Monday November 27, 2017

Building Tension: When to tear down and when to build up

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

Across Canada, our city cores are becoming indistinguishable jumbles of tall glass buildings — new and shiny always seems to beat heritage or repurposing. City planning sometimes ignores scale and community. Four prominent and insightful architects discuss ways to tear down the edifices of modern planning and design.

When to tear down and when to preserve buildings in our city cores was the topic of a discussion held in Halifax at the recent annual meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).  **This episode originally aired June 19, 2017.


Building Tensions - Young Avenue Home

Historic home on Halifax's Young Avenue. The street is on the national Trust for Canada’s 2017 Top 10 Endangered Historic Places List. (Rob Short/CBC)

' 'I think preserving heritage fabric, not just buildings, but urban fabric, communities, is Job #1. And after we've done that, we can talk about what else we're going to do. Especially true now because it seems in our globalized world, what replaces the historic buildings are buildings that could be just about anywhere. No sense of belonging. It makes me think of times when that wasn't the case. When people were optimistic, had faith in the future. When Georgian London was built after the fire, or Victorian London was built, or Paris...In the 18th, 19th centuries, there was the idea that you could tear things down, and do better. And we've lost faith in the ability to better. I think we know what's going to replace the historic buildings is going to be worse, most of the time. It's sad to say, we've forgotten how to make good cities…"
–  Brian MacKay-Lyons, Contemporary Architect

Building Tensions - Halifax Wedding Cake House

Young Avenue's Cleveland House (The Wedding House) getting ready to be demolished. (Rob Short/CBC)

"I think buildings are a form of embodied knowledge and that when we destroyed them, then, in a way, we lose that knowledge... I think we're very loose with the term: historic and heritage….And I think that's what's happening in Halifax...happening right across the street from here, those buildings were torn down, because although they were old, they weren't historic.  And I think that's where the real push and pull comes from. All buildings have stories. And I agree, that we need to make better buildings with the idea that they're all going to have stories, and that they should all be here for a long time. And that we don't do that anymore. I think the push-pull, is what's historic and whether it has value. And the fact that we always have to defend existing buildings. Existing buildings, you have to start by proving they have value. And it should be the other way around: you have to prove that the new building has value."
–  Jean Carroon. Preservation Architect

"Unfortunately, in Canadian cities, and I think this is true pretty well universally, the most interesting historic buildings, that are not residential, that are monumental or that are part of the texture of the commercial area of the city, are always subject to the greatest assault. And I think what's been happening in Halifax, since the last time I've came...has shocked me deeply."
–  Julia Gersovitz, Preservation Architect

Panelists & guests in the program:

  • Julia Gersovitz, Preservation Architect, Partner at EVOQ and Adjunct Professor at McGill University's School of Architecture, Montreal.

  • Jean Carroon, Preservation Architect, Principal at Goody Clancy, Boston.

Further reading:

**This episode was produced by Mary Lynk.