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Merging Of Old And New Architecture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3956 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Human population growth in our planet has increased in a whirlwind over the past few decades. The on-going increase of the world population nowadays leads to greater demand of providing built environment for the people. On the other hand, although the population is growing, the earth is not. People will have to build more in a land that stay constantly the same. The fast changes of built environment have become one of the results.

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In Singapore, fast changes of environmental surrounding have now become so common that people might perceive it as a habit and pattern of life. People might live in one area for just couple of months and suddenly their environment is no longer the same. New buildings are added, some are being destroyed and replaced. The main reason is because of the minimum land area they have, that must runs concurrently with the population increase. To meet the demand of people’s need that is constantly changing and increasing, the built environment is adapting in a fast pace also.

Living in a condition that is continuously changing has left a certain bad impact of one’s life. A lot of Singaporeans, especially the young generations have no glimpse of what happened in the past. They are growing up in this modern environment, with the expectation of an endless changing. Not knowing the past means that we are heading our way to a future without knowing our own history and culture, leaving behind all of what our ancestors had given. While others are able to trace back their root and heritage, we can’t. Others are able to learn from their own history, we can’t. This is also creating a boredom, to only look forward and waiting for something new.

Whereby our surrounding needs to be altered according to people’s need, we also have a call to start learning to know our history and originality. One of the solutions to this problem may be just a simple act that has been forgotten by most architects. We still can have both the originality of the buildings with the combination of new function to be added on, adjusting people’s need that is constantly changing.

Fast changes built environment as the result of the increase population and people’s needs have caused individuals not to know their past. By merging the old and new architecture, people will have a glimpse on their history while still having their needs fulfilled. The essay will be studying how the old and contemporary architects have done the merging of the two.

II. The Future of The Past

The issue of Singaporean Young Generation to grow up without knowing their own culture and heritage.

1. Fast Changes of Built Environment in Singapore

Data from the construction sector in Singapore has shown a rapid growth since the past few decades. The development of construction sector in Singapore since 1982 to 1992 is 12.5 percent while since 1992 to 1998 the growth expanded to 15.9 percent. Until the year 1990, there is 6,813,376m2 floor area of new establishments completed. Moreover, up till the year of 2010 the growth has increased from 15.9 percent to 20.3 percent. (Building Construction Authority, 2010)

One aspect that is causing this rapid growth of built construction sector is the increase of people’s population. Data from Singapore Statistics (Singapore Statistics, 2010) shows that in 2010 the number of population reaches 5,076,7000 people, while in 1980 the population is only 2,413,900 people. From the data above, it is shown that increase of population runs concurrently with the construction sector. We can analysed that due to the expansion of Singapore population, the necessities of people is growing as well. This issue will then leads to the obligation of government to build more in order to fulfil people’s needs.

2. Fast Changes Built Environment in Singapore Leading Towards The Unknowing of The Past

MM Lee Kuan Yew once stated in his speech at the inaugural Future China Global Forum Meeting on Wednesday, July 17th 2010, that “Singaporeans are ignorant.” (Temasek Review, 2010). One of the biggest issues of ignorance in Singapore is where the young generations not aware of what happened in the past. What if it is not the case that they are intentionally ignoring what had happened in the past? What if it occurs because of no traces left from the past as the result of fast changes in their living environment?

B. Lessons from The Past

1. History – Value of The Past

By recognising our own history, we do not only know what had happened in the past but also learn from it. Peter N. Stearns (Historians, 2008) , once said that history puts human experience in a situation whereby it allows us to understand ourselves as a people and a culture. It gives us a reference to consider the possible future ahead of us. For examples, journals, newspapers and other religious books become more relevant to know what is going on in that time period.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Santayana, 2005) on the other hand, with no doubt, knowing the past means also that we are aware of the mistakes done back then. It helps us understand past triumphs and tragedies, and gives us the tools to try and succeed where others have failed. It will be functioned as a guideline to illustrate our future in order to lead a better life in the future where we will not go down to the same hole again.

2. Memories – How We Recall The Past

“Many very different things happen when we remember” (Wittgenstein, 1974, pp. 181). Memories are another beauty depicting the past. How we recall and store every scene in the past is by memories. What has gone in the past shall live in our memories forever. We might forget the past without memories, and moreover the things that we can’t let go of might stay forever in our mind even though they are actually gone. Memories play a certain roles in recalling the past.

