Adding Value Into Historical Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

City development is always followed by construction and destruction. New modern buildings replace quite a number of historical buildings. Although modernist architecture has values in contemporary society, the old architecture has a lot of historical and cultural value that can never replace by the news. Some city developers believe replacement is the best way to push up the speed of city developing progress, but is this the only way to develop a city? This essay will try to explore the value of historical and modern architecture in contemporary society, analyse the fact of urban development through destruction and construction, how globalization impact on local culture and discuss the value of preservation and conservation of historical architecture. The article will also try to find a better solution for contemporary city development.

2. Analysis

2.1. The value of historical architecture in modern society

Architecture has become our habitat and a mediator between nature and human civilization. Accompany by human society evolution, architecture has their changing, and development.

2.1.1 Historical and regional value

Derive from the different social formation and historical culture, architecture has obvious and blazing historical and regional distinction. One of identification of historical architecture is the meaning behind the architectural elements in the building. They are maybe a name, a period of history, or a symbol, even characteristic roles to play in the larger composition in that it occurs. These distinctions gave the building their historical value. For instance, Gothic architecture is known for the use of ogival or pointed arch, the ribbed vault, and the flying buttress (Harvey, 1950). Compare to Renaissance architecture, which has the semi-circular or segmental arches, the symmetrical column order system and the flat or coffered ceilings. These are the distinction of historical architectures. The historical value of them is differences. Differences between eras or religions give different architectural formation. And connecting these differences, they become a progress of transformation of the architecture, the society, and the aesthetic standards of different eras and religions. All these differences are influencing contemporary society and architecture form and style; they are references of contemporary architecture design, and even the references of contemporary society life. Let people know past, and recognize the beauty of past, are the historical value of old architecture.

Figure 2.1.1-1 Figure 2.1.1-2

2.1.2 Spiritual Value

Historical architecture in nowadays society is reflecting the lifestyle of people in the era that this building had been built. Knowing the lifestyle of the past and influence contemporary world's lifestyle, historical architectures have another spiritual value. One of the most persuasive cases is Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, which had been started construction in 1883, but still incomplete and under construction now. Architects and designers care about any little structure and little detail of the whole architecture. The designer: Antoni Gaudi gave up almost all his other projects so that he can focus on the design and construction of Sagrada Familia, and his last 40 years life were almost spent into it. People can spend whole life to construct architecture, and the architecture even becomes the heritage of the city life. It is reflecting how people hold on to perfectism, and these perfectism are timeless and priceless (Jane, 1976).

Figure 2.1.1-3 Figure 2.1.1-4

The Sagrada Familia Church will have three grand facades which all are metaphors: the Nativity façade to the east that dedicated to the birth of Jesus, the to the west that dedicated to the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, and the to the south that dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus. All the elements are meaningful, implying ideas or antilogies of architects, reflecting the persistence of people's spirit aspiration. This is the spiritual value of the historical architecture.

Figure 2.1.1-5 Figure 2.1.1-6 Figure 2.1.1-7

2.2 Value of modern architecture

Compare to the historical architecture, the modern architecture has different value. The quality of the space is one of the most important values that modern architecture and interior give people.

2.2.1 Spatial quality of modern architecture

The definition of spatial qualities is in two layers: the physical spatial quality and the psychological spatial quality. Dimension is the first element that defines the physical spatial quality of contemporary spaces. Different from attaching importance to the composition and proportion of the space and the architectural elements in traditional architecture, modern architecture is more focused on the dimension. The reason is, dimension describes what will the space can be, what function the space should become, it defined the basic status of a space, and function is an important and sensitive issue in terms of designing and constructing a space in contemporary society. On the other hand, dimension is also defining the quality of function. The volume of a warehouse defined how many stock of goods can be store, it defined the value of this warehouse; the width of a corridor defined the traffic burden that it can effort, it defined the value of this corridor, too. Houses with different sizes defined the different spatial experiences of people in them, the size of the house also defined part of the value of this house. It's no doubt that spatial quality is defined by different components, but dimension as a basic status that give a space to modern space; it is a very important element. Material is another element defines the physical spatial quality of modern architecture. For example, a room covered by glass wall would have a higher room temperature because of the physical property of the glass material. Material gives space different properties of temperature, reflectivity, tactility and room living experiences. They are defining the quality of the space. Different from simplex materials in traditional architecture, modern architecture have the variety of choosing materials which are natural materials and artificial materials.

