NEWS

The intervention on the existing structure is going to be a positive challenge

Whether to alter a monument, rebuild an historic site or erect an important new building on it are questions not answered solely by architectural and town-planning considerations. They reflect how flexible or conservative a society is regarding the way its monuments are treated, and also – and this requires attention – how consistently it applies its principles. Similarly, qualities such as daring and self-restraint characterize the architectural proposals which may be skillful or not, and may highlight the works of art they converse with, or overwhelm them, as they did as a rule in the past. Apart from the will of society, the manner of highlighting a monument, the possibility of altering it and the nature of the changes are now not subject to uniform rules. They depend on its age, uniqueness and also its character. In this sense, the case of modern industrial monuments is above all one in which one might expect imaginative and multiple-use changes, ranging from a museum-type highlighting of the monument to a complete change of use. Perhaps the most outstanding case of a bold transformation is that of the massive gasometers in Vienna, an arena for experimentation by architects such as Coop Himmelblau and Jean Nouvel. Bringing the focus closer to home: the possibility that the transformation might fail, like those of the other two gasometers, need not necessarily lead us to refuse work on the third. On the contrary, it could make it a greater challenge to render it a project of high architectural value. Large external structures, such as fire escapes, should not be added; the full height of the gasometer should not be covered, and the basic structure of repeated storage tanks should not be ignored. But they could be reshaped, have transparency added, incorporate intervening spaces, and retain and highlight parts of the mechanisms that ran the tanks. Suggestions were made by the Central Council for Modern Monuments, the authors of the study were willing, and we await the results, on which everything will be judged. Anastasios Kotsiopoulos is a professor of architecture at Aristotle University and a corresponding member of the Athens Academy. He is also a member of the Central Council for Modern Monuments.