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  #1  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2006, 7:25 PM
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Historicism or Contemporary Architecture?

I am part of organizing a symposium in Calgary surrounding the topic of historicism and what the architectural response should be when building new buildings in districts that have heritage buildings. We are looking for people both in favour of mimicking older architectural styles in new buildings in these districts, and people who advocate contemporary buildings that reflect their time.

Do you guys know of some architects that may have a strong opinion one way or another? People who are outspoken on either side of the debate?

Please let me know. Feel free to debate the topic too.

Title: Back to the Future: Faux History and Contemporary Buildings in the Beltline.

Here is the topic question:
What is the Topic: The topic of this year's Beltline Urban Forum is architecture and heritage. During this extraordinary boom in the Beltline community we have witnessed a number of architectural responses to the historic context that range from brilliant to just plain bad. The debate about what to build around older buildings became a loud and often adversarial clamour when the Mount Royal Block on 17th avenue was proposed. A poorly executed modernist box was rejected by the community as insensitive to its surroundings and gave way to what some believe is a kitschy replication of styles past. The question then arises, what should be the architectural response when designing new projects amongst valued heritage buildings?

Mount Royal Block:

Last edited by Wooster; Dec 22, 2006 at 7:31 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2006, 7:48 PM
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Unfortunately the architecture community has very different ideas than the general population. This is usually related to the idea that architecture is about architects and statements, and less about making places that people like.
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  #3  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2006, 7:53 PM
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Unfortunately the architecture community has very different ideas than the general population. This is usually related to the idea that architecture is about architects and statements, and less about making places that people like.
that's becuase people are generally stupid, and it's up to architects to force the ignorant masses into liking what is good.

people love the familiar; the new presents a challenge that upsets and frightens far too many within our species.

Last edited by Steely Dan; Dec 22, 2006 at 9:08 PM.
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  #4  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2006, 7:53 PM
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I should make a note here. This is what we get when Calgary architects go to the other end of the spectrum...

Citadel West


And how that Mount Royal Equities building (that Josh posted) is turning out
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  #5  
Old Posted Dec 22, 2006, 8:51 PM
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I have never been a supporter of retro or revivolist architecture. Buildings should be expresions of contemporary design. There is nothing worse than looking at a 21st century commercial building and guessing when it was built because it blends into everything else older around it. Can you imagine if Mies would have followed this axium? The only allowable exception in my mind would be in narrowly defined architectual historic districts where you would want all buildings to reflect the period.
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  #6  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 2:35 AM
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I personally think 'historicism' works best when it's not a reiteration of previous trends (ie, Notre Dame school) but when modern design and detail is applied to classical, 'historic' form and order. It can really work nicely.
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  #7  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 4:30 AM
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Oh Josh, we are going to have to sit down and have a good chat about this one over drinks. Maybe tonight if I can make it down after work.
My opinion is that architecture should be of it's time, representative of the current state of the art. I loathe revivalist architecture.
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  #8  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 4:35 AM
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Originally Posted by CGII View Post
I personally think 'historicism' works best when it's not a reiteration of previous trends (ie, Notre Dame school) but when modern design and detail is applied to classical, 'historic' form and order. It can really work nicely.
I agree. One of my favorites is Comerica Tower (One Detroit Center) which takes a modern skyscraper mass and adds historic motiffs. It's historic-styled, but not overly contrived.
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  #9  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 5:54 AM
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First I'll say that I tend towards the historicist side of the equation.

My problem with "contemporary" buildings is that most are made to be nothing more than contemporary -- they're designed to almost need a re-skinning some 20+ years down the road. It's not so much a function of the architects as it is the demands of the client, but the architects are still a part of it. There are so many buildings that appear to take a risk or two that no more than ten years down the road look simply mundane, and as a result I tend to roll my eyes at a lot of new buildings going up - almost a "guilty until proven innocent" mentality I have.

We know classical form doesn't age, so I find it hard to look past the common-sensical themes it embodies like scale and harmony while all the starchitects visually seem to go on about how jagged angles somehow reflects the time we live in. No, they're just anarchists. Turmoil and strife is as old as the human race.. no need to revel in it as if it's worthy of being some novelty "look at me" structure.
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  #10  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Arriviste View Post
Oh Josh, we are going to have to sit down and have a good chat about this one over drinks. Maybe tonight if I can make it down after work.
My opinion is that architecture should be of it's time, representative of the current state of the art. I loathe revivalist architecture.
me too. Mount Royal Block is an embarassment.
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  #11  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 11:20 AM
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Economic reasons makes historicism very expensive at present day
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  #12  
Old Posted Dec 23, 2006, 5:11 PM
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It's clear we're not going to solve this "problem" anytime soon. I generally favor contemporary over historicist, but I've seen enough good examples of the latter not to make an absolute argument against it.

There are a couple of issues, however. Can the historicist design be built with adequate and appropriate materials? The "faux" part really rankles when you see something done cheaply or with poor ornamentation. This explains, in large part, why we hate McMansions. They're usually not up to their own ambitions. We think - maybe unconsciously - that "nouveaux riches" live there. It's something like the art you see in La Jolla galleries: very traditional and yet utterly devoid of conviction.

Does the design itself have internal consistency? If not, it's because some necessary "rules" haven't been followed. Proper massing and proportion cannot be faked. Pelli understands these rules very well, which explains his popularity. During our Post-Modern phase 20 years ago, architects were having a more difficult time.

A mix of contemporary and historical works in most cities, although it helps if their scales are roughly equal. To see the eye-ravishing townhouses in Chicago's Gold Coast butt up against a 70s apartment tower is rather unsettling.

