Modern Movement Heritage
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Modern Movement Heritage

Allen Cunningham, Allen Cunningham

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Modern Movement Heritage

Allen Cunningham, Allen Cunningham

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This collection of essays serves as an introduction to modern architectural heritage and the specific problems related to the conservation of modern structures. It covers policy, planning and construction. A selection of case studies elaborates on these issues and illustrates how problems have been addressed. This volume celebrates the first 5 years of DoCoMoMo's role and influence in this important area of building conservation.

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Any presumption to theory in architecture is suspect first, because normative expectations sit uneasily in any creativecontext and second, because the record reveals much architectural theory as contrived, post hocjustification. Popperchallenged the certainty which theory implies, introducing the dynamic procedure of conjecture and refutation as ameans towards the progress of scientific knowledge which tempers notions of truth, a process requiring open—mindedness, imagination and a constant willingness to be corrected. The criticism of conjectures is a means of revealingmistakes and clarifying the nature of the problem on hand. The conservation movement, far from proceeding on sucha methodological basis, has been dominated by pragmatism, in many cases of a finger—in—the—dyke order, because thetide of decay and its economic consequences has obliged urgent response. Neither the public or, in most cases, buildingowners, are susceptible to culturally originated pleas. Clarity must be sought, however, in order to inform action.Conjectures around conservation abound, but ref utations are not, as yet, ordered or accessible. The three papersincluded in this section offer first, a modus operandiwhich proposes a means of ordering priorities, second, a plea to re—evaluate the raison d'êtreof conservation in terms of utilitarian human need and finally, an exploration into theparadox of conserving modern architecture. In the film Twelve Angry Men, a juror, desperate to reach a verdict, offersa Popperian procedure: ‘Let's run it up the flag pole and see who salutes it!’ It is with those who do not salute that theconservation cause must engage in debate.

The icon and the ordinary

Henket Hubert-Jan


Although the approach towards preservation1in general does not differ between traditional and Modern Movement buildings,there are some specific aspects which demand tailor—made strategies for its relics. Those strategies relate to the selection ofbuildings to be retained, the level of intervention and to the paradox of conserving2 Modern Movement buildings. In broadoutline this chapter aims to structure a specific approach towards the Modern Movement.
If an architectural object is not properly maintained, however durably it may be built, it will either be changed functionallybeyond recognition over time, or will, in a technical sense, fall to pieces. The two almost always go together, because when abuilding is functionally or economically obsolete, nobody will spend money on its upkeep. For example, great Romantemples were demolished when religious ideas changed; their columns were often reused as building materials for thefoundations of Christian churches. Great Gothic cathedrals, like Notre Dame in Paris, were degraded to storage buildings orcontractors' yards at the end of the eighteenth century. They were technical ruins by the time Viollet—le—Duc started hisconservation work in the middle of the nineteenth century And his efforts were only possible because interest in the Gothicheritage revived, so there were those prepared once again to spend money on these buildings. Ever since, the conservation ofold and valuable buildings has become an increasingly accepted phenomenon. Twentieth century buildings, in particularModern Movement buildings, are more vulnerable to the influences of time than their predecessors, and as a consequence,this exposes even more, the paradoxes of conservation.

A static object versus changing demand

Most buildings are erected to serve a purpose, otherwise no one would be prepared to invest in their realisation. In otherwords a building's raison d'êtreis being a utility. Yet we want a building to be more, we want it to touch our feelings, wewant to elevate the utility above its everyday reality. Nietzsche said it clearly in 1872: ‘The truth is ugly. We have art so thatwe aren’t drowned by the truth.’ In other words one might define architecture as utility art. And we could argue that thisutility art becomes worthwhile if it has managed to capture the soul of a particular need and a particular context at a particulartime, if it has managed to bring the prosaic and the poetic into equilibrium.
Yet, a given fact of existence is that the only constant in life is change. Sooner or later the requirements will alter, whichmeans that increasingly the original utility doesn't fit the changing demand. We are faced with the paradox that whereas we, asliving creatures, are dynamic by nature, the buildings we make, in fact most artefacts, are static by definition. Before thenineteenth century, in general, this was not particularly disturbing, because requirements were mostly limited and onlychanged slowly. Besides, both the durable building fabric and the neutrally positioned load bearing structures enabled easyre use. However, since the Industrial Revolution, building requirements have increased dramatically (and keep on doing so) inorder to raise the quality of the facilities being provided and to cut their costs. The response to this dramatic increase meantthat buildings began to be designed to suit ever more specific requirements. As a consequence, this resulted in an enormousexplosion of building typologies. In a short survey carried out some years ago only seven university building types for theseventeenth and eighteenth centuries were identified and, for the second half of the twentieth century over 250 types werecounted. These twentieth century buildings are not, of course, constructed any longer with technologies which are meant foreternal durability, but for the dynamic and economic reality of the day. A vast range of new materials and technologieshitherto unknown in the building industry have appeared, with a limited life span. This means that the transition of twentiethcentury buildings is both a functional and technical phenomenon. A few examples will suffice as illustration: today, officeshave a useful life of approximately ten years, factories eight years and shops only five years. The dynamics of buildingchange today are so fast that, for example, a museum extension we designed seven years ago in Rotterdam is now to bealtered into a restaurant. Our client for the new Law Court building in Middelburg was a property developer from whom the Dutch State rents the premises for a period of ten years, because ideas and requirements change too fast to make ownershipprofitable.
One might, therefore, conclude that whereas before the Industrial Revolution the most important buildings were intended tolast for eternity, since then we are increasingly making ‘throw away’ buildings. As a consequence, regarding twentiethcentury buildings, the emotional appreciation of a building is often longer—lasting than its functional viability.

