Dear Readers:

We've recently relocated our blogging on rethinking preservation to an area on our larger company web log: Here you'll find more interesting projects as well as our own recent renovation of an H.H. Richardson building in Boston where we've been testing many of our thoughts outlined here. If you'd like to see our other design work, please visit our portfolio at: CUBE partner Jason W. Hart is also currently writing for UrbDeZine:, a web magazine focused on preservation and architecture in several U.S. cities.

We'll see you there!
CUBE design + research

Update: Neutra's Cyclorama Building

While our efforts ( and many others helped stall the demolition process for Richard Neutra's Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg for more than fourteen years, they still couldn't stop it. The National Park Service has reported they will demolish the building in early 2013.

Neighborhood Memory

We recently ran across the Ghost Houses by curb architects Ted Shelton and Tricia Stuth in Tennessee.  This project recreates two new historic sibling homes along side a third existing historic house. Using memories embedded in photographs, newspaper articles, longtime neighborhood resident accounts, and census data they re-presented what once was in a beautiful dialogue of now and then.

Palm Springs Town and Country Center

UPDATE June 18: Change of Plans

It has been brought to our attention that the Town & Country Center (1948) in Palm Springs, CA is facing demolition in favor of development densification of several city blocks. A final City Council vote will be taken on June 15th, 2011. A number of organizations are fighting demolition including The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation and the Palm Springs Modern Committee.

Why should we care?
1. The building was designed by renowned Architects Paul R. Williams and his protégé Quincy Jones of Southern California.
2. The building is a great example of modern era open space planning.
3. It is a part of our cultural heritage.

Demolition excuses are the same as usual:
1. not important
2. not appropriate for new uses
3. not economically viable to renovate

A new development of great density is planned, one that appears to reinforce the status quo mentalities of the car and maximizing the square footage available in the zoning.

What could it become?
Preservationists are terrible negotiators, particularly when they’re loosing – which is precisely the time to negotiate. The Town & Country Center has great internal space that the new development can benefit from – if all parties are willing to craft a common goal. Preservationists can allow the development to build near, over, enclose, and alter portions of the building while still retaining its core architectural values and open space. The city government can relax some zoning criteria so the developer may regain lost square footage. What a great juxtaposition of modern space and new building the project could become.

Undoubtedly there are a slew of political and economic intricacies involved, but real collaboration toward a common goal requires the will of all people… people to care, people to speak up, and people willing to negotiate. There is always a way to reach a common goal if there is a will to do so. Our attitudes toward our cultural heritage must evolve or it will be lost one building at a time. Our developments must see cultural, political, and economic value in absorbing existing buildings. Our governments must be willing to work with trade-offs to ensure healthy development. These require thinking outside the box of our preconceived notions of “renovating” and “preserving.”

Boston City Hall Redevelopment Proposal

--By Patrick Lausell--
Boston City Hall Plaza is a void of urban vigor. This lack of public social interaction is not due to the vastness of the space or to its aesthetic qualities. The problem is a result of a space largely without program. The plaza does not interact programmatically with the buildings that define it. City Hall Plaza is mostly composed of edge conditions designed to keep people out. The original BRA Urban Renewal Plan identifies a crucial element for the success of City Hall Plaza. It states that 'the buildings around it should programmatically and spatially engage the plaza,' yet the resulting design does not meet the requirements. Was there a lack of communication between the planners and the designers, or was it a lack of understanding of how internal building functions generate public activity?

The plaza as it exists today is mostly a transitional space. The strategy for redevelopment should be to program the spaces along already established circulation routes. By adding a mixture of programmed spaces for retail, living, working, entertainment, or dining, we create the urban activity that is necessary for social well-being. Use and program are the dominant factors that will determine its success. Program is as important as the plaza's physical dimensions in establishing urban vigor. A diversity of overlapping functions generate urban activity. A successful public urban space does more than just allow for circulation; it creates a dynamic setting for social interaction. The diversity and proximity of programmed functions is important because it creates informal or coincidental social contact. This leisurely and informal social contact is one of the great pleasures of living in a city.

I propose creating an urban corridor that breaks-up the plaza, creating a procession of urban activity. Programmatically active edges define the public corridor and give structure to the ephemeral qualities of the urban space. The interrelationship between edge and plaza is the focus of this project. These programmatically active edges are the thread that binds the urban fabric.

The City Hall Building is preserved and adapted to a different use. The site is tied together by a network of hybrid edges. These study models show the exploration of hybrid, public, commercial, and cultural edge conditions.

