article by crimson
New designs for old buildings
1 January 1995

What do architects mean when they talk about history? If we regard 'history' solely as an idea and as a science we can quickly dispose of this question. Indeed, from an intellectual point of view, history has scant connections with Dutch architecture. We are posing this question here, however, out of an interest in the history that is concretized in the old building and in dealing with this history when that building once again is the subject of an architectural design: when it is converted, extended, facelifted or revamped. Such architectural tasks we would like to term ReArchitecture, ReArch for short.
What attitude do Dutch architects adopt when making a new design for an old building? 'Individuality plus respect for the original state' is the standard wish of clients and the standard design statement among architects. Old and new must be 'in equilibrium', one works to achieve 'harmony without pastiche', a 'dialogue with the historical state' or an image that is 'historical though not backtotheclassics'. This essay (and the book from which it comes) sets out to put the zip back into these euphemisms and clichés and inject habitual concepts with a new lease of life.
The fact is, the real content of the projects for old buildings resides less in the polite phrases used to explain them than in the architecture as a physical intervention in the existing. The intense onetoone relationship that a new design enters into with history, and all the paradoxes and ambiguity this brings, is, for that reason, the subject of the book Re-Arch.

For the present we must conclude that there is no consistent approach to ReArch. Historical architecture is just too multifaceted in nature, status and meaning. An additional factor is that the relationship between old and new architecture is subject to changing cultural ideas about the significance of listed buildings and that of newbuild. A 'scholarly definition' of architectural intervention is purported to consist merely of frictions and paradoxes and this is where its essence lies. By analysing in every individual case the idea contained in a new design, it is possible to discover which characteristics inform the relationship between old and new at a given moment.

Use and abuse
Now the multiformity of ReArch issues on the one hand from the multiformity of presentday architectural culture, and on the other from a shift in attitude that we, along with the Spanish architectural historian Ignasi de SolàMorales, can describe as 'from contrast to analogy'.1 In the attitude of contrast, emphasis is on the singularity and contemporariness of the design; on its own identity with regard to the former state. This attitude derives from the presupposition that contrast intensifies and visualizes the meaning of old and new. In that of analogy, the design springs from the oscillation between old and new, whereby the interference between the two generates a new thing. Accordingly, the identity of the new is connected with history rather than being confronted with it.

The distinction between contrast and analogy thus exists in a formal architectural sense, but also occurs as a concept in more general texts on the dialectics between old and new. Of these the most probing is Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Use and Abuse of History for Life. Here he describes in ruthless terms the dilemmas and paradoxes, the dos and don'ts of dealing with history. This book was published in 1874, just as historic preservation in the Netherlands as advocated by the likes of Victor de Stuers and Alberdingk Thijm was beginning to gain a foothold. Nietzsche points to the dangers of history: too much can have a numbing effect and prevents a culture from managing to convert its creative powers into deeds: 'There is a degree of insomnia, of rumination, of the historical sense, through which living comes to harm and finally is destroyed, whether it is a person or a people or a culture.' He calls for 'forgetting', for 'the capacity to sense things unhistorically', and for an artistic, operative history that 'stands in the service of life'.2
Nietzsche formulated the thought, still relevant today, that in most cases history only requires renewing or rejecting. But he leaves us with more questions than answers: where exactly is the border between man the memory-less animal and a numbed being with a stomachful of undigested historical rocks; in other words, what is too much history and what too little? How can we equate history, placed in independence by the historian, with the ability of that history to produce effects?

De SolàMorales explains the complexity of the attitude of contrast using canonical designs by Mies van der Rohe, Hilberseimer and Le Corbusier. The skyscrapers on Friedrichstrasse (1920)and the Plan Voisin for Paris (1925) have been interpreted by other historians as the death knell for the existing city. But according to De SolàMorales even this architecture could do nothing other than give its own reading of the material presented to it by the city and by history, defining along paradigmatic lines a relationship marked by the emphasis on the effect of contrast above every other type of formal category.3 He sees contrast and presenting projects as photomontages merely as a way of dealing with the existing and not necessarily as destructive acts.

In 1931, two years before CIAM, the Dutch professional organizations for historical preservation themselves published a document entitled 'The Athens Charter'. They propagated that all restoration should exhibit a visible contrast between old and new. This faction, traditionally regarded as hostile to designers, therefore contributed to the unchecked rise of contrast. Contrast was seen as a didactic principle and a striving to achieve clarity, not as a Marinettistyle exhortation to burn down the museums and churches.

