Posted tagged ‘The Helix’

Architecture: preservation vs innovation

February 27, 2009

To state the obvious, I am not an architect, nor do I have even a gifted amateur’s knowledge of architecture. But I have had a lot of dealings with architects, some quite brilliant, and some less so. Amongst the brilliant I would count Andrzej Wejchert, who designed the Helix performing arts centre in DCU. If you look at his firm’s website, you get to see the Helix, inside and out, as the slide show progresses.

But some of my encounters with architects have been irritating. A few years ago I had to argue with the architect who was in charge of the refurbishment of my home – the architect concerned was totally unwilling to let either my wife or me decide how the kitchen should be arranged. What she had in mind was probably an interesting design, but impractical for a working kitchen. In the end I insisted on having my way, but I suspect she thought I was an imbecile or a Philistine or both.

But even worse than architects, in my experience, are people from local authority planning departments. In Ireland, this is because we suddenly came to realise that it is not ideal to destroy the country’s entire architectural heritage, having previously for decades demolished hundreds of valuable and beautiful buildings to replace them with concrete office blocks. When the realisation suddenly dawned that this was bad, the pendulum swung all the way to the other extreme. So for example, a friend of mine living in an early Victorian house was told he could not instal a downstairs bathroom because there would have been none there in Victorian days; and that was the sole reason.

Managing our architectural inventory is a really important task. Our buildings are what see, what we live in, what we work in, what we visit. They define our lives more than most other things. And this being so, they need to reflect who and what we are and to offer us something from our heritage and something for our future. We should sympathetically preserve our old buildings, but not make them all into museums; we should aim to point to the future, in both aesthetic and technological terms, in our new buildings, but not make them soulless and uninviting. And on the whole, we should avoid building pastiche.

It may be hard to say this, but Ireland has a stock of houses and buildings constructed during the decades when the country was poor and uncertain of itself which, in truth, ought not to survive to the next generation. But we also have some buildings that demonstrate confidence and curiosity that works, such as Busaras (the bus station in Dublin), or the government buildings along Kildare Street. And we have the designers and architects who have the imagination, guts and innovative instincts to give us buildings for the future that will stand the test of time.

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