Should the past take precedence over the future? Or can they be elegantly combined? That’s a question posed by the struggle right now over Frank Gehry’s 8150 Sunset Boulevard project.
The proposed mix of dwellings, offices and stores, at the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, developed by Townscape Partners, won LA City Council’s approval after reducing its scale.
Then the Lytton Savings Bank, located on the site and designed in 1960 by Kurt Meyer, was designated a historic-cultural monument, and a Superior Court Judge has now ruled in favor of LA Conservancy to stop the demolition of the building.
The Conservancy argues that Gehry can fit the building into his scheme. Gehry, who has demonstrated his ability to fuse old and new in many projects including his famed house in Santa Monica, says in this case it is not so easy, and adds that the story of LA is one of constant renewal.
Is this a case of preservation going too far? Or could the architect and developer successfully juxtapose old and new? Check out the debate on this show.
DnA discussed this architectural conundrum with Marc Kristal.
He is author of the new book “The New Old House: Historic & Modern Architecture Combined,” a sumptuous, inspiring collection of homes that fuse past and present in the US, UK and Puerto Rico (and including Lorcan O’Herlihy’s renovation and adaptation of the Raphael Soriano-designed home of the late Julius Shulman).
For Kristal, the issue is one of how successfully old and new can be meshed, especially in the case of an urban development:
“You have to ask yourself the question, what’s more important — the object or the experience? If the building is really important and significant architecturally and there is a way to integrate it meaningfully into a larger new building — so that it’s not just a kind of stand alone object that’s being fetishized, a kind of architectural Faberge egg — and it improves the overall experience of the development that’s being created, also the streetscape and the general area in which it resides. . . that’s great.”
If those criteria cannot be met, then unless the older building is highly significant, he says, “I would tend to come down on the side of the experience as opposed to the object.”
He also talks about how difficult it can be to successfully add new to an older masterpiece.
He cites the example of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. When they built a large block behind Wright’s “kind of spiral shaped building,” they wound up making “what had been one of the great buildings in New York suddenly look like a toilet seat.”
“It didn’t destroy the Guggenheim but it compromised the Guggenheim character in a subtle and strange way,” he said.
In his introduction to the book, Kristal writes about urban buildings where modern meets antique by architects as wide-ranging as Carlo Scarpa and Norman Foster. The rest of the book is devoted to private homes that exemplify what he calls a “meaningful relationship” between old and new.
For him a “meaningful” intertwining of past and present involves a narrative.
“It’s very easy to build a new extension onto an old building where the two aren’t necessarily related and they don’t have a ‘dialogue’ but it’s more complicated and more interesting to take an old building and develop something new that has a kind of amplification effect where each brings something to the other and there’s a kind of larger whole that comes out of that relationship.
If you if all you’re trying to do is preserve an object because it’s cool but it doesn’t really have any connection to what it is that you’re building, what’s the point? Why not just create something new?