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Raising Standards

Meet the Panel

Each year Traditional Building holds a roundtable discussion on a topic of current and enduring interest to its audience of design professionals. For 2007, the topic is additions to historic buildings and neighborhoods.

This roundtable had its genesis in a review of Paul Spencer Byard's seminal The Architecture of Additions: Design and Regulation in the August 2005 issue of Traditional Building. The author and the reviewer, Steven W. Semes, exchanged critiques in the following issue and then presented a debate at the Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference in Chicago in April 2006 and again as part of the National Civic Art Society's symposium, "Architecture of the Whole: Additions to Existing Buildings and Neighborhoods," in Washington, DC, in October 2006.

We brought Professors Byard and Semes together again, along with another participant at the symposium, Robert D. Loversidge, for a discussion centered on specific projects and what they can teach us about appropriate responses to historic buildings and urban fabric.

—Michael Carey, Editorial Director

Paul Byard: I was recently at the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation Forum. They had on the same bill, talking about renovations to older buildings, Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi and Thom Mayne. I don't know how they got all three of them on the podium together. The work was so satisfying and just seemed so natural, and so imaginative and so full of adventure, and so nice for the old buildings. "What's all the fuss about" was my reaction. The architectural imagination has been working for millennia, and has been coming up with wonderful things over and over and here were three really top-class designers. Thom Mayne didn't have anything specifically that seemed to be on our subject, but Tschumi had Le Fresnoy [National Studio for the Contemporary Arts, Tourcoing, France] which is just wonderful. He then showed Lerner Hall [at Columbia University, New York City] which everybody thought was perfectly awful – and so did he. And he admitted that he was just not very good at imitation. And then Steven Holl showed the Nelson-Atkins [Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri], which was just so humane and nice and I thought, "Look what we can do, look at all these wonderful possibilities and how well they work – these old buildings."

Steven Semes: How would you characterize the attitude they took toward the historic building? I'm not familiar with those projects.

Byard: With Tschumi, where the buildings – Le Fresnoy and the arenas – were, there was a demolition permit and they were supposed to be demolished. And he realized that he could say, "Look, don't demolish them because we can use the volumes, we are never going to be able to look forward to build volumes that big, so what we'll do is keep the old buildings and we'll simply put a roof over all of them." And it was a wonderful perception, a basic one – that the old buildings still work. They are still at work and valuable. Holl's attitude towards the Nelson-Atkins was perfectly wonderful. The brief of the competition said you must obscure one of the facades. He said, "Why do I have to do that? I don't want to do that. I'll just leave it alone and put my stuff on the side in a formal response that is very nice." So they were all deeply sympathetic in identifying the real value. The point simply was that the architectural imagination has been doing this for years. The results are so helpful, so enlightening. Anyway, one should just relax and enjoy it.

Semes: I don't have a problem with that. I'm all for architectural imagination. One of the things I found, again going back to Paris this summer, was that architectural imagination is really boundless. It can go in many different directions. With the Nelson-Atkins projects, are the volumes linked underground?

Byard: They are linked underground in a big long gallery and I think the elevated forms are essentially skylights. I mean, none of us have seen it – it's opening this week. One of the things that all these projects do is they really explore the possibilities of form, not just decoration, but the form as an expressive delight. And you start with this rather banal Classical box and you add the idea of these other ways of thinking about form and the whole thing gets to be very inspiriting.

Semes: How does this compose an ensemble in your eyes, Paul?

Byard: Because it's all looking at ideas about form – it's used five little ones and one big one and the Classical building is just, if you will, sort of a bit stuck together out of boxes of its own.

Bob Loversidge: Can it be that you can respect the original building by staying away from it? That's what was done here.

Byard: Exactly. And make more of it, in fact.

Loversidge: I think it puts a lot of emphasis on the original building, rather than the expected response of sticking a bump on the back.

Byard: That's right. The rule as far as I would think is essentially the one of hierarchy; the where did you put the old thing in the composition. And the two of them are so much more interesting together than the old one.

