What is the right way to do heritage preservation? How should you approach an addition to an existing building? I was reminded of this topic this week, which then reminded me of a post I wrote last summer when this issued flared up in Ottawa because of the “Chateau Laurier battle.” The takeaway from last year’s post was this: “We cannot recreate the past, only parody it.” Indeed, the Province of Ontario maintains that “legibility” is an important principle in the conservation of built heritage properties. People should be able to distinguish the new from the old. Don’t blur the distinction.
I will also say that in architecture school they instil in you the ideas that buildings should be honest, they should reflect the current milieu, and that materials should be truthful. What this loosely means is that you want to use materials where they are most appropriate and you want to reveal their true nature. Don’t pretend that things are something they are not. i.e. Don’t be fake. At the same time, I very early on learned that most people don’t give a shit about the kind of nuanced and theoretical discussions that happen within architecture schools. They like what they like.
And there’s a big segment of the market that wants buildings to look as they did a long time ago. They want tradition. They want historic. Or they at least want some sort of “transitional” style that sits somewhere between old and kind of new. They want architects like Robert A.M. Stern and Richard Wengle, both of which are extremely popular and talented. So really, who am I to judge? As most of you will know, I’m a modernist. I am more interested in the future than I am in the past. But I recognize that the past is important and should not be forgotten. How best to do that is up for debate.