Friday, December 19, 2014

The City Designs

In our preview post Preserving Reminders of the Past we talk about the architectural intervention in old structures and how this can improve both the building and its context.

The city is our context and it is changing every day. It is a dynamic organization that whether we try to organize it by setting rules and laws, at the end of the day it is uncontrollable. I think that is what makes cities interesting for painters, writers and film makers.

Over the past five hundred years, urban planners tried to design what they called Ideal Cities. From Thomas Moro and his Utopia to Le Corbusier and F. L. Wright, many architects spent their lives thinking about how a city should be like. Some of those thoughts remain and a few were brought to reality. Palmanova, in the north east of Italy, is a good example of a typical renaissance concentric city. Its structure and internal organization did not change over the years so it is possible to see what these perfect cities looked like.However, if there is something we have learnt from ideal cities is that there is no such thing as perfection when talking about cities.

In the last decades, some architects started rethinking how to bind together old buildings with contemporary interventions. Some of the best examples are the Tate Mordern Gallery (London), the Morgan Library (New York), the Caixa Forum (Madrid) and the Reichstag (Berlin). These are masterpieces of linking different materials, concepts and programs, but sometimes, the city goes beyond architects and clients and does it for itself.

Designing a glass box over an industrial brick structure is a well-known strategy and it seems that the city of New York can link its own elements. Close to our office (SoHo) is the Trump Soho building, a geometric glass skyscraper that does not represent the neighborhood identity at all. However, behind this building, in the same block, rests a former industrial brick structure which has no additions or subtractions but has the typical SoHo image.

These two constructions are not related in any sense and they were not meant to be so. But the city is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Thus, while walking down the streets we change our perspectives and sometimes the city offers us more than what architects had designed. 

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