Michael Carey: Another project that Paul suggested that interests me is the Herzog & de Meuron Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg, Germany. To me, it questions a point made earlier – the hierarchal importance of the original building.

Loversidge: Every time you say something like that you find an exception to it that works.

Carey: This is a warehouse building, obviously.

Byard: But it's so helpful and the warehouse building gets something to do. It gets to have a partner.

Semes: It really does look like something out of Star Trek.

Byard: I love it. And the power of the piece is that the partnership of the pieces seems so appealing.

Carey: Two things about this. Firstly the original building, which, whatever merits it may have, is not a piece of …

Loversidge: No, it's not singularly spectacular.

Byard: But the interest of it is that it's very strong, and it's very compact and dense, and the addition responds so nicely to those issues by being compact and light and sitting on the other one, where it can enable them to work together.

Loversidge: What is this made of, the original building? Is it strong enough to hold up that mass?

Byard: It shows off how strong it is. I suspect the addition is a translucent or transparent plastic, if not glass.

Loversidge: Is there an open space?

Byard: There is, there's a whole reveal, a careful reveal between the two.

Carey: So two things about this are the quality of the original building that the addition is being made to, but also the siting of it.

Semes: It looks like a cruise ship that's docked. It looks like Carnival Cruises.

Loversidge: I think that issue of quality is a tough one, because you wouldn't want to look at that and say it's not a quality building. It is not a singular building, recognizable for a purpose. But a building like this seems like it's being adapted to a new use that makes sense, whatever that is, and the setting allows it to.

Semes: I think an interesting comparison would be to take that image and compare it to Jean Nouvel's extension of the Lyon Opera, where he builds this metal and glass barrel vault on top of a Classical building, which is very different. The Lyon Opera wasn't just a base, but a finished building, whereas the Hamburg building clearly is a kind of base because it's virtually opaque and inarticulate.

Byard: Now you remember what it looked like when it was just a full theater; what the hemi-cylinder, or whatever it is, does is make sense of it in a way that it had never been before.

Semes: But if you look at the before pictures, it was a perfectly respectable, complete building. How do you have a dialogue between two things that don't have a common language? I think that's a difficult question.

Byard: They do, because form is common to both.

Semes: But what do we mean by form?

Byard: There's a regular box, articulated in a certain way, then there's a fascinating…

Loversidge: Do you think these two things have a dialogue with each other?

Semes: I think they have a dialogue in the same way that "yes" and "no" could have a dialogue. In other words we have thesis and antithesis but we don't have synthesis. In my eyes, I see a confrontation, I don't see a conversation.

Loversidge: I don't see it as a confrontation at all.

Semes: It's hard to judge by the model, I mean who knows?

Byard: It's very easy to judge. That's what you are going to see.

Loversidge: Well, I think the compatibility here is massing and I think the massing is so strong. First of all, the original building is mass, that's what it is, and I think that the addition is mass too, and it's a different sense of mass. It's lighter, but it's feels good there. Not a very good architectural term I suppose! I think it's comfortable – it looks like it belongs there.

Semes: Something I'm writing about now, so something I'm very much interested in, is the way in which the 19th century used architecture as an emblematic means to forward certain social, religious, political or cultural programs. We saw it in Italy in the 1930s, where Mussolini used Roman antiquity and its appearance as a kind of emblem of the new empire that he wanted to create. Napoleon did exactly the same thing by bringing Roman antiquity and Egyptian antiquity to Paris to represent a new empire that would last as long and, of course, Hitler did the same thing.

Loversidge: Jefferson did the same thing here.

Semes: Jefferson chose the Roman republican temple because he wanted to pose the idea that American architecture would now reflect the ideals of the Roman republic and ideals and so on. This is fascinating to me and it seems to me we are still doing it. We are still doing it, but I think it gets us into some problems. I recognize that we're not going to stop doing it, but I'm interested in whether we can have a more critical and conscious view of what we're doing because, both positively and negatively, it has the potential to verge into a kind of a prejudice if it's uncritical. One could say "if you make a grid, grid equals rationalism, equals justice, equals democracy," or one could say "columns equal slavery, equals oppression." People do make these kinds of connections and I think that's very dangerous.