Preserving the Future

It has been called a “flying-saucer,” a “fish bowl,” a “fat man in a skinny man’s shorts,” and even the “ugliest building in the city.” Chicago's Soldier Field addition was completed several years ago and the controversy surrounding its design draws attention to the same obstacles that confront today’s historically-significant buildings: Outdated preservation standards.

When the design was first revealed to the public the contemporary addition was scrutinized for its radical departure from the original stadium, which was designed in the classical style. The architects of the addition dramatically deviated from the design of the original building, probably to call attention to what is new and what is historic. This approach was too radical for some. In 2005, Soldier Field lost its historical designation because The U.S. Department of the Interior decided that the addition “destroyed the historic character” of the original stadium. It is not totally surprising that an organization designed to protect the past would promote policies that are too rusty to accommodate the demands of the day. What is surprising is that the evaluation system for determining buildings’ historical quality is contrary to their cause. Isn’t it more preservation-minded to preserve and reuse a portion of the building than discard the entire thing, which may have been the likely alternative?

In the Soldier Field scenario, the historical status was revoked because too many historic features were “obliterated” to make way for the addition. The critics were disappointed with an ultra modern intervention to a classical structure. This critique is flawed because in this case the stadium’s historical merit is evaluated based solely on its physical attributes. Does a building really lose its historical significance after it’s been physically modified? The events still occurred there. The building still has a story, even if it sits dormant or in ruins, such as the Parthenon. Recognized by probably everyone and widely accepted as an architectural masterpiece, the Parthenon has endured innumerable transformations over the course of its life, as a result of design modifications, bombs, fire, vandalism, and looting. The building has been used by various cultures as a temple, a church, a mosque, and now sits in ruins as a relic. Even with its various transformations, the Parthenon is still the cultural icon that it was during its heyday. Why should Soldier Field be considered any differently than the Parthenon? If we can disregard the superficial arguments regarding the aesthetic deficiencies of the addition, we could accept the new building as another chapter in the stadium’s history, one that is contributing to its perpetual transformation.

In the eyes of the preservationists, it appears to be more alluring for a building to have a “historical” tag than to have reuse potential. Traditional preservation strategies promote a nostalgic approach that glorifies buildings as though they are museum artifacts. An alternative approach would be to ensure that a building remains relevant, whatever style, so that it holds functional and aesthetic merit for future generations. Preservation in this sense would be characterized by transformation and adaptation as opposed to retention and isolation.

Facadism – the veil fad

In his October 3rd New York Times column, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, writes about the plan by Ingenhoven Architects to transform the early century rail station in Stuttgart, Germany designed by Paul Bonatz. He calls the new design: “a callous disregard for architectural history. Its construction would require the partial destruction of one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks…” His main critique focuses on: “the preservation gesture of facadism — a favorite tactic of bureaucrats and developers in which a few architectural elements are preserved while the rest of a structure is bulldozed… [the] architecture is reduced to a picture postcard — an empty, superficial veneer… stripping it of the function that gave it meaning.” He goes onto say that if such facadist preservation persist: “it will lead to a cheapened, oversimplified view of history, one that suppresses the conflicts and contradictions that make cities vital.” As far as fad of façade preservation goes, I couldn’t agree more. However, there are buildings for which the façade was designed devoid of function, and there are buildings, such as Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, in which the façade is the design. But it is true that too many buildings around the world have been gutted only to leave a falsified historical veneer facing the street while culture moves forward behind the veil – a nostalgic infatuation.

I cannot speak to the same distain as Mr. Ouroussoff for the new Stuttgart station design because I have not explored it in depth. A design solution which partially destroys an existing building, even significant landmarks, is not inherently bad or wrong. It is the reimplementation, the retention of historical memory and cultural awareness that must be thoughtful. With most historical properties privately owned, it is difficult to legally abolish change, but there are many thoughtful possibilities for preserving with change.

Beyond the Physical

Is modernism inaccessible to the general public?

In a recent article Marty Hylton, assistant professor at the University of Florida, broaches this subject. Mr. Hylton hypothesizes the lack of ornamentation or even the social agenda associated with parts of modernism may be off-putting to some people, leading to public apathy toward saving these buildings. While these may be symptoms, I don’t believe these are at the core of the problem. But then Mr. Hylton brings up a point I can fully agree with: “a mistake that champions of modernism make in attempting to preserve the buildings of the 1950s and ‘60s is that often a building’s architectural significance is promoted above its social and cultural importance.”

