Preservationists don’t like demolition, and even more so, they don’t want to imagine how demolition can be a positive thing. Nevertheless, demolition is inevitable, and how can it be harnessed for good?
As Miles Glendinning clearly demonstrates, there is no doubt that the relentless and unreflective wholesale cannibalisation of architectural heritage can lead to great cultural loss – it can cripple the integrity of individual buildings and render incoherent a wider interrelated fabric or urban form. There is no doubt that the lengthy decay of Rome after its initial sacking is a cultural tragedy, and that a salvage mentality caused its greatest damage.
Contemporary heritage resources in urban centres are facing new challenges as the compact urban form is championed as one of the most sustainable options for the future of humanity, and urbanization, a phenomenon well established by the beginning of the 20th century, becomes even more densely populated. For instance, downtown Toronto has been undergoing a rapid change in recent decades, and the continual growth of glass condos are putting immense development pressures on historic building stock. The typical urban solution of Facadism has become so much the rule that construction companies have well-established strategies and pricelists for the dismantling, storage, and re-erection of intricate masonry facades.
When a building isn’t listed as a heritage item, mock-heritage reinstatement can follow if councilors lean on the developers with new bricks being utilised of different colours and mere interpretations of historic masonry units used. In addition, when a historic designated item is slated for demolition nothing is salvaged, brutish demolition companies value speed and efficiency above all else – and they have neither the equipment or capability to salvage historic materials.
I propose that a planning instrument of ‘last resort’ could be explored and potentially useful in maintaining a memory infrastructure in a positive way, and could include older building stock that contributes a historic sense to a streetscape even if they aren’t heritage listed. Yes, this proposition sounds like a management nightmare, and the details would get messy, but its not enough to let those buildings go that we cannot save… especially when valuable elements could potentially be saved, reused, and reinterpreted.
Just yesterday I spoke with a friend in Cincinnati who tore down a stone church, it lies in a mad pile on his property waiting for landscapers to nibble its hind… He dreamt of re-erecting the tower, but most of his leads turned dead. Meanwhile, development continues all around Cincinnati, so why not develop some sort of heritage re-purposing scheme? Schemes such as the City of Sydney’s Heritage Floor Space (http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/development/application-guide/heritage-conservation/heritage-floor-space-scheme) turned preserved heritage into a tax rebate and offered developers more lucrative floors on skyscrapers – if we are clever enough to figure out such a convoluted planning scheme surely we could discover how to repurpose salvaged heritage in a beneficial way.