Loversidge: These are individual elements, where some of the other examples you were giving were more of a whole package, a whole style package. The Gothic Revival has all these things, and you can adapt them, perhaps, to some modern use, maybe not successfully, but you can adapt them. The Greek Revival says government.

Semes: Or democracy. I mean Allan Greenberg has a new book called The Architecture of Democracy and it is essentially about the Georgian and Greek Revival styles. And in the 1830s and '40s people took very seriously the idea that a Greek Revival farmhouse was a sort of evocation of the age of Pericles and I think, in a way, it kind of blinded them. Neither the Gothic Revival nor the Greek Revival really created an urban vernacular because they were so fixated on the iconic image of the temple or the cathedral. They didn't really study actual Greek architecture to find out how you made a city and it's very hard to just take little temples and march them down a street. Of course the Greeks didn't do that.

Byard: We do it.

Semes: We do it all the time, and that's what I'm interested in. How do we take that emblematic meaning and kind of balance it by looking at the actual architectural language? What was it really trying to do?

Byard: But surely one thing about Classicism is that it's exceptionally time sensitive. It varies from time to time, and the Jeffersonian Classicism has nothing to do with the Beaux Arts Classicism.

Semes: One can't assume…

Byard: Its whole intention is to do something different from that and I guess the great example, or emblem, would be the World's Columbian Exposition.

Semes: I think the idea of language is very important because you could say the same thing about English or French. The English of Shakespeare or Chaucer or of James Joyce is very different. What interests me is how something can remain the same but still be so different, and clearly language can do that. I think the Classical language certainly has proved that it can do that. I think the Gothic, to a more limited degree, has done that. I think it's interesting to speculate whether the language of the Modern movement, if we take it in terms of its origins in the '20s with Le Corbusier and Gropius and Wright, can also develop in the same way. How different can it be but still be the same?

Byard: It has, enormously. You could say that there were certain buildings that wanted you to understand them because they were traditional, or you had abstracted forms that wanted you to believe that they were rational. And what has been extremely interesting to watch, it seems to me, is a lot of forms which aren't relying on either being rational or being traditional but basically relying on a kind of personality. You see a lot of them in Dutch housing. It's really interesting because you'll see one neighborhood, generally a new neighborhood will have a lot of housing, but it will also have one dominant something or other that kind of ties it all together; then there are some of them that have sort of rational, rectangular pieces piled up together; and then there are some of them that have these things that are described by names like "whale" or something or other. You realize that those have names ascribed to them in response to the kind of personality that they have acquired and all of a sudden your relationship is made up, not because you appreciate a geometry or a set of symbols, but because what this thing has established is a kind of personal relationship. It's a very different way of evolving and I think that does come out of the abstraction, which is the essential part of Modernism.

Loversidge: I think the language is less precise. If you look at Classical buildings, you can take all of those Classical elements and find a way to get back to wooden structures in Greece, but the modern expression is going in more directions at once and it's partly because we're going more directions at once as a society. It's not as orderly.

Semes: But it's also retrospective. It occurs to me that, with the Hamburg building, if you look at the Herzog & de Meuron portion, aside from the material it's essentially the Berlin Philharmonic Hall by Hans Scharoun, stuck on top.

Byard: Some of it, yes.

Semes: I think that one of the things that I've been speculating about is the degree to which so much of what is seen as avant-garde today is in fact replaying themes from the '20s.

Byard: I guess it's not really responding to what's going on to say that because it's really working on very some different ideas, which otherwise make no sense at all.

Semes: But how is the Hamburg Philharmonic different from the Berlin Philharmonic?

Byard: Enormously – completely different. I don't know what the seating is like inside, but the degree to which the Berlin Philharmonic is a kind of lump, freestanding lump, which couldn't be more different from something that has taken its geography basically from the building down below and changed it in nice ways. The Berlin Philharmonic is entirely made from the plan.

