Mixing Old and New Architecture

In my post this morning I mentioned that the upcoming mixed use building in downtown is designed to cohere with the surrounding historic architecture without slavishly copying it. The idea is that ever-evolving cities will have a mixture of building types. Over time, hundreds of years end up being represented by those cities’ built environment.

I recently saw a few good examples of this concept while traveling. The picture below, for example, is of a non-descript street in Madrid.

Buildings in Madrid that were obviously built at very different periods. Note also the more modern buildings in the distant background.

As the capital of Spain, Madrid is a vibrant and economically diverse city. It has a lot of historic architecture, but mixed in with all those older buildings are newer structures as well. And from a visual perspective, they work. Though the black glass building in the picture above isn’t flashy or particularly noteworthy on its own, it helps create a diverse city that meets the structural, economic and cultural needs of people with different aims and interests.

As is obvious, the building also follows a few rules. It’s roughly the same height as the surrounding buildings and is part of a continuous street wall with a uniform setback. Provo’s upcoming downtown tower meets similar requirements.

The next several pictures were taken in Barcelona and illustrates similar situations.

Modern and historic buildings mixed into the same neighborhood in Barcelona.

Historic, modern and even postmodern buildings all co-existing.

In this picture, note the building on the left. The lower part is apparently historic, while the upper two or three floors are a modern add-on.

And finally, here is an example of something similar occurring among the buildings around Union Square in New York City.

All of these buildings represent very different periods in New York City’s history. Some are beautiful, while other are more utilitarian. But taken together, they create the dense and diverse cityscape that we associate with successful metropolitan areas.

The point here is that cities are not architectural museums and diverse architecture from various time periods is a mark of success. Conversely, those cities with highly unified architecture — places like quaint little European villages and small cities — usually ended up that way because they spent long periods in economic decline and without investment in infrastructure.

Provo has a long way to go, but the new building at 63 E. Center St. is a small step toward the future. And as I’ve said before, if Provo achieves longterm success its best historic buildings are yet to be conceived.

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4 Comments

Filed under building, Development

4 responses to “Mixing Old and New Architecture

  1. Paul

    Conventional wisdom in the US would say that your modern examples in Spain got it about half-right. The general size of the buildings, and their placement right at the sidewalk in line with the older buildings and without large gaps in between, is laudable. The different treatments on the ground floors versus upper floors is also a plus. However, the widespread use of mirror glass (is the glass mirrored, or was it just a very bright day?) prevents people from seeing into the ground floor uses and thus detracts from the pedestrian experience. That the building skins are essentially large sheets of glass (tho some are broken up fairly well in units reminiscent of their neighbors’ traditional windows) would also be a red flag for many urban designers in the US.

    Of course, some of these same criticisms could also be directed at Provo’s newest downtown buildings. Each project, whether in Madrid or Provo, is the result of many people’s sensibilities, priorities, and tradeoffs.

    • That’s really interesting. As I looked at those newer buildings I didn’t really like them on their own, even though I felt like they contributed to the diversity of the city. The points you bring up are probably a big part of why individually they’re still not quite succeeding in every way.

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  3. angry guy

    I hate it, and everyone hates it too! it is so frustrating for the citizens to see that stupid architects and enterprises put ugly-mediocre buildings in between the beautiful and old ones. And we hate it even much when they keep the facade and say that they have respected the building (No, you didn’t!). There are new districts in every city, put those ugly concrete boxes there, not in our beloved old district!!

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