Category Archives: historic preservation

Architectural Effects of a Divide

09 Image credit: Jürgen Ritter

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years, bifurcating the city into West and East Berlin respectively. Demolition of the wall began in 1990, and 28 years later, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018 will be exploring the question of what happens to the built environment when physical divides are torn down. The exhibition, titled “Unbuilding Walls,” will showcase 28 examples—one example for each year the Berlin Wall divided Berlin—of historic and contemporary walls, barriers and fences and their effect on or reaction to the landscape.

In 2012, astronaut André Kuipers documented one example of the wall’s divide still evident from space: the color difference in the street lights of and west and east sides of the city is clearly perceptible.

Source: Topos Magazine and the Washington Post.

Colorful Vault Ceilings

Photo Credit: Deyemi Akande

Gothic cathedrals are generally discussed in the context of structure, yet the Gothic cathedrals of Britain are equally spectacular in ornamentation. The cathedrals’ vaulted ceilings were often decorated with religions iconography and heraldry. The ornamentation in St Albans Cathedral was refurbished in 1951-52 by Jane Lenton, replicating a 15th century shield. The red and white roses are associated with the Houses of Lancaster and York. Heraldry is prominent in Gothic churches, found on stained-glass windows, floor tiles, doors, and vaulted ceilings. The presence of theses shield often tells a story of patronage.

Source: Society of Architectural Historians

Domino Sugar Refinery: Ruin or Building?

When is a building considered a ruin? That’s the question currently being discussed between design firm PAU and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The Domino Sugar Refinery was built in the 1880s on the riverfront in Brooklyn, and has been vacant for more than a decade. When the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU) revealed its plans for the Domino Sugar Refinery, their proposal planned to use the masonry facade to mask a new glass office building. They argued that the building was in fact a ruin, or “a doughnut awaiting filling.”

Users of the building would experience the historic facade from a series of metal decks between the two. The LPC instead contends that the proposal transforms an adaptable building into a ruin.

Source: Arch Daily


New Architecture in an Old Geometry

Image Credit: Iwan Baan 

Grain silos, in metal and in concrete, are not uncommon in the built landscape. They often sit empty long after the milling or grain industries have moved on. These spaces have proved challenging for architects and preservationists to re-purpose, as they typically lack one essential element of comfortable design and daily life: windows.

In the case of the new Zeitz MOCAA museum in Cape Town, South Africa, design firm Heatherwick Studios did not let themselves feel constrained by the 1920s era silos’ unique structure. The resulting design creates a gallery space highlighting unexpected shapes. Heatherwick described his process as deconstruction as much as construction, and explained that he was motivated to create an interior space visitors couldn’t resist.

Source: Dezeen 

The Covert Stepwells of India

Stepwells often have no above ground presence, but beneath the ground intricately carved steps lead into a pool of water displaying a beautiful and illusive architectural character. Tucked away in fields or hidden in cities, the Stepwells of India remain an architectural mystery. The scholarship of Stepwells is limited, but it is believed that the Stepwells once served as a communal place for washing, bathing, and drinking water. The Stepwells acted as a rest stop for travelers and ranged in intricacy and size. Many of the Stepwells are believed to be created or funded by women honoring their dead husbands. Interest in the Stepwells has risen in the past years. Hotels are using the Stepwells as a tourist draw, and others are revitalizing the Stepwells to be used in the communal way that they were originally intended.

Source: Archdaily

The Mystery of Roman Concrete

Photo Credit: Colin Knowles

Modern concrete on seawalls will eventually erode and need repair after only a few decades, yet the Roman pier at Portus Consanus in Orbetello, Italy has withstood the sea for millennia.  The secret to this concrete’s longevity is a mineral growth after the concrete has cured. When Roman engineers mixed volcanic ash, lime, and seawater to make mortar, the combination also created a pozzolanic reaction. This reaction, named after the city Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples, caused the formation of crystals in the spaces of the concrete mixture making the concrete incredibly strong.

Source: Archinect

Beautiful, Obsolete Technology

Giant concrete acoustic mirrors speckle the British coastline. These massive concrete dishes were used as sound mirrors to warn the United Kingdom of enemy airplanes approaching from across the English Channel and the North Sea. The concrete dish acted almost as a radar, by responding to the sound of the aircraft and focusing the waves to a single point, then, a microphone would catch the sounds. The structures were also able to determine the direction of the attacking plane. After airplanes became faster in the 1930s, the sounds dishes were no longer usable.

Source: ArchDaily

Wright Home Serves as a Resource for Architecture Students

Photo Credit:, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

To celebrate what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, Zach Rawling donated his Phoenix home that was designed by Wright, to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The home—originally designed for Wright’s son—was saved by Rawling from demolition in 2012. Rawling originally wanted to make the home a museum, but now the house will become a resource for hands-on restoration and renovation for the architecture students at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Source: Archinect

The Question of the Alamo

Image Credit: Next City

The site of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, has been an item of contention lately. Complaints about the World Heritage site’s lack of a prominent visual presence have prompted a rethinking of the site’s layout. Preservation Design Partnership has proposed a large, enclosing glass wall that will mark the bounds of the original structure. Critiques against this proposal assert that the area that will be enclosed by the wall currently functions as a completely public plaza. Critics argue that this proposal could be the end of the “street preaching, panhandling, raspa vending, trinket shopping, [and] photo posing” that constitute the role of the square in the city.

Source: Next City

Photographer Documents the Same Buildings Year After Year

Image Credit: Camilo Jose Vergara

Image Credit: Camilo Jose Vergara

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara has spent the past forty years photographing decaying buildings in low-income American neighborhoods in his project titled “Tracking Time.” Vergara’s image sets reveal the life span of several buildings as they decline, are demolished, or are restored. The photographs reveal both gradual and drastic changes in the built environment, showing how social and economic factors impact the world we live in. In some cases, Vergara documented entire streetscapes, illustrating the loss and change low income communities face.

Source: Messy Nessy

Protesters Rally Behind Sydney’s Sirius Building

The 1970s Sirius building, designed by architect Tao Gofers, is in danger of being sold to developers. Currently, the brutalist building is home to 79 low-income social housing tenants. The building’s sale is being protested by the group Save Our Sirius, a nonprofit that aims to prevent the redevelopment of the site. Australia’s largest construction union, CFMEU, has called upon its members to not participate in the demolition of the building.

Read more about Save Our Sirius here.

Source: The Guardian


Architectural Face-Lift Gone Wrong

In an effort to repair part of the Great Wall of China, a portion of this monumental structure was filled to the brim with mortar. Formerly-missing bricks and crenelations were filled with new bricks as well. Although this effort occurred two years ago, it has recently sparked outrage across cyberspace as images began to circulate. The New York Times reports that park officer Liu Fusheng stated, “This was vandalism done in the name of preservation … Even the little kids here know that this repair of the Great Wall was botched.”

Source: New York Times