Semes: But once you are working with shape it is very interesting because we're talking about the mass of the building as a whole. Once you're dealing with the shape of the building as a whole, you can change that without changing, essentially, anything else about the building. This Hamburg building, with its roofscape, is very similar to Scharoun's and I think they come out of a similar impulse.

Byard: When you talk about shape, in general I think what you are talking about is form, and form is an expressive device. Form is a whole wonderful thing that was sort of opened up by the Modernists, principally.

Semes: I actually make a distinction between those two words, and it's not my distinction alone. I got it from Louis Kahn, and he got it from his Beaux Arts training. I say that shapes are things that have no parts and form is something that is always a composite. The example that Kahn gave was a hammer. A hammer is a form – it consists of a handle and a head. If you take away the handle or the head, it's not a hammer anymore. The form is a composite of the two, whereas a shape is something like a cube or a cylinder or a molding profile. It has no parts. It's indivisible, and it's interesting when we talk about buildings as shapes. The shape of the indivisible unit of the whole is what we're talking about.

Byard: I think you are looking for a distinction that I would not make, and I don't think your distinction helps you very much. A form is a fundamental element of expression, from Palladio and on up. I don't think you could reduce forms per se.

Semes: That's exactly what I'm saying – that the difficulty with the Scharoun building, or the Herzog & de Meuron building, or many modern buildings, is that they do try to reduce form to shape by reducing the number of parts.

Byard: Nobody is trying to reduce anything to anything, except magnificently, as form.

Semes: The difference is that Palladio composed his wholes out of parts. Each of those parts is also a whole composed of parts, and it just works its way down, so that from the very small to the very large you're looking at a spectrum of objects that, depending on the scale you are looking at, are either a whole or a part of something else. That's how you make a city, if you are a Renaissance architect. You make a building that is a whole composed of many parts, then the building is a part of a city, which is composed of other similar buildings – so that's the composition and that's the form.

Loversidge: Complexity.

Semes: Yes, complexity and non-linear forms of order. The distinction I'm making is that the Herzog & de Meuron building has a very different concept of what a building is, compared to the one that Palladio had, for example, which is that the ultimate form of the building is composed of subdivisions, each of which is itself a whole, composed of subdivisions. And that's a very different approach from one which sees the whole as made up of a repeating array of identical units, like a curtain-wall, for example, that makes a crystalline, prismatic shape. They are entirely different ways of conceiving of buildings and I think if you put the two together, it's inevitable that there's going to be a sense of contrast between them.

Loversidge: Do you think that's the philosophical design difference or a technological difference?

Semes: I think it's a visual difference. It comes from the difference between, let's say, a still life by Chardin and one by Cezanne or Juan Gris. Cubism is the way that this came about in painting, where objects were no longer seen as composed forms – they were seen as outlines or silhouettes in undivided shapes. A lot of buildings are designed such that if they were the size of a cigarette lighter, you'd see it as a single shape without parts. Make it a 60-story building of the same shape and it's essentially the same thing. It's a single mass that has no parts, or if it has parts, they are identical.

Loversidge: One of things that you are suggesting, I think, is that as you approach a Classical building that you are going to see the big idea first, and as you get closer you'll see more detail.

Semes: That's precisely correct.

Loversidge: So why can't that happen with contemporary buildings?

Semes: I'm not saying that it can't, I'm saying it often doesn't. James Gleick, in his book Chaos, quotes Benoit Mandelbrot, the mathematician who coined the term "fractal." Mandelbrot was trying to explain fractals to somebody and he said that the universe in the Cartesian days was conceived of as being like the Seagram Building, where it was made up of a kind of grid or organized rational array of similar elements that are assembled into a whole. The universe is now thought to be more like the Paris Opera, which is a building that, from all the way down the avenue, you see it simply as a mass with no detail. As you approach up the avenue you see more. The building reveals new scales. When you are halfway up the avenue, you the see the end pavilions and the dome and the loggia, independent of the mass. It starts to break down into its composite parts. As you get right in front of it you see all the sculpture, inscriptions, gold leaf and all of the angels blowing trumpets and all of that stuff, and when you are right at to the door you see the actual moldings around the door – so every scale reveals new information and yet all that information was embedded in the whole to begin with. He says you walk up to the Seagram Building and from four blocks away, from one block away or from 50 feet away it isn't actually revealing any new information.

