Heritage and culture: a bridge between the past and the future
How does one decide if an existing building, questions of its aesthetical value aside, should be preserved/converted/renovated/improved? Who truly holds the right to decide what to raze, what to rebuild, replicate, enlarge? Why is it we have the constant need to redo?
As a (fairly young) architecture firm, we are, like many, sometimes (overly) influenced by passing trends, the winds of change as it were. The Schools of Architecture bare testament to this: Modernism, Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, Neorationalism... to name but a few. And with our experience conceiving rail stations over the years, we have come to find there holds a remarkable potential in the confrontation between the new (the future) and the existing (the past).
Yet there is rarely a manifest willingness to create a beautiful dialogue between the two. Usually, one sees a strange pastiche (most likely kitsche) of hodge-podge add-ons, weird configurations, unexplainable shapes, etc. This does little to reveal the innate qualities of a building, a particular context, a town or city. It rests on the architect, however, to look past the peculiar proclivities found in today's building mash-ups... and to return to a sound starting point from which a more sensible (and impressive) renovation/transformation project may begin.
Connecting the past with the future should never be about sacrificing one for the other, or both. A project's capacity to respond to its context, whether it be cultural, social, built, etc... is more about the formation of an appropriate and meaningful construct. Superficiality has no place in the attempt to link the past with the present, the present with the future. Naturally, the opportunities that exist within this domain involve museums, libraries, schools, archives, and the like, but it is on a larger scale that the agency finds a more intriguing question to be answered: for the urban plaza, roadways and infrastructure arteries, suburbs, etc. At this level, the idea of bringing to an end the amalgams and mixtures of ad-hod constructions might finally be achieved. Brussels is a prime example of a city in the process of questioning its heritage on an urban scale.
The questions associated with heritage and culture cannot exist on a purely museum level. Buildings must contribute to a new urban form. They should not be hijacked or rendered helpless to today's obsession with a cultural consumption. Cities are not museums. Our interest in leaving a trace of our existence, in redoing, should be oriented towards a more humanistic and conscious approach for architecture. It is a given that old buildings will need renovations, that certain will be replaced in their entirety. But the marriage that could result when the two harmoniously come together... therein lies the true potential! Otherwise, the public will have no choice but to revere historical, meticulously-sculpted buildings, at the same time as our newer modern interventions disappoint, victims of their own preoccupations: time, budget, profit, etc.
We should not let this occur. Our heritage and collective memory is at stake.
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