I read an article today on Rem Koolhaas’ new art exhibit “Cronocaos” (I decided to be kind and not put art in quotes but feel free to add air quotes in your head) the article is a review by the New York Times and you can read it here.
Now, I know I have not seen the exhibit and that I’m reviewing a review and that’s kind-of a no-no but it got me SOOOO SOOO mad that I just needed to write about it (I did investigate further and found an interview with Rem and it didn’t make me feel one bit better!). First, the article starts with what I can only assume is the question that Rem asked himself and causing this whole debacle: Has preservation become a dangerous epidemic? Is it destroying our cities?
This is the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard in my life! It makes Preservation sound like an outbreak of the black death… Please tell me how can this honest pursuit to save important aspects of America’s built heritage while creating new jobs and restoring communities be”destroying our cities”? Dude,you’re just crying sour grapes because (In Ash’s words) “Preservation reduces the money and square footage left for self-absorbed egotists like you to blight the landscape with bleak steel, glass and concrete monstrosities.”
Rem, you need a little bit of education about how Preservation works before you start talking about “gentrification” and how Preservation can “socially displace” the impoverished . If you had read your Jane Jacobs you would know cities don’t need gentrification “help” from Preservation, Preservation happens in any place that people find value in. Places that were built the right size to begin with not, “right sized” due to shrinking population. Not that I’m against the principles of sizing cities sustainably and sympathetically after the fact… that is, by the way, the whole point of Rem’s exhibit.
In human scale neighborhoods there is access to needs and wants and it doesn’t matter weather you are wealthy or poor the inherent rightness of the design comes through. True, gentrification often happens in neighborhoods were middle class artists and students see the potential in “blighted” or low class neighborhoods (with low rents) and they bring in their money and start repairing things but this is not a process started by Preservation, Preservation is a side effect and perhaps it does lead to higher property values but community pride is not something to be ashamed of! And let’s not even talk of this blatant hypocrisy (okay let’s…..) of a Starchitect like Rem Koolhaas even mentioning this issue. As if he builds anything for the public good anymore…. sure he can build a Library now and then but really I doubt he’ll touch a pencil to paper (or click on his AutoCAD short-cut) for much less than a half a million these days so, while I find his social conscience admirable I also find it extremely sickening… Sure go ahead and make an art exhibit depicting the impoverished as Preservation’s down-trodden it’s not like they can afford to pay admission to see it anyway…. but while you’re at that Rem how bout I keep reviewing my CDBG projects and giving people who need it the money to sympathetically restore their homes? Sound good? Okay…..
Apparently it’s a problem that we as a species (because we have world heritage sites you know?) have decided that some of our architecture is so important it should never be torn down or sullied by other buildings that claim to enhance its already inherent brilliance (not that a ton of them aren’t endangered!). No, Rem’s not educated enough about Preservation to realize that the first lessons Preservationists learn is “you can’t save them all” and therefore we KNOW that we must pick and choose what to save so that architecture can continue and evolve (because again he doesn’t realize that Preservationists are not against new buildings!)
And THEN the reviewer goes onto say “To highlight this transformation, Mr. Koolhaas and Mr. Shigematsu have kept the supply store’s yellow awning, painting the show’s title directly over the old lettering.” “The result is startling. The uneven, patched-up floors and soiled walls of the old space look vibrant and alive; the new space looks sterile, an illustration of how even the minimalist renovations favored by art galleries today, which often are promoted as ways of preserving a building’s character, can cleanse it of historical meaning.” So apparently Preservation is only evil when it doesn’t highlight your point….. Because keeping the patched floors and yellow awing sound like things that we Preservationists would do every day… after all the SOIS number 2 tells us “The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.”
The gross lack of understanding about how Preservation really works versus the flawed perception of a few people is bordering on negligence in this article. I don’t know if it’s all Rem or part of it is the reviewer but one thing is for sure, when big names like Rem Koolhaas takes arms against a cause that isn’t well understood to begin with the damage can be terrible. It is articles and exhibits like this one that we Preservationists need to speak out against!