When we don’t restore buildings

In the New York Times, writer Nicolai Ouroussoff asks:

How old does a building have to be before we appreciate its value? And when does its cultural importance trump practical considerations?

The building that prompted Ouroussoff to ponder those questions is Kisho Kurokawa’s historic Nakagin Capsule Tower, a rare example of Japanese “Metabolism.”

But Ouroussoff could have as easily been referring to the old Guthrie theater, designed by architect Ralph Rapson. Both buildings represented unique architectural visions, but both buildings were also in a state of disrepair. And both buildings are of an era that’s a little too recent to inspire concensus over their historic value. Ourroussoff continues:

…all too often, private developments like the Capsule Tower, no matter how historically important, are regarded in terms of property rights. They are about business first, not culture. Governments don’t like to interfere; the voices of preservationists are shrugged off. “Want to save it?” the prevailing sentiment goes. “Pay for it.”

Until that mentality changes, landmarks like Kurokawa’s will continue to be threatened by the wrecking ball, and the cultural loss will be tremendous. This is not only an architectural tragedy, it is also a distortion of history.

While preservationists did argue for the rehabilitation of the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center (the owner of the land it stood on) deemed it too expensive, and not in line with museum’s core mission.

Now, the most prominent set of buildings by Rapson left standing are at the Riverside Plaza apartment complex. They too are controversial, in a state of disrepair, and represent a modern vision that has since faded. It seems inevitable that they, too, will someday be torn down to make way for a new, more profitable development. Then what will we have left of Rapson’s vision? Will we have distorted our own architectural history?

Comments are closed.