, only) is to get people to associate the applied iconic features with their brand, or to reflect their product onto their building; it is all about branding. This is a totally different kind of association in architecture, led by the financial market. These buildings are not designed and built for the ages, and therefore left to their fate as the lifespan of the building will exceed that one of the companies. You can say that only bureaucracies have a chance in succeeding settling in an iconic building, as they are not allowed to fail and their function remains. Thank God the economic crisis came. It put a certain halt to Iconic Architecture, making architects realize what actually was going on. Yes, in prosperous times it is easy to get carried away and in cases like that you soon lose track of the true values you at first stood for. Well, it left us with an enormous amount of empty office buildings, now even increasing in number as a logical result of the very same crisis. Seems already enough for me to state a new challenge for all architects these days; to rediscover the values hidden in the existing stock, hereby toning down some architects, trying to get them a bit more modest. Not to say there is no place for architectural design, but architecture has got to find its place again in this new task consisting of smaller adjustments, still having a big influence on our daily environments. We will have to talk again about basic elements like heights and masses, sustainability and attitude. The theme of redevelopment So here we are at the theme of redevelopment. It is here where there is much to win, as well as for sustainability as for the architecture itself. Let us go back to the principles of Ruskin and make it a goal to discover the values and memories that lie within these buildings that are to be redeveloped. But, where in the time of
â€œThe old needs the new in order to be recognizable, and the new needs the old in order to engage in a dialogue with it.â€?
- Mario Botta, Architectural restoration in Western Europe: controversy and continuity, 1994
Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After They’re Built, (1994), p. 2 04.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, (1849), p. 181 05.
Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After They’re Built, (1994), p. 91 06.
Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After They’re Built, (1994), p. 2
Ruskin we could talk about buildings with centuries of history, we now hardly can talk about buildings with decades of history; wondering what precious values and memories these could have gathered. This is the result of the many transformations in daily life for the last century. Cars came, grew in size and number, and garages and car parks tried to keep pace. Living rooms expanded around the television and in the 1960s women joined the work force, transforming both the workplace and the home. Developments like these will always be there and realizing this it now has become a standard item in the design agenda, to design flexible, and thus, to design for the ages - or in my own words, the future. Stewart Brand, an American writer and criticist, states the following: “Buildings persist beyond us. They have the perfect memory of materiality. When we deal with buildings we deal with decisions taken long ago for remote reasons. We argue with anonymous predecessors and lose. […] The whole idea of architecture is permanence.” 03 This can be seen as a modern version of Ruskin’s thought dating from 1849 referring to his predecessors, and can be found again in his following quote (also 1849): “[…] it is no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings or not. We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us.” 04 In spite of Ruskin’s wish to stop the hands of time, and to go and live in old buildings, Brand reflects: “One of the things that people like about older buildings is that they were built to last. They have a sense of permanence about them. Up until the 20th century people thought that they were building for the ages.” 05 A thought that still is valid now. An item to add to this thought is that older buildings have the ability to recall memories and thus can posess associations with history - valuable or not. Following on Brand’s quote, we are not building for the ages anymore, but we are designing for the future. The new design task is hereby to investigate and use the existing stock, and flexibility has to be taken into consideration. The lifespan of the old buildings can in this way be extended tremendously. When a building is first designed, it has a certain quality of adaptation in it. The more adaptable it is, the more flexible it is. In architecture this feature is necessary, since within a building all layers change at a different rate; function will change before the structure reached the end of its lifespan. A building is in this way always tearing itself apart. The redevelopment that is part of this process has to start with recognizing the existing values and/or memories which can be found in e.g. the location, decay of material, sense of space, etc. When it comes to adaptation, Brand states the following problem: “Almost no buildings adapt well. They’re designed not to adapt; also budgeted and financed not to, constructed not to, administered not to, maintained not to, regulated and taxed not to, even remodeled not to. But all buildings (except monuments) adapt anyway, however poorly, because the usages in and around them are changing constantly.” 06 It is up to redevelopment projects to make buildings adaptable and flexible again. The interventions needed to reach this, have to go into dialogue with the existing. This is the story of the old versus the new; where at its best the development of a building can be shown. It is also here where buildings and their changing use interact. A famous quote, and you can say, a founding idea of the modernist architecture in the
Literature: John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, Smith, Elder, and co., London, 1849 Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After Theyâ€™re Built, Viking Penguin, Willard, Ohio, 1994 Cover: Thomas Henry, Valencia, 2012
Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After They’re Built, (1994), p. 3 08.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, (1849), p. 179 09. + 10.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; The Lamp of Memory, (1849), p. 180
early 20th century, is “form ever follows function”, by Louis Sullivan, dating from 1896. Stating that buildings would form to their (changing) functions - and thus adapt - is a thought that misled many architects into believing that they could really anticipate function. Brand about this matter: “First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again – ad infinitum. Function reforms form, perpetually.” 07 Still it seems hard to pin down how buildings and their functions will interact, since we cannot predict the future, at least not completely. We may conclude that designing flexible in this matter is the safest solution. What about old buildings that just cannot live up with the physical standards of present time? Constructions and building physics often do not meet the required standards in modern times anymore. First thing that comes in mind is to restore. Repair. Or even demolish and start from scratch again. This might seem the easiest solution but it masks or removes all history - be it a good one or a bad one. Preservationist Ruskin cannot be left out in this case: “It means the most total destruction which a building can suffer: a destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered: a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed. Do not let us deceive ourselves in this matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.” 08 Ruskin here uses the term ‘false description’, meaning the building would not be its original self anymore. Ruskin goes on, stating again that restoration is false: “Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a Lie from beginning to end.” 09 As extreme as Ruskin puts it here, restoration is in many cases inevitable, being the last thing to do before demolition. History has to catch up with current standards and to do so interventions can have great consequences. But, also Ruskin seemed to realize this - may it be with pain in his heart: “But, it is said, there may come a necessity for restoration. Granted. Look the necessity full in the face, and understand it on its own terms. It is a necessity for destruction. Accept it as such, pull the building down, throw its stones into neglected corners, make ballast of them, or mortar, if you will; but do it honestly, and do not set up a Lie in their place.” 10 This thought perfectly reflects the attitude we should have in redeveloping, be it a bit exaggerated by Ruskin. The thought can be generalized to an idea we can take with us in modern design issues. Honest use of material, honest relations between the old and the new, honest design; it should be the main principle in redeveloping. Historic values and memories should be respected as much as possible, making the effort that the history ànd the development of the original building, as well as the use of it, are well readable. This makes sure memories and associations will remain and that there is place for honest developing, clearly showing the old and new eras of a building.
The next time I walk through an alley, I will wonder what caused that crack in the wall, that dent in the door or the lack of paint on a certain window frame. I also might wonder what the connection would be between that modern glass wall next to the aged plaster one, and what lies behind it. As long as I can walk through a city and I am able to read or guess its stories, the city will be able to build up its memories and it will be a city that lives.