TRANSFORMING A MESS
12 January 2017 - Tim Hawk
If you have talked to me for ten minutes, you probably have heard me talk about generational shifts. In fact, my team just selected me as “most likely to blame frustrations on generational differences,” specifically millennials. True. But, not fair. I hold millennials in high regard. I have helped to raise two, I hire them in droves, and stand up for their viewpoints almost daily. In many ways, I believe that this emerging generation (those folks who are about 19 to 34) will prove to be one of the best generations ever. Ever. In large part, because they see the big picture and demand that we all consider it. Unlike baby boomers who focused on the individual, this generation demands that we take the long-term results of our actions into consideration. So, when we consider adaptation of our buildings, millennials are totally on board with the concept. They see the value in the translation of historical culture. In addition, as a generation of architects, Millennials have a pluralistic approach to design that tends towards the more timeless. I love their approach. There is no one way, and trend is not the goal. They are passionate about buildings contributing to community. They integrate sustainability as inherent to any design. They demand that our design consider to an honest improvement to our society. Millennials prioritize the greater good and the buildings and the communities that we design in the future will certainly raise the bar for creating a connected, patchwork quilt of collective culture.
Baby boomer architects….well, if they are to be characterized, I would align boomer design with an attempt to create a new, singularly relevant style to replace Modernism. Think about the time in which boomers emerged as architects. Many of them graduated from architecture school in the late seventies, a time when society was discarding the “cold” Modernist style and embracing the mannerist Post-Modern era. Think Michael Graves and the Portland Building. There is no more iconic boomer building. Graves, born in 1934 in Indianapolis (proving once again that the Midwest is where it’s at), was not a boomer, but he was a part of those avant-garde architects who in the 1980’s heralded a new era in architectural design. To make our future building stock more relevant than these “horrible” modern buildings, Graves and other Post-modernists demanded that we adorn our buildings and harness Classical architecture to humanize our buildings. This style influence all of us who entered the profession in the 80’s. We learned the Post-modern vocabulary, ate it for breakfast, drank the Kool-Aid and adopted a disdain for the simplicity of the Modern International style. So, when we were confronted with the adaptation of buildings, many architects looked to preserve history and became “historic preservationists,” which is fine for a historic structure. But, this stylistic approach was not necessarily able to be easily translated to all buildings, and it was especially not able to be applied to Modern icons. Many structures which had been designed and built in the 1950’s or 60’s during the height of the Modern movement were later “fixed” through Post-modern updates in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And the result was a hodgepodge of place. These simple, honest, and straightforward Modern icons were designed in an austere manner, and, frankly, when architects and interior designers added these Post-modern accoutrements, they clashed with the skeleton. The collision has caused these buildings to really suffer. I have always felt like the Post-modern cladding was akin to (as Frank Weaver would say) “socks on a rooster.” They just don’t mesh well.
Over the past few years, our team has been called on to fix countless boomer mash ups. My favorite was the renovation of Hagerty Hall at Ohio State. This building, constructed in a series of additions from 1920 through 1950, was also the victim of countless post-modern fixes. The building had simply become a story of stylistic layering, where the original Spartan and austere land grant structure had been “updated” with mid-century modern décor, later stylized with post-modern finishes, and augmented with specialty lighting, signage, and not-so-state-of-the-art technology. Our client, the College of Humanities, adopted the building to escape the austere compound of the brutal Cunz Hall on the western edge of campus (which was later renovated in its own way). The humanities team looked beyond the trauma inflicted by the multiple layers of “fixes” to embrace the solid bones that this building offered, and were (rightfully so) smitten with Hagerty’s location at the intersection of the Oval, Mirror Lake Hollow, and College Drive. Hagerty is located at the heart of the Ohio State campus.
Our team, which included Jane Weinzapfel of Leers Weinzapfel Associates, carefully exacted a scapula to excise the post-modern additions, carry it back and stabilize the building in its original state, and then conceptualize and implement additions to translate the structure into the World Media and Culture Center. The project was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 2007 as a leading, national example of architecture for education, and I believe that, in large part, this honor was bestowed based upon the reconstructive surgery that the building had undergone. The process that we had applied to translate the physical structure of Hagerty became a metaphor for how education was being transformed into a process of engagement. The World Media Center has transformed the role of foreign language education at Ohio State, causing ripple effects throughout the region. So, there is proof that built form can and does impact how we live, work, and come together to improve access to education.
Hagerty also offers an insight into the role that adaptation can play in the continuity of our culture. The University’s approach to this landmark was informed by what I deem to be an early example of Millennial perspective. The College of Humanities selected to re-envision the building with respect for the long view. Collectively, we renovated this building to be forward-thinking in both its educational and physical program. We designed spaces which are flexible, can be easily reconfigured to absorb changing functional demands, and support a future pace of learning.
And, at WSA Studio, we took away a whole new design perspective away from this project. We certainly see the benefits of broad conceptual thinking, and seek to match design rigor to the longer view. In many ways, I believe that we at WSA Studio are ALL Millennials as we approach the adaptation and migration of historic structures. So, imagine that.
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