I have been reading and reflecting on the article by Edwin Heathcote, ¨The bad and the beautiful,¨ about beauty and cities, and I agree that our memories make us feel as beautiful different environments, the sense of belonging that maybe is out of any tourism classification.
But, some cities are beautiful per se, without discussion, and the scale of its urban spaces and the skyline plays a major role in it. Heathcote says:
¨This, however, is all about grandeur, spectacle, the beauty of scale. These are the beautiful cities of cliché and fairy tale. You could equally argue that too much beauty hinders a city. Think of Venice, the sinking tourist city mired in its own past, a city that has become a theme park of decaying beauty.
London, a city to which the epithet “beautiful” can be applied only sparingly, has been threatened with losing its Unesco World Heritage status with dull, yet increasingly strident, towers impinging on historic views of Westminster and the Tower of London. In other cities, such as New York, Chicago, or Hong Kong, skyscrapers are the essence of the city. In London, it is more difficult, particularly as so many towers are so poorly designed, but this municipal carelessness does allow the city to adapt, to keep itself relevant. That is part of the reason London has been able to maintain its status as a trading centre for six centuries.¨
The example of London, reminds me of a similar European case:
In the last decade the skyline of the World Heritage Town Olomouc (Czech
Republic) has been disrupted by two new high-rise buildings of poor architectural value.
Currently the construction of the third “skyscraper” named Šantovka Tower is under
proposal. The Civic society For beautiful Olomouc (Czech Republic) rightly considers that the height of this new tower (75 m) and its placement near
the protected heritage area, will jeopardize the valuable urban landscape and contribute to
the devastation of its unique skyline.
A private developer SMC Development has hired the architectural firm Benoy (London) for the project. He defends its choice with words about bringing first-class contemporary world architecture into Olomouc, comparing it with other Benoy projects in London or Singapore. Local authorities support the building and they are willing to change or bypass legal regulations which do not allow buildings of such height close to a protected area.
Here are the three buildings, now, let´s take a look at Olomouc´s skyline, after and before:
No need for further explanations, but in an overall view of the city, you´ll understand the problem:
The rectangle on the horizon, would be the new tower. Santovka Tower, by Benoy London, 2013-2015?
For those who´d never been there, I´m sharing an excerpt from wikipedia.org about Olomouc:
Olomouc (/ˈɔːləmoʊts/; Czech: [ˈolomou̯ts]; German: Olmütz; Latin: Olomucium or Iuliomontium; Polish: Ołomuniec) is a city in Moravia, in the east of the Czech Republic. Located on the Morava River, the city is the ecclesiastical metropolis and historical capital city of Moravia. Today it is an administrative centre of the Olomouc Region and sixth largest city in the Czech Republic. The city has about 102,000 residents, but its larger urban zone has a population of about 480,000 people.
Olomouc is said to occupy the site of a Roman fort founded in the imperial period, the original name of which, Iuliomontium (Mount Julius), would have been gradually corrupted to the present form. Although this account is not documented except as oral history, archaeological excavations close to the city have revealed the remains of a Roman military camp dating from the time of the Marcoman Wars.
Olomouc contains several large squares, the chief of which is adorned with the Holy Trinity Column, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The column is 115 ft (35 m) high and was built between 1716 and 1754. The city has numerous historic religious buildings. The most prominent church is Saint Wenceslas Cathedral founded before 1107 in the compound of the Olomouc Castle. At the end of the 19th century, the Cathedral was rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style. It kept many features of the original church, which had renovations and additions reflecting styles of different ages: Romanesque crypt, Gothic cloister, Baroque chapels. The highest of the three spires is 328 ft (100 m), which makes it the second-highest spire in the country (after Cathedral of St. Bartholomew in Plzeň). The church is next to the Bishop Zdík’s Palace (also called the Přemyslid Palace), a Romanesque building built after 1141 by the bishop Henry Zdík. Its remains one of the most precious monuments of Olomouc: such an early bishop’s palace is unique in Central Europe. The Přemyslid Palace used as the residence of Olomouc dukes from the governing Přemyslid dynasty used to stand nearby.Saint Maurice Church, a fine Gothic building of the 15th century, has the 6th-largest church organ in Central Europe.
Saint Michael’s Church is notable.
