THROUGHOUT human history, the buildings of our past talk about our character as people. Whether we look at the great western or oriental eastern influences, we could conclude that each period has distinct personalities that talk a lot about the things that our ancestors had deemed important. Such is the massive earth carving in the Mountain Province of our very own Ifugao, made 2000 years ago to help them to become more efficient in their plantation. It was made to avoid corrosion of soil and aid water irrigation through its step-ladder design.
During the 9th century, for the Khmer Empire which is now known as Cambodia, the people made the great temple of Angkor Wat in a worship to the Hindu god Vishnu. The Egyptians and the Mayans built the great pyramids and ziggurats as burial sites and temples for the gods as well, and the Hellenistic Greek Parthenon and Roman civic spaces serve as a showcase of the development of planning, architecture, art and geometry which highlights symmetry of structures.
Also, world heritage buildings are not limited to the past. There are new monumental structures in the 20th and 21st centuries as well. The Empire State building in New York and the Petronas tower of Malaysia are looked upon as icons of the booming economies. The BurjKhalifa marks the rise of the city of Dubai as one of the new global gateway cities.
It is said that our heritage preserves our identity; it is a reminder of who we were and who we are. But it is also a reminder so that our present buildings do not lose their dialogue with the past.
In an effort to preserve these monuments of our heritage, there have been various ordinances worldwide regarding building height limit so as not to block the view of these sites. In Saint Petersburg, Russia, buildings cannot be higher than the massive structure of the Winter Palace. In New York, Neo-gothic churches stand side by side skyscrapers and integrating them as part of the building.
One of the first issues to address is establishing the height limit of buildings in certain areas, such as the famous case in Istanbul and in St. Petersburg. Laws in the building code such as Floor Area Ratios and height establishing visual corridors can be modified depending on specific areas that are identified through progressive urban planning, urban design, and architecture. There could also be ordinances regarding transportation routes and usage in certain areas, wherein there could be a development of car-free and pedestrian-friendly zones.
In an international conference on Height and Heritage organized by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2013, Sir Terry Farrell emphasized that “tall buildings should include holistic place-making extending well beyond the main building itself.” In a manner of speaking, a tall building should not just reach for the sky but it should also meet the ground. He also added that a tall building should include a variety of uses, including a public or open space, and should always keep the pedestrian in mind through transport improvements. As a mixed-use building, the structure becomes more sustainable because you allocate a vertical space to a whole urban district instead of creating a sprawl. Also, by allocating a public or open space, a tall building does not disrupt visual connection to the heritage sites.
In London, the tall buildings blend very well with heritage structure, within the larger urban context. The tall buildings are allowed and encouraged to be built provided the ground floors and the top floors are accessible to the public. Furthermore, these tall buildings must respect visual corridors established by the City Planning of London, like respecting the views of the Big Ben, the Parliament, and the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
London has successfully integrated height (tall buildings) and heritage (historical landmarks) through progressive and comprehensive urban planning – bringing London well into the 21st century and still continue being a leading global gateway city.
We can also consider retrofitting buildings and integrating them with other establishments so that they can be used as modern day offices while preserving their original form. Heritage buildings, where appropriate and applicable, can have adaptive reuse and be transformed into museums, and sites for fine dining, retail shops and and hotels. Laws can be put into place by giving tax-incentives to those who comply with the retrofitting concept.
I agree that we need to preserve our cultural heritages because it is a reminder of our identity, evolving through time. We should not lose sight of our uniqueness and who we are. But it is also important that we have a clear approach in determining how we should preserve and enhance these landmarks to appropriately transition well into the 21st century.