Preserving The Past Could Save Our Future

“I don’t think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”

-Zaha Hadid

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In this new year, my goal is to make our world more beautiful. And not in the traditional sense of beauty, where everything is prim, proper and delicate, but in a way so that man-made structure can synthesize with natural elements to excite the aesthetic senses. It is proven that when you surround yourself with an aesthetically pleasing environment, you become happier and tend to treat the world around you better. I feel that if we are surrounded by beautiful design, we can all be happier.

This is no new notion, however, often the first approach is to burn bridges and start anew. This is where I believe architecture has gone wrong. Swinging the wrecking ball causes more problems than solutions. While a new development may seem spiffy and a financial pro, in reality it often causes much damage to the environment, culture of place and historic context.

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Unlike a lot of art forms, in historical architecture, form follows function allowing structures that have grace the skyline for hundreds, even thousands of years, grace the skyline. In old buildings you can see how the decor speaks for the person while the function aligns with the environment. For example, the Charleston single house form (below). Most, if not all, peninsular Charleston homes are structured this way: one room wide with the side facing the street, while the front is enclosed by surrounding houses and a small porch. This design proved beneficial in hot, sticky Charleston because it allowed for the flow of air from the front windows and out the back while also subject the least amount of surface area of the house to direct sunlight. The architecture and environment work in harmony and the design is still aesthetically pleasing.

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While making such a structure to last this long was no small, cheap feat, it now holds cultural significance. Knocking it down for the sack of new development would not only diminish that significance, but waste the expensive masonry that went into it when there was nothing wrong with its integrity. Then, you waste more money to build something new while also wasting precious energy and natural resources to construct something that has no meaning or cultural significance.

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Yes, new buildings can be beautiful and often times are useful. But, I believe structures gain beauty through time, they fin their niche, they synthesize with the natural surroundings. To see natural elements with man made are is aesthetically pleasing; whether it is moss veiling centuries old stucco or vines tangled in 19th century ironwork. It tells a story and ignites the mind and captures the senses.

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If we were to forget about these buildings and start from scratch, we would lose valuable pieces of ourselves (not to mention money). But the solution lies with us. What most people don’t realize is that you can take an older building and restore it to its former glory, all while making it modern and eco-friendly. In fact, adding things such as solar panels and energy saving bulbs can even add to the cultural context of the building. And while the initial costs may seem daunting, in the end such additions pay for themselves and you save valuable art and let the environment keep a structure it has survived in harmony with for decades.

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If we keep this world aesthetically pleasing while maintaining culture and environment, each playing our part to keep the natural past and creation alive, then perhaps, we can make the world we live in better.

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If we keep this world aesthetically pleasing while maintaining culture and environment, each playing our part to keep the natural past and creation alive, then perhaps, we can make the world we live in better.

I am hoping to write more this year on my thoughts and ideas on design, be it architectural or interior. I believe that designing one’s environment can create a better mindset and make life much more enjoyable!

xo Em

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