Should a cultural heritage site, or a street with 19th-century architecture, be obliged to retain its traditional design and architecture? In my opinion, this is a pertinent question in situations where several local administrations, with help from their urban planning advisory councils, tend towards mimicry, and therefore reproduce a style of architecture from the past in a 21st-century environment. Furthermore, it is a question that many architects and urban planners are facing today.
Imitation may allow an object to “disappear” into its environment due to its color, shape, and materials, but such imitation is accompanied by absolute stillness. Moreover, it is a shame to lose a uniform urban layout and an original style of architecture in order to replace it with a collection of sterile, often boring, buildings. But a location can demonstrate architectural excellence through combining the old with the new, and creating a stunning clash of time periods.
However, we sometimes forget to discuss two of the most important elements – historical preservation and the people themselves. A development that succeeds in finding the right balance between all the elements of planning and design can become a well-received specimen of art within a historic urban environment.
In 2012, Elyana Javaheri of This Big City published an article about the modern building’s place in cities classified as cultural heritage sites, and used Toledo, Spain as an example. “Toletvm [toe-lee-tum] is perhaps the most contemporary piece of architecture within the historical urban setting of Toledo. The rectangular structure, tilted roof, and wide windows of the building are very abstract compared to the consecutive but colorful two story homes, castles, and narrow urban alleys of this town. Yet this difference is deliberate. Toletvm was built to provide something new for Toledo, a modern gathering area and welcome center for residents and visitors,” says Javaheri.
A more recent example is the city of Marseille, the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Additions include the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, which has a footbridge leading to Fort Saint-Jean, a 15th-century building. Fort Saint-Jean constitutes a true meeting point between the city and the museum, as well as between history and the building’s contemporary backdrop.
Restoration work on the Historic Monument of Fort Saint-Jean has linked the fort to the new museum with a 115 meter-long walkway, and a second footbridge of 70 meters has been put up between the the harbor and the square in front of Saint-Laurent church in the Le Panier neighborhood. In this way, such new works have ensured an urban continuity between the oldest part of the city and the new cultural facilities grouped on the seaside boulevard.
When we see cultural heritage cities succeed in mixing the modern and the ancient without harming heritage sites, we cannot help but inquire about the feasibility of doing the same in a city like Drummondville, where there seems to be two recurring scenarios: either we demolish and replace, or we preserve and are therefore unable to put forward any architectural innovation. Is it that complicated to make old and new coexist on Drummondville’s soil? When will we dare to do it?
If new buildings are to exist in spaces of cultural and historical significance, should they be designed to blend into their environments? Can modern architecture enhance the aesthetic appeal of a historic neighborhood?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.
Original article, originally published in French, here.