C. Architecture in The Past versus New Architecture

Characteristics of Old Architecture

The study of traditional architecture proved that in general there are recognisable patterns and forms in variety settings and variety purposes. Old buildings are usually designed by classification or by typological approach. Each type had certain characteristic that differentiates from others, and this will often be repeated in the design. For the spaces inside, they are typically designed as a solid body. They are always been rooms and solid spaces as to part one space from another.

As for the functional purposes of old architecture

How Traditional Architecture Different from Contemporary Architecture

2.1 Development of The Functions

Contemporary architecture has developed rapidly, adjusting to human needs that are constantly changing. The main thing that differs traditional and contemporary architecture is the development of the functions. One of the examples is the establishment of department store in 1838. The increase of people’s possession on goods and daily needs is the main reason of the founding of department store, whereby people will be able to buy all kinds of their needs in one area. At the old time, all shops were standing alone; people will have to venture to one shop to another to get all their needs.

Le Bon Marché – Paris, France 1850

2.2 Development of The Forms

Moreover, it is the characteristic of old building that is abandoned by new architecture. Repetitive forms are now used in a very little manner, while new forms are being introduced more.

(will be explained more in the next semester)

Le Bon Marché – Paris, Shinsegae Centum City – Busan,

France (1850) South Korea (2010)

D. Historical Approach – The method of merging old and new architecture in the past

The scheme of combining old and new architecture is not a completely new approach, whereby it has been done in the past.

1. John Ruskin

1.1 The Sixth Lamp of Architecture – Lamp of Memory

John Ruskin was an English art critic and theorist. He wrote an extended essay about principle in architecture, The Seven Lamps of Architecture. At the sixth point of his essay, The Memory, Ruskin’s clearly stated that there are two duties respecting national architecture; the first is to represent the architecture of the day and the second is to preserve, what is the most precious of inheritances from the past ages. (Ruskin, 1849) What Ruskin means by Memory is that architecture should have some regards to the culture and time where it has developed. Every building has its own beauty regarding its time being.

Ruskin (2008, pp. 4-5) believed that every building especially domestic and residential building have some emotional aspect towards owner and space users. There are certain elements inside that cannot be renewed or replaced.

1.2 Restoration as a Form of Lie

Even more, according to Ruskin (2008, pp. 15) restoration is a form of lie. We may make the same skeleton of the old building, or even portraying the exact same interior of the old. But still, the old building is destroyed, there will be no more emotional connection with people, whereby what they really connected with has gone, even after being replaced with something that is exactly the same.

It will be better to have a robustly built structure that is strong enough to stand for quite sometimes, rather than having a building that is only last for a generation. Moreover, it is the nature of a building to have much longer life span than man. So why should we build one that requires changes after only short times, where actually it can be strongly remained?

2. Eugène Viollet- le-Duc

2.1 Restorations of Medieval Buildings

Different from Ruskin, Viollet- le-Duc was well known for his restorations projects of medieval buildings. When Ruskin strongly argued that restoration is a lie, Viollet- le-Duc has his own view on restorations projects.

Restorations on medieval buildings appeared in France in the early 1830’s, whereby there was a concern on medieval buildings that were slowly destructed as time goes by. Viollet- le-Duc was then firstly commissioned to restore Cathedral of Narbonne in 1839.

As an architect and theorist, Viollet- le-Duc (Viollet- le-Duc, as cited in Levine, 2009, pp. 152) argued that what was lacking in the restoration field is the “truth”. A lot of French architects were making imitations objects, whereby the restorations were all look exactly the same with the old building before it destroyed.

Viollet- le-Duc, aligned with Ruskin’s view about restoration as a form of lie, also believed that by imitating what has been there in the old buildings before and just directly made a newer version of it will bring no truth to the whole point of restorations. Restoration will be seen just to renew and renew the buildings whereby actually the originality of the buildings will be keep lacking.

Viollet- le-Duc (Levine, 2009, pp. 154) then introduced a method of restoring with achieving something new and valid. He took what is the most important element in the old building; still using it but with the combination of creative modification. He pushed restorations to be beyond the limit and therefore leads to the era of Modernism.

