Buildings Must Die?


Drawings of site 5 (East Shrine) showing wear and tear


Drawings of site 5 (East Shrine) showing wear and tear


One of the main characteristics of buildings in Guangzhou, which has a relatively humid climate, is how humidity changes their materials. As we see in the drawings above, water has risen above the course of stone on the ground and seeped into many of the brick walls. Over time, some of the bricks are corroded.


When we say wear and tear, it is so very often that this is something to be repaired. The building is ‘sick’ and needs active input to stop it from its natural course. This reminds me of the book Buildings Must Die by Stephen Cairns and Jane Jacobs that talks about waste and value. In terms of traditional buildings, where do we draw the line to say that this wear and tear is a sign of the death or sign of history and value?

Another even more curious thing is: is there a Eastern/Western divide in the perception of value in historic architecture? Is there a more material understanding that exists in the Western world different from that of the East? In many cases of repair of traditional buildings in China, the most common way is to rebuild the structure from scratch. Timber is difficult to preserve and many scholars have built on that to say that the impermanence of wood, the most basic building material in Eastern cultures, creates a culture that does not revere the material. Instead, Eastern architecture is created for transience and change.

Going back to the urban village, do the actions of the villagers align with this statement? If we take that as an assumption, what attitude should we then have towards these buildings?

Should we let them die?