Is preservation destroying our cities?
It is a question that has Rem Koolhaas, one of the most prominent architects currently working today, considers in his new art show that is being produced along side one of his contemporaries. In a New York Times write up, Koolhaas' purpose is outlined,
Preservation movements around the world, working hand in hand with governments and developers, have become a force for gentrification and social displacement, driving out the poor to make room for wealthy homeowners and tourists.
Mr. Koolhaas’s vision is even more apocalyptic. A skilled provocateur, he paints a picture of an army of well-meaning but clueless preservationists who, in their zeal to protect the world’s architectural legacies, end up debasing them by creating tasteful scenery for docile consumers while airbrushing out the most difficult chapters of history. The result, he argues, is a new form of historical amnesia, one that, perversely, only further alienates us from the past.
The problem with preservation socieities is one that has been gaining steam among urban planners. One of the main arguments in the best seeling "The Triumph of the City" by Edward Glaeser is that over preservation can raise the prices of all housing, which tends to crowd out new immigrant populations and poorer residents.
Koolhas's argument emcompasses this but goes a little further. His additional concern is that preservation whitewashes history because redevelopment often means the complete breakdown and redesign of a building. To bring attention to this,
Inside, the architects drew a line down the middle of the space, transforming one side into a pristine white gallery and leaving the other raw and untouched.
The result is startling. The uneven, patched-up floors and soiled walls of the old space look vibrant and alive; the new space looks sterile, an illustration of how even the minimalist renovations favored by art galleries today, which often are promoted as ways of preserving a building’s character, can cleanse it of historical meaning.