2.2 Theory of Hut

(Viollet- le-Duc Theory of Hut about taking the original elements of the old building and convert them into something new will be covered in the next semester)

E. The Values of Merging Old and New Architecture

1. Unconventional twist created by merging old and new architecture

Having both the originality of spaces with the new function will surely bring new sensation of the interior spaces (Conran, as cited in Niesewand, 1998, pp. 01) Imagine a sitting room with a church high ceiling, a workspace with the sunray glazes on the floor of a seaside house. We can get both the new function without sacrificing the beauty of old. The necessity of people is fulfilled, but now in a different unique ways. This will affect people in various ways:

– Fulfilment of necessity achieved in old environment, whereby in contradiction it is something new for people. People will perceive the old as a new thing as the function is now changing.

– Unconsciously, the space users will be in two different periods of time in a same place. This will provide the people some feelings of always being in different places all the time. Somehow, this is actually a benefit for people, especially Singaporean to be able to have two sensations in their spaces. Singaporean with the habit of living in small space due to land constraint will now be able to widen their view, although still being in the small space.

2. Transitional Spaces Between The Old and New

Transitional spaces in architecture are commonly known as the connector of interior and exterior of the building. The use of transitional space is as a comfort zone as well as buffer spaces where people are allowed to adjust their selves before going to the different area.

According to the definition of transitional spaces (UCL, 2005), it is articulated as a cross point where it connects the two. In the field of merging old and new architecture, these transitional spaces are now functioned not as the connector of outdoor and indoor, but between the old and new. It can be a space between the interior and exterior, between the exteriors or between interiors as long as it is a linkage from the old to the new.

(Case studies of transitional spaces in between old and new buildings will be covered next semester)

3. Economically sizeable market

With no doubt, reusing an existing building will bring a great economic advantage. Compared to build a new fabric, using an old building will only takes 50% to 70% construction works and therefore is less time consuming as well. (Cramer, 2007, pp.9) Moreover, demolition of old building nowadays is being perceived as an ecological waste. New building means taking more of the natural resources as material sources. Why would we want to take more from earth if we still could do alteration of existing building structure? It is wiser for us to provide more natural resources for the next generation rather than using them to the maximum limit now.

Moreover, for the space users themselves, it is another economic advantage to utilise a “readymade” building than building a new one. The cost will definitely be higher to build a new structure than to reuse the old.

4. Challenging The Creativity of Designers

Designers nowadays have been so caught up with the thought that creativity is to be explored to the highest point, whereby to create something in the existing building is a restriction of creativity. (Cramer, 2007, pp.9) On the other hand, in the practice, it is actually a greater chance for designers and architects to explore their potential and creativity in the field of designing with old establishment.

While designing the new structure, there is no constraint and rules that will bind the designer. Designers will have to explore and put more thoughts when it comes to old buildings. There are a lot of sources inside the old that designers will have to incorporate with their new design features. This will require more creativity from the designers.

F. The ways of merging the old and new

1. Converted Architecture – new use for old buildings

Lukas Feiress (Feiress, 2009, pp. 03) stated that we have to locate the present between the past and the future. In the present state, we cannot deny what has happened in the past, but still we need to look forward to the future. Converted architecture is a term of changing the use or function of an original building, especially the old and abandoned.

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Terence Conran, (Conran, as cited in Niesewand, 1988, pp.06) once said,” How we use space and particularly how we live in it, requires a complex balancing act between practical limitations, individual requirements and personal preferences.” Requirements of individual needs and personal preferences are a key to converted architecture. Some people may choose triple volume height open space for living while others may not. Than maybe an old school or old church is more suitable for them. To convert an old building means that we are maximising the use of what is already there with some adjustments of new functions.

We might want to retain the old structure or forms of the existing skin with adding a new function on to it. The essay will gives examples that some of the greatest contemporary architecture projects are actually done with the engagement of existing building structures.

There are two approaches of how the old and new come together as a whole:

Blend In

The new addition of function is blending in with the existing old fabric. They are now look similar and smoothly integrated. Various elements are used to bind the old and new together. It could be in terms of material, colours, or design of new structure that follows the old. People’s view is being blurred, as they may perceive the new as the old or vice versa. Blend in could be use as the guideline to design the transitional spaces between the two.

