When we began these bi-weekly round-ups of readers' comments back in October, we did so with one key aim: to encourage open, democratic debate with a very low barrier for entry - the type of internet-enabled debate that many architecture critics and publications have given up on. This week, we got a taste of just that kind of rational, professional debate as our readers picked apart the popular opinion in the wider media that the renovation of Cádiz Castle was "a perfect example of how not to restore an old castle." Alongside debates on whether architecture is a form of art and what the AIA should be doing about sustainability, read on to see what our readers had to say after the break.
The Architectural Take on the Cádiz Castle Renovation
Predictably, the intervention taken at Cádiz Castle by architect Carlos Quevedo Rojas to save the historic structure was one of our most talked about stories this week. However, unlike the discussions happening at Buzzfeed and The Guardian - which were characterized by disbelief and accusations of incompetence on the part of the architect - the conversation from ArchDaily readers was much more sympathetic, with most commenters saying that they thought it was a successful design:
I like it! Obviously, no reconstruction or restoration will be as beautiful and historically faithful as the original, although work had to be done to prevent it from becoming rubble.
It would be impractical trying to rebuild it as close to what it was, while trying to achieve some structural soundness. As far as providing a supplementary material is concerned, a simple light-grey concrete acts as a contrasting frame which complements the subject, rather than competing with it.
You don't see artefacts in museums sitting on plinths that match the subject's materiality! This structure gives the monument some pomp and solidity without at all creating any ambiguity as to what is original. - Josh Wrathall
As art critic John Ruskin would argue, “For a design to have integrity, it must be a product of its own time.” Imitation architecture is most of the times unsuccessful and the essence of restoration is lost. Extreme contrast can cause enhanced appreciation of both new and old. The best work results when the architect has combined respect for the old with a skilled command for new. For the people who are making noise, please recommend what would have been the right alternative? - gautam palav
First things first: there is no such thing as bad publicity. Now, the whole idea of monuments preservation is to give as much as possible of the original feeling. And this is done by using the original materials where possible and filling the gaps with modern materials to also preserve the shape. A collapsing ruin or a pile of rubble doesn't say anything of the structure that once was in there. Are we saving the contemporary image of the ruin that locals are "used to" in all its melancholic greatness or do we try to show what once was and try to immerse the visitor in the site?
The visitor might not understand much of what has been on the site if he/she only sees collapsed walls, not every visitor is an archeologist, historian or architect to mentally reconstruct the site and imagine how life was there 1000 years before.
My opinion is that the monuments have an educational purpose that goes beyond the original material. Also there is no unintrusive way of dealing with this. Any intervention is the mark of the time it was done in, no matter that style it is used. As it has been through the ages. - Stancu David
However, not everyone was so happy with the design, with some making suggestions for approaches that might have been better:
My problem with this is that it looks more like a retained facade than a preservation job. You are no longer able to see the bulk of the walls and instead of a mighty castle it now looks like just a thin veneer. I realize they probably were doing the best that they could, but I think that as much was lost as was preserved. - Randy N. Gaston
That heritage law must've been drawn up by an excellent aglomerate of pencil-pushers, architects or not, probably not, maybe some "creative" types… Most importantly for me, the contrast between old and new walls should've been deeper, bigger depth between both planes? Or maybe a bigger contrast in colours between them. The top part was an after-thought seriously. - JMFM
It's horrible, but what options do you have if you don't want to do a mimetic reconstruction?
People are scraping bad medieval restorations off of ancient paintings to find out about the original, so not wanting to make the same mistakes in architecture can make sense from the art historian point of view.
After all, in Europe there is no lack of well-maintaned fortresses from that era that have been continously repaired thorought history and so there is no rebuild it vs. keep it as it is debate on them, and you can go visit those for the medieval experience, so it makes sense to keep the ones like this as a heritage. And if you don't do something like this, they eventually disappear.
If they had transparent concrete, that would have been better, but alas. - ararar3
Overall, on both sides of the debate our readers seemed to take a realistic outlook on the challenges of such a dramatic restoration project, and it’s well worth checking out the full thread to read some of the comments that we didn’t have space for in this article.
Is Architecture Art? Some Say Yes
Another article that caused a significant debate was Lance Hosey’s argument that considering architecture as an art is potentially damaging to society. Overwhelmingly, commenters disagreed with Hosey’s view:
Architecture is both formal and functional. These elements are not exclusive. Buildings need to be used, so yes, architecture should firstly be functional, but there are many ways for a functional building to be expressive and beautiful. Architecture without art is merely construction and this alone does not afford any value to the soul. It is a different kind of art, but any robust definition of art should include it nevertheless. - Dinnes
Architecture can be a form of art (civil art). Art is a very broad term, and this article carelessly narrows the term in order to drive a worthless and pedantic point. Maybe a better article would be explaining your views on why architecture is not a fine art? Art is "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." Clearly we can find this in many architectural works. I loathe articles like this that try to argue on something so inconsequential. Art is a broad term. - Ash
Site is to the Canvas as Gesso is to the Rough Plumbing. The "constraints" are different but certainly similar. At the end of the day, art is vested in the abstract and material representation of a society at a given moment through the lens of the artist. Good architecture is just that, a representation of society through the architects lens. The material constraints are waterproofing and HVAC systems, but at the root they are tools with which to work. The Pompidou Centre is a magnificent example of an artist's control over the tools of their craft.
So, no I disagree with this reductive article. - Jeremy
Again, there wasn’t enough space here to include many great comments from this debate. Those who found it interesting can see all the comments here - including one or two that actually agreed with the article!
When It Comes to Sustainability, the AIA Just Isn’t a Big Deal
Apparently Lance Hosey’s articles are all the rage with commenters; in addition to his architecture versus art debate above, people are still debating his article from the end of February, “When It Comes to Sustainable Design, Architects Still Don’t Get It.” In particular, this response stood out:
Lance, I very much enjoyed your book, "The Shape of Green," for the way it stresses that sustainability and good design are not only compatible, but co-dependent. I have a minor quibble your article above though, which is your concern that "only 2% of AIA member firms have committed to pursuing carbon neutrality, and less than 1% are actually reporting on their progress... Furthermore, if two thirds of architects believe in climate change, why have only 2% signed the 2030 Commitment? What’s holding us back?"
The AIA was late to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. Because it was so late, it lost tremendous ground to USGBC's LEED program, which became for most clients the sustainability "gold standard". So much so that not long ago, when I was at a board meeting for a new municipal building, the first point of discussion was what level of LEED rating the building should have. Nothing about aesthetics, other functional considerations, cost, etc.: It was simply assumed that it would be LEED rated. The AIA, had it been earlier, might have its imprimatur on a building considered so valuable. But it wasn't. - John W. Clark
Santiago Calatrava: Not So Vindicated After All
And finally, it took a while but after our last comment round-up - in which the strongest arguments were simply that the building didn’t fit its context - some commenters have stronger words over whether Calatrava has finally been vindicated with the opening of his WTC Transportation Hub. Their answer:
This isn't vindication. This is affirmation that the "spectacle" new york city strives for is somehow disconnected from functionality. The two aren't mutually exclusive. This… whatever (path terminal? Overblown mall? Really really white hallway?) decided form was more important than pretty much everything.
What it boils down to is that this is a 4 billion dollar hallway. When the shops come in, and time moves on and people let go of its obscene price tag, this may then be thought of merely as a tourist-centric shopping mall that was badly designed spatially, capped by a dead bird. - hellfire
Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.