ERA Architects

Historic Modern

Modern buildings are funny things. Their proliferation has been accepted as the common typology for city forms, yet they are often perceived as a banal insertion to the city’s skyline and an impediment towards a richer public realm.

Following a recent talk at Heritage Canada’s annual conference on the adaptability of modern buildings, I was asked about the possibility (if any) of “fixing” the maligned relationship between these buildings and the public realm. I perceived this question as one that considered this association over with little chance of reconciliation.

Modernism’s indifference does not sit well with many, and it was evident that an optimistic approach on its structures’ adaptability would not be accepted with immediate enthusiasm.

In their book Collage City, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter critiqued the city of modern architecture against the built conditions of the traditional city. With the adeptness of the ‘bricoler’, Rowe and Koetter state that these early city builders had the ingenuity to maneuver within and around the city’s built forms and spaces in order to complement and integrate with their surroundings. Referring to existing conditions became a moot point in the Modernists’ agenda and was largely disregarded for an opportunity to begin anew.

With some irony, it is this disregard that opportunistically positions the current generation of city builders. Presented with these latent resources, the buildings and landscapes of the recent past are now prime for reconsideration.

As they move well beyond the years of their life expectancy, the bricolers for this generation need to rethink, react to, interrogate, exploit, and most important, understand these buildings and landscapes in order to reconsider their initial ideals and to fully explore these inherited opportunities.