Old Buildings New Forms

Françoise Astorg Bollack, Old Buildings New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations (New York, NY: The Monacelli Press, 2013), 224 pages and many color illustrations. Foreword by Kenneth Frampton. 

There has always been an intersection between new buildings or additions and old architecture. However, not surprisingly only in the last two hundred years with the emergence of the concept of modernity has it become a source of study and discourse. As Bollack points out in her introduction significant changes occurred in the 20th Century particularly in the decades following World War II. By introducing figures like Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson and Carlo Scarpa she sets the stage for a discussion about what she has termed “architectural transformations” over the last couple of decades. This is also interesting when seen against the background of the emergence of the preservation movement in the US where the term “adaptive use” continues to take hold and emphasis seems to be on contextualism. In that sense the book is very different from Paul S. Byard, The Architecture of Additions: Design and Regulation (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1998), which sought to find a design and possible legal rationale for that very contextualism.

To capture the spirit and intention of the ‘transformations’ and interventions Bollack has divided the book in chapters that in their headings identify the architectural strategies with such titles as Insertions, Parasites, Wraps, Juxtapositions and Weavings. In general the architectural language of the ‘transformations’ can be best described as ‘frankly modern’. This reflects the intent of the Venice Charter of 1964, which also brings us back to the mid-century period of significant changes that Bollack sets out in her introduction. This spirit of ‘frankly modern’ probably resonated more intensely in Europe than in the US where preservation tends to be more contextual and populist. This seems to be supported by the examples illustrated and their respective levels of intervention. Out of the 28 case studies some 10 are in the US, one in Canada and the remainder in Western Europe.

The book is beautifully illustrated with color photographs and mostly black and white smaller diagrams and plans making this a book par excellence for architects and designers. But it is more than that and in Bollack’s own words in the introduction:

"It is my hope that Old Buildings/New Forms will create a visual field of reference and a critical framework for contemporary architectural transformations and thus create a climate for a better appreciation of this architecture.”

And that it does. Congratulations. 

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