This is all too true and probably for several reasons. First, buildings of the recent past (even more than those of today) often contain conceptual ideas and material experimentation that paired with the many architectural theories of the 20th century. It was a time when architects moved with waves of thought and theory. Agendas were manifested in the design of buildings. Its variety was unlike any preceding, and such organization and ideologies have long since dwindled. But we design today with the knowledge of these past theories and the many physical aspects that came out of them: from open-planning and free columns to curtain walls and cantilevers. Historians and practitioners are still assessing the impact of this era that produced some seventy percent of America’s current built environment according to the government services administration.

But if the general public is to back the importance of these buildings as historians and practitioners do, we must make their preservation accessible, beyond the physicality and the entrenched theories of architecture. These buildings were made to produce public effect – to enhance human experience and engage the technology of the day. They must be analyzed not only for their history but for how they operate today in their current environments. Their survival depends on the engagement of history as well as their ability to continue contributing to the built environment.

Transforming Policy: Rudolph’s Garage

Can preservation be transformative? This was the central question in Chris Novelli’s master’s thesis at the Boston Architectural College. Chris set out to examine the possibilities of existing buildings, infrastructure and landscapes if relieved of the curated formal constraints imposed under the U.S. Department of Interior Standards for Preservation. He selected Paul Rudolph’s heroic parking garage in New Haven, Connecticut as a fitting laboratory for his experiments. Novelli began by documenting the convoluted web of regulation, consultants, developers and tax credits surrounding preservation. This analysis is really quite eye opening. It reveals an expanding web of regulation through consultants, government policy, and tax incentives since the 1966 Historic Preservation Act. Like it or not, the preservation movement has become the industry of preservation. However, its operating model is prone to the pitfalls of willful tastes, nostalgia, financial gain, and moreover, inflexible standards that isolate buildings into singular curated moments.

These issues can produce diluted effects and false identities that lie counter to the core intentions of preservation. Novelli proposes to intervene upon existing history in a way that relieves it of formal curating constraints. He establishes methodological criteria for analyzing historic structures to determine their values and potentials. But it is in his execution that he proves there are other and sometimes better ways to not only preserve but understand our heritage – by actually engaging it rather than constantly putting it on a pedestal.Novelli conducted a series of experiments on Rudolph’s garage to yield a new complex that is thoughtfully re-knitted into the fabric of the city. From a formal perspective, his experiments run the gamut from untouched building portions to demolished portions, from incisions to additions, all with details that are treated secondary to the original structure. But his proposal also solves the societal and economic divides that occur at the junction of this imposing structure in New Haven. Even renowned architects can create projects with the best of intentions that later produce detrimental effects. Our built environment is ever-changing with cultural advancement. It is constructed by people to serve people. It holds a record of human events and aspirations – but it should not hold us back.

Degrees of Preservation: Neutra's Cyclorama

The 1961 Cyclorama Building, designed by renowned modernist Richard Neutra, represents one of America’s first visitor centers in our National Parks. Overlooking the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the buildings’ contents were moved last year to a new, larger facility in preparation for demolition and a return of its site to the appearance of Civil War times. This move has been countered by an international outpouring of support from preservationists to retain the building.Intrigued by the debate surrounding the high-profile modernist icon, Boston firm CUBE design + research has outlined a series of strategies for rethinking the preservation of the Cyclorama Building. One such strategy proposes to relocate the building to the existing American Civil War Museum site, and refurbish it as a Map Museum with the Gettysburg Electric Map as its centerpiece. Preservationists in Gettysburg have been trying to bring the Electric Map out of storage, and the owner of the Civil War Museum has previously expressed interest in taking both the Building and the Map to help revive the business district that has deteriorated since the Cyclorama Building closed.Beyond traditional reuse, CUBE imagines the building in various disassembled states - like car parts, the building could be cut into museum-quality pieces for educational exhibits, public art, or for use as urban furniture. Parts of the building could remain on the site and serve as a monument and gathering spot for tours, or as an informant for the battlefields themselves through a series of camera-like observation cuts. Another strategy proposes the building be linked to other ailing mid-century buildings across the country to form a network of transit housing that would trigger economic development, promote environmental sustainability, and renew otherwise forgotten marvels as architectural destinations for all travelers. The strategies applied to the Cyclorama Building could be applied to any threatened building. CUBE’s proposal argues that it is, in fact, possible to preserve our cultural heritage while embracing our future, and in the process create a new kind of architecture. For more information, please visit the modern preservation website.

