Old buildings

I love old buildings , and I usually feel a strange sort of curiosity mixed with nostalgia for the people and cultures that made them. Just in the UK I’d love to see the castle garrisoned by knights and squires, the barn full of hay and animals, the old mill humming, the Tudor pub in its heyday, the telephone exchange building at its historical cutting edge, the cathedral decked out in coloured paint, the rows of clerks in the bank, the WW2 airfield lined with Spitfires and Glen Miller on the gramophone…

Dead buildings – either ruins, or frozen-in-time museums and country houses – seem that much more evocative than the ones that manage to stay in use for centuries, which end up watered down and bastardised…

But that’s probably because we’re paying attention to the wrong things. We fixate on a neat snapshot of a culture at a moment in time, forgetting that these places grew out of a messy and dynamic culture just like ours, were disruptive (and probably disturbing) when they were built, and were evolving from the moment they were finished. We’ve always been leaving the village behind, and we couldn’t stay, and we couldn’t go back – even way back then.

Buildings stay alive and socially profitable when they stay relevant – when we keep them alive by changing them and use the old spaces in new ways – often new ways to achieve old purposes.

The alternative is a building’s slow and expensive death as the network of life around them shifts and ceases to nourish them, at which point they decay and disappear until those that survive become old enough and scarce enough to become interesting again, and the past that they represent is far enough away from us to be the subject of nostalgia and museums.

And all of this is true of our organisations, too.

*See also: How Buildings Learn (wikipedia) and Youtube

2 Replies to “Old buildings”

  1. Really helpful perspective. We live in a nostalgia-filled society and this is a good start to understanding why. Could you post more on nostalgia and how to understand it and manage it well?

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