Byard: I don't agree with that at all.

Loversidge: With a building that has a sense of detail, one that has a sense of elegance, you're going to see the finish on the materials, the color of the glass, the terrazzo or the marble or whatever the focus becomes. When I was on the AIA Design Awards jury we looked at some wonderful buildings. My dilemma was that I was on this jury as a preservation voice, to try to let the Modernists on the jury appreciate what we do. The personality of the jury was very accepting of that and in the end, I was the bad guy because there weren't any projects that had the same level of detail and finish and design thought in that particular pool of projects that some of the contemporary buildings had, which were just exquisite with smart walls and the sense of detail of all the pieces and parts fitting together. You know, we're talking about exceptional buildings, not ordinary ones, but that's true with old buildings too. You can find just as many mediocre old buildings. In terms of unfolding approach, the building that taught me that directly was the Taj Mahal. I've been there three or four times because we've done work over there and it's a building that's exactly as you say; as you fly over it, it's absolutely spectacular, and as you approach it from any angle you see the form, and as you get up close you go through the archway and you see the garden. It's beautiful – every third step closer to that building you have a new sense.

Semes: That's exactly what I'm talking about. That's a formal composition.

Loversidge: But I don't think that it has to be old.

Semes: No. I would love to see a contemporary building that had that, I just don't know of one.

Byard: All of them do all of the time, including the Seagram Building. You also have to put it in the context of what it was trying to achieve. One of the great things about our lifetime, or at least my lifetime, was that we were revolted by ornamentation, because it was such a disguise. It was such a way of not saying anything. We were tired of trowelling on decoration. You have to remember that the point then was this is basically revolting. It is not saying anything that we need to know. We have a whole lot of problems that we do need to address and the great weapon is abstraction and the many things to do with it, and that's behind the evolution of a new way of establishing a relationship between you and form. The nice thing is that we keep evolving.

Loversidge: The question is then, can you get these different ideas, in a contemporary sense, when we are talking about additions to old buildings, because we can argue that a new building by itself can have or not have all these attributes, but an old building evaluates its success over history. But when we have an old building that we have to build an addition to, I think that's a much more difficult question.

Carey: I'd like to bring up the addition to the Carhart Mansion. This is a building we published in Period Homes in September 2006. It's an addition to a Horace Trumbauer building on East 95th Street in New York City. There were two proposals: one from Beyer Blinder Belle and the one that was built, by Zivkovic Associates with John Simpson. There is certainly a degree of articulation in the Beyer Blinder Belle façade and it relates to the Trumbauer building and by the standards of some of things we've looked at, it's not an unsuccessful addition – I think we'd all agree – but there is an obvious difference in the level of the way the addition relates to the original building.

Loversidge: If we look at one as the addition to another, we have to ask: What is an addition? This looks to me like another house in the same neighborhood that was very, very contextually related. It isn't clearly new, which is okay. If we're looking at a building that has a function that has grown – and maybe this is more institutional than residential – like a museum that's going to get bigger, an office building that's going to get bigger, and that institution is growing and the addition is a reflection of that, then I think that this is less successful.

Byard: The problem you are raising is that of the Jewish Museum in New York City, where Kevin Roche just did some more of it. I mean this is just sort of doing some more of it without making clear what's what.

