Another Facadomy

More than any American newspaper, The New York Times has excellent coverage of architecture, both domestic and abroad. It’s not my first source for architecture related news, but its nice to see at least a weekly piece dedicated to architecture. This week’s story is the classic progress vs. preservation battle that’s all too familiar around the world. More often that not, progress wins out, while making a mockery of preservation. That mockery is facadism or facadomy, which is the practice of demolishing a building but leaving its facade intact for the purposes of building new structures in it or around it. The story is Stuttgart’s Hauptbahnhof, an early building of German Modernism, built by Paul Bonatz in the early 20th century against plans to “upgrade” the station, Stuttgart 21.

I visited Stuttgart this summer and though I spent less than a day there, I was taken by the city’s authentic charm.  In a country that struggles to be authentic with its history, Stuttgart does it better than most other German cities.  I could not stand the day I spent in Dresden because it was impossible to know what was old, new, or a reconstruction.  This was not the case in Stuttgart which has a lovely city center, which will be utterly destroyed if Stuttgart 21 comes to fruition.  Unfortunately it looks as though Stuttgart 21 is a done deal, with the compromise between progress and preservation once again being facadism.

Stuttgart 21 intends to save only the main hall and tower of the station.  But the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof is not simply its main hall and tower.  It’s the building it is because of the entirety of the building working together harmoniously.  Not to mention the interactions and life that takes place in and around the structure.  Buildings are not historic and significant only because of their architecture, form, and other spatial qualities.  By taking away the “guts” of Bonatz’s Hauptbahnhof, its no longer a culturally significant building.  And this is how facadism makes a mockery of preservation.  It is a half-assed gesture to the preservation community that the building is “being saved”, when in fact it is being completely bastardized.  In most cases it would be better to simply demolish the building, commemorate it with a plaque and let people remember the building through drawings, photographs, and more importantly their own memories.

This is not an anti-progress argument.  This is a think outside the box argument.  The stock of historic and culturally significant buildings is only going to increase as time progresses and we must do a better job recognizing the importance these structures play in a community.  So when the time comes where progress is necessary (in this case the high speed train is a wonderful idea to connect the whole of Europe) we must look at ideas that integrate and adapt old and new to work seemlessly together but don’t create a false history, a false memory, or a false identity.  And ultimately that’s what I tried to achieve with my Master thesis.  While it seems like lost battle after lost battle, the preservation community must continue to fight and make people understand the true value on these buildings and not only the bottom line and greater efficiency of a new building that totally ignores history.

Here is a slideshow with the existing Hauptbahnhof, as well as, the planned Stuttgart 21.

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