|La Samaritaine Department Store|
Bon Fête National. Happy Bastille Day and a hardy congratulations to 2014 FIFA World Cup champions Germany. Well done.
One of the most common myths about historic preservation is that it inhibits urban growth. According to Michael R. Allen's recent post for Next City, "No, Historic Preservation Does Not Inhibit Urban Growth, the city of Paris, France is the epicenter for tensions between preservationists and those who drive the modernization engine. This tension came to a head in May 2014 when the "City of Lights" was jolted by a court ruling that protect the façade of the historic department store La Samaritaine (demolished?) located on the Seine River across from Pont Neuf. The department store was founded by Ernest Cognacq in 1869 and came to signify rapidly growing French consumerism and wealth in the twentieth century. In 1933, it was remolded by architect Henri Sauvage who gave the temple to consumerism a much loved Art Deco form, accentuated by a series of setbacks.
|Interior of La Sarmaritaine|
The storm of protests from both sides of the issue highlights the current state of urban preservation. We live in an era where cities are trying to out do each other at every turn. From Paris to London, and coast-to-coast United States, their is growing Siren's call of "build or perish" who see preservation as road block to growth. Not so, preservation is not the impediment to growth and dynamic change. Au contraire, preservation is often a guarantee against heavy-handed architectural projects that would encase urban growth in amber. Mr. Allen cites the misguided urban renewal projects of the twentieth century (some still standing) to see how run away development can freeze a city in time. In both France and the United States it is the job of the preservationist to manage change, not stand in the way of it. The role of the preservationist is to assert the cultural value of legal standard which balances real estate.
|The atrium of La Samaritaine|
Meanwhile, American preservationists have also gotten used to banging the drum for preservation law enforcement that has, unfortunately, earned the unflattering image of "building huggers." The hardy souls that battled former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's upzoning a portion of Midtown Manhattan were unfairly labeled as anti-development. Let's be clear, preservationists are not anti-development, we're just anti-bad development. Really, preservationists in New York City were trying save existing development.
|Fifth Church of Christ Scientist|
Preservationists are the mediators between a property's cultural value and economic demand. They don't always win or get what they want but preservationists do put up a good fight. If the campaigns to preserve La Samaritaine and The Fifth Church of Christ Scientist are an indication, what saved the fragments of both places is the integrity of preservation laws and the added value of developments that make use of elements of the past, integrating them into the continuity of urban character that make cities a great place to live. In ten-fifteen years from now, the battle scars will fade and what will remain is fascinating architecture ground in historic elements thanks to "building huggers" who battled pompous design.
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