Semes: It seem to me there are four different things you can do: You can make a direct opposition to the building you are adding to by saying "that was then, this is now, this is something new"; you can try to make a kind of abstract reference, where you maintain certain massing, a certain shape and size but abstract elements and make it clear that this is a new language, but it's somehow deferential; you can invent within the style, or even not the same style but a related style, where you say, "I'm going to create essentially a new neighbor in the same society of neighbors, without changing the rules" – and that is what this building does; and the fourth possibility is the Jewish Museum, where the building is just going to grow a new limb with its own genetic code – it's going to extrude itself. Those are four entirely different strategies and all of them are useful for different projects for different reasons and we shouldn't say that any of them is prohibited, nor should we say that any one of them is always correct. I think that one can argue about whether the Carhart addition was the correct strategy or not; the fact that the plan of these units actually spills from one house to the other does potentially create a sort of confusion – is it one building or two? On the other hand, I think one of the strong points of this new building is simply how it works urbanistically. The two schemes that we see here – the Beyer Blinder Belle and the Zivkovic – are very useful to talk about in terms of how we make that judgment. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission decided they were both acceptable, and I think that's a real opening because the more we look at a broader range of choices, I think, the better.

Loversidge: Right. All of these things can be done in the right spot, successfully. And there are certain circumstances, I think, where one or the other of the responses would be inappropriate. On certain buildings, a Frank Gehry design isn't going to work. The Isozaki addition to create the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio – a big kind of cigar added onto a Classical high school in not much direct context – works fine, but that wouldn't work on a state capitol, I don't think. So I think that those four approaches that you're talking about make a lot of sense, but we have to have, as always, the architectural judgment to decide what to use where.

Byard: They are all based on deciding, fundamentally, what you want it to look like, not necessarily what it means and what it says. I think what is fascinating about the addition to the Carhart Mansion is that it is an expression of somebody in 2006 deciding that he wanted it to look as if it had been there since 1900, and assuming this elaborate disguise.

Semes: Actually the units sold very quickly.

Byard: Oh, they are apartments. I see.

Semes: They are apartments – six units.

Byard: So the façade doesn't have anything to do with what's inside. It's just a matter of appearance.

Semes: But it's also a matter of an urban presence, so it's not just a disguise. It's an urban stage set if you will, an extremely sensitive one.

Byard: "Stage set" is a little too bad.

Carey: The point Paul makes brings up a central question: What do we mean by resource? Is it what the building means? Is it the material of the building? The National Park Service certainly seems to consider the resource to be defined by the material.

Semes: It's a very materialistic view.

Byard: That gets to be relative, but once you look at it in terms of what you learn from it, then you've got all sorts of possibilities of what to do.

Semes: I think we can all three agree that a strictly material approach to the resource is a problem. I just came back last week from a conference in Venice, sponsored by INTBAU (The International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism), called "The Venice Charter Revisited." The conference examined the 1964 Venice Charter, which as we know was the parent of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. As a matter of fact, W. Brown Morton III, the co-author of the standards, was there in Venice with us and talked about the way they very closely followed the Venice Charter. Over 60 presenters from dozens of foreign countries were in attendance. Virtually every continent was represented – people from India, Cuba, Norway, Australia and so on. Virtually everyone was in agreement that the materialistic view of the resource is too limiting and that what Paul just said, what we can learn from it, is part of the resource. So the phrase "cultural heritage" is being used widely in Europe, for example. Cultural heritage isn't just the artifact, it's also what went into the artifact. It's the body of knowledge, the formal language, the technical skill, the craftsmanship. All of these things are part of what made that resource, and if we're serious about preserving the resource, we have to preserve those things that made it possible too and in many cases, those things are still with us or recoverable.

There were people from India who were talking about how, in their country, they've been building and repairing these temples for 5,000 years and along comes the man from UNESCO with the Venice Charter in hand, saying "You can't do that, you have to build a glass box next to that temple." And they say, "No we don't, we've been doing this for a lot longer than you've been around." Well this is a very interesting debate now, and it's not just an American or a New York debate, it's a global debate. What is the status of cultural heritage when you have so many different cultures? And can a Eurocentric, masonry-based, materialistic, pragmatic person go to Japan and tell the people there that they can't rebuild the Ise Shrine again as they've done for centuries? Paul, I think your discussion of meaning enters into this because if you're going to look at the building in terms of something more than just the bricks and mortar, then you have to bring other things into the discussion.