For those who wish to see the 20th century not just in terms of an overhaul (dialectic or otherwise) of the history of architecture, modern architecture does prove to carry within itself the stance of analogy. Indeed, this holds particularly for a handful of pre-eminently modern architects, whose designs are geared to creating formal and semantic complexity instead of distinction and certainty.
The extension J.B. van Loghem (modernist of the first generation and hardcore communist) made in 1928 for an ironmongery in Amsterdam 'the palimpsest of the century' according to Joseph Buch is characteristic of the search to find a way of making distinctions without polarity, of showing difference and similarity simultaneously. In Van Loghem's first version the warehouse and office are fronted by a taut concrete facade with narrow vertical strips of fenestration. After this design was rejected by the beauty commision he made a second version. Van Loghem designed in concrete a window 'order' that mediated between ribbon windows and those of an Amsterdam canal house. On the office level the full-width window betrays the non-loadbearing function of the facade, a theme known to us as much from the Golden Age as from Le Corbusier's Œuvre Complète. With its 'modified' facade and slanting roof supporting three enormous dormer windows the new-build leans as a colossal volume on, alongside and behind the old building. The old warehouse has been unceremoniously tucked into the new volume with not a shred of respect.

Post-war modernism
In the decades after the war most architects of modern signature and their clients took a hard and unequivocal line: the contemporariness of new-build was of such importance that the historicity of the old building has no initiating role to play in creating the new design. The strategy of contrast was endowed with a cartoonesque banality it did not have in pre-war modernism. The architect Vegter designed the extension to the neo-classical town hall in Groningen (19491962), with old and new strictly distinguishable in terms of volume, material, building method and style. The reason in this case was that Vegter was searching for a modern equivalent of the 19th-century town hall. His marble geometry represented a new monumentality and a new dignity. The Goudkantoor a 17th-century listed building was drawn as a third object into the new order by linking it to an elevated glass walkway. This loose configuration issued from the Department of Preservation's resistance to extending the old town hall. Even so, the point of contact was later read as a deliberate and unfortunate break with history. The building, with all its aspirations as a hopeful and proud contemporary architecture, was demolished in 1994.

Around 1960 a new wind blew through international architectural theory that left its traces in Dutch architectural practice. In 1959 the new generation of modernists united in Team X pitted its version of modernism against the 'old' brand. Their seminal contribution on the ReArch front was to counter the generalizing concepts adhered to by the 'generation of 1930' with the notion of 'unicity'. Whereas in the Heroic Period existing buildings and cities were replaced by universal concepts, Team X chose the 'timeconscious techniques of renewal and extension derived from the recognition of the positive ecological trends to be found in every particular situation'.4 This 'metabolic' conception of history as a process of growth became a window opened to the site's specificity as the foodstuffs of the design.
Herman Hertzberger's unrealized 1975 proposal to convert a 19th-century church (Broerkerk) in Groningen into a university library is emblematic of the ideas on the existing city as upheld by the 'Team X subsidiary' Forum, most particularly of the influence psychology and sociology had on those ideas. This design was the logical sequel to a 1972 policy document on government objectives (Doelstellingennota), which drew attention to the value of a fine-meshed, small-scale urban morphology. Clearly, preserving the historic Broerkerk was not the prime objective of this scheme; the building is used as an on-site container for a humming throng which can give full rein to its urge to create and digest literature. The building dissolves in the 'urban fabric': it disappears below ground to emerge in a wash of semicircular roofs. In secularizing the 19th-century church, the NeoGothic chancel would have become little more than an element of mystery in an otherwise 'open and inviting' library.

The sitespecific, the concern with transformation and growth espoused by Team X on the one hand, and the historical research by the Italians (A. Rossi, Giorgio Grassi, Saverio Muratori) and later by French architects and historians (Bruno Fortier, André Chastel ) paved the way in architectural thinking for a complex and layered analogous attitude towards ReArch, in which history isconceived of as a storehouse of form and knowledge.Dutch theory first encountered this foreign train of thought via Ungers's design for the TU Twente (1967) and Rossi's proposals for Kop van Zuid and the attendant research done by Donald van Dansik, Jan de Graaf and Wim Nijenhuis (1983). There were, additionally, the unremitting arguments of the architectural historian Ed Taverne for giving a serious role to historical research in architecture.
An authentic Dutch contribution to the debates on historical context made its entrance with urban renewal. Aldo van Eyck and Theo Bosch reintroduced a small-scale urban morphology in Amsterdam in the Nieuwmarkt area; a redevelopment strategy which became the icon of seventies architecture and planning. The heroic deeds of 1970 reasserting architecture's sociocritical position have since fallen into disrepute due to the disappointing architectural offerings it went on to spawn. Concern for the built history of cities remained skin-deep. 'Building for the neighbourhood' and the allied 'contextualism' did, however, mean a turning point for the public at large, the authorities and the institutional clients and drove home the fact that preserving the historical city was worthy of respect and contributed to providing 'approved living conditions'. Housing associations, municipal bodies and architects adapted their ideas, working methods and organization to the new 'culture', which made a world of difference with the housing output in the sixties. The many recycling projects of the eighties and nineties were able to profit from the expertise gained in the seventies.