Authenticity: Scarpa's Castelvecchio

Scarpa’s Castelvecchio is the most inspiring example of preservation I’ve seen; where complex layers of ancient and recent history are both independent and dependent at the same time – it’s tectonic brilliance.
Castelvecchio is a storied medieval fortification in Verona, Italy with portions dating back to the 12th century. The majority was constructed in 1354 by the Lords of Verona for their residence and military compound. In 1797, Napoleon’s troops built a utilitarian barracks wing during their occupation and demolished other portions in retribution. Over the last 700 years, Castelvecchio has been marked by numerous military engagements, alterations, and events. In 1923 (during the reign of Mussolini and Italian fascism) it was transformed from its military function to a museum. The initial renovation was designed by architect Ferdinando Forlati. While Forlati’s ideologies are unclear, his renovation is consistent with Italian fascist architecture of the time. Forlati reconstructed towers, turned the French utilitarian barracks facade into a late Gothic style facade, transformed banal rooms into lavish 17th and 18th century style rooms, added fake beams, fountains, and false medieval-looking foundations. He attempted to reverse its history 180 degrees to create a place of culture that never was. While the authentic bones of Castelvecchio remained, its pastiche now told a false history.
In 1958, the museum underwent a total reorganization in effort to restore the value of both the historical and the artistic additions. The restoration favored authenticity, thus eliminating the false contexts created in the 1920s renovation. The architect was the renowned Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa sought to tell the story of Castelvecchio for what it was – pastiche mixed with history. He preformed select demolitions and peeled back roofs to reveal layers of history in dialogue. He used modern materials in expressive ways to mediate between parts, drawing attention to historical fact and alerting visitors to the fakery of the '20s renovation. By pulling doors and windows back from the recreated Gothic facade, he exposes the decoration like a theater stage set. He heightens this awareness by moving the entry from the formal center to the end. Even the museum art objects are decontextualized - placed on floating planes to signify their departure from other destroyed buildings. Scarpa made his own commentaries on fascism by removing building portions to reveal the 12th century wall of the city (a time when the inhabitants of Verona had greater freedoms).Scarpa viewed the past for what it actually was without nostalgia or exaggeration. He saw that the societal and political history of Castelvechio was more important than the forms of the architecture, but he realized that these histories are revealed through its architecture. His intervention is both a mediator and commentary, allowing all parts their own authenticity.

Dying Industry Transformed

Pictured above, a shipping craneway transformed into an office building, designed by architects OTH (Ontwerpgroep Trude Hooykaas). For further info see ArchDaily.
Lately there have been some inventive examples set in the Netherlands for transforming dying industrial infrastructure. These strategies go well beyond traditional real estate development models in the U.S., but then the Netherlands is often ahead of the development curve. With a little imagination, there are countless ways to reinvent existing structures, and with some forethought, touch off the rejuvenation of dying areas. You don’t need a tabula rasa to construct viable development. Reinvention is both a model of preservation and a creator of place.

Pictured below, a proposal to transform three silos into three different programs: climbing, spots and culture, designed by NL architects. For further info see ArchDaily.

Ailing Downtowns: Rochester, NY

Pictured above are two proposals for Midtown Plaza in Rochester, NY. The Plaza was a 1950s planning experiment aimed at propping up downtown retail business that had diminished with the expansion of suburban shopping centers. Thus it's with some irony that these two proposals each convert the existing office building over the old mall into housing, in some manner suburbanizing the urban in a seeming development trend across the country. A new proposal, yet to be unveiled, is in the works according to Midtown Plaza, vacated in 2008, was designed by Victor Gruen. Local historian Dan Palmer believes the building is an integral part of the Rochester skyline and holds great architectural integrity inside and out.

Dan makes us think about two things: the three-dimensional experience of buildings (above, existing interior), and how many cities across the country have similar prominently located buildings that no longer serve their original purpose for whatever reason. In downtown areas, buildings are part of urban networks; when they are no longer in use or the use changes, the surrounding microeconomy is substantially affected. Because these types of buildings often have flexible interiors for business, many see their facades as the only portion with artistic value.

The first scheme above proposes to clean and retain the original facade, an often-seen approach, while the second proposal uses only the structure and replaces the existing facade with an offset window pattern, also an often-seen trend in housing. Both view the facade as aesthetic wallpaper and represent a lack of three-dimensional thought and historical investigation. While both may solve the financial proforma of development, neither balances historical memory with the authenticity of use. The facades present a false veil to the realities of the street, use, and cultural memory.