Byard: Well, if you do look at just the bricks and mortar you're at a terrific dead end. The only way you can possibly move is to recognize the question of what you learn from it. I mean historic preservation is actually a fairly narrow discipline. There are all sorts of other things that go with the larger question of preservation – personal identity, politics and everything else – but historic preservation, the part that we can enforce with police power, is really concerned with what you can learn from a resource and how does whatever you've done to it protect what you learn from it and in fact expand what you learn from it?

Loversidge: But that still has to do with the question of what is the resource we're preserving. Because some of them have more importance with regards to meaning and history.

Byard: That's what we're trying to do so hard in the schools, to make the question first of all: What does it tell you? Then the next question is: How important is it? And nobody asks this, because we all love old buildings so much.

Loversidge: They must be saying something good.

Byard: That's right. And facts are not the same as significance, facts are something else. And then, how important is it? And then, what's the conflict? The other thing is: What's the choice that you're forcing on yourself? So some standard for the importance is very important and it's very interesting to work on – but being clear about those things, knowing that people have not been very clear.

Semes: I completely agree with that.

Byard: Significance is a combination of meaning and importance.

Loversidge: That meaning is going to direct you or limit you in terms of where you should go with an addition.

Byard: That's exactly right.

Semes: We all have those challenges, but I think there are some buildings that are inviolable. I don't think there should be an addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, necessarily, and I don't think there should be an addition to the Pantheon. I think there are other buildings that are considered historic because they participate in an urban fabric, where the individual building is less important than the ensemble, and those buildings have to be respected in a different way than an internationally beloved monument would be. How you evoke respect for a building that is a contributing structure in a district is going to be different than the way you evoke respect for, say, the Ohio state Capitol.

Byard: That's why it is so important to try to sort out what the value is that you're trying to protect in the contributing building.

Loversidge: It could be that the value is what happens in that building, and the ability to extend its life for another few years by adding more space is most important. The issue of needing space says a lot about "why additions?" The standards say: "Don't even consider it unless you've looked at everything else." Well okay, but sometimes it takes two seconds to look at everything else to realize that this building, if it's going to survive – and if we think it's valuable enough that it should survive, it shouldn't be torn down and replaced with a bigger building – then we have to find an appropriate way to answer that. I think that's a very rational, architectural process and not something that we should be afraid of as preservationists.

Semes: But it also follows from this expanded view of the resource. If you expand the resource to include not only the results, as the Parks Service would say "what has come down to us in history," but also what made it possible for that building to come down to us in history, if you look at the meaning or the body of knowledge, the building culture of which it is a part, then how would that building have an addition, if you looked at it from within that building culture?

Carey: There's a real point in Standard Number 3 – that a building must be seen as a record of its time and place. Now what is the time of a building?

Loversidge: Is it the time it was built? Is it the time that somebody famous lived there? Is it the time that an addition was built?

Semes: Or is it 10 years from now? Does the resource have a future?

Loversidge: But doesn't that standard come from the Paul Revere House? You know, that was restored to the wrong time. I mean it was restored to way before he lived there, and so he wouldn't have recognized it. The only reason it was restored was because of him. So what "time" is probably varies from building to building.

Semes: But then again that's probably taking restoration in a strict sense as a model, and if we are looking at rehabilitation rather than restoration, then to see the building strictly as a document of its time is too limited because you have to see the building as something that changes over time.

Loversidge: The building's culture, I think, is a better way to describe it than the building's time.

Semes: And culture can continue.

Byard: Culture is such a difficult word because it means anything you please, but surely one of the issues is simple differentiation – so you can tell the real thing from something else. When "of its time" came in, it was a piece of modern expression and modern writing that you had to distinguish one thing from the other. Beyond that, I'm not sure what it means.

Carey: Let's look at another building: the Renzo Piano addition to the Morgan Library in New York City.

