about a block from my office there is an ongoing renovation of a local public middle school.
The plan is to demolish the 1970s-era addition and the entire interior of the old school and build a new building within two arms of the old building.
What has been left is what you see here – the two sides, west and south, of the old building that faced public streets.
the remaining facades are currently being held up by a series of diagonal posts providing some lateral support to the masonry walls.
While the old front of this building was somewhat interesting, the pains taken to save it, and only the public facades, raises some really interesting questions. Undoubtedly we will have to wait for the new building to be built to really assess how the architects, RB+B, have treated this combination of new and old. Their design of the Harris Bilingual School in Fort Collins went some way in incorporating the existing historic building into the new design.
However, the amount of the old building that has been retained compared to the totality of what will be the new building, speaks to an almost cartoon-ish use of the old building. The architecture of a building is not just its front faces, it is the complete spatial experience of the building that becomes endowed with meaning through its use by generations of students and parents. I don’t remember well what the exterior of the elementary school I attended looks like, but I vividly recall the old transom windows above each door that lead to the hallway, bringing in the sounds of the hall into dreary classes.
(photo from the BVSD’s website)
Tellingly, the above image focuses on the dynamic interplay of the new building elements, leaving the old facades somewhere in the background.
It is a shame that the diagonal posts will not be a part of the new building. Let’s hope that the aura of fragility that they lend to the old facade is somehow replicated in the design of the new construction.
And mostly let’s hope that with the very few interesting older buildings in Boulder, the next project can see the older sections of a building as a potential source of meaning and richness that can be integrated within a new building, not a nagging impediment to a new vision.