Does anybody really have an issue with nostalgia? I sure hope not. Every so often we look to those that came before us for both wisdom and inspiration. The successes and failures of our ancestors is what define who we are, and quite literally, we wouldn’t be here without them. It would be nothing short of small-minded to neglect this natural part of human progression, and shameful to make any effort towards erasing those who have brought us into existence.
This is just as true for our physical remnants as it is for our own flesh and blood, no matter how right or wrong the principles may have been that spurred their creation. We learn from them and adapt accordingly. And despite what we may currently believe to be right and wrong about the ideas of our ancestors, there’s no reason to believe that those who follow us will agree. All we can do is strive to leave the best of both our selves and our knowledge behind so that our decedents may in turn adapt and expound upon what we have left them.
So how can this be achieved when faced with the ever-increasing ruins that succumb to weather and time across our country? How do we maintain the material beauty of our cities and towns while fighting against the urge to erase our degraded past? Well the answer is a lot closer to home than our minds tend to wander. Material beauty isn’t found solely in the creation of something brand new. More often than not, it can easily be seen in the structures we’re so quick to condemn. I challenge you to imagine not only what it was, but what it could, and should, be again.
This is precisely what German based FNP Architekten did when they converted an 18th century pigsty into a goldsmith’s showroom. Built in the 1780’s, the aptly named “Pigsty Showroom” most definitely saw it’s better days, but only if you believe that a buildings better days require it to be clean and pristine. I guess since it was originally a pigsty, it was never clean and pristine, but you get my point. After being partly destroyed in WWII, and periodically reassembled in the years that followed, it’s owner wanted something new in 2005. After considering a complete renovation, the idea was scrapped due to the structures physical condition, which made such an upgrade extremely difficult and costly, and any thoughts of demolishing and building something new were simply out of the picture sue to the structures proximity to a public street. And it was only after these considerations that the architect was allowed to devise the simplest and best of any of the possible scenarios, to build within it.
Unlike the ability of your father or grandfather to understand what it is that you think is “cool,” the devilish simplicity of the new structure, constructed off-site and hoisted into its new place within the walls of the old, allowed for a mutually beneficial existence of old and new. The tin roof of the new structure was designed in a way to protect both old and new from the elements, while the thick old stonewalls give added protection for its new thin timber inhabitant. And when the sun goes down, the orange glow from the new timber adds warmth to the pale stone ancestor that encompasses it.
Ok, so we don’t have a ton of 18th century ruins to adaptively reuse, but we do have our fair share of ruins. So rather than quickly disregarding them as lost causes from ignorant generations while prepping our bulldozers, let’s step back, appreciate their legacy, and visualize their revival before stepping on the gas pedal.