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Building Samples


A couple days ago, SF Chronicle architecture critic John King addressed Facadism, the technique of preserving an old facade while constructing a new structure around it. Like any architecture or design style, the practice has its successes and failures. As he tends to do, King provides a balanced and nuanced examination.

Naturally, some in San Francisco are perturbed. The president of the Historic Preservation Commission, Andrew Wolfram asks, "if you overwhelm the original building and only keep a little remnant, what's the point?"

My point would be any snippet of James Brown in a Public Enemy song. Even a disjointed sample speaks to the history that came before. It strengthens song, providing a hint of historical. Likewise, even the thinnest of facades speak to an older time when buildings were constructed differently. Keep the mundane brick garage... it's construction is a sample of the way bricks were once laid, imperfectly by hand.

It's probably fair to say that preservationists don't particularly like hip hop. They'd fight to keep the samples whole and out of the hands that want to mix old and new, combining new beats with old-school ornament.

In architecture, old-world ornament is a rarer treat and harder to find. Even the most celebrated postmodernists (Philip Johnson, for instance) tended to detail buildings in shallow, minimalist approximations. Gone are fine intricacies. I'm no fan of gothic overtly ornamental detail, but I find it charming when juxtaposed against shinny new structures. I like industrial brick (haphazardly braced with earthquake resistant studs) against modern glass and metal.

Even the lackluster samples point to another age and time. I'm happy they remain, even as facades. I'm no fan of a flute solo, but the Beastie Boys dropped plenty into their brash and bombastic songs. It still sounds great to my ears.

Recommended Listening: The Beasties' Flute Loop


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