Just a Little Different

written by Miloš Kosec

Photo: Archive Lacaton & Vassal

The Hassidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different. 


This simple story is recounted in Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben's book The Coming Community. It can also serve as a sobering challenge to the way architects today still think of innovation. The empty sheet of paper on the drafting table of an architecture office has been supplanted by the void of the computer screen, and yet the urge to fill up the void has not changed. In the architecture's professional ideology, newness equals innovation and the scale of the physical intervention is often understood in relation to the radicalness of the project. Projects dealing with renovations, reconstructions and interpolations need to deal with this professional bias towards authorial primacy. To renovate means to engage with the existing. Rem Koolhaas famously stated that today preservation is overtaking us.  But the contrast between new construction and preservation of the old is a misleading one: successful preservation requires a new intervention. Simply leaving buildings unchanged does not result in their preservation but leads to their destruction through violent forces of the free market, privatisation pressures and changed political circumstances. The failure of the laissez-faire attitude can be readily demonstrated in the depressing fate of modernist architecture in the former Yugoslavia.