The Neo-baroque chapel of Saint John Sarkander stands on the site of a former town prison. At the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, the Catholic priest John Sarkander was imprisoned here. Accused of collaboration with the enemy, he was tortured, but did not reveal anything because of the Seal of Confession, and died. The torture rack and Sarkander’s gravestone are preserved here. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II during his visit in Olomouc in 1995.John Paul II also visited Svatý Kopeček (Olomouc) (cs) (“The Holy Hillock”), which has the magnificent Baroque church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary. It overlooks the city. The Pope promoted the church to Minor Basilica.
Several monasteries are located in Olomouc, including Hradisko Monastery, Convent of Dominican Sisters in Olomouc and others.
Carriage in the Olomouc Museum of Art
Other notable destinations are the Olomouc Orthodox Church, consecrated to Saint Gorazd (cs), and the Mausoleum of Yugoslav Soldiers. This monument commemorates 1,188 Yugoslav soldiers who died during WWI in local hospitals after being wounded on battlefields.
The principal secular building is the town hall, completed in the 15th century. It is flanked on one side by a gothic chapel, now adapted and operated as a museum. It possesses a tower 250 ft (76 m) high, adorned with an astronomical clock in an uncommon Socialist Realist style. (The original 15th c. clock was destroyed at the end of World War II. It was reconstructed in 1947–1955 by Karel Svolinský (cs), who used the government-approved style of the time, featuring proletarians rather than saints.
Olomouc is proud of its six Baroque fountains. The fountains survived in such number thanks to the city council’s caution. While most European cities were removing old fountains after building water supply piping, Olomouc decided to keep them as water reservoirs in case of fire. The fountains feature ancient Roman motifs; five portray the Roman gods Jupiter (image), Mercury (image), Triton (image), Neptune and Hercules (image). One features the emperor Julius Caesar, the legendary founder of the city (image). In the 21st century, an Arion fountain was added to the main square, inspired by the older project.
In the largest square in Olomouc (Horní náměstí – Upper Square), in front of the astronomical clock, is a scale model of the entire old town in bronze.
Maybe more voices help us to protect the World Heritage Town Olomouc. Many European cities have used their cultural heritage as a strategy for (cultural) tourism, but most important is to promote the identity and civic proudness of the inhabitants.
Here, Dr. Nikos Salingaros´ contribution:
“Olomouc is facing architectural disaster, though promoted with the
best of intentions. The city is about to build a third glass-walled
skyscraper, even though two earlier ones clearly degraded its architectural heritage and lowered both the city’s sustainability and
its income-generating potential through tourism. Unfortunately,
certain power brokers still insist on gigantism and the fetish of
glass-and-steel buildings as an elusive mythology of progress, little
realizing that it’s only the extremely expensive equivalent of junk
food. They hire well-known multinational architectural firms who have
their intellectual roots in industrial modernism, and who are experts
at building the same alien-iconic building everywhere around the
world. Why should a tourist pay money to come to Olomouc when they can
see the same glass skyscraper in London or Singapore? The truth is
that people are tired of the same futuristic images, and want to
experience genuinely human-scale traditional architecture when they
travel. But you will never hear this story from the stupid media who
blindly repeat the marketing statements of the firms involved. As far
as the tremendous wastage and non-recuperable embedded costs of glass
skyscrapers, maybe a giant oil-producer like the Czech Republic
doesn’t mind wasting energy on status symbols of an imagined but false
modernity. Just pump more petroleum out of the ground around Pilsen.
And who needs those tourists anyway? It’s more important for Olomouc
to look like Dubai so as to keep up with the architectural insanity of
the rest of the world.”
To complete Nikos´ statement, here is an interesting data from Global Urban Development Magazine:
¨According to the Travel Industry Association of America, visitors to historic and cultural-attraction sites spend more and stay longer than the other types of US travelers; they spend US $631 and 4.7 nights away from home per trip compared to the average US traveler’s spending of US $457 and 3.4 nights. Several cities have begun to invest in place-identity and heritage tourism. Philadelphia, for example, is investing US $12 million in private and public funds to make heritage tourism a lynchpin in its economic development strategy. Many cities in Europe have also started to include heritage resources on their urban regeneration agendas.¨