Looked at in retrospect two projects mark a major hitch in the relationship between history and architecture: the fault line lies somewhere around 1980 and the projects are the Lower House competition and the design for the Koepel Prison by OMA. The design for extensions to Parliament was a issue of national interest, full of drama and chaos. The prime meat of the matter was the relationship between old and new, in this case between the existing Binnenhof complex and the new addition..
The proposal submitted by OMA was rejected because of the incursion it made on the Binnenhof, (Inner Court) with a volume that penetrated the complex from the side. Issuing from a paranoid-critical analysis of Dutch society, it gave our democratic system the same treatment as Rem Koolhaas's book Delirious New York had done for the Manhattan of the twenties. The scheme was a montage of the attributes and excesses of the Dutch democracy, including a 'smoke-filled room' and a sunken sitting area for discussions with the public.

Many ideas seem to have been buried along with the Lower House competition: the small-scale as symbolic of adapting to history, 'building for the neighbourhood' as a social foundation for architecture and finally contrast as the exclusive means of dealing with the existing.

OMA's design of 1980 for the Koepel Prison in Arnhem marked less an end than the onset of a new concept. The relationship with the historical state was no longer described exclusively as a formal problem; the design attaches to the meaning and idea of the old building. This prompted the critic Hans van Dijk to describe the project as a kind of conceptual conservation: 'a strategy of respecting the existing not so much to the letter as in spirit'.5
The original panopticon designed by J.F. and W.C. Metzelaar in 1880 was an interior world controlled (and its occupants spiritually administered) from a central 'eye'. In the course of a century its panoptic principle had been turned inside-out: lack of space had meant housing numerous functions in sheds in the prison grounds, and the guards had been dispersed from their original central position. OMA accommodated the new use of this 'purely theoretical building' by totally overhauling the grounds within the prison walls. The rigid configuration of the old building prompted them to draw a cross of two sunken streets off which are new spaces for facilities. This Suprematist composition leaves the panopticon largely intact along with its principle of imprisonment and surveillance, 'saving the new the embarrassment of having either to ignore or express the idea of incarceration, which is incompatible with its aspirations. After the intervention, the dome represents the dismantled past, its former center crossed out, resting on a podium of modernity, which is concerned only with improving the prisoners' conditions'.6
Proceeding from the required programmatic improvements, the image of the panopticon is used as an object alienated from the present, towering above the programmatic platform. The unrelenting geometrical and inward-looking form has been undermined by a not quite symmetrical cross, sweeping the core from the old building and taking it over formally and programmatically.

The recent past
A question that sets the heart of Dutch architecture culture all aflutter, is that of modern monuments. The old age of Modern Movement buildings makes now even young architects, given their almost paranormal affinity with the famous modern exemplars, set to work as restoration architects. Thus, the twin poles of invention and conservation are suddenly in hairraisingly close proximity.
This gives rise to the philosophical problem of how to preserve for eternity along honest lines, buildings whose designers certainly did not build them to last for ever, such as Sanatorium Zonnestraal and the Kiefhoek and Witte Dorp housing. Strictly speaking, respect for the ideas underlying this architecture sits uncomfortably with the need to protect it. However, we seem to have managed to leave our fear for a fetishistic response to these buildings behind and let the desire to preserve them prevail. The upshot is that it is in precisely these monuments of modernism that we now encounter the most extreme form of historic preservation, namely reconstruction. The 'white' work of J.J.P. Oud would seem to exert a particular attraction in this respect: Café de Unie and the Witte Dorp works office building were rebuilt (not at the original sites; there are even two examples of the works hut these days) as was the entire Kiefhoek housing estate, also in Rotterdam. That these icons of modernism have been resurrected is entirely thanks to their visual quality. A monument, it transpires, can simply be made anew. We express disdain when it comes historical illusion of the likes of the Dutch Village in Nagasaki, yet the reconstruction of Kiefhoek itself amounts to an attraction for architectural tourists. We can only conclude that simulation is sometimes more fun than the real thing, the way Rotterdam's Tropicana 'swimming paradise' with all its features and without salt is more fun than the sea.

