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10 Dec 2008 1,390 views
 
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photoblog image Zyrynology: A Professional Impotence?

Zyrynology: A Professional Impotence?

Capital Punishment or A Professional Impotence?

The concept of a wall has fascinated human minds throughout the history of mankind, from the Chinese emperors to the post-WWII autocrats of East Germany. Just recently a huge wall has been erected between the West Bank and Israel, a paradise for the graffiti masters from around the world (including Banksy). Only the public outcry messed up plans of the Bush administration to divide Baghdad into Sunni and Shea zones with an enormous concrete barrier. Even the used-to-be rebels-and-now-fat-cats Pink Floyd played with the idea.

 

All this went through my head, while I was standing on the corner of K Street in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., looking at this wall.  I went on thinking why would anyone want to reutilize an old wall as a facade of a brand new building.  

I recalled a heated debate I've had with my office colleague regarding a mansion that was recently built in the Ansley Park neighborhood in a fake 19th century classicism style. I argued that there is no need for a time warp in architecture, as in any other form of art for that matter. Just imagine Philip Glass or Steve Reich suddenly start writing music in the baroque style. Who needs it, if we already have Vivaldi, Handel and Scarlatti?

Why then to hide your 21st century building behind a leftover classical style wall? I hope the architect has a really good reason for it. Otherwise, I would call it a professional impotence (and, as you can see, a very expensive one).

 

Zyrynology: A Professional Impotence?

Capital Punishment or A Professional Impotence?

The concept of a wall has fascinated human minds throughout the history of mankind, from the Chinese emperors to the post-WWII autocrats of East Germany. Just recently a huge wall has been erected between the West Bank and Israel, a paradise for the graffiti masters from around the world (including Banksy). Only the public outcry messed up plans of the Bush administration to divide Baghdad into Sunni and Shea zones with an enormous concrete barrier. Even the used-to-be rebels-and-now-fat-cats Pink Floyd played with the idea.

 

All this went through my head, while I was standing on the corner of K Street in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., looking at this wall.  I went on thinking why would anyone want to reutilize an old wall as a facade of a brand new building.  

I recalled a heated debate I've had with my office colleague regarding a mansion that was recently built in the Ansley Park neighborhood in a fake 19th century classicism style. I argued that there is no need for a time warp in architecture, as in any other form of art for that matter. Just imagine Philip Glass or Steve Reich suddenly start writing music in the baroque style. Who needs it, if we already have Vivaldi, Handel and Scarlatti?

Why then to hide your 21st century building behind a leftover classical style wall? I hope the architect has a really good reason for it. Otherwise, I would call it a professional impotence (and, as you can see, a very expensive one).

 

comments (14)

  • Martin
  • United States
  • 9 Dec 2008, 05:06
It is always interesting to find the balance between preserving the old and innovation. I think people often make this compromise so they don't have to make the choice. Of course Houston is resolutely progressive. Anything older than 10 years must be torn down and replace, but there isn't that much worth preserving here either. Sorry for writing a book. It is an interesting issue.
vz-nostalgia: Preserving the balance between the old and new is not only interesting, it's necessary, Martin. I guess Houston is not alone with this kind of "progressive" attitude. Architects and general public in Atlanta have to fight back to protect unique buildings from developers who care less about history and art, and who only think of how to make another buck.
  • anniedog
  • United Kingdom
  • 9 Dec 2008, 09:46
It's called pastiche and shows a distinct lack of imagination. Some of the most interesting city streets have a mix of old and new and when it's done sensitively the old and new seem to complement eachother. I suppose sometimes people want buildings to fit in with what is already there but I think there is too much conservatism in architecture. Britain is full of twee little housing estates - bland and homogeneous and totally lacking in character.
Ingrid
vz-nostalgia: Hmmm... I always thought of pastiche as a musical term. Jazz musicians like to weave in a phrase or two from the music of other composers (often classical) in concerts and that usually makes the audience, who recognize the piece, extatic. smile
I'm not sure what was behind the architect's decision in this case. Could be that the client wanted to preserve this wall. Could be the city ordinance.
If you think Britain's housing lack in character, drive through the suburb of any American city! Blah.
  • Ray
  • Thailand
  • 9 Dec 2008, 10:02
Fascinating shot, VZ.
Profound commentary, which I have to applaud!
vz-nostalgia: Well, I guess I have to bow to your applause, Ray. smile In this case, I might do an encore one day. smile
  • Beth
  • United States
  • 9 Dec 2008, 15:16
vz-nostalgia: If you think I'm going to argue with you on this, Beth, you're mistaken. I think that preservation is important, as well. Tell you more, I led an architectural restoration atelier for a few years back in my previous life, and know this first hand.
I talk about a totally different thing here, about honesty in architecture. You either restore the damn building, and if you can't save it, don't fake it, build a new thing that is sensitive to the environment.
Good to hear from you as always.
I basically agree with everything you say. However, all too often beautiful buildings are swept away and replaced by eyesores.

