Synergisms: Building Modern in the Context of Historic Architecture

By Stephen Day.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

How can modern design and historic architecture complement and give meaning to one another? How can new architecture not only be modern and acknowledge its historic context but go beyond that to reveal the underlying principles in both old and new design? Increasingly, architects around the world have explored new ways of utilizing modern architecture and design principles in carefully conceived additions to historic buildings, districts and landscapes. In the best examples, architects have created a dialogue between past and present. For these designers, historic architecture is seen as a resource, as a cultural “found object” that can be mined for meaning, as well as providing a rich counterpoint to modern design elements. This dialogue between past and present has extremely important implications for modern design theory, the evolution of historic preservation and for environmental sustainability. Adapting, engaging with, adding to, modernizing and re-defining existing buildings is one of the most effective tools in working towards a sustainable built environment.
This evolving attitude also is contributing to new developments in the interpretation of architectural preservation standards in the U.S., in Europe and elsewhere. Seeing historic architectural fabric as a cultural resource (a resource that can be juxtaposed with modern design to shed light on both historic and modern) is an important development for world culture and for the continued vitality and retention of historic buildings and historic districts.
This paper and presentation is based on my own research and writing following a series of exhibits produced for the American Institute of Architects (Seattle Chapter), with case study projects from architects in several countries that illustrate emerging ideas in this important segment of contemporary design theory and practice.

Keywords: Modern Architecture in Historical Context, Additions to Historic Architecture

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.247-270. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 8.471MB).

Stephen Day

Architect, Stephen Day Architecture, Seattle, Seattle, USA

Stephen Day is a Seattle-based architect working with a variety of clients and colleagues in realizing building projects. Mr. Day’s work focuses on historic preservation and the modern adaptive re-use of historic properties. He is also the President of the Board of Directors for the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy, a nonprofit organization founded in 1981 and based in Seattle, with facilities in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy (web site at Stephen is the Chair of the Design Review committee for the Historic Landmarks Commission of King County (Washington) and the past Chair of the Historic Preservation Committee for the American Institute of Architects (Seattle Chapter). He studied architecture and urban design with Professor Astra Zarina at the University of Washington Rome Center, in Italy, and received his Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University in New York City. He has lectured and presented on historic preservation and architectural issues in conferences and publications sponsored by the American Bar Association, the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects.


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