Architecture jocks

Respect for layering is a basic heritage principle.

Heritage places are the result of a layering of history, of use and change, and it is the values related to this layering which is important.
(Pearson & Marshall, 1995, Study of World Heritage Values Convict Places)

The principle is so fundamental that it is now a given that contemporary additions should be in a contemporary style, albeit sympathetic to the existing fabric in scale and treatment, rather than attempt to mimic the style of the original building.

On the other hand we doubt if anyone foresaw that layering in a different sense would become a plague on heritage buildings. First we had that heritage disaster, facadism.

facadism in london

Adaptive reuse it ain’t. It’s a blight around the world and can only be seen as a sort of architectural passive-aggressive contempt for heritage, a way for mediocre architects (and governments and planners and above all developers) to spit in the face of a public that preferred the building that was there already. It is revealing that, for all its ubiquity, facadism seems to have had only one serious book written about it and perhaps that’s an indicator of a secret shame within the architectural profession …. at least we hope so.

But there is another closely related form of physical layering, piling one building on top of another like a cake. Proposals date back decades and have almost invariably caused controversy.

But you do see cases where the results are good enough to be defensible,

Hearst Tower New York by Norman Foster
Milton CJ)

like Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York. But mostly piles, as we like to call them, just look ungainly at the smallest scale, and at the largest scale the historic building is often reduced to a hollow decorative podium,

Hearst Tower New Yok lobby(Photo glemak)

its integrity compromised if not completely destroyed.

And then one day you see a pile that can only be described as beautiful.

Caixa Forum Madrid Herzog de Meuron
(Photo greta_y_doraimon)

We posted another similar Herzog and de Meuron project in Hamburg but this is a smaller example of the same approach applied to the headquarters of a private benevolent trust, the Caixa Forum, in Madrid. It has more than the usual adaptive reuse virtues. Of course it reuses an existing building and it is appropriate in scale to its surroundings, but by removing the foundations they have given it the appearance of levitating, a conceit that lifts it well out of the ordinary.

The Caixa Forum has adaptively reused other buildings

Caixa Forum Casa Ramona Barcelona

– its Barcelona gallery is in a rebuilt 1911 Art Nouveau Factory – but the Madrid building,

Caixa Madrid Patrick Blanc plant wall
(Photo davidarredondogarrido)

with the addition of the Patrick Blanc Mur Végétal, raises interesting questions about the way cultural memes present themselves within different art forms. Removing the foundations of the original building

Caixa Forum Madrid entrance

effectively turns both the new and the original buildings into samples and the architects into architectural DJs (or should that be AJs) rubbing stylistic snippets up against each to create a delightful cacophony. It seems to have taken a century or so for the cubist collage aesthetic to reach architecture, and along the way it passed through Brion Gysin and William Burroughscut-up writing technique and the music of John Cage to hip hop and finally it’s ended up in architecture. Why has it taken so long? (Yes, we know there an infinite number of unintentional historical examples.)


  1. Posted 19 Feb ’08 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I’ve been revolted (or, mostly, confused) by facadism too, but let me just chime in with one thing. At least in my area, it’s not the mediocre architects that are the problem, it’s the mediocre developers and the mediocre civic authorities who conceive it as a meaningful solution. They make the basic decision “we’re going to make building X in this spot, and oh yes leave a little bit of the previous structure to show how sensitive we are.” It’s become a convention applied everywhere in town, even to this lame 1970s grocery that is being razed for the sake of a huge condo building. This kind of thing might even be written into planning standards or required to get permits. You wouldn’t believe how hidebound things are. So I wouldn’t blame architects for the concept — just for the execution.

  2. Ian
    Posted 19 Feb ’08 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    You’ve pricked my conscience so I’ve changed the post to afflict the other wrong doers as well. In fact in the end it’s all down to money poisoning everything. We’ve had a particularly monstrous example of this here today where the state government has just abolished its heritage office after a slimy and dishonest campaign in the corporate media against heritage legislation – more proof that there is only one unforgivable crime left in our society, “Thou shalt not stop a company from making money by any means whatsoever.”

  3. Adriana
    Posted 19 Sep ’12 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    i love the architectural buildings. when i visited Madrid i was amazed with all the unique buildings that have been built artistically. Madrid inspired me to become an architect!

One Trackback

  1. By » Ark on 4 Mar ’08 at 12:20 am

    […] Lin came to mind when we were writing about Herzog & de Meuron’s levitating Caixa Forum building because she also had built a levitating building, the adaptively reused cantilever […]

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