Figural Identity in Adaptive Re-use : Preserved, New & Hybrid – Int|AR Volume 07
Marie S.A. Sorensen contributed to Volume 07 of the RISD journal Int|AR – Interventions in Adaptive Re-use, released in 2016. Read the full-text article here: SORENSEN – Figural Identity in Adaptive Re-Use – Preserved, New & Hybrid – Int|AR Vol 7.
Figural Identity in Adaptive Re-Use: Preserved, New, and Hybrid
Art enacted on existing structures is an empathy-generating design mode, setting in play a new formal way of looking at a building form and the experience of the space within. A building becomes “art” in adaptive re-use when the alteration reveals the distinct formal identities of the historic form, the new form, and the compositional whole.
Artists “find” abandoned buildings designed for science, engineering, and manufacturing, often located in places where real estate values are low, and (upon securing access and control, often through cooperative and/or governmentally-financed means) react to the giant-scale “canvas” and “clay” with two overarching purposes: (1) to shelter themselves and their art-making; and (2) to explore scale relationships or create at an unprecedented scale in terms of numerosness or sheer size.
In the first category, two projects stand as exemplars of arts communities residing and working in adaptively-re-used manufacturing complexes and creating new hybrid buildings or complexes that can be perceived as “art”: Westbeth, in New York City, the 1970s adaptation by Richard Meier of the 1936 former Bell Telephone Laboratories; and 50 Moganshan Road, located in a state-owned former textile mill complex in the Suzhou Creek Renewal District in Shanghai, China. In these examples, the artistic additions are space-making architectural elements occurring episodically throughout the complex, resulting in building or complex as topograpgical art-work. In both cases, the “found” architecture is robust former laboratory or manufacturing space with exposed structural features.
In the second category, additions or modifications to robust industrial buildings or complexes are large-scale figural gestures made deliberately as “art,” and the art and the historic structure merge as hybrid form or forms that are compositionally coherent. Gordon Matta-Clark’s “anarchitecture” – Splitting (1974), Day’s End (1975) and Conical Interest (1975), enacted on both residential and industrial structures – set the stage for larger works of adaptive re-use “art.” An exemplar of these larger works is Herzog and De Meuron’s sculptural crown over a 1960s warehouse for the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie (2017).
In adaptive re-use projects, it is sometimes the case that the historic building is considered less “preservation-worthy” than otherwise. This lack of sanctimony in attitude can allow more freedom in ways of modifying a building – and this freedom is instructive:
These examples of the successful and coherent realization of a building transformed into art through adaptive re-use spur acceptance for a progressive approach to historically-respectful alterations and additions in cases where a “preservation” approach would typically be considered de rigueur: where added elements have voice, historic works maintain material and formal integrity, and the resulting hybrid building or complex is itself a new work of art.