Bottom line: if you're going to do historicist: have the courage to spend the necessary money. If you cheat, people will notice.
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  #13  
Old Posted Dec 24, 2006, 7:09 AM
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people are generally stupid, and it's up to architects to force the ignorant masses into liking what is good
And that is why architects are far less important to the process of building than they used to be.

Architects were once the master builders of society. Now, due not wholly but in no small part to that type of feeling, architects are increasingly relegated to the sidelines - told to come in and make pretty after all the important decisions have already been made… and then forced to sit back and take it while civic review boards rewrite their designs. Save for in a handful of glamour projects going mostly to starchitects that are more about sculpture than “real” building, architects today have far less power, prestige or influence than they used to. And if you don’t think a big part of that is due to the disconnect between what artist-wannabe architects want and what everyone else wants, I have a bridge to sell you.

The really ironic thing is that maybe if architects disconnected their collective heads and asses, we might see some new contemporary styles with details that could compete with historic designs and that people actually like. Instead, the architecture world continues to plug along trying to force essentially the same geometric sculpturalism (different shapes perhaps, but the same basic game) that they’ve been pushing for at least 50 years, and which the public has soundly rejected (and for good reason - architecture isn't just art; we have to live in it).
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  #14  
Old Posted Dec 24, 2006, 7:58 AM
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I hardly blame the architects. The general public lost interest in the built environment just like it's lost interest in more of facets of life. Everything is so "now" and transient, these days, your average architect is simply giving the public what it wants, one-size-fits-all and forgetable designs save for the starchitects.
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  #15  
Old Posted Dec 24, 2006, 8:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan View Post
people love the familiar; the new presents a challenge that upsets and frightens far too many within our species.
doesn't that pretty much apply to all aspect of life and not just buildings?
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  #16  
Old Posted Dec 25, 2006, 4:48 AM
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Bottom line: if you're going to do historicist: have the courage to spend the necessary money. If you cheat, people will notice.
I think a successful, and obvious, example of this is the latest addition to the Mother Church of Scientology in Boston. They had created/refurbished this wing of a building a few years back and I recall wondering in amazement of how any organization could possibly afford such a true and high-quality representation of a long dead architecural practice in this day in age. I'm not talking about the actual "Mother Church" (I believe it's what the building is), because that is a cross between about a half dozen styles, though still absolutely gorgeous. This building seems to serve as one of their educational areas. Man, it's been over two years so perhaps some of our Bostonian forumers can remind us.
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  #17  
Old Posted Dec 25, 2006, 6:29 AM
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First, it's not Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard's goofy religion that South Park makes tons of fun of, but Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, an entirely different organization that still shares a common belief against psyschology and the like. They are the religion/organization that produces the excellent Christian Science Monitor.

Anyway, I think you, Altauria, are referring to the half-circle west portico thingy they added to the Mother Church back in the late 70s, after the whole Pei reflecting pool/tower/collonade was added, to which I can only agree that it was a high-quality and completely harmonious addition to the 1906 structure. Well, that or the new glass-wall addition to the Mary Baker Eddy library on Mass Ave just north of the Mother Church. Yes/no?
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  #18  
Old Posted Dec 25, 2006, 6:35 AM
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Oh, and josh white, you have the best avatar.. EVAR!! ..Bob Ross rules.
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  #19  
Old Posted Dec 25, 2006, 5:14 PM
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First, it's not Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard's goofy religion that South Park makes tons of fun of, but Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, an entirely different organization that still shares a common belief against psyschology and the like. They are the religion/organization that produces the excellent Christian Science Monitor.

Anyway, I think you, Altauria, are referring to the half-circle west portico thingy they added to the Mother Church back in the late 70s, after the whole Pei reflecting pool/tower/collonade was added, to which I can only agree that it was a high-quality and completely harmonious addition to the 1906 structure. Well, that or the new glass-wall addition to the Mary Baker Eddy library on Mass Ave just north of the Mother Church. Yes/no?
Wow, I apologize for my ignorance, but I thought they were the same organization. That's somewhat embarrassing.

And now that you reminded me, yes it was the glass wall addition to the Mary Baker Eddy Library. If I remember correctly, as I had moved there right at the time they started to create the facade (2001), they were reconstructing that portion of the building. I could tell it was part of an already existing, and older, building, however it was hard to tell if they were simply building AROUND already existing romanesque architectural pieces, or they were mimicing the eastern portion of the Library. Sometimes memory only comes back in chunks at a time. If they were building around previously existing walls, then my argument is for naught. It's still a gorgeous building nevertheless.
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Old Posted Dec 25, 2006, 9:03 PM
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The really ironic thing is that maybe if architects disconnected their collective heads and asses, we might see some new contemporary styles with details that could compete with historic designs and that people actually like. Instead, the architecture world continues to plug along trying to force essentially the same geometric sculpturalism (different shapes perhaps, but the same basic game) that they’ve been pushing for at least 50 years, and which the public has soundly rejected (and for good reason - architecture isn't just art; we have to live in it).
As a comparative layman of architecture, but involved on the development side, this intrigues me (and i have often thought the same thing).

Do you see the roots of what could be better design directions anywhere? Where does one look to see the thoughtful 'outer edge' and not the current popularized and sensationalized 'outer edge' of design?

I sometimes find it annoying listening to architects (and planners) blaming developers for ALL of our design-ills when i see little to no viable alternatives being offered by them. Some balance of things like livability, cost-benefit, and sheer beauty. Always one (usually cost) is out of line with what can be acheived with well established design templates.

Pitch to me something better and i will build it. But no one comes with a compelling pitch...





Claeren.
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