A Brief History of Moving Buildings
April 12, 2011
Image (c) Brian Thomas Jones.
Richard Neutra’s Maxwell House was chopped up and moved to a new location this week (photos from the L.A. Times documenting the mid-century classic being towed along Sunset Boulevard, below).
An admirable save, to be sure — though we wonder whether treating such a building like a status object that can be moved around according to the will of the owner somehow detracts from the dignity of the original architectural intent. We’re never going to have a better segue into posting pictures of giant buildings on wheels, though, so here goes:
As it turns out, moving whole buildings is actually a very archaic practice. According to this website from Concord, MA, it was pretty common to move entire houses back in the day (the 19th century). This was the case for several reasons: Mostly, the cost of labor required for demolition and new construction was much higher in early America. Secondly, the advent of electricity, plumbing, and other services hadn’t complicated the connection between a building and the ground yet — houses were autonomous objects. So homes were regularly removed from their foundations and moved to new sites. Amazingly, the icy New England winters would often allow a home to simply be pulled along the frozen ground to its new resting place.
Images via The Strand Magazine, Volume 13, here.
Nowadays, of course, throw-away architecture dominates the built world — it’s easier to raze a site and start over than to undertake the painful processes of permitting and structural acrobatics required to move a structure. So if buildings are moved today, it’s usually because of some inherent historical value. For example, the Peter Green House or the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, below.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse being moved in the early 90s, and Peter Green House at Brown University, being moved to a location just a few hundred feet away.
Richard Wilson’s “Turning the Place Over,” part of the Liverpool Biennial 2007, isn’t actually a building being moved, but forces us to perceive seemingly-permanent structures as objects in a similarly staggering way. A section of a building, 8 metres in diameter, was cut out from its façade and made to oscillate in three dimensions. “The revolving façade rests on a specially designed giant rotator, usually used in the shipping and nuclear industries, and acts as a huge opening and closing ‘window’, offering recurrent glimpses of the interior during its constant cycle.” Check out this video of the project:
Of course, there are exceptions to the “this isn’t 1821, we don’t just move any old building anymore” rule: Architect Simon Conder’s Dungeness Beach House in Kent is more of a car then a building, in proof. It hooks up to a trailer allowing greater ease of beach-bumming, and has a waterproof shell, cladding the exterior in black rubber which protects an all-plywood interior. Check out more on that here.
Going back to Neutra, here are a few more of our favorite snaps from the move. (See the rest here). We’ll leave you to ruminate on whether or not moving a masterwork like the Maxwell House to a new site somehow corrupts Neutra’