Preservation


THOUGHT-IMAGES ON THE WORK OF PRESERVATION

Citation is a helpful rubric for working through our studio’s travels. Rather than studying the writings
of historians in preparation for our trip we simply booked our tickets and went in search of architecture with minimal prior research. In this sense, the buildings remained undetermined in our minds before we arrived on site. They remained fresh rather than existing as citations in an established history. Jacques Derrida writes in his book Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression that “to cite before beginning is to give the key through the resonance of a few words, the meaning or form of which ought to set the stage.”1 For us the stage was not set at the outset. Instead, the physical context of the architectural site became the content–itinerary was conflated with content. This became a fascinating experiment, privileging the one-on-one encounter, in real-time.

In another sense, we were tracking a citational path, that of Albert Kahn Associates and their designs
for factories. Our itinerary was primarily defined by tracking this American influence on European inter-war modernism. But the concept of citation may be to legalistic, too safe. In many of the cases, simulation proves to be a better rubric for thinking through the work of preservation. Simulation implies a type of ahistorical trickery, deviousness even, that relies on the hunch rather than the footnote or end note.

Just as film, photography and drawings convey architectural ideas, over the course of our journey it became clear that preservation too, is a form of mediation. That is, preservation (or a lack thereof) determines how built work is consumed by the spectator. Mediation consists of a differential function in which the
buildings exist somewhere between a primary and secondary source and it is up to the attitude of preservation to determines this. Or put another way, mediation subtends an elective temporal state for any given building
or site, where the preservation architect determines the specific moment(s) in time at which a building is to
be re-presented to a contemporary audience. Works of built architecture as living documents occupy murky historiographic territory. This is further complicated by the changes in the building’s use. In some cases programmatic constancy means radical design modification over time (as in D10 Boots); others present programmatic shifts resulting in extreme material conservation (as in the Rietveld Schröder House). We could refer to this as the museumification of a building. Still other sites become the hosts of new architecture under the guise of preservation (as in Fiat Lingotto). The aim of these pages is to elaborate upon what Derrida calls “the spatio-temporal conditions of conservation.”2

Some parallels are elaborated upon while some are left to the viewer. Through this set of images I hope to define notes toward a work more precisely articulating the potentials of preservation and conservation and how they might influence the possible futures presented by the many industrial (and non-) buildings in Detroit (Kahn and others) that need attention, be it preservation, conservation, simulation or otherwise.

Thanks to the relentless Editor, Travel Agent, Scholar, Historian, Tour Guide, Professor Claire Zimmerman and the entire inexhaustible Path of Kahn Studio (Patty Hazle, Evan Bruetsch, Yun Yun, Derek Chang, Farah Joyner and James Joslin) for an amazing experience this summer.

-Alan Lucey, 2014

Many of our selected factories for study tow the line between function and preservation. To what length does the architect choose to preserve the historic character of a building in relationship to its ability to function within a contemporary period? Analysis of preservation through visual comparison also elucidates the ways in which preservation itself is a form of mediation, which influences the way a user both consumes and understands architecture.