Over the last years, a worldwide housing problem has been arising. People are moving from smaller towns and villages to the big cities, resulting in empty houses in the villages and overheated city centres.
For the architects of the future, this demands some creative thinking: a solution has to be found for the shrinkage areas and the big cities should be remodelled in a way that more people can make use of it. For the cities, this leaves two options; demolishing an original building, replacing it with something more suitable for the current market, or, transformation in order to make use of the already existing buildings. Considering the historical value of buildings and ecological footprint of demolishing, the first solution might not be suitable. Therefore, the second approach seems to gain more importance.
This is where the main question pops up. To tackle the housing problem in a sustainable way, I believe that renovation and transformation have to become the standard in architecture. However, there is a long way to go. Almost all of the changes we as a society need to conquer on this topic, lead back to architects and their relation with fame and vanity.
Firstly, our vision on what ‘good’ architecture is, has to drastically change. Of course, there is not one way to describe good architecture, but as was pointed out in the first paragraph, there are some famous architects constantly being named as ‘the big ones’. All of the famous buildings that these top architects built are most definitely no renovation projects. These architects have received their reputation in a way that is not desirable nor realistic for the renowned architects of the future. However, because of the given role models for architects in the making, it might be hard not to strive for such goals. Universities could play a big role in changing the view on architecture. If the students would follow more classes with focus on future-proof buildings, outstanding renovation projects and reuse in different ways, instead of filling the sustainability-classes with insulation, solar panels and so on, the students would have a much broader vision on architecture than just the current famous designs.
Another issue in regard to renovation of buildings, is that an architect is continuing a project finished by someone else. The initial architect designed the building with their own style, ideas, visions and in a certain time frame. The building is the architect’s legacy. While renovating, this original building will end up differently. What kind of statement does the renovating architect make with their changes? And is there a correct way to deal with the initial architecture? Does this depend on the quality of the original architecture? Of course, there are different ranges in ‘quality’ of an already existing building; some buildings are considered monumental, others durable, meaning to function for a long time. However, many buildings are designed for a shorter time span.
When renovating, the architect has to decide on whether or not he will keep the original style, add anything or change anything. This decision will have a big impact on the original design idea. Is there a correct way to handle these situations? Should the original architect be included, or at least be informed about the redesign? Should the renovating architect commit to the original style, or make it extremely explicit that the transformed elements are different to the original? To what extent is an architectural design ‘owned’ by the designer? There are no strict rules about this, and there will probably never be straightforward answers to all of these questions. Still, they are important to think about before commencing on any renovation project. The redesigning architect plays a central role in the legacy of not only himself, but also of the original architect. These decisions will affect whether or not the legacy of the original architect continues to exist in the renovated design.
Not only the fame of current and past architects should be noted in this article. When looking into fame for the future generation we come across another problem. Because renovation projects always have an initial architect and a renovating architect(s), it ends up being extremely hard to give credit. Not only could it activate the discussion on whether or not the design has been solely made by the renovating architect or that credits should also be given to the initial architect, it is also harder to distinguish an incredibly well-designed renovation than it is to do the same for a new-built. Because every existing building is very different, the tools an architect receives when designing are almost incomparable. Some buildings might have been built with an open space plan and in good condition, while other buildings might come with many more challenges. This shifts the focus on designing more towards handling the given. This is very much contrary to the current way of high-end design discipline, in which buildings are in no way connected to their surroundings, and where the top architects consider their designs successful if the building could be placed anywhere. If all of us would be able to shift the focus from creating something unique and outstanding more towards resolving the complex puzzle of the given, the requested and the creative, it would not matter how complex, irregular or ugly the given building is. If the architect is capable of making sense from the most complex puzzle, and manages to make something suitable out of it, wouldn’t it be fair to be praised higher than a really outstanding and one-of-a-kind renovated building with less complexities?
At the end of the day, there is not one answer to any of these questions. But by asking them, we get one step closer to acknowledging the problem in our current system, and maybe this will inspire change in the way you and I think about architecture, and our views on future-proof fame.