During the eighties’, the conservation issue arose in response to the disruption of the architectural heritage by Brutalist Architecture - concrete mega-structures that destroyed the urban fabric of many world cities. In recent years, the conservation issue was boosted by the sustainability trend in relation to lengthening the shelf life of buildings in order to save energy and reduce the waste of natural resources.
The emotional significance of the conservation issue constitutes an important chapter in Environmental Psychology which perceives architectural heritage as a way to reinforce the identity of the individual while relying on the identity of a place, two abstract factors that are mutually influential.
In this context, the term ‘identity of a place’ relates to individuals’ world view regarding the physical environment in which they live and in particular to physical representations of memories and events that have contributed, and still contribute, to the development of feelings, attitudes and preferences in relation to space. All these affect the behavior patterns on which various users’ sense of daily existence actually depends.
In the frenzied reality dictated by the com-revolution, the physical environment changes all the time and with it the identity of a place. What is considered right today might tomorrow be seen as passé. And when a road has no end, the journey becomes a target to be addressed, and any ‘finished’ product merely a basis for change.
Since the physical environment is constantly changing, the identity of a place also changes and conservation of its buildings constitutes merely a temporary stage in long term development.
In light of the fact that the identity of a place is not a perceivable cognitive substructure of individuals, but is part of the complexity of the physical environment, the built environment is nothing but an abstract, collective cluster of memories, conceptualizations and random interpretations that do not necessarily depend on each other.
However, a familiar environment serves as the main safe foundation that gives individuals and society existential security, and therefore, any sudden change might evoke alienation – a typical effect of the gentrification processes, where over-renewal pushes out the original population in favor of wealthier layers of society.
Although the built environment contains place past and present, both of individuals and the collective, it must express future changes in order to ensure an orderly and gradual evolutionary process.
And this is exactly where the various conservation theories clash, one polarity advocating a freeze of the past through museum-like conservation – usually unusable, while the other polarity allows environmental changes through land-intensive building rights used to finance conservation via speculative entrepreneurship that usually completely obscures the identity of a place.
The essential differences between the two, particularly the fact that this constitutes reality in process, requires intermediate stages in which any addition conserves the past, yet allows for reasonable changes, expressing the spirit of the time, updating the building for future use, while minimally harming the identity of a place.
Furthermore, since the distinctiveness of the built space expresses infinite individual identities – each one with his own world view, expectations and various aspirations – a complex texture is created. In this process any change constitutes an additional layer in the unfinished process and, accordingly, also requires a limited guarantee, depending on the building’s part in and relative contribution to the identity of a place and its distinctiveness.
Beyond the fact that conservation layers are meant to contribute to the orderly evolution of built heritage, it doesn’t harm the identity of the place, but rather enhances its stability, reinforcing personal identity while building up a collective sense of community.
It is unnecessary to point out that depth of heritage has the utmost importance, particularly in places like Israel that (still) constitute a melting pot for emigrants from all sectors – Eastern, Western, religious secular, minority, majority, and particularly whoever has lost their ties with their national identity.
In this light, practically speaking, the act of conservation is meant to update the building according to contemporary needs in the language of the place – a language formed over the years and not necessarily the language of the past – which only constituted an opening point in time and under conditions that are no longer relevant, particularly not in a reality in which technological progress dictates the way of life, for better or for worse. That is, after studying the data in depth, an architectural formula can be devised, constituting a new interpretation of the entire body of data, while adapting the building to its new use.
Such a step could create a building and an environment that contain each other, while reinforcing the identity of a place with all its architectural, emotional and educational implications.