Wednesday, May 04, 2011


it's been a while. I can always try to blame moving cities and working too much, but it's probably mostly down to not having had any thoughts interesting enough to share.

but now I do.

my old college caught on fire earlier today. so far there haven't been any conclusive reports on just how bad the damage is. from photos in the papers it seems fairly clear that most of the lower parts towards Engelbrektskyrkan are severely damaged but it's hard to tell if it's worse than that.

I'd say huge parts of the residents in the surrounding areas are giving up a cheer tonight. after all the Architecture faculty at KTH is always voted in the top when it comes to the ugliest buildings in town. seems like the perfect time to revisit my ruminations on architecture and taste.

because I really can't understand all the abuse that's hurled at the building. yes, it's grey. yes, the ground floor is taken up by a car park. yes, the fenestration is repetitive. out of those three objections the only one I can find truly legitimate is the one concerning the parking. that parking is very unfortunate. it is also not the fault of the architect but of the city's planners and politicians. even more importantly it's something that can be mended.

we have to realise it's time to stop wasting our resources by tearing down perfectly sound buildings just because they're no longer fit for the purpose they were first meant for. we still look at individual buildings the way we look at our modernist suburbs (though – strangely enough – not the inner city): that they're works of art that should be protected in their entirety or torn down. but the way to handle any problems isn't to tear the building down instead we need to adapt what's already there to suit new needs. something must have happened since the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe*.

thankfully the idea of adapting and extending what's there seems to be spreading in Stockholm at the moment. the last couple of years have seen proposals for extensions/alterations from some of our most highly respected architects – Wingårdh at Thulehuset and Tham Videgård at Konserhuset most readily spring to mind – and the problem with them isn't that they're adapting an existing building but rather that they're adapting an existing landmark by making an extension that tries incredibly hard to assert its own presence, it tries so hard it pretty much overtakes the iconic building it's attached to. of course there are precedents for that, Markelius' roof-top extension to Centralpalatset is the obvious example in Stockholm, but that time it was an extension to a non-descript office building while Konserhuset is one of the most iconic buildings in Stockholm and Thulehuset's facade is one of the most recognisable and imposing buildings we have from its time. one of the profession's preferred ways to extend a building is to make an addition that is 'of its time' – to honestly separate new and old visually – and that is all well and fine, if a little boring at times, but when you try to outdo the host that's just plain rude. and rudeness, I'm afraid, isn't really that interesting.

so even though we need to adapt rather than to raze and build anew I just wish it would be done with a little more care. not because the city's authorities asks that of us (even if they might) but because the buildings themselves deserve it.

update 25/5: the low parts of KTH-A are indeed severly damaged but the higher parts escaped almost unscathed. some photos can be found in the latest issue of Arkitekten (pages 8–19).

* an event clearly demonstrating that Modernism as ideology was alive and well, rather than the opposite, whatever Charles Jencks says.

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