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Architectural fashion cycles

Witold Rybczynski wrote on his blog this week about historic preservation. He cites a number of reasons for why one might want to renovate, restore, and preserve an old building. But he also provides a reason for why one might not want to renovate, restore, and preserve an old building.

“What seems to me a less compelling reason is the idea that a building should be preserved simply because it is representative of a previous period or architectural fashion. In architecture, as in many human endeavors, not all periods are equally admirable; there are ups and downs.”

I thought this was an interesting comment because it reinforces the idea that this is a fairly subjective exercise. One of his reasons for preserving a building is that it might be particularly beautiful or represent some sort of human achievement. But beautiful to whom?

Similarly, who determines which architectural period or fashion is an up or a down? Is brutalist architecture worth preserving or is it not yet old enough to have perceived value? Will it ever be widely admired? And is there really an architectural cycle?

Many of us can probably agree that New York City’s original Penn Station by McKim, Mead and White was a tragic loss. But I am sure that many of us will also disagree on what are considered to be the most admirable periods of architectural fashion.

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