Monday, May 25, 2009

Building on the Past

Would you save this building? The Mies research test structure at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of IIT)

Flint is on the verge of facing some tough decisions about what to save and what to tear down in the city. There's certainly a good number who would like to level Central High School, and Land Bank chief Dan Kildee and others are pushing for the removal of vacant houses throughout Flint. Architectural preservation is always a thorny issue, as Steve Rose of The Guardian explains in a story about the fate of a particularly ugly Mies van der Rohe structure in Chicago:
"Only in architecture do we contemplate, and frequently carry out, the destruction of works by the discipline's most esteemed proponents. In other fields, every single thing an artist ever did is worthy of preservation, regardless of quality. If someone found a demo tape of Jimi Hendrix trying to tune up for three hours, it'd be worth a fortune. Or if you found out a rubbish doodle on the back of an old fag packet was actually by Picasso, you wouldn't think of throwing it away, would you? And then there's movie memorabilia: William Shatner sold his kidney stone for £14,000."
The buildings and homes facing demolition in Flint don't have the pedigree of a Mies van der Rohe work, but they represent Flint history and countless memories for thousands of current and former residents. As Rose points out, historic preservation showdowns usually bring the past, present and future into direct conflict:
"That's the trouble with architecture. You can store a tape or a picture – even a kidney stone – pretty easily. But buildings take up valuable space. They often prevent the existence of other newer, better buildings. A war or an earthquake or a revolution is good news: architecture thrives on its own destruction."

1 comment:

  1. Take a look at all this:

    That van der Rohe may be worth more than you think.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at