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Last Monday, Notre-Dame, the most famous medieval Gothic cathedral in Paris, was gobbled up by a severe fire. Since I have backed from Paris just before the primary fire, as well as the news and the posts kept popping on the social media, this event was quite memorable. It made me realise the power and the importance of historic buildings.

What is historic? Why are the old buildings worth saving?

Hence, I started to wonder what does historic mean. simply put by Saving Place,

HISTORIC means OLD AND WORTH TROUBLE.

Historic buildings applied to itself as parts of communities’ visible memory. Once an old building is demolished, the memory will no longer be restored.

For example, The Hall of Nations in India was a symbolic building to celebrate 25 years of Indian independence. However, in May 2017, the building was pushed down too hasty with bulldozers and bring outrage to many Delhi residents. Even more, Detroit has been tearing down about 200 vacant old buildings per week since 2014 (Citylab, 2018). Whether yet the value of the old buildings is found, once an old building is reduced to rubble, the community’s tangible past is no longer restored.

Before we get too rash with the wrecking ball or natural disaster, it is time to rethink among the cultural, practical and aesthetic values of old buildings and look for the opportunity for them to create benefit for local economy and community’s culture.

 

1. Every old building contains inherent value

Some of the material we see in those old buildings are built in the certain era; normally we called it pre-World War II. The intrinsic worth of these elements is that those materials are hard to be purchased nowadays. In West, rare hardwoods (spatially heart pine), and in East, Chinese fir and ancient Elm which grow in old-forests, are no longer exist.
Besides, prewar buildings were usually built in higher standards. (otherwise, how can they stand still for decades?)

There is another story about the Kennedy-Baker-Walker-Sherrill House in West Knoxville. The house once faced a threat due to development. However, it was then rescued by classification as a historic site. It was then determined that the five-brick-thick walls were better than any newer buildings nearby in withstanding a tornado. The house was then reborn as a thickest office in the city.

 

2. Cash-strapped businesses prefer old building.

Back in 1961, urban activist Jane Jacob alarmed city planners with the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She promoted the case of preserving old buildings. Not because of the aesthetics but local economics. Jacob stated that new buildings fit the need of great chain stores. However, new constructions are expensive for those cash-strapped such as book stores, antique stores or small start-ups. On the other hands, old buildings, especially those that have been abandoned, have a potential economic advantage that is ideal for these businesses to thrive in.

In my home country, Taiwan. There are a lot of book store or culture and creative industries thrive in old buildings. Even more, As the first city developed in Taiwan, Tainan city is famous with old buildings assembling. Those start-up businesses are free to operate in old buildings and attract lots of tourists every year. As a resident and a member of a start-up group, it is impressive to see the practical circumstance that Jane Jacob has mentioned,

Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

 

3. Old buildings are a reminder of a city’s culture.

When we travel to different areas, we could always see historic buildings (more or less.) Regardless of whether they are famous or spectacular, residents and tourists are able to be eyewitnesses of their aesthetics, culture and stories behind. Saving Place said,

a city needs old buildings to maintain a sense of permanency and heritage.

Once an old building is torn down no matter by wrecking ball or natural disaster, it has gone permanently. The importance said above will disappear forever. That is why the event, Notre-Dame fire, stunned the world. As for the fire, we couldn’t certain what we have lost in the future. Moreover, we could not also renovate once it was wrecked by the major fire. – because
once a tiny piece of history was destroyed, whether it is essential or not, it is lost forever.


References:

Academy, P. (2019). Historic Preservation: Why Save Old Buildings? – PDH Academy. [online] PDH Academy. Available at: https://pdhacademy.com/2016/04/08/historic-preservation-save-old-buildings/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

BBC News. (2019). Massive fire ravages Notre-Dame cathedral. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-47941794 [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

CityLab. (2019). Appetite for Deconstruction. [online] Available at: https://www.citylab.com/design/2018/11/urban-blight-vacant-buildings-demolish-deconstruct/576253/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

CNN Style. (2019). Why were these buildings demolished in 2017?. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/destroyed-monuments-in-2017/index.html [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

Margot Haddad and Tara John, C. (2019). Notre Dame fire started at the center of the cathedral’s roof, says police source. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/20/europe/notre-dame-fire-investigation-intl/index.html [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

Savingplaces.org. (2019). Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings | National Trust for Historic Preservation. [online] Available at: https://savingplaces.org/stories/six-reasons-save-old-buildings#.XLymahNKhD1 [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].

 

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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