Ruins, relics, streetscapes, heritage precincts, and historic urban centers inevitably evolve and change with time. The ‘new layers’ or the contemporary Architectural interventions designed to synchronize with the ancient landscape cannot only respect and enhance the existing significance but also advance the historical narrative of the site. Eternally caught in the tug-of-war between various theoretical approaches and ideologies, few architects have done remarkable designs in such challenging archeological regions.

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Let us look at ten guidelines to remember when designing in a sensitive historic precinct:

1. MAKE NON-MONUMENTAL NEW ADDITIONS:

The intervention should be non-monumental and frame those monuments that play an essential role in re-telling the historical context for a positive site-revitalization. 

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A case in point is the New Acropolis Museum by Ar. Bernard Tschumi. Designed to accommodate sculptures of ancient Greece, in a sensitive archaeological site with a warm climate prone to earthquakes, the Museum is a reflection of the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greece. The concept evolved from the site’s natural features showcases spare horizontal lines and utmost simplicity in staying true to the expression: ‘Sometimes all a building needs to do is sit back, and allow the ideal treasure to shine.’  

2. INTENTIONAL JUXTAPOSITION APPROACH:

Modernist and contemporary approaches can be adopted to break away from the architectural traditions of the past yet have the capacity to communicate with the existing monuments through compatibility of scale, form, proportions, and building materials. 

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Ar. I.M.Pei has impressively pulled off a tricky attempt, thwarting initial brickbats, in the Louvre Pyramid design, which is lauded for being ‘a compelling brave concept whose intent is neither to be aggressive nor subservient but to compliment through restraint.’ 

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3. SUBSERVIENT APPROACH: 

The new addition could underplay its existence by merely being a backdrop and generously letting the monument bask in the spotlight. 

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The perfect example of a subservient approach is the recent renovation of the Temple of Diana in Spain by Ar. José María Sánchez García. Deriving the form from the understanding of Roman public space, the perimetral project appears to float, respecting the temple beside it while establishing the visitor’s visual relationship with the temple. ‘…..with its own syntax, sewing its edge with the city and creating a large square around the temple’, the project is an exemplary subdued intervention.

4. IDENTICAL NON-OBSTRUCTIVE APPROACH: 

Resurrecting the colossal ruins is nearly impractical due to the lack of need, resources, and skills. But, one cannot help but speculate on the grandeur of the architecture in the glorious past. 

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Possessing the same volume, style, and proportions, the wire-mesh frame structures designed by sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi blend in almost undetectable with the landscape they are set in. These seemingly levitating metaphysical ‘absent matter’ stick out subtly to act as ‘a space of rest and contemplation, suspended between the architecture, nature and temporal dimension.’ 

5. INCLUDE LOCATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE:

The tactful insertion of the design should reinforce the site’s importance by enhancing the historic traces creatively—for example, 

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MuséoParc Alésia Interpretative Centre by Ar. Bernard Tschumi is in the archeological site of central France that commemorates the battle between Julius Cesar and the Gauls in 52 B.C. Although traces of the war have been wiped out by the ravages of time, the new museum complex made of two resounding cylinders with ramparts, obstacles, traps, and trenches, recreates the Romans’ siege of the Gauls. Strategies of using similar building materials, seamless fusion into the context, providing 360° panoramic view and abstraction of the historical events in the spatial design ensure the imperative modesty demanded by archaeologists while understanding that ‘to be both visible and invisible is the paradox and the challenge of the project.’

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6. USE SYMBOLISM:

Symbolism through form, choice of material, site location, circulation, massing, contrast, and scale make the design organically evolve from the site and induce a trance-like reminiscence in the spatial dialogue. 

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Ar. Shigeru Ban has created the Mt.Fuji World Heritage Center adjacent to the religious Fujinomiya torii gate with his signature wooden lattice on the exterior made of cypresses grown in Mt.Fuji and utilizes the spring water from the Mt.Fuji, rooting his design in the sacred mountain. He has deployed symbolism through circulation that imitates climbing of the mountain, a spiritual tradition, through a ramp that culminates into a majestic panoramic view of the Mt.Fuji earning praise such as ‘good design turns head, great design turns a mountain on its head.’

7. USE MODULARITY:

In large archaeological sites, a common language and modules for signage, walkways, platforms, utilities, services, and other structures can be adopted. These modules can be repeated, as required, across the site to connect and familiarize the visitor experience.

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Studio lotus has designed the Mehrangarh Fort Visitor Center with frugal innovation, flexibility, and modularity using modern construction technologies that stand deferential in the rich historical context. Woven steel lattice-based modules fitted with stone ‘tukdi’ slabs adaptable to the program’s evolving needs make up the ‘architectural system’ and alter the visitors’ path to mitigate high footfall with low ecological impact. 

8. OFFER VANTAGE VIEWPOINTS:

With astonishing landscapes and magnificent monuments at close quarters, it is only fair that the design should extend views from varying perspectives to entice the onlooker. 

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Strategic viewpoints through the climbable roof, interconnected decks, scenography exhibits, oblique frames, or forms with 360° panoramic viewing capacity could excite and enthuse the user. 

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9. USE OPEN-AIR SPACES: 

The least intensive interventions can incorporate the exterior into the design and minimize the built footprint through innovative techniques in a sensitive archeological region. 

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The open-air areas induce the user to linger, and participate through intuitive circulation and spatial use, while one is continually conscious and reminded of the imposing landscape. 

10. UNDERSTAND THE PHILOSOPHY OF VANISHING: 

It is the design ideal of considering the building to be an extension of the existing terrain such that the built and nature are an integrated whole, and the distinctions between them are seamlessly blurred out.

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Ar. Kengo Kuma proposes this ideal as ‘erasing’ architecture from the landscape through an informal approach-  ‘particlizing’ method of breaking down the natural raw materials to allow light, wind, and sound for harmonious coexistence. 

The task of Architecture is ‘to make visible how the world touches us’ -Merleau Ponty, a French Philosopher. A visit to a culture-rich ancient milieu makes one engrossed in a myriad of sensory emotions. A fitting ode to such context is designed to translate those emotions through sensual phenomenology of architecture that infringes the realm of intangibility apart from following the guidelines specified above. 

Author

Nandita is a budding Architect. Curious by nature, she constantly seeks to experiment and express herself through various creative avenues. She is a bit of a geek who loves her books, fiction and non-fiction. Immensely passionate about art, history, heritage and urban design, she loves travelling to culture-rich places.

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