Space in and out of Time part 02 – A SYSTEM

I passionately believe in the need for a theory and approach for a building to “grow”, adapt and develop in time and space as fast as society and technology does. I am continuously investigating the extend of oblivion and remembrance needed to foster sustainable urban, architectural and cultural progress. 

This present second part of a series of essays named Space in and out of Time discusses a theory of a systematic growth in time of a building, based on extensive precedent research and drawn conclusions. In this part I am seeking a theoretical and design approach to allow for a building to develop in time and space, but still preserve its identity.

“A building is defined by its elements, but beyond that, a building is also defined by certain patterns of relationships between the elements. […] Each building gets its character from just the patterns, which keep on repeating there.”

– “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander

Whenever a new building is conceived, its site is crucial. Whether an architect would decide to incorporate the environment in their design or to ignore it – it is a key feature of a design proposal. However, when the building ground for a new building is another building in itself, a question arises as to how architecture can respond to a surrounding that is so immediate and dominant. After conducting a study on buildings, which have expanded over time, 3 main principles for a continuous workflow arose. Hereafter, three examples are presented, which best explain the principles.

1/ St.Ludwig kirche, Saarelouis, Germany

This building is characterized by three different times, each with different materiality and different structure type. When the neo gothic abside collapses due to underground water destroying the foundations, new abside needs to be built and it should be with a structure and material that can handle the troublesome ground. The solution of reinforced concrete comes and so the design of Gottfried Boehm.
This inheritance of proportions and morphological units is further on referred to as the method of Morphological inheritance. It is signified by preserved proportions and formal language, keeping the building as a whole, however different materiality, structural system and aesthetic may be.

2/ Festung Hohensalzburg, Salzburg, Austria

Due to need for protection from foreign attack in the middle ages, the circulation mode takes a visitor on the longest path possible, giving many possibilities for the residents to attack their invading enemies. Because of this necessity circulation dictates the layout and planning of the fortress in all of its expansion phases and turns to a main driving design principle. Despite being progressively built in different ages with different techniques, it retained its function and its contextuality. Therefore materials keep inheriting properties from each other, while only the building technique develops, thus preserving the buildings unity. These features of the example illustrate the Design narrative adaptance method. It follows the way the objectives for a certain strategy change with time, including the political, sociological and cultural aspect.

3/ Tate modern, Herzog and de Meuron, London, UK

The new design proposes a distinguished shape, not interfering with the appearance of the old existing building, which is a landmark of is own. However, cladding it with the same brick topology and the same order, a dialogue between the new and the old is established. The observed material inheritance similarity in the smallest building unit wrapping up the big picture constitutes the third method, called Continuation and evolution of detailing pattern. Here features as decoration and its function as tool for articulation and materiality as a forgotten property of form take central place.

According to Steve Semes there are three main motives for preservation : 1/ historians motive of buildings and places as “documents of their time”; 2/ populist motive of “places we love and want to keep”; and probably the most neglected and often forgotten one – 3/ to learn/remember how to build. Let’s learn how to learn, remember and honour our favourite places.

References : 

“The Future of the Past : A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism and Historic Preservation” – Steve Semes, 2009


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