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Identity crisis

Australian architect Trevor Howells once said, "[Architecture] is a mirror of our own time and of times gone by, a diary that is written in mud and timber, in brick and stone, in iron and steel, in concrete and glass. [It] reflects what we are, what we once were - and what we hope to become."

COMMENT, Design

Australian architect Trevor Howells once said, "[Architecture] is a mirror of our own time and of times gone by, a diary that is written in mud and timber, in brick and stone, in iron and steel, in concrete and glass. [It] reflects what we are, what we once were - and what we hope to become."

While architecture inevitably reflects the era in which it's built, I think Howells would agree that in doing so, it helps create the identity of a city, and by association, the identity of its people.

In the perfect environment, buildings serve as memories of the past, landmarks in the present and harbingers of the future. But, as Dr. Samia Rab mentions in this month's feature article, when those buildings are not properly conserved, architects are forced to reinvent cities and thus, redefine identities.

If cities are indeed evolving entities that rely upon the built environment of the past to inform the future, to what do we cling when those buildings have crumbled due to our negligence?

There have been whispers among conservationists that, in the haste to continue the rapid pace of development in the region, ‘timeless' developments are lasting just one generation.

Whether it is because of bad architecture, poor construction, thrifty development or ineffective policies, it's clear that if we continue down this path, we'll have little in the way of historical buildings - or urban identity - to offer future generations.

As we mention in our cost/benefit analysis of roofing material in the region, even the best design or material is undermined when the building isn't standing. What is needed is a redefinition of the building process and realignment of priorities.

If we want the future generations to marvel at our bending, twisting towers, or if there is any hope for them to see what pieces of cultural heritage our predecessors left us, we need conservation policies that are consistent and unbending.

If we were to devote a fraction of the money we invest in new buildings to conserving older ones, perhaps our cities would feel more like museums and less like theme parks. Perhaps we wouldn't have to search so hard for our identity.

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Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020