Teach Me About Architecture

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having this blog it’s that there’s nothing I can’t learn because I have this blog. Now I have reached the point where I must declare ignorance on a subject, and I need some of you good people to come to my rescue.

Last night, the Metro Council approved the 2nd reading of the proposed Westin Hotel on Lower Broadway. However, they put off the final vote (which is usually just a formality), to allow enough time for more discussion. And there has been a LOT of discussion thus far.

Most of the discussion has revolved around how this new high-rise would totally be different architecturally (is that a word?) from the surrounding buildings. From the Tennessean:

The idea upset historic preservationists, who said the building would be too big and too different from Lower Broadway’s honky-tonks, shops and restaurants. The developer’s plans to demolish much of the block of Broadway between Second and Third avenues (though it would preserve two buildings) also upset preservationists

Here is what I would like to know: what makes a building worthy of preservation? Is it strictly age? A certain style of architecture? If so, who gets to decide which style is worthy? I’ll be honest, when I see the buildings that will be torn down, I just see ugly old buildings. Even if they were renovated, in my mind, they would be ugly, new buildings.

Over the last few years there has been a big stink about a proposed historic overlay in Sylvan Park. As I understand it, this kind of zoning requires homeowners to keep certain architectural elements in their homes when they renovate, in order to preserve the distinctive “look” of the neighborhood. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong on that.

Yet, just recently the Tennessean ran an article about people buying and tearing down homes in Hillwood/West Meade, and putting up McMansions. This is my neck of the woods. You would not believe some of the monstrocities that are going up just down the street from me.

So, why is 1920’s architecture worthy of preservation, but 1960’s/1970’s is not? The Hillwood area has always had a certain “flavor” as well, and that’s slowly going away. When we lost our house to a fire in 2002, when we rebuilt we chose to keep the exterior of the house exactly as it was when the house was originally built in 1960 – all the way down to the Crab Orchard stone. We considered it the “heritage” of the property (plus, it’s like living in a little castle). Apparently, this design is not good enough for protection.

I am not necessarily advocating an historic overlay in West Meade (I’m not a big fan of telling a homeowner what they can do with their own property), I just don’t get the aesthetics of it all. Somebody explain it to me. Why are some buildings worthy of protection, while others are not?

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2 Responses to “Teach Me About Architecture”

  1. Kate O' Says:

    I think part of the answer is in the question: it’s just the age itself. Like any antique item, a building probably has to be of a certain age before it has much historical significance.

    And part of that probably has to do with architectural relevance. It’s harder to get an objective sense of what architecture has lasting impact when it hasn’t, well, lasted yet.

    Another way to look at it is that a lot of buildings don’t last very long. Those buildings that do last over time deserve some consideration before they’re recklessly torn down. We need to preserve some of our history to be appreciated by future generations. Not all of it, surely, but that which has lasted long enough to be considered “old” is generally worth some care and consideration before destroying it or rendering it obsolete.

    I don’t think 1960s or 1970s houses are necessarily that far behind the curve of what’s worth protecting. Karsten and I had a 1958 day rancher when we lived in Portland, OR and it was precious to us. We put a lot of careful effort into preserving its mid-century charm while complementing it with contemporary furnishings. I’ve also known plenty of people who lived in the Eichlers in the Bay Area who treated them with utmost care and seriousness, and those are 1960s homes. It may all just be a matter of perspective.

  2. Slartibartfast Says:

    Thanks, Kate O !

    I was thinking nobody cared about this. What you say makes perfect sense to me.

    They have art appreciation classes in school, but no archetecture appreciation classes. Thus, my ignorance. I’m learning something new every day!

    I like the day rancher, by the way. My kind of house…


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