Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alterations for Cremains Memorial Bridge Past and Future

With yesterday's dedication ceremony, the Cremains Memorial at the State Hospital is in the news.

Later this month or next we'll look at how it and the World War II memorials function as public space, but for the moment let's consider how the building is as an instance of adaptive reuse and historic preservation.

The original site with mid-century addition
Building relocated with mid-century box removed

Building painted and viewing apertures enlarged

Tree removal

Final construction details
The final shape of the memorial retains the essential building structure and much of its detailing, but it is nowhere near "original" condition. The holes in the wall are pretty big, and clearly modern!

But enough essential traces - large structural elements and small details - of the building are retained that it operates with a bifocal sense of time, and you can easily see then and now. Not so much that it is refreshed and updated, but that enough of the old is left that it secures its identity as an old building full of people, many people, we might think of as lost in some sense, but who we must remember each had their own stories in which they themselves were the central heros. Even though they are unknowable, there are vast stories there.

In the new configuration it also serves living people today. For some it will be a direct link to a family member or friend. For some it will be a reminder, a negative example, about the health care system or other institutions and the dignity of all persons.  For others it will be a stark tableau, like a modern version of a Dutch still life and memento mori or a Buddhist meditation that underscores transience and fragility. No single interpretive scheme will exhaust its meanings.

And with the mid-century addition removed, there are ways, actually, that this new configuration honors the original 1896 building better its late 20th century form. The alterations are also a restoration. We should remember that alterations were opposed as "removing historic fabric from a National Register Building....[and] a misuse of the building and destroy[ing] a very visible and important North side of the building." I believe that now people can see the finished memorial, it is going to take only a few months for a new consensus to gel that the alterations have not "misused" or "destroyed" the building. I find it difficult to believe that critique of the alterations will have any meaningful traction in the near future. On the contrary, the alterations will be embraced.

As we think about Howard Hall at the Blind School, keeping this in mind we should be open to significant alterations that yet preserve the essential form of the building.

The same possibilities entailed by alteration may be true for some of the buildings at the north campus of the State Hospital* as well as some of them at Fairview.

I think the memorial here could be an example for the future. We should also remember that even though this was funded with a 1% for arts, it is also a valuable non-economic use of the building.

Good historic preservation isn't a static vision of nostalgia, something stuck in the past. The best instances of it are dynamic compromises: They have their own forward momentum that take good things from the past and with modifications release them out into the unknown future.

Interesting Preservation might mean Slice and Dice!
Belluschi's Breitenbush Hall at the State Hospital
* About the Dome Building at the State Hospital, because it is more distinguished architecturally than Howard Hall and anything at Fairview, I am less ready to see significant alterations of it - though in the hands of a good architect, additions can be placed on the side or in back that transition wonderfully between the old and the new. But, you know, if meaningful bits of the Belluschi building could be retained with significant alterations, sign me up! Same for those other halls at Fairview. Mash-up and collage can be well done and no less meaningful than other forms.

Update, July 9th

The tree is back!

Bench from reclaimed trunk of tree
At least a part of it, anyway. An impressive slab was milled from the trunk and repurposed as a bench.

At the corners of the plaza and at a couple of midpoints, a wire lattice with apertures for windows echos the footprint of the now-deleted mid-century addition (see very top image). I think it is reversed and employs mirror symmetry, so the echo is not exact - but, you know, it's an echo, a ghost building.

Corner of mid-century ghost building

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with bench and lattice details