Since January 2007 we’ve been investigating alternative preservation strategies for maintaining our cultural heritage while embracing our future. By examining unexplored degrees of preservation between its ever-present all-or-nothing proposition, we’ve opened a new dialogue about how architecture should be preserved in the modern age.
Lately there have been some inventive examples set in the Netherlands for transforming dying industrial infrastructure. These strategies go well beyond traditional real estate development models in the U.S., but then the Netherlands is often ahead of the development curve. With a little imagination, there are countless ways to reinvent existing structures, and with some forethought, touch off the rejuvenation of dying areas. You don’t need a tabula rasa to construct viable development. Reinvention is both a model of preservation and a creator of place.
The built environment is a record of our cultural values, thought, and political systems. The act of preservation is a necessity in maintaining the authenticity of this record. The built environment is a dynamic organism sustained by human activity. As culture evolves, our environment expands, is re-inhabited, and is altered with invention.
There are pockets across the country where our heritage is celebrated, forgotten, erased, or reborn. Cultural values adjust from the urban, to the suburban, to the rural and from coast to coast. There is danger in remaking our past, but sometimes to re-establish the value of the forgotten, we must re-present its importance in an altered state.
What if we thought of preservation through the ideas of artist Gordon Matta-Clark?
What if we thought of preservation through the act of demolition?
What if we integrated a building into new development?
What if we expressed a building’s ideas and concepts through anatomical exhibition?
What if we re-inhabited a building by dissecting it?
What if we treated a building as public art?
What if we distribute remnants of a building to plazas and museums?
What if we move the building from its site?
Could we use degrees of preservation to educate?
Could we better heighten awareness of a building’s original value in an altered state?
Could we increase the perceived value of design in the public consciousness?
Could we preserve our cultural heritage while embracing our future?
In 2007 Paul Rudolph’s 1960 Blue Cross Blue Shield office building was slated for demolition to make way for New England’s tallest tower by Renzo Piano. Intrigued by the collision of new and old, CUBE set out to explore alternative forms of preservation and to help resolve the preservation vs. development conflict. The development plans have since been shelved due to the economic downturn, but we quickly realized this was not an isolated problem.
The legacy of Rudolph’s building lies mainly in its innovative facade that contains the mechanical and structural systems; thereby freeing the interior floor space for office use. Drawing from the work of artist Gordon Matta-Clark, we hypothesized a series of concepts that reinterpreted preservation as: integration, anatomical exhibition, dissection, public art and remnant in the form of an animated video. In doing so, we revealed aspects of the building that prompted a new understanding of its cultural contributions, and began a new dialogue about how architecture should be preserved in the modern age.
Blue Cross Building Cultural Significance:
1) Pushes architectural invention forward by rethinking mechanical integration:
– Created a vertical ventilation system on the building facade, making it one of the earliest precursors to the high-tech modernism style.
– Pushes pre-cast concrete panel technology forward to respond to new systems integration.
2) Rethinks the office building space plan:
– Creates maximum interior space flexibility by pushing interior columns and ventilation system to the facade.
3) Political response against the International Style and for context:
– Responding against the flat reflective-glass and steel towers of the International Style, Rudolph set out to create an expressive three-dimensional facade with more humanely scaled window proportions derived from neighboring buildings of the time. The building is the only one among its neighbors to offer public space at the ground floor.
4) A transitional building in the work of architect Paul Rudolph: his first tall building, and the first modernist building in downtown Boston.
Jeff Stein writes about CUBE’s ideas for re-purposing Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield building in downtown Boston.
See our project page for more info.