Figure 2.2.1-1 Figure 2.2.1-2

Physical spatial quality couldn't be isolated from psychological spatial quality to define the value of the space. The physical elements are influencing the feeling and the experience of people using the space. Colour is one of them. In the same room, cool tone of colours will make people in this place the feeling of calm, in the same time, because of the properties of the tone of colour; people will feel that the space is bigger than the actual size. In the other hand, warm tone of colours would give people a feeling of ebullience, when have a delusion that the room is more crowd than the actual size. Colours can affect users' emotion in the space and the psychological cognition of the dimension in the space. And these influences change the experience of the space, so that define the quality of the space. These properties are very important in modern space especially residential space for defining the value of the space. Lighting changes the experience of people using the space psychologically, too. After electricity is discovered and electric light is invented, artificial lighting became more and more important around human's life. In contemporary society, lighting is not only functional, but also intentionally used by making different atmosphere to enhance the quality of the space. Colours of light, intensities of light, different types of light are all defining different experiences of space. Lighting is one of the most important elements in modern architecture.

Figure 2.2.1-3 Figure 2.2.1-4

Physical and psychological elements of space influence the quality of modern architectures, they change the experiences of people in these space. They make the comfort, enhance the atmosphere, and make people's life better. These are the value of quality of space in modern architecture.

2.2.2 Cultural and civilization value

If traditional space is a metaphorical solid body bounded and governed by Euclidean geometry and a hierarchy of axes, modernist space is the opposite- a fluid, moving force, creating the seductive illusion of boundlessness, freedom, and speed. Modernist space is not a body; it is a void typically conceived as extending infinitely in all directions, and its essential characteristics are neutrality and endlessness. (Semes, 2009, p94)The concept of traditional architecture was always begun from story, myths, legends; they are full of idiographic symbolism. They are reflecting the relational culture and the history. Traditional architectures are always localised. But modern architectures are different. The concept of modern architecture frequently originates in the objects, elements or phenomena, even behavior around human life. Extract the specialty or characteristic from these elements, and abstract into an architectural or mathematical formation, fix with context and function to create. They are not limited by culture or religion sometimes, they are globalised. Because of the development of globalization, the specialties of modern architecture become more and more obvious. The modern architecture represents the contemporary civilization; it is the reflection of contemporary human life. It implies architects and interior designers' understanding of space. They also have the irreplaceable cultural value.

2.3 Fact of contemporary urban development

World development never stops; it always follows the exchange of old and new, and the cultural diffusion, or even cultural aggression. All these issue would result the irreversible transition of society formation. In contemporary society, there are a large number of cities are facing several issues.

2.3.1 Destruction & reconstruction

Lots of historical buildings were destroyed by the progress of urban development in some cities. When people are surrounded by indifferent metal edifices and express highway, when they are walking in Shenzhen- one of a big city in southeast China, who could imagine Shenzhen used to be an intimate little city which was full of old and historical buildings in 1980s? There is almost no more old buildings can be seen in nowadays Shenzhen downtown. In order to follow the development of the city, city developers almost destroyed the whole city, and replaced by all new high-rise buildings. The city have lost the characteristic that derive from the historical and regional elements in the traditional architecture, it become just one of the same-look city all around the world. The destruction and construction urban developing system is pushing one and other city from a unique symbol of the culture into a global modular city.

