Thursday, September 6, 2007

Building 26.

The old WWII codebreakers building, Building 26, is in the news again, with a string of comments. It looks like demolition is starting, with a salvage effort to be incorporated into a display at Carillon Park.

One has to wonder why, when they tore down the rest of NCR, they didn’t tear this one down? Maybe because it could've been reused as the modern addition is not that old, and has a flexible floorplate?

26 is an interesting case. Most of the complaints are about the "Cold War Modern" steel frame curtain wall office building that wraps around the old reinforced concrete 26, using tan colored spandrel glass to mimic the old NCR buff color scheme. That building is a fair example of mid-century modernism( MCM), a design style that has caught the interest of architectural historians and design fans. Dayton hasn't really caught this wave yet, except at The Brick Ranch blog, which links to some neat websites dealing with residential MCM.

The original code breakers building is more or less intact (in terms of structural system and floor plan, not facade) within the new building. Considering the contrasting structural systems and materials it should be possible to do a renovation that plays off this. The cost-benefit aspect of this might say to demo & rebuild, but one could say that there are historical considerations that might cause a "keep" decision.

First, the existing floor plan from one of the Save 26 websites

Then lay in the structural systems based on the plan (and the restrooms and stairs)
Removing the plan, there is an obvious contrast between systems. The old 26 is pretty obvious in plan
Then a renovation concept that plays off the contrasts of the buildings, while doing some minimal interventions in the old 26 to bring back the original plan. One office could be given a period restoration, while the other could have a replica of one of the Bombe computers plus maybe some small exhibits. The rest of the building could be modern offices.

Another more philosophical question is if a site should be preserved for historical purposes if it has lost its historical appearance? The issue is more the history that happened inside the building vs its archictural value or architectural features. This philosophy of preservation is what is used at WPAFB.

Perhaps a more sophisticated approach would be to consider 26 as a quasi-ruin, with enough intact to provide an allusion to the historic events, vs a full restoration to a specific time period (in this case WWII).

In a sense this is a modern version of what one sees in Europe, with older structures being accretions from different historical periods, and also contrasts between moden and old, like in Sverre Fehns' Hamar Museum or Carlo Scarpas' Castelveccio.

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