by Yodai Yasunaga, Innovation Studio Intern
In 2007, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario reopened with The Crystal – Daniel Libeskind’s controversial 100,000 square feet extension to the original structure of the museum. The structure is composed of five interlocking prismatic structures made of glass and aluminum on steel frame, and it functions as the new main entrance to the museum. Although the structure does not touch the original Neo-Romanesque architecture built in 1914 except for the connecting bridge, it greatly alters the aesthetics and experience of the museum. The Crystal has been highly controversial, with some praising it as a contemporary monument, while critics have attacked its aesthetic, function, and purpose. For example, The Crystal makes it hard to display exhibits, because all of the interior walls are slanted. Overall, the design controversy surrounding the addition has taken away much of the attention from the actual contents of the Royal Ontario Museum. [Further discussion on it can be found here: http://www.uwo.ca/visarts/research/2008-09/bon_a_tirer/William%20Lockett.html]
Can contemporary and historical architecture coexist?
As architecture technologies and styles evolve, there has always been tension between cotemporary and historical buildings, and the people that advocate for them. Conservationists believe that it is important to prolong the lives of old buildings through carefully planned preservation practices to preserve history that the buildings represent. On the other hand, contemporary architects and their supporters are in favor of technological and architectural change and progress that become to represent the present. In midst of this over-arching debate exists the topic of “architecture of additions” where contemporary structures are built in conjunction to existing buildings (Byard, 1998). The interplay between the old and the new often sparks controversy. Some cases are seen in a positive light, where the old architecture is given new life without destroying its spirit and history. On the other hand, other cases such as The Crystal, receive criticism for overpowering the original architecture.
The Louvre Pyramid in Paris by I.M. Pei is an iconic example of controversial “architecture of additions”. According to Susan Stamberg, critics described tampering with the historical building of the Louvre “sacrilegious”, but after over two decades, it has been accepted by the public, with many praising it as a masterpiece that made an old museum more relevant in the contemporary world. One key of this success may be that the contemporary addition does not interfere with the interior exhibits of the historical artworks but provides a new sense of balance to the overall structure.
The exploration of “architecture of additions” continues to grow in the 21st century, and when done well, it may be the perfect balance between contemporary and historical architecture. It is crucial to evaluate what separates successful examples from the rest, and explore the potentials of this artwork of balancing the old and the new. Precedent works hint that there must be large considerations for the context of the work, including the building’s history, significance to society, location, and the purpose of the additions. Do the old and the new have to be in visual harmony, conceptual harmony, or both? How does the addition contribute to the value of the original? Is the addition really necessary? In any case, there must be a dialogue between the old and the new that foster their coexistence.
#1 George Garvin Brown Garden, MKThink’s current project in Louisville, Kentucky, is a demonstration of architecture that incorporates the old and the new. Working with the currently vacant, historic building of the Business Women’s Club (1911), the project’s concept is to create a center that will be a catalyst for healthy and thriving urban revitalization. The proposed design seeks to preserve and pay respect to the original building while giving it a new life through contemporary interventions that are visually different yet harmonious to the concept of the whole building. #1 George Garvin Brown Garden is a project that builds on Louisville’s history with the technology of the present, to take a stride towards the future.
http://www.oldhousejournal.com/npsbriefs2/brief14.shtml (“New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns)
Byard, Paul Spencer. The architecture of additions: design and regulation. WW Norton & Company, 1998.
Stamberg, Susan. “Landmark At The Louvre: The Pyramid Turns 20.” NPR. NPR, 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 31 July 2014. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121097261>.
“Studio Daniel Libeskind.” Images. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2014. <http://daniel-libeskind.com/projects/royal-ontario-museum/images>.