Facadism Redux?

For about 20-30 years, facadism has been a compromise between two competing views within architectural conservation. Facadism seems appropriate sometimes, at other times it appears as a false skin or veneer that hides the ‘dirty’ work of a redevelopment and destroys the place’s value. Where is facadism found? On urban streets and on campuses. Rarely is it an issue with major landmarks or monuments.

Naturally, facadism is a compromise between heritage values and the competing interests of larger floor plates, higher number of stories, modern amenities and health and safety requirements. Sometimes, facadism works well, but most of the time it fails.

Perhaps the debate on facadism is too binary – too dialectical. What are the degrees of facadism? Do you save one bay? Two? There are degrees of facadist interventions, from piecemeal saving of parts of buildings, to infilling a building and preserving most of its massing. There are projects which give the illusion that the buildings remain intact through step backs. There are other projects which dismantle the facades and rebuild them later into the new structure.

What are the tools available today to manage facadism? For a time, it was heresy to suggest that we could only keep a facade, yet as more and more projects are being proposed as urban infill and intensification,  there are increasing pressures on intact historic streetscapes. What could be the compromise for facadism to enjoy the protection of heritage character and value while integrating new use into the project?

Perhaps it is in a contextual architecture or a discreet architecture that we can find balance between facadism and protecting places holistically. There should be an integrated solution, which shifts the debate away from whether to save the facade or not. In relative terms, a facade of certain types of buildings, which were concerned about their skin over the frame or interior. In other cases, the mass is more significant than the facade. I continue to search for successful projects where there is a balance of change, preservation and sustainability.



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