Month: April 2018

Stop Demolishing Useful Buildings: a Manifesto for an Architecture of Transformation

I’m a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom I kill conversation as I walk into the room I’m a three line whip I’m the sort of thing they ban I’m a walking disaster I’m a demolition man (Demolition Man, by Sting) Demolition in progress in Barcelona’s historic centre Why is the demolition of old buildings and their replacement by new ones still widely seen as a sign of “progress”? Why is transforming an existing structure considered somehow “less architectural” than demolishing it and building anew? Demolishing perfectly sound, useful structures harms both the environment as well as our collective memory. In this age of human-induced climate change, existing buildings should be maintained and transformed through adaptive reuse whenever possible, regardless of whether they are listed as heritage or not. But there is also the issue of collective memory that is permanently lost whenever buildings are demolished that could otherwise be refurbished: their replacement by new buildings usually leads to a much more sterile and soulless environment, especially when this is done on a massive scale. This is not about preserving a status quo for reasons of nostalgia. Far from it. There are plenty of structurally unsound buildings everywhere for creating new building sites, to say nothing of the abundance of empty lots in many cities. This is rather about not always discarding things that are still perfectly useful, and...

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A New Low: the World’s Tallest Building

Faced with a half-day layover in Dubai recently, I decided to visit the tallest building in the world. I could have opted to visit a more architecturally pedigreed building, such as Concrete at Alserkal Avenue by OMA, or the Muraba Residences by RCR, both designed by Pritzker laureates. But no, I opted for the “marvel of engineering” that seemingly everyone else visiting The United Arab Emirates was also rushing to see, judging by the lineup at the ticket counter before it even opened. Dubai’s high-brow architecture can wait until another layover. Fashion Avenue at the Mall of Dubai The oddest thing about visiting the Burj Khalifa tower is the approach. It’s impossible for a visitor to enter through the building’s front door and lobby just like the everyday users of the building. Instead, visitors must approach this mega-skyscraper through an adjacent mega-shopping centre, the Mall of Dubai, from which a tunnel-like corridor containing an exhibition of gee-whiz factoids about the building leads to a ticket counter and waiting zone. At the ticket counter, a choice has to made between “At the Top”, a ride up an express elevator to the 124th and 125th floors that costs 135 AED (roughly €30), and “At the Top Sky“, a ride up another express lift to the 148th floor that costs a whopping 525 AED (nearly €120). Of course, I opt for the...

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The Memorial Project: Confederate Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, in April 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant wrote that “it would have been possible to walk across the clearing in any direction stepping on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.” It was the bloodiest battle in American history to that point, although it would soon be eclipsed by the carnage of Chickamauga, Spotsylvania, and Gettysburg. More than 1,700 Union soldiers lay dead, and an equal number of rebels. Fully one quarter of the men who fought on those days were maimed, missing, or dead. The bodies were piled into...

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First Person: An Oklahoma Teacher Speaks Out

Three weeks ago I was teaching in my Oklahoma City classroom when a voice announced over the intercom that our school was going on “lockdown.” In the moment, I thought little of it. Then a principal ran to my door, banged loudly on our window and frantically motioned for us to hide. I stood in a dark room huddled with my terrified students for 30 minutes before we received any word from the outside world. At that point we didn’t know that a student brought a gun into the school. We didn’t know that he dropped the weapon and ran....

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Red Rambler by Joel Long

Installment 18 is Joel Long’s “Red Rambler,” a poem whose speaker travels the hypnotic road of sense memory. One minute, we’re driving along in the present, tempted to look over bridge rails at water; the next minute, something triggers and we take flight, returning to the sights, smells, and sensations of a past we can hardly know. And yet we do know it intimately. *** Red Rambler My brother left the roach clip in the sun visor in grandma’s car. Though I never use it, I leave it there beside mirror and compass sphere, egg which rotated in fluid...

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