The concept of revivalism in architecture is not a new one. It has returned time and time again as architects try to capture the purities and order of the past. Then reflecting these ideologies through modern detailing and materials. Living and working in Omaha I had the opportunity to visit multiple Midwest cities this summer I began to find a common theme or vernacular expressing itself within the urban fabric. Newly constructed buildings were designed to resemble old industrial buildings. Formal proportions were not met however the detailing of the projects reflected a turn of the century building that had been updated into trendy lofts and office space.
The desire for these midwestern cities to be constructing buildings such as these pose a unique question. Why is there a desire to reflect industrial buildings within our cities?
I believe the answer to this is rooted in history. American Modernism in accordance to urban planning and the future of our cities was filled with false promises. In Lebbeus Wood's Blog post "Haunted" he discusses the ghost of American modernism.
"It is the ghost of a once-upon-a-time promise of a better life for everyone, a promise that never delivered. The convenience stores sell junk food that makes us fat. The service station dispenses endless fuel for our gas-guzzlers poisoning the atmosphere. The franchise restaurant is everywhere but belongs nowhere. The pawn shop may be easy, but it reminds us of our, and others’, desperation. The promise haunts us and its ghost lingers at the edges of night, dreamlike and restless. Then we come to the little-illuminated house. How cheerful it is! But the ghost is there, too, mocking our optimism and good cheer."
Modernism promised us grandeur and cities of the future so much that the public, city officials, city planners, and architects bought in. We went as far as pushing "city regeneration" projects to level entire city blocks. In Omaha, the destruction of Jobbers Canyon was supposed to give way to a mix used downtown regeneration that included a marina, office space, and public connection to the river. Instead, the city received a Conagra office campus and a chlorinated pond contaminated to the point that fish are unable to survive. All located 100 ft from the Missouri river connected by a singular bridge. In Minneapolis, city officials leveled over 40% of the central business district in the name of "regeneration". Only to leave behind a vacant city with 40% more parking lots and abandoned lots in the urban core.
The concept of Industrial Revival is a reaction of these failures. It is an unconscious decision that is driving the demand for these buildings. As a culture, we understand the gravity of what we have done to our cities. We understand the great loss and gap in history that was created by our futuristic ideals. However, there seems to be a desire to recreate the past and hold onto the beginning roots that originally created these cities. The hallucinogenic cloud created by the recreation of these brick buildings brings forth a false sense of security and reminiscent past of the good old days. Blinding us from the reality that our cities are growing exponentially with a constant influx of people, culture, technology, and money.
Industrial Revival will no doubt continue and slowly fill in the gaps of our cities as we push for more walkable and livable cities and downtown cores. While I believe in creating these livable cities I question the motives and theory behind Industrial Revival as an architectural movement and aid on the side of caution. These projects should stand as a reminder or memorial to what was or could have been. They remind us of the lessons we learned from American Modernism and their lessons should be used to build and construct more meaningful cities. However, this movement should not define the future of our cities it should not act as a band-aid or reflection of the past. It is an unconscious response to the wrath of American Modernism. The ghosts that have been suppressed by the construction of these buildings will not be fully dissolved until we learn and focus on creating a definitive vision for Midwestern cities.