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Sunday, October 5, 2008

What would I tear down?

In a blog dedicated to preservation, this seems an odd question.

Shouldn't such a question be predicated on the assumption that, if something is going to be torn down, something better should replace it?

Well, of course. And relax. I was just reading Skyscraperpage and saw a topic titled "Tear it Down!". It's a list of buildings that certain cities' residents (mostly Chicagoans) would like to see torn down.

Almost without fail, the buildings to be torn down are of the Modern (1935 to 1970) or Postmodern (1970-1995) movements.

What's interesting to me is that there are many self-avowed "urbanists" who would readily tear down any mid-century modern building that is not quite "urban" in their books. If it has a small parking lot in front, is not quite as intimate as the older, classical-style building across the street, or, especially, if its own construction involved tearing down a handsome historic building, it's on the urbanist chopping block.

But there is definitely something to be said of a city that embraces its architectural flux--especially one like St. Louis that has suffered too much loss to pretend it's a fully preserved period piece.

I think an Urban St. Louis forum discussion on the old Rodeway Inn (pictured below) says it best. From forum member Framer:

These kind of Mid-Century buildings are crucial to any successful urban fabric. They not only add variety, but they convey a sense of history, that a city is an evolving organism.

You can't always slap down the Jane Jacobs standards on cities that have witnessed so much change and dilution of their old urban fabric. I am of the opinion that the more autocentric mid-century architecture is generally superior to post-Postmodern construction that attempts to return to urban form. Why? At mid-century modernism's best, it applies creative materials, theretofore unseen forms, interesting site plans, and presents a window into a culture still inspired to bring change. Most structures built after the modern period (meaning, after 1970) are only valuable in a kitschy sense.

But even these Postmodern and post-Postmodern structures probably deserve their spot on the soil. As the above quote espoused, cities are always evolving and catering to new economic, social, and cultural norms.

Despite my statement of support for these architectural movements that are reviled by urbanists, there are some St. Louis buildings I could see myself let go. Numerous parking garages and gas stations would make the list (not the least of which would be the Busch Stadium garages just mentioned in a previous post). Anything on the list would be there because of a gross disrespect to context and detrimental effect to a streetscape/blockface.

I would say my two least favorite buildings in the city should go--those just north of the Civil Courts building on the east side of Tucker--but they provide the correct massing for such a wide boulevard.

So, if I had to choose just one, it would have to be:

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(I couldn't resist)


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