The historical experience
In the preceding pages we have seen that today the notion of contrast is losing ground; architects and clients regard adding a new portion to an old building more as an analogous operation exhibiting continuity with the past. Seen thus, experience of the proximity of history is a quality that is aspired to. Accordingly, old and new are not set in dialectic opposition, but are brought into alignment, in time and value as well as place.
The historical material at once becomes the backdrop against which the new architecture is enacted; a strategy taken to extremes by Aldo Rossi and Ignazio Gardella in their reconstruction of the theatre at Genoa (19821990), where new 'old' facades act as an 'urban' stage set in the main auditorium.
We see this displaying of history again, though now eschewing theatricalities, in Giorgio Grassi's project for the ruins of a Roman theatre in the Spanish town of Sagunto. Grassi reconstructed the architectural space, turning it into a theatre in modern working order. In the project there is no attempt made to imitate a historical unity, so that the outcome resembles the method of restoring sculptures and paintings where missing pieces or areas are filled in with 'blank' patches. Archaeological finds on site, parts of a frieze, columns, before then carted off to a museum, now have a place in the wall at the back of the stage. Here they are put on show rather than serving as decor. Thus the new building has become the museum of the old one.

This idea of exhibiting is present in a pedagogic sense in the Limburg Public Records Office in Maastricht, converted and expanded by Marc van Roosmalen in 19891996, where the foundations of a Gothic church have been excavated and can be viewed from the new promenade. The old town walls dug up in the courtyard, are back in view and a hole in the facade shows also to passersby how the wall resumes its course across the street. In the chancel of the church, meetings are held underground beneath a glass roof bearing a bizarre exhibition of mediaeval tombstones.

These modes of displaying, of the miseenscène of old and new, result in an unpredictable moment of intimacy with the past, which the historian Frank Ankersmit calls ‘the historical experience’; an uncontrollable moment in which history is sensed and undergone.7 The value of this idea for ReArch lies in the call to conserve the paradox; in allowing buildings, building parts and ideas that clash, to coexist. There is no overarching principle that covers this; indeed a generalizing concept has a contrary effect. Letting contradictory ideas act upon one another can contribute to the unpredictable emergence of something truly new.

Apart from being an intellectual issue ReArch is also a question of technique and material. There is a tendency to drop universal theories in the case of ReArch and seek out a unique and particular steppingoff point in the old building: at times colour, detailing or material, at others the surroundings or the landscape. Designers scour the old building for latent architectural qualities. In such cases the new design does not begin with an overarching concept but perhaps with the smallest detail. Nietzsche hoped that history would seek its significance not in universal laws, but that 'its worth is directly one which indicates a known, perhaps a habitual theme, a daily melody, in an elegant way, elevates it, intensifies it to an inclusive symbol, and thus allows one to make out in the original theme an entire world of profundity, power and beauty'.8 This sounds like a manifesto for a design stance which we might term hyperempirical.

What can recycling mean in an age where temporary, unstable aspects of architecture are central to the avantgarde and the economic lifespan of buildings is decreasing? The Dutch government however, now in the throes of calculating environmental expenses so that replacing buildings will become less lucrative,is pointing things in exactly the opposite direction. Reversibility the new magic word in the marketplace sounds like temporariness translated to the task of interventions: the new intervention can always be reversed because it does not essentially alter the old building. However, this argument seems to have been drummed up more to soften extreme proposals than to actually address their temporary quality.
The connection with recent developments in architecture is sooner found in the idea of layeredness, multiformity and the demise of generalistic and normative design principles. Layeredness and juxtaposition can surely be linked to the notion of historical experience. By placing objects in unmediated adjacency or wrapping them in translucent materials unpredictable frictions and paradoxes can arise. These do not necessarily need resolving and brought to synthesis, but proffer as they are a new definition of harmony. ReArch's aim, then, is to make something new at all costs, something that rises above what it was that was there first. When history is not restricted by a logic of politeness it can presents itself unexpectedly, the way historical experience does: as a thing that is new.

  1. Ignasi de SolàMorales, 'From contrast to analogy. Developments in the concept of architectural intervention', Lotus no. 46 (Interpretation of the past), 3745
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, 1873, transl. Ian C. Johnston, Nanaimo, 1998
  3. Ignasi de SolàMorales, op. cit., 39
  4. John Voelker, quoted in Joan Ockman (ed.), Architecture Culture, 19431968. A Documentary Anthology, New York: Columbia Books of Architecture/Rizzoli, 1993, 19
  5. Hans van Dijk, 'Het bezwijken van tegenstellingen', Wonen TA/BK, 1982, no. 13/14, 1249
  6. Rem Koolhaas. 'Project for the renovation of a panopticon prison', Art Forum, Sept. 1981, 41
  7. Frank Ankersmit, De historische ervaring, Groningen: Historische Uitgeverij, 1993
  8. Friedrich Nietzsche, op. cit.

Original in Dutch: 'Nieuwe ontwerpen voor oude gebouwen' in: Crimson, Re-Arch: Nieuwe ontwerpen voor oude gebouwen, commissioned by Stimuleringsfonds voor Architectuur, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam 1995