Neues Museum, Berlin Germany – David Chipperfield

(Case studies of Neues museum, Berlin by David Chipperfield as to bring the old and new as a whole whereby the new blended in with the old by the use of colour and material will be explored more in the next semester)


The new function is intentionally designed in contrast with the old building. By treating it this way, space users will subconsciously feel as if they’re in two places in the same time.

Museum of Sydney – Australia 1983

Firstly built for the governor’s house on 1788, rebuilt for the Museum of Sydney on 1983 (further explained in next semester about how the architect is successful in contrasting the new element but still harmonious with the old)

Different types of building conversion to create contrast:

Add On

Indicating the potentials of adding on a new structure to the existing building. There are no changes at all of the old building. New spaces being laid and extended onto existing fabric. The example shows that existing architecture and new structure form unexpectedly imaginative balance although with two different elements.

House at St Kevins Road by Odos Architects


Exploring the interior space of the old building. The original appearance of the existing site remains unchanged, but concentrating on the interior spaces. This type of converting is in line with conservation procedure to maintain the exterior of a historic building.

Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore – Netherland (former church turned to bookstore)

Change Clothes

The opposite of Inside-Out, whereby the approach is now to completely change the exterior façade of old building. New shell is now put to replace the existing fabric. This scheme of converting can be done for many old buildings that had gone through massive destruction of the exterior through ages and other for the optimisation of buildings shell.

Bunny Lane by Adam Kalkin (former factory turned to a house)

(All of the case studies will be furthered explained in the next semester)

2. Types of building to be converted

It is not necessarily to be a historical building to be converted, but any old and abandoned structure. The main reason of merging the old and new architecture together is for people, especially young generation, to get to know their own culture and how life back there was like. Ruskin (Ruskin, as cited in Cramer, 2007, pp.15) said that ” The aesthetic value of something was closely linked to its age, and this aesthetic value should not be impaired by modern intervention”. John Ruskin has stated that every building have their own beauty, their own ability to tell story about their own time being. It is not only the historical buildings that are able to tell us what happened in the past, but any other old buildings also.

Potential types of buildings to be converted

2.1 Ecclesiastical building

A lot of ecclesiastical buildings are vacant nowadays. The most common reason is because of the need to have more spacious assembly space. It leads to create a single larger unit meeting space from combining two or three churches together and left other buildings empty. The value of a churchlike building is that they are spacious and tall enough to accommodate a lot of spaces. They are suitable for living or gathering spaces that require more time inside the space such as café or restaurant. Larger spaces inside the church will allow people to feel more comfortable where they have to stay in quite long time.

White Rabbit Restaurant – Dempsey Hill Singapore (Former old chapel building)

2.2 Municipal building

Municipal buildings are places that are own by government, they have high position in local community such as police station, government hospital or schools. These buildings are usually built near to the main road or access area. They are highly accessible and this also becomes the value of municipal buildings. They are suitable for commercial places such as retail or hospitality, as usually located at the heartland of a city.

Fullerton Hotel- Singapore (Former General Post Office building)

2.3 Commercial building

Old commercial building, especially in Singapore, such as the old shop houses are more likely to become vacant as the result of changes in working patterns. There are now trends to group all commercial spaces together in business or urban areas, such as the grouping of shopping areas along Orchard Road along the way to Marina. The value of old commercial space is that they are tent not to have much decoration. They are often monotonous; all look the same and therefore allowed more new adjustments to be made.

House at No. 12 Kong Seen Road – Singapore by Richard Ho (former shop house building)

2.4 Industrial and Offices

Industrial and offices are designed to be practical and useful rather than beautiful. Creativity of designers is challenged the most in converting industrial spaces and offices. It is the nature of industrial buildings to be ignored by passers by and it is the designers’ job to transform them into much more attractive with still retaining some parts of them. The value of this kind of buildings is they are usually very practical in the adjacency of spaces inside. Spaces work perfectly for the benefit of the users.

(case study will be explained in the next semester)

G. How will the space users cope with the new way of experiencing spaces based on the psychological effects from the above studies?

The obstacles that people may face in coping with two elements at once.

Will they get used to the changing of spaces inside?

The adjustments by the space users and the design as well.

(Will be explored in the next semester)


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