Why do we preserve? And by extension, what in a building deserves to be preserved?
Avinash Rajagopal questions the philosophy of envelope-only preservation, comparing it to mummification, and writing that “in most cases a building’s aesthetics are intimately linked to its interior life… where the aesthetics, the function, the interior and exterior were so intricately woven together… to truly preserve the spirit of the building would be to freeze it in its entirety.”
This article brings up some uncomfortable questions. Would it really be better to lose the building entirely rather than just the interior? - I don’t think so. But the philosophy and practice of preserving the envelope of a building is something that comes up frequently when trying to integrate preservation strategies and green technologies.
How often do we hear (and I’m guilty of saying this myself) “do whatever you want to the back, just leave the street facade intact!”
Should this approach guide our practice? Should the “green stuff” really be hidden from view, kept only to new additions, in the philosophy of separating old from new? Should it be celebrated prominently on the site — but not on the building? Do we just need to draw more attention to historical strategies for sustainability? Is it still preservation if new technologies and uses change the configuration of the interior or the way the building as a system functions, but the shell remains visually the same?
In order to tackle any of those questions for a particular building or district, I think we have to ask what it is, precisely, that we’re trying to preserve - and why.