Friday, May 12, 2006

Of trolley barns and kings

Fascinating to see in Richard Layman's blog what Washington DC did with its own "Trolley Barn" structure (shown right). It seems the District replaced that with these banal apartments (shown below, right).

Richard takes issue with a UVA professor who says: "Tying in aesthetics with urban planning is a recipe for disaster." I think it's a question of "whose aesthetics." Think of that in the years ahead as you watch Princeton whipsawed on Renzo Piano's urban design roller-coaster.

Richard cites Joe Riley, the only mayor in America with an art history PhD - and the man who delivered the eulogy at Mayor Art Holland's funeral. Let me suggest that Riley's approach - the preservation of historic structures - is actually a tactic to circumvent fights over"whose aesthetics." Not that that's a bad thing.

Trenton's failed Leewood adventure would have destroyed historic neighborhoods in order to build vaguely similar new brick homes. It generated a storm of opposition and the now famous comment of one councilman that "new bricks are better than old bricks." HHG now proposes to rebuild the inside (not the outside) of ARTWORKS, and the sting is less painful even though the chracter inside is what makes the building unique.

Have a look, have a ponder.


Blogger Richard Layman said...

Two other extant trolley barns have been treated differently. One was converted a long time ago into housing--on East Capitol Street NE.

The other is owned by Georgetown University and was renovated into office and classroom space.

The point is the building was a resource, but not by people thinking solely in terms of urban renewal. That whole end of H Street-Benning Road was completely f*ed up by urban renewal. This is just one of four examples at the far eastern end.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Dimitri Rotov said...

My father, in the 1970s, was responsible for a great many structures and some new construction in the state hospital system. He told me then that rehab costs were higher than new building costs and that was driving state policies. In other words, unless a special significance could be attached to a structure "policy" was to replace it. I am not sure that the cost ratios are still slanted towards new building, but as recently as last year we had a council member say "New bricks are better than old bricks."

9:39 AM  

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