(sorry it’s been a while… graduation, vacation, new changes in life… but I’m currently trying to get back on this… plus update the text/book for the past research project… This recent vacation back to Indonesia had me thinking about the notion of preservation).
In the well-acclaimed story of Atlantis, “there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of rain all your warlike men in a body sunk into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared, and was sunk beneath the sea.” But up till now, many historians and archeologists are still intrigued by its possible existence and even believe it to be preserved in some form or another. This sense of loss and longing for the past reality has provoked many of the preservation activists today to guard cities –one of which is San Francisco –from further changes. The tension between architects/designers and the Historic Preservation Commission has long sparked major debates that have resulted in both innovative and conservative design thinking. The fear of losing the “San Francisco” identity has somehow translated to a static catalog of Victorian facades.
I hadn’t started realizing the value of preservation within the city until my visit to Indonesia. As a recent graduate, I was still stuck in this Utopian mindset –seeing a city as a complete “living organism” that changes with each month, season, or year. I disregarded the need to preserve or to hold on to any part of any city as a keepsake. For me, San Francisco felt stuck in an era that it no longer belongs to. Why are we consistently putting on record one building after another and deem them as a historic landmark?
In May of 2013, I stepped out of the plane and into the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta Airport. It was first built in 1985 and has incrementally expanded both in 1992 and 2008 (and is currently undergoing another major construction). Designed by the French architect Paul Andreu, the building was design to reflect the local architectural “style” – the Pendopo (a square pavilion topped with a double pyramidal roof). But throughout the ride into downtown Jakarta, we passed countless burnt or abandoned buildings. The whole city has somehow transformed into a checkerboard of development (and urban voids). Unlike San Francisco, there isn’t a significant jurisdiction to control the deterioration of the city. Almost none of the buildings are ever preserved or restored. It is that “living organism” I had often speak of, but never really what I had mind. Is this the epitome of a city free of preservation laws?
Even back in 1996, this condition was already apparent. A German historical writer commented on Jakarta’s historic site, “When the citizens of a city do not know and respect its history, its purpose and its genius loci, where the people fight for themselves and themselves only, the solidarity between them to keep the security, cleanliness, environment and ownership will be hard to grow.”1 How would we determine that golden proportion between what we keep and let go within a city? Is there a universal percentage that applies to all cities or is it always dependent upon the breath of a city’s “history” per se? And by what criteria should any piece of architecture be judged upon to determine if it is to be “historically significant”?
*Let me know what you think!