POSTSCRIPT
Final Thoughts and a Possible New Direction for Exploration
 
 

As demonstrated, the mediating wall seeks to establish a balance between the separation and integration of new construction with the existing context. However, separation often remains as the dominant theme; rarely does the level of integration surpass a surface level and penetrate deeply into the built fabric. Because it is difficult to accept the new on the basis of its own inherent qualities, symbolic elements of the old architecture are applied to the new to suggest a level of continuity. The new is constantly compared to the greater hierarchical value of the old, a value level generally determined by age-value.

In an essay written by Mitchell Schwarzer, an examination is made of the myths of permanence and transience in American culture as they affect the practice of historic preservation. The essay outlines the difficulties of accepting the qualities of old and new on equal terms. The dilemma is deeply rooted within the American experience and is a condition fostering support of the mediating wall and maintains a separation of past and present. These notions make it difficult to move beyond the current condition of historic preservation practice which often maintains a particular view of the past.

The American transient experience is closely tied to associations with the opportunities presented by the American frontier. In contrast to the faulty values imbued by an apparently corrupted society, the frontier offers freedom, family values and independence to those willing to tame this fresh place. The strong man can impose his will on the new landscape with relative ease and follow his own personal dream and ideals. This imposition is undertaken at the expense of other factors, primarily through the destruction of peoples and other values standing in the way of progress and the American destiny. African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Native Americans and even nature are the groups experiencing the negative side of the frontier experience through servitude, oppression and destruction. Schwarzer illustrates that early preservation projects, like the imposition of the individual's will on the frontier, were often oblivious to the destructions created in their wake.(100) In an effort to come to terms with the singular significance of a particular artifact, the complexities of other individual's or group's interpretations as they may have accrued over time are avoided.(101)

Schwarzer further relates the characteristics of transience to the mobility of the American culture, constantly abandoning and moving between settlements. Counteracting this phenomenon is the myth of permanence. As maintained by the preservation movement, permanence views the built environment as it appeared at a particular point in time no matter how fabricated or temporary this view may be. A particular individual, culture, circumstance or other factor may have originally constructed the artifact but the artifact is not necessarily used or viewed in the same manner today. However, it is the first group which provides the basis for the historical significance of the artifact. The latter has no influence and is forced to integrate the culture of the past into its own. As stated by Schwarzer:

. . . the frequent stress on associating historical importance with an organic and static relationship of the city overlooks, to some degree, the continual renewal of both buildings and cities, the successive waves of alterations and inhabitants. . . Because many of the preservation movement's most encompassing policies treat buildings to comparative and topological analysis, they also overemphasize the permanence of built culture.(102)
Thus, the values of the present culture may be compromised by the determined significance derived from a past time. Use of the mediating wall is rooted in the myth of permanence and refuses to recognize transience. New uses housed within additions to historic structures are placed behind an element containing symbolic architectural elements referencing a past, pre-determined period. The new building and its new use (the result of the mobility of cultures, the condition of transience) must always remain behind a veil of the past and in a position of secondary or segregated importance. The past and present are separate entities, not compliments. This is unfortunate because it denies the realization of new meanings and understandings of the historic context as they are realized.

The historic preservation movement does not seem to recognize this apparent dilemma, at least not as seen through its own glasses. According to David Lowenthal, the scope of buildings worthy of preservation efforts and protections has grown substantially since the inception of the historic preservation movement:

Buildings deemed worth saving have become more various as well as more numerous . . . What warrants preservation expands with what is thought historically significant. Unsung figures and events gain fresh stature; entire aspects of the past become newly worth saving. The homes of presidents and patriots, battle sites and frontier forts used to be America's major shrines; preservation priorities now focus on industry, the arts and hitherto neglected minorities . . . Preservation efforts formerly reserved for features of renown and widely venerated monuments are now extended to everyday neighborhoods of local import.(103)
Preservationist Michael Tomlan agrees with Lowenthal's description of the expanded scope of artifacts which are considered within the preservation movement's interest. According to Tomlan, the preservation movement willingly moved past the sole recognitions of noteworthy historical figures and formal visual analysis of the built environment to determine objects of significance. Preservation moved towards the recognition of the entire cultural landscape in an effort to come to terms with the vast scope of built environment. This expanded landscape included the work of cultural geographers, folklorists, ethnographers and popular culture historians, to name a few.(104) This expanded view appears to be readily acceptable to listings of significant places such as the National Register.(105)

