The Build Up

By Shawna Hammon
Lecture – “Staying Together: Complementary Architecture”

Real estate for iconic, stand-alone buildings is quickly becoming limited especially in older cities where the fabric is so tightly knit.  So more and more often we are renovating existing buildings by integrating new program into the existing shells of structures that are sometimes landmarks or icons for the cities in which they reside. 

Prentice Women’s Hospital by Bertrand Goldberg in Chicago is one example of this.  A long time battle has been waged over whether or not to tear this gem down to make way for new medical research facilities.  Northwestern University, which owns the building, believes demolition is the most economic solution and seems to be winning the battle.  Preservationists believe Goldberg’s landmark structure should be preserved and built around.  Architects from around the country have spoken up against this demolition, some even proposing alternatives.  Gang Architect’s went to the drawing board when demolition became a serious possibility.  What Jeanne Gang brought back was a floating, scalloped tower that showed opponents that it is possible to preserve this icon while still providing the much needed program.  This debate has demonstrated that preservation and renovation are going to become more common place in the coming generations of architectural development as we strive to protect some of our most distinct icons while making space for our increasingly urban population.

Prentice Women's Hospital & Gang Architects' Proposal

With this debate very much on my mind, I went to Amsterdam during independent travel.  It was here that I noticed a very distinct vernacular among the canal houses – they all possess roughly the same characteristics – narrow, tall facades crowned with a richly ornamented gable top with a hoist beam.  I thought it might be interesting to incorporate Cedric Price’s six strategies for existing buildings – reduction, addition, insertion, connection, demolition, and expansion - in this vernacular.  I wondered how each of these would change the function of the vernacular or enrich it.  These diagrams are the result of this study:
Six Strategies applied to Amsterdam Vernacular

Reduction – The canal house no longer relates to the adjacent façade.  Although one could argue that they didn’t share the same cornice lines or datum to begin with, so I’m not sure if much is lost or gained with this move.

Addition – This is a parasitic approach to finding additional program, but because of the compact site this move will change the feel of the street since it overhangs the sidewalk so significantly.

Insertion – This move is similar to reduction, except new program has been inserted into the vernacular.  In this case, a portico on the piano nobile was been added to engage privately with the street-scape.

Connection – This move attempts to maintain the façade, but allows for expansion between buildings or a simple connection for families that may own multiple houses on a block.

Demolition – The façade is completely change and is no longer a part of Amsterdam’s vernacular.  The major characteristics that identified it as part of this vernacular are completely lost; this move detracts from the neighborhood.  Preservation of these key characteristics is paramount for this vernacular.

Expansion – This is the reality we are facing as our population continues to grow and become more urban, our only choice is to grown upward while still respecting the historic fabric of our surroundings.  This move is reminiscent of Jeanne Gang’s proposal for the new medical research facility, a move I expect we will start to see more often as we preserve our past.

Cedric Price - Six Strategies


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