Saturday, March 19, 2011

New old, old new or just new

click photo to enlarge
When it comes to erecting a new structure alongside old buildings, whether in a village, a town or a city, the architect has to make a decision about style. This is particularly so if the new building is to be in a conservation area where clear guidance exists about what may and what may not be done to the whole fabric, and particularly the building facades, of the designated locality.

There are those who favour building to emulate the old ones nearby to the point that they are almost copies. Such buildings, unless deliberately designed to conceal their novelty, invariably give themselves away through the details and the freshness of the building materials. To my mind this is rarely the right approach, though it can be the best way when repairing, renovating or extending a structure. A step removed from this are those buildings that plunder the details and forms of past styles in an effort to re-create an imagined arcadian past. They are often sufficiently "historic" that they fool the lay person. Poundbury is a notable example of this deluded approach. I think of this as constructing "new old" buildings. Others, however, feel that "fitting in" with older buildings doesn't require slavish copying, but can be achieved by building in a contemporary style that acknowledges and respects what is nearby - perhaps through materials, roof, window, and string course heights, or by the application of forms and details that echo but don't ape those on the more venerable neighbours. It's an approach that I like to see because it can work very well without the sterility that is involved in copying old styles. Moreover, it's a nice intellectual exercise to try and work out the references that the architect has employed. To my mind this is making "old new" buildings. And then there are those who will brook no compromise, and aim to build entirely in the contemporary manner. It's hard to do this in conservation areas in Britain today but occasionally the architect succeeds in getting his or her way, and sometimes in proving they were right. Just as often they show why legislation is necessary!

I came upon this trio of buildings in London on the edge of the City. On the right is the Grade II listed building known as St Botolph's Hall. On the left is a glass curtain-walled office block by Norman Foster whose name I don't know. In the centre is the most recent building, apartments at 20 Bishop's Square by Matthew Lloyd Architects. I was taken by the terracotta-ish horizontal bands of the cladding, the determined rectilinearity, and the way the architect had aimed to accommodate the uncompromising modernity of the towering block on one side without overpowering the older building on the other.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 92mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 1000
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On