Tuesday, 19 June 2007

the built environment

The built environment--the buildings and streets and parks that form the background of our daily activities--usually fades into the background. Or, better, it seeps into our subconscious. It nevertheless shapes our movements, alters our mood, and becomes a part of our identity. This is my beautiful building.
It's just down the street from this monstrosity, the Royal Ontario Museum.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not against modern architecture. I rather like this bit of Wright-inspired tastefulness, the Gardiner Museum, also just down the street.
I'm not against glass, either, as I'm quite fond of Apple's Fifth Avenue retail store:I like the idea of preserving our heritage (top) and building the new and exciting (bottom). But mixing the two can be very dangerous (the ROM). A progressive alien crystalline form engulfing our very heritage may not have been quite the effect the architects intended.

Progress is a funny thing.

In Maine, we pay dairy farmers money to keep them in business. We do it so that we continue to have a dairy industry in Maine. It's a part of our heritage we want to hold on to, even if it isn't self-sustaining. At the same time, we want to be a part of the global economy. So we give tax breaks to high-tech companies in the hopes that the old can live alongside the new. It would be easy to say that every time we change our built environment, we're giving up a piece of our culture. Every time we cut down a 200 year old oak to widen a street, we're selling our very soul. Would greening Trafalgar have the same effect? More to the point, there was a day Old Vic was new--a great mass of stone thrust up out of farm lands, a manifestation of the siren call of progress ushering in a new economy of opportunity--and inequality. To avoid change is to stagnate, to become irrelevant. The challenge is to make each change our own, to incorporate it into our environment so that it, too, can seep beneath our consciousness and become a part of us. Toronto has a long history of architectural creativity, as much evidenced by what it has chosen not to do as by its current distinctive skyline.

I am by no means settled on this question. Perhaps knowing something about architecture might help. Likely not. Although knowing something would surely accelerate my ruminations and perhaps allow me fuller expression of them, I suspect that the question of heritage and progress will remain forever a very personal and troubled one.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

This is interesting. I think we can only hold onto our heritage for so long. Well that's not exactly what I mean, but let me go on. For example, when my grandmother thought of her heritage, it dated back to the old country. My heritage line (if I think of this in a linear way), while it is connected and technically dates back as far as I want to track it, seems to start a little later, so the changes that my old family experienced has become part of my heritage.
Heritage is made of changes as well as traditions I think.
But at the same time, a lot of modern architecture like you were saying, has wiped all tradition off of the chalkboard and started anew. I think they've actually gone so far to throw out that outdated chalkboard and bring in a shiny new white board, with dry erase markers and everything. Yes, perhaps it's more efficient, more convenient, more "up to date," but it lacks that warm feeling, that classic feeling of the old chalkboards. The dusty chalkboards of our childhood, that seem to be much more than that.
I don't know, maybe I'm stretching it with this metaphor but, I just wanted to say- I hear ya.