Sunday, February 15, 2015

Paper Plate Buildings

In this short blog-post by Witold Rybczynski, the 41-year old brutalist FBI building in Washington, D.C. is being proposed for a land swap -- and destined for the scrap heap. Witold talks about how we need to take a look at the long-term uses of our buildings, know that most buildings will not have a single-use in their lifetimes. He makes some good comments on the idea that the "form follows function" design leads to single-purpose buildings that are much easier to tear down and build something new, rather than retrofitting and repurposing the building. I think of the many warehouse and office buildings we saw when we traveled to Buffalo and Minneapolis this past year, how these hundred-year old buildings are repurposed from warehouses to offices, lofts, hotels and more. This re-use of old buildings offers a number of valuable services to the community. The first (maybe the most important) is probably the least measurable -- the feel of having a continuity in our urban form -- in how our streets feel over time. The others are probably best left to economists and sustainability wonks -- not using new materials and saving on embodied energy costs, saving space in our landfills, and other reasons. Jane Jacobs talked about this in her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities -- and the Washington Post recently had an article about their importance as well. In newer cities, like Mesa and the rest of the Valley, the preservation of these old buildings (what hasn't been lost already) and the forward thinking of buildings as having a multi-use lifestyle is doubly important. Perhaps we can learn from our past and build long-lasting buildings that will live beyond any single use.