‘Throw—away’ buildings for eternity

As touched upon above, as soon as building requirements start to change, the match between demand and utility will fade.Adapting the building fabric might result in an economically and functionally satisfactory solution. If not, the final verdictwill be demolition. Yet, if the emotional or historic value of the building is sufficiently apparent, we must be prepared totemper our functional and economic desires. In which case it is the work of art we primarily want to keep, rather than itsutility. Here we are faced with another paradox which is that we are aspiring to keep ‘throw away’ buildings for eternity,buildings that were intentionally designed for a short functional and technical life expectancy.
Before thinking about a conservation approach to suit these new facts, it is important, first, to establish a preservationstrategy for Modern Movement buildings. It is necessary, therefore, to consider what to preserve and how to preserve it.Conservation, with its various levels of intervention, is only one option within the total preservation approach.

A preservation approach

At the start of a new century, it is important to decide what of the recent past we should preserve for future generations. Firstthere is a qualitative aspect. In the nineteenth and increasingly in the twentieth century, architects have devoted the main partof their efforts to a domain which, in previous ages, was left to anonymity. Their attention is not so much focused on theextraordinary any longer but on the ordinary, on the everyday artefacts elevating the life of the masses, on mass production,on housing for the lower income groups, on factories, offices, hospitals, sports complexes, schools, etc. There is also aquantitative aspect. In this century, far more has been built than in all previous ages put together and it is not possible, ordesirable, to keep it all.
How should we approach this phenomenon? The first question is why do we want to keep objects of the past if they are notfuntionally and economically useful? As mentioned, it is primarily our appreciation for the work of art, our love andfascination for its beauty, its mystique and its presence. There are also more scientific reasons for doing so, such asassembling knowledge and understanding the way of life of our predecessors, their technical innovations, the physicalperformance of their buildings, etc. Everything we do, imagine, make or invent, has its roots in the past. So proper knowledgeand understanding of our (recent) past is a key to development in the future.
The next question is, which twentieth century buildings should be selected to preserve and how should we preserve them?To keep everything for eternity makes functional, economic and cultural nonsense. We have, therefore, to be selective. Noteverything has to be preserved in the same way and not all buildings or building types of importance have to be physicallyconserved. In most instances, proper documentation in terms of drawings, photographs, models, interviews, videos orcomputer—aided virtual reality can be an effective way of conservation. And this is particularly so when saving thearchitectural heritage of this century, since people who were involved in the design, realisation or occupancy of thesebuildings might still be alive and large quantities of relevant information are often still available.
Although it is extremely important that a selection is made of all relevant twentieth century buildings as regards anapproach towards preservation, the DOCOMOMO movement only concentrates on buildings, neighbourhoods, cities andlandscapes of the Modern Movement. Consequently, this is the primary concern of this chapter. Several well—known criticshave made attempts in the past to arrive at a workable definition of the Modern Movement, but without success. What we canestablish is that the pioneers of the Modern Movement and their successors have always had a proto—typical approach,experimenting with new social concepts, with new technologies and materials and with unconventional forms and colours.Modernity, in an architectural context, might therefore be defined as that which is innovative in its social, technical andaesthetic intentions.
For a building which fits this definition of modernity to be selected for preservation, it should also be historically clear thatthe object concerned was innovative at the time of its conception and thereafter. In other words it should prove to have beenmore than a whimsical idea of the moment, it should have demonstrated withstanding the test of time. Thus, a certain timedistance from the date of its original design conception is required, a period of say twenty years, before a decision can betaken with some degree of objectivity. There is, however, a certain danger in this approach. Some buildings or neighbourhoods,whatever conception of ‘ordinariness’ might have inspired their conception, have become icons in themselves, objects thathave been elevated through cultural appreciation to an extraordinary level, due to the heroism they represent, due to theirmanifest quality, or simply due to sheer beauty. Other buildings, however, which are also manifestations of historically important ways of thinking, are not culturally appreciated partly because th...

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