But how well has this expanded realm of preservation functioned in practice? Many question the thoroughness of these various inclusions. A theme which ran through many of the presentations given at the ICOMOS Inter-American Symposium on Authenticity in the Conservation and Management of Cultural Heritage was the need for recognition of cultural diversity in heritage protection. Many of the legislative tools and standards currently in existence fail to recognize the needs of diverse cultural groups and the recognition of their particular heritage and cultural values. This issue is especially pertinent in the Americas since such a great diversity and hybridization of cultures and artifacts exists. Substantially derived from European contexts, many preservation tools and methods fail to recognize the specific needs of different cultures.(106) An example is the problem of transcribing Native American sites and their heritage into the National Register. The difference in values between Native Americans and the requirements of the National Register simply overlooks the heritage of the former.(107)

The illustration of apparent fringe and minority cultures only outlines the essential difficulties to be overcome:

As the preservation community regards multiculturalism, it must transcend the temptation to merely add layers of meanings to policies whose foundations are established in the myth of permanence. It must acknowledge the uneven rhythms of architectural and urban change, those attempts at creating permanent monumentality, and those fragmentary influences brought about by piecemeal and incomplete intentions.(108)
If preservation desires to truly embrace the diversity of viewpoints and cultures it operates within, one step towards this goal would be a move beyond the use of the mediating wall as a primary method of additions to historic structures. Rooted in the myth of permanence, the mediating wall continually places the factors of transience behind itself and relegates these items to a secondary position. If it is true that history and significance area open to interpretation, these various viewpoints must not be withheld behind the mediating wall.(109) Passing beyond the boundaries given to the addition by the historic context, such as the theories of disjunction, the theory of stylistic unity, the concept of age-value and the myth of permanence, the addition can be seen fully and on equal terms with the historic context it operates within.

Overcoming these boundaries is not entirely impossible. The Sackler galleries designed by Foster Associates is a built work surpassing the limits imposed by the common views of history often held by preservation. The established context is slightly reconfigured and revealed in a new way. Foster's work does not stand autonomous from its context but is embedded within it. A more appropriate term for Foster's work would be an intervention. The distinction between what is new and what is old has been blurred because the two are treated as a totality and work with one another rather than inviting comparisons between the two. A hierarchal situation is not established.

Illustration 33 - Sackler Galleries, Foster Associates, London, 1991.


The Palladian-like villa occupied by the Royal Academy of Arts in London consists of two primary buildings. One is the Burlington House whose first wings were constructed in the 1660s. The house has evolved substantially over the years, including a major addition in the 1860s adding a new floor to the Burlington House and a new building directly behind, the Main Galleries. This second building does not abut directly against the Burlington House and a narrow gap remained between the two allowing light penetration but denying physical access to the users. With Foster's insertion, the facades of the two buildings, fine architectural examples in their own right, are revealed in a way unknown before. Once hidden, the facades are now made accessible from virtually any vantage. Because of the new work, the old is made accessible for appreciation whereas before it was hidden. The new work has revealed a past. The facades and their architectural elements can be accessed and studied from viewpoints previously impossible to attain. Through its revealing, new interpretations are provided as well. An upper story cornice becomes a sculptural plinth. These new observations are even suggested by the placement of sculptures on their new plinth. A maiden seems to be peering over the edge of the cornice to the facade below in an effort to examine her new home. The glass and its placement allows this new examination to occur. The glass, combined with its supporting structure, distinguishes the new work as the production of its own time because of its material and tectonic characteristics but at the same time allows for a new appreciation of the existing architecture. This is achieved functionally, through the re-use of the space, and aesthetically, through the new viewpoints established. It is the later that is most significant.

Illustration 34 - Sackler Galleries, Foster Associates, London, 1991.


Perhaps a first step towards a new coherence and understanding between old and new in the preservation movement could be made through a theorist who is already common to the field, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. His restoration practices were rejected but other aspects of his work remain uncritiqued for applications to present situations. For example, his hypothetical architectural projects could provide the starting point for a new dialog to emerge. In these projects, "Viollet-le-Duc only gives a study without reminiscence, a pure creation which will need to be perfected in the future."(110) The potential future for that exploration is upon us. A balance between past and present has to be achieved in today's context. Viollet-le-Duc began to explore these issues, but his efforts were disregarded by an emerging preservation movement. Other similar instances of rejection certainly exist. If these positions are reconsidered, a new direction in the old and new design relationship might be attained.

Illustration 35 - Viollet-le-Duc, Plan for a Vaulted Hall.

Endnotes

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