Preservation and Architecture do not mix

Rem Koolhaas postulates that the march of preservation necessitates the development of a theory of its opposite: not what to keep, but what to give up, what to erase and abandon. A system of phased demolition, for instance, would drop the unconvincing pretence of permanence for contemporary architecture, built under different economic and material assumptions. It would reveal tabula rasa beneath the thinning crust of our civilisation – ready for liberation just as we (in the West) had given up on the idea.

A constant tabula rasa is factitious as it is to the advantage of the architect. This notion of a throwaway architecture would allow a flourish in architecture as architecture’s raison d'être is to build. Preservation is not specific to beams and columns, that is, the hardware but preservation of structures must work hand in hand with preservation of the context (mostly social and cultural) of said structure. In short, preservation cannot merely exist in the domain of architecture but in the use of the structure as well; that is, the heartware — the domains of culture and society. We cannot accord architecture a contrived yet elevated status by preserving shells but abandon the reason for the existence of the shells. A library that looks like a library is NOT a library if it functions as anything but. On that note, it would then be almost impossible to reveal tabula rasas if preservation is now interested in the imbued meaning of places and structures. Let us focus not on the permanence of the buildings per se but the permanence of everyday contact with stories that are derived from the activities within these structures.

It is hubris of architecture’s nature if it is to think that preservation will be prospective. It is dependent on the reaction of society and its respective stakeholders to decide if a space has transformed to a place. The architect’s role is to ensure a structure has the foundations to withstand the test of time, that is, to be sustainable. It is NOT the architect’s role to play a time travelling futurist. Society decides what structures are worth preservation via social and cultural context and because that milieu is in a constant state of flux, preservation should be too.