2.3.2 Globalization impact

Globalization is changing people's life, and giving a strong impact to the local architectural culture. Followed by the modern urban development, globalization came into people's life insensibly. It not only changes the economic system of a country, or affects the sense of worth of citizens, but also changes the local culture including art, literature, media, architecture and interior design. Globalization comes with a number of acknowledge derive from the other culture or social formation. It let people widen acknowledge and technology from local to global context. Secondly, because of the transformation and the integration between local culture and global culture, people have various alternatives of lifestyle, and various alternatives of space, too. But the negative influences are, the globalization is eating the historical and regional local culture, while decreasing the uniqueness of local culture. It will decrease the value of historical architectures, so that accelerate the replacement of the traditional buildings.

2.4 Looking for a better solution of urban development

2.4.1 Preservation & Conservation value

For protecting the historical architecture that people cannot create them once again, preservation & conservation became an important topic in contemporary architecture and interior design industry. The first ancient monuments protection act was adopted in 1882, when the modernism was starting to destroy the historical heritage as modern developing progress in UK. Architecture preservation and conservation is not only defend the historical buildings far from the urban development to protect them, but also trying to give a new life to these old building, to let them fit into the contemporary society. Preservation and conservation seek to protect, preserve and conserve the significances of history, let the historical architectures still can heritage their culture and belief in nowadays society, to protect the local culture in a rapid of globalization. They have great value.

2.4.2 Add modern value into historical architecture

There should be a better way to develop a city except the destruction and construction system. Modern architecture has its incontrovertible value, but the historical architecture is the heritage of a regional culture; it is the milestone of a development of the city. It shouldn't be totally replaced in the progress of urban development.

Grand Central Terminal in New York City, United States started to serve at 1871, and it rebuilt at 1913 and 1994 - 2000. As landmark of New York City, it is a convincing case of adding modern value into historical architecture. The construction of Grand Central created a mini-city within New York; it has hotel, restaurant, and various office buildings. And the design of it was influencing the transit centers in the following designers as an innovation of transit center's design.

Analyze the history of development at Grand Central Terminal, There is another solution to protect and develop the city. The first step of adding modern value into historical architecture is protection. There are a lot of things in the historical architecture we need to protect such as the feature of the building; the past technology of constructing the architecture; the structure of the main building; the cultural symbol of the buildings, etc. All these elements are representing the value of historical architecture. So before adding any new element, these historical features must be protected.

Followed by the protection, exploration is the next step. Explore the surroundings of the architecture, to find out the context and the potential of the building. Followed by the development of cities, historical buildings are surrounded in the contemporary society. Depends on different areas they located, they have different potentials. The intention of this solution is not only to add the modern value into the historical architecture, but also to give a new life to historical architecture, to enhance its value, to let it serve people around in a new formation. So it is very important to find out the potential in terms of the context and the function that the historical building will be.

After the exploration, it is the reorganisation. Reorganize the space in the old building and around the building, in order to enhance the spatial quality of the space in modern thinking and design. Because of the design concept of historical architecture, it was mainly following a static spatial organisation. This results the weakness of modern spatial quality. Use the modern architectural design approach and philosophy to redesign the space inside, create a dynamic spatial organisation, to give the old building some new representation of space.


Architecture is an integral part of human lives. Development of human society is accompanied by architecture. We are living in the modern world, It is no doubt that the most closest architecture to our life is modern architecture. But we cannot ignore the great cultural and spiritual value hidden behind historical buildings. Destroy historical architecture is like destroying the history and the culture of a nation. There is not the only way to develop the city through destruction and reconstruction. People need social development, need the new life and new environment. But people need acknowledge of history, and the spirit of life, too. Add modern value to the historical architecture, but not destroy them, give them a new life, to shine our life.

List of References

Semes, Steven W. (2009) The future of the past. W.W Norton & Company, United States

Lawson, Bryan. (2001) The language of space. Reed Educational and Professional Publishing Ltd, Britain.

Jane Fawcett (ed.) (1976), The Future of the Past. Attitudes to Conservation, 1147-1974. Thames and Hudson, London

3XN, (2010) Mind your behavior, 1st ed. 3XN, Denmark

Harvey, John (1950).The Gothic World, 1100-1600. Batsford.