As the cultural entourage of the street (our cars, clothes, values, and gadgets) shifts daily, how should the building backdrop shift? Events and actions are recorded on and within buildings throughout time. If we’re afraid to change our historic buildings for fear of losing cultural memory, then we will lose cultural memory by way of forgetting the original intentions, because those original uses are gone. If we erase all existence, then historical lessons are lost. So what then are we really preserving? What is the continuing value? Can we create a new kind of old and new co-existence - one of richly-layered authenticity, modern life, and cultural memory?

Financing Grand Visions: Rudolph's Riverview High School - Demolished June 2009

Above competition winner: RMJM with Diane Lewis Architects and Beckelman + Capalino, LLC in association with Seibert Architects

Paul Rudolph’s famed Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida has now been demolished to make room for a parking lot. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) won a reprieve in 2008 from the School District to find a viable design and financial alternative that met the School District’s objectives and preserved this significant modernist work. While the competition yielded great ideas from well-known talent, it was not enough. Rudolph’s Riverview High School was demolished in June 2009 - images may be seen on the Save Riverview blog.
The result reveals the importance of financing large-scale visions during their creation. As threatened buildings are already in the cross-hairs with other plans on hold, the final demo decisions often rest on a comprehensive shovel-ready package. Financing is not always found for the whole vision, and so we end up back where we started: the all-or-nothing proposition. Perhaps we should allow for multiple tiers of a vision to match the financing – degrees of preservation.

Reuse: Competition for Breuer Tower in Cleveland

Entries from competition pictured here by Ellison, Andreas Lange, and Artem Golestian. Lange proposed to take pieces of other threatened buildings in the area and stitch them together like a memory quilt, and Golestian proposed the building be partially gutted to form terraced gardens. More info on competition proposals here. Developer Lou Frangos is currently trying to renovate the Ameritrust complex as reported here in July 2009 on

What Do You Think?

How should we preserve architecturally significant buildings?

Click on comments to see what others are saying and join the conversation!

Why Do We Preserve?

The built environment is a record of our cultural values, thought, and political systems. The act of preservation is a necessity in maintaining the authenticity of this record. The built environment is a dynamic organism sustained by human activity. As culture evolves, our environment expands, is re-inhabited, and is altered with invention.

There are pockets across the country where our heritage is celebrated, forgotten, erased, or reborn. Cultural values adjust from the urban, to the suburban, to the rural and from coast to coast. There is danger in remaking our past, but sometimes to re-establish the value of the forgotten, we must re-present its importance in an altered state.

Preservation Doesn't Have to be an All-or-Nothing Proposition.

Cities are dynamic and living things. Preserving a building in its initial state isn't always the best solution. What if we considered the degrees of preservation between ALL and NOTHING?

What if we thought of preservation through the ideas of artist Gordon Matta-Clark?
What if we thought of preservation through the act of demolition?
What if we integrated a building into new development?
What if we expressed a building's ideas and concepts through anatomical exhibition?
What if we re-inhabited a building by dissecting it?
What if we treated a building as public art?
What if we distribute remnants of a building to plazas and museums?
What if we move the building from its site?

Could we use degrees of preservation to educate?
Could we better heighten awareness of a building's original value in an altered state?
Could we increase the perceived value of design in the public consciousness?
Could we preserve our cultural heritage while embracing our future?

Alternative Beginnings: Cultural Significance of Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Office Building (1960)

In early 2007, Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Building in Boston, MA was permitted for demolition. CUBE design + research recognized the significance of the building and became interested in the potential of alternative preservation strategies. CUBE created a video of conceptual ideas ( to integrate the building into the new development. The plans for the development, and hence plans for demolition, have since been shelved due to the economic downturn. This blog and the website above represent the continuation of rethinking how and what we preserve in America. Below is the first entry for Rudoph’s Blue Cross Building.

Cultural Significance:

1) Pushes architectural invention forward by rethinking mechanical integration:

- created a vertical ventilation system on the building facade, making it one of the earliest precursors to the high-tech modernism style
- pushes pre-cast concrete panel technology forward to respond to new systems integration

2) Rethinks the office building space plan:
- Creates maximum interior space flexibility by pushing interior columns and ventilation system to the facade

3) Political response against the International Style and for context:
- Responding against the flat reflective-glass and steel towers of the International Style, Rudolph set out to create an expressive three-dimensional facade with more humanely scaled window proportions derived from neighboring buildings of the time. The building is the only one among its neighbors to offer public space at the ground floor.

4) A transitional building in the work of architect Paul Rudolph: his first tall building, and the first modernist building in downtown Boston