By meshing the concerns of preservation and design we might arrive at a more productive condition of “critical reflection” that considers time, space, and their interactions.1 Such interlacing yields both an operative mode of preservation and a post-operative mode of design. Through an examination of the methods of several examples, this article explores how inverting expectations of where the creative act lies provokes the redefinition of both preservation and design.
An operative preservation is active. It understands artifacts as open to interpretation. It sees historic sites as both robust and latent—able to withstand new waves of inhabitation while simultaneously informing those waves in unexpected ways. When seen in this light, preservation anticipates and provokes. It is a vital source of mutation spurring the evolution of design thought. Historic sites are then vectors leading to new cultural conditions.
A post-operative design mines the past for instructive readings that can lead to unanticipated results. It seeks to seed the design process with the often exotic species of space, program, and their intersections that can often be found growing in the particular soil of a site’s idiosyncratic past. Post-operative design engages with the cultural acts that precede it. It demarcates, reasserts, and remembers in order to transcend the present moment. It is comfortable with a multivalent authorship, sees programming as a creative act, and considers the flows through and out of an artifact as carefully as it does those entering.
Seen this way, preservation and design do not stand in opposition, each threatening to topple the other unless a détente is achieved. Rather, they describe a continuum of methods by which we engage, understand, and reorder the built environment to engender multiple relevant futures. It is a conspiratorial relationship whereby either design or preservation alone is too limiting. We must have both as co-conspirators
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