Tabula Non Rasa
Over millennia, architecture has embodied the notion of constant change. Most buildings from architectural history no longer exist today in their original form but have been relentlessly transformed over time. In this way they have been able to outlast epochs and to fulfill successive changing functions, for which they were not originally planned. Thus palaces turned into residential buildings, churches into indoor swimming pools and coliseums into urban neighborhoods. Modernism largely broke with this tradition: it declared the old city as obsolete and called for a clean slate of the extant to build the city of tomorrow without any precedence of the past.
After WWII this tabula rasa concept became the dominant model of progress of late modern architecture worldwide. Since then the half-life of architecture has been rapidly decreasing for decades. It is becoming more and more common for a building to be simply torn down, to be replaced with a new one whenever its function or ownership structure changes.
However, criticism of this spatial throwaway culture is growing appreciably. An ever increasing number of architects are once again investigating buildings’ transformability. In their spatial and functional reinterpretation, they are discovering very distinct poetic potential and scope for experimentation because transformation can take on a wide range of different forms. There are no defined paths, no identical starting points and, in many cases, no clear basis in the building regulations either, so the approach that conversion requires the architects to take is often completely different to that required for new construction.
For this exhibition we chose three projects which expose this architectural empathy with the extant in three different scales: a house (AGPS architects with Jenny Rodenhouse), the neighborhood (Lacaton & Vassal, Druot, Hutin) and the city (ETH MAS Urban Design). They all depart from the notion that you never start from nothing, because there is always something preceding your intervention. In that sense, architecture can never be entirely new, but is always a transformation of something else.
Ilka & Andreas Ruby