Byard: Piano was at the Architectural League the other night and it was very, very nice because he showed this. The only thing I think will disappoint is that it's a little bit corporate, but he said something very funny. He said, "They just haven't learned to do an exhibition there, it's still a library." It's a wonderful thing. You have to back up and start from the whole building. Of course, what do you do with the entry? And the crucial thing to understand was that nobody from the public was ever supposed to go in that front door. That was Mr. Morgan's toy. It was his villa. He left his house, walked down the sidewalk and went in the front door. It was only used by Morgan, it was his private villa for enjoying his stuff. So that was never a public entry.

Semes: The annex used to be the public entrance. When the library was opened to the public, that was the public entrance.

Byard: Right, exactly.

Semes: And there was a beautiful link here with a Palladian window.

Byard: I disagree. It's just a dumb thing that went from one to the other. Piano's addition is so much subtler as a way of distinguishing…

Semes: You think that's subtle?

Byard: Deeply subtle, and if you see past it, it has proportions of its own. It's a little treasure box, and it sets off the old building in a way that the old one, just slumped into the back, never did. And so you then see the corner of the old building, and the problem now is it's a different institution, and the public face of the public institution now is on Madison Avenue. What he does is he makes a kind of democracy. There are three existing buildings and he adds three more and he sort of out-votes the old ones, but it's all very democratic. It's not one big thing.

Semes: One of the things that's interesting formally about this is, if you look at Piano's big box at the entrance and you look at the smaller box on the side, you'll notice that they're all proportioned in six bays or four bays or some even number, which puts a column in the middle, separating it immediately from McKim's façade, which you'll notice is always proportioned in threes. The reason it's proportioned in threes is to create a strong center. What Piano does is to preclude a strong center by virtue of the column in the middle and that's something that architects traditionally did to create a blank. A Palladian five-bay façade has a center bay, two links and then end pavilions. If you look at McKim's façade, there are five bays: there's a link, a link, a center bay and then two end pavilions. You'll notice all three of the main sections have three bays, which center them. The links each have one bay. Now Palladio, if he'd stretched this out, would have maybe put two bays in the links. The use of a two-bay or a four-bay composition kills the center, which means the emphasis goes to the centers of the three bay pavilions. What Piano has done is he's made a main entrance that refuses to be a center.

Byard: Which is part of the point.

Semes: Which is part of the point, perhaps, but what's interesting to me is that both of these original buildings and even the townhouse around the corner are speaking the same language. Piano's building is speaking a foreign language and, for my money, that means that all it can do is act as a kind of prosthetic device that links these three buildings together. It cannot join them – it just acts as a kind of conduit for the three of them.

Carey: Let's look at this in terms of resource. What was the resource, and is the resource protected by this?

Loversidge: I think it's absolutely protected. It stays away from it, particularly the really nice building on the right. It is a gem and a jewel like it always was. It's got to be the way that he thought of it, as a personal treasure box.

Byard: Right.

Loversidge: It's still absolutely that. You still don't get to go in the front door.

Semes: I would say that this does correspond to a view of the resource that is really very strictly limited to the material artifact, and it believes that the only way that you can touch that artifact is with glass.

Byard: It's all about showing off the asset in the best possible light and to honor it essentially by holding it up – "look at it, here it is." It's more consistent with the whole point of it, rather than to deny the object and to say you are honoring it.

Semes: I think the best way to honor the object is to keep it part of the world we live in today. I think that glass has become a kind of crutch. I think we turn to glass as a way of joining things together – as a way of not joining them, as a kind of apostrophe.

Byard: The glass here reveals the corner of the old building, which has not been revealed for a long time. What does it do to the resource? It allows you to see it as the little block it was supposed to be. Now that's a contribution surely to what one can get out of the block.

Semes: I have to say I found the interior space extremely disappointing. I really thought that it would be far more satisfying.

Byard: Well it is a perfectly beautiful volume – it is a bit sad that there's nothing in it. Is that the time?  

 

 

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