Author: Rafael Gomez-Moriana

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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Fake Architecture News?

A few weeks ago, I received a curious e-mail from someone representing “a digital marketing agency currently working with a leading architecture and design firm.” They wrote to inquire if I, as the proprietor of this architecture blog, would be interested in “featuring sponsored content” on behalf of their client. Here’s how it would work: a “tailored article” would be written by someone who would first familiarize themselves with my site “to get a feel for [the] tone, style, and the type of content” I usually post. I would be sent a draft of the article and could “review, edit and reject”...

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A Guide to the Many Flags Visible in Barcelona These Days

[Originally published in Art4d Magazine] Barcelona is currently festooned with flags hanging from apartment balconies. It’s been this way especially since 2010, when the Spanish Constitutional Court in Madrid, responding to a legal challenge presented by the then recently elected Popular Party of Spain, overturned several articles of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, including a particularly contentious one that made reference to Catalonia as a “nation.” This statute had previously been passed by the legislature of Catalonia and the parliament of Spain, and ratified in a referendum by the Catalan electorate, so its modification by the Spanish...

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Sponging the City

Esponjamiento urbano, a Spanish term that literally translates as “urban sponging”, refers to the process of aerating dense, historical urban environments so they become more “porous”. It involves demolishing buildings to make way for public space or public right-of-ways of some sort, thus reducing urban density. A similar concept in French is percement urbain, meaning to “pierce” new avenues through a city fabric; the most famous example being Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The pre-modern European city,  enclosed by ramparts, was densely built up mainly for reasons of defensibility. However these ramparts eventually became ineffective against “improvements” in artillery, at which...

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