The new University campus in Worcester is being built on the site of an old hospital that had some rather nice buildings, along with some very nasty ones. The shell of the best is being retained, and bear in mind one was the building The British medical association was founded in, and new buildings are being built as well. Will it work? We shall see. I am taking pictures whenever I can and posting them on my blog, so you can decide for yourself.
vz-nostalgia: "all too often beautiful buildings are swept away and replaced by eyesores". Tell me about it, Bill! Just recently, the architectural community here in Atlanta fought hard to save a library building from a greedy developer. And we saved it!
interesting one Victor, if that wall was of some historical importance or was actually very pleasing to the eye with lots of character i would say good on them, but looking at that which looks dull and boring i would have to agree with you Victor, nice shot by the waysmile
vz-nostalgia: well, maybe this wall does have some historic importance, Tim. We'll never know. Otherwise, I can hardly imagine how to justify that expensive solution.
  • Philine
  • Germany
  • 9 Dec 2008, 19:38
Oh, that is a very interesting topic always anew actual and hotly discussed, so nowadays again in Berlin where the old "Stadtschloss" (city castle) shall be rebuilt - I myself don't agree with that - also very expensive and -in my opinion arrogant- too proud decision- but in general I find it often very interesting if some pieces of the former architecture are combined with supermodern architecture, for example the "Reichstagsgebäude" in Berlin with the glassdome according the plans of Norman Foster- other buildings could be mentioned as examples of such fine and provoking symbiosis of old and new in order to emphazise the -often horrible- history (for we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors...) and to remember that...I think there is a difference between music/literature and architecture, for architecture is a very a visible art, often we see the relics/ruins of former buildings, why should not be integrated only some pieces, for example a facade, a balcony or..., as contrast, as provocation or as asign of origin and continuity- there can be included/visualized different messages - and every situation is different from the other- maybe that I would stand on your side while looking at the facade in your pic- but I have to know more about the history of this building before I could out my meaning.
vz-nostalgia: It looks like rebuilding once destroyed buildings is a chic in architecture nowadays. A bright example to it will be an enormous Cathedral of the Chirist the Saviour in Moscow, once destroyed by Stalin, and which has been recently rebuilt.
http://www.byzantines.net/epiphany/christsavior.htm
In case of the Reichstag building in Berlin, I do trust the sensitivity of Sir Norman Foster.
Regarding the differences between architecture and other arts. Of course, there is a difference, but would you agree, that any art should represent its own time. And this is even more acute for architecture, as it represents technology and art as one.
I think, as well, that there is nothing wrong with incorporating pieces of an old building into a new one as artifacts, a historical memento of a place. There are plenty of good examples to that, but I believe the case with this building on my picture is a bit different.
Straight talking: Retaining elements of the past is absolutely essential, as a last resort, if the whole building can't be reused. To replace with modernist Lego design for the most part is 90 percent crap and has usually been shoved up with a 20year life cycle. There is a great modern architect who admitted that there is no permanency in building .. but I think that is a crying shame.
richard
vz-nostalgia: smile Straight talking back:
"Retaining elements of the past is absolutely essential..." It depends, Richard. Not all modern architecture is "Lego design crap", as well as not old architecture consists of solid masterpieces (that could apply to music, literature or visual arts as well). I know one thing, though, as much as we like and enjoy old arts, the modern arts should reflect the time we live in the same way the Renaissance, the Impressionists, or Russian Constructivists reflected it. Otherwise, I'd still call it a Professional Impotence. smile
  • Ellie
  • England
  • 9 Dec 2008, 23:18
vz-nostalgia: "Sometimes I agree with what you say, other times I strongly disagree".
I am perfectly fine with that, Ms. Ellie. I just can't figure out what you are agree/disagree with here. smile
I agree with you, and if an old building is worth preserving then it should be the whole building surely.
You have people talking on this onesmile
vz-nostalgia: You got the point, Nig. smile
vz-nostalgia: smile Yep, Ian, "facadism", or even better "facadomy", as a friend of mine called it after looking at this picture:
"Facadomy is a horrendous perversion
But accepted, apparently in higher regions
Of Dante“s construct
But only by those who can afford it"
  • Louis
  • South Africa
  • 10 Dec 2008, 10:16
Pink Floyd did huh? Didn't know about that one. Anyhow on the comments - yes you would see some form of professional impotence in the re-use of a wall. I do respect you professionalism re architecture and you will have an opinion that I may not understand in all its facets. In a way I feel like Ellie - parts of the comment I support and parts not. Discussing all that will take another dissertation - and I am not an architect.

As far as the music comparison is concerned - I like most styles of music, which also indicate that there are exceptions. What I would not like is to be subjected to one style all the time or long periods of time. I like to mix it during the run of a day.

I have in my life seen refurbishment of old building into modern usage space. The examples I have in mind is then not just about a wall, but more of the structure is used. I thought that those ones are well done and fit in with the general environment. The modern behind the old is not hidden, but form a unit.

On the other hand I have travelled on the highway through Amsterdam and noticed very modern architecture using colour and shape to create exciting fantacies. I remember the book publisher's buidling reminds one of a book.

Your picture shows something else - a drab environment in which a front wall of probably another drab building is being preserved. To my feeling there is non-fit written allover the situation.

Ah these were just some thoughts uncovered by your thought provoking blog of today.
vz-nostalgia: Oh Louis, don't tell me you've never listened to Pink Floyd's "The Wall" album, or watched the movie with Bob Geldof. smile
"What I would not like is to be subjected to one style all the time or long periods of time". The diversity of music (as well as all other kinds of arts) exists only because the artists (composers, writers...) reflected THEIR time in their work, Louis. As it is unthinkable to envision rock music being created in 18th century, it's unthinkably silly to write madrigals in 13-14th century style today. The diversity you talk about, Louis, is a diversity of today's art. I'm talking about a significance of the historical diversity. So, when you look/listen to a piece of art/music, you can pretty much tell the period of time and the place in space where this piece was created. Architecture is a symbiosis of art and science, so all of this applies to it as well.
Hope it all make sense to you, my friend. smile
  • Ellie
  • England
  • 16 Dec 2008, 23:09
vz-nostalgia: smile You got the right feeling, Ms. Ellie. smile I don't see much sense in preserving just a wall. If you can't save the building, why bother? I suppose, there are cases, when it makes sense to incorporate an existing wall into a new building, but then it should be clear for everyone that this is an artifact, a piece of history as well as a piece of art (if it is the case).
Awful things are built at any time frame in our history, Ms. Ellie. There are plenty of examples of a tactful incorporation of new buildings into historic neighborhoods. It's all about a language of composition, proportions and color palette, and not a direct quotation from the time past.
I'm not trying to convince you, just share with you my thoughts on the issue. smile
  • Larry Bliss
  • Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
  • 17 Dec 2008, 02:00
This is weird, without a doubt. Reminds me somehow of all those Hollywood outdoor sets where only the front and side walls are built.
vz-nostalgia: Ha. I guess you're right. A theatrical decor to a play in a theater of Architecture. smile
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