Our attachment to old buildings bears examining
Great piece on vital subject; my added two cents would be: I feel like it never gets mentioned in this topic that places have a qualitative 'ubiety' or an 'is-ness' that is rooted in its tangible physical morphology and that has irreducible value, and that to substantially alter it i.e. through significant change/development, is to lose that 'is-ness'. I.e London has a 'face' that I love in the same way my partner has a face I love - I don't want either image to change, I don't need my partner to constantly be reshaped (say with surgery etc.) - because then it wouldn't be 'her'. It would be odd to label that instinct as being a kind of pessimist, incurious, or backwards. Likewise, in the built environment it seems obvious that we can't build anew without losing the image of what we love (as Beaudelaire knew) - I would just as strongly argue that is the opposite of pessimism but rather Love-of-What-Is, which in many ways is the spiritual goal of life - amor fati etc. In many ways the actual pessimism is the urge to see what is, continually become what is not; a kind of infantile state of always becoming, and never being. I agree, on a blank canvas there is something to be said as to why we might prefer to reproduce certain forms, but in historic urban areas, bluntly it is a zero sum game; existing buildings are demolished for non-existent ones, and even where existing buildings aren't demolished, their presence is destroyed by radically dissonant presence of new builds. I dunno, I just think that the architecture/built environment professions have a uniquely odd take on human nature here - in most circumstance it's a virtue to love what is, not a form of pessimism - but that stems from the field's bizarre sense of itself as a temporal touchstone.
A very interesting read that has chimed quite heavily after visiting 'Poundbury', the pet project of our anti-modernist King. I was desperate to like it but I just couldn't. Everything works about it on paper, but your line 'a civilisation that has run out ideas,' and generally this whole piece echoes around the place quite strongly.
We live in the age that symmetry forgot. We need no greater motive to hang on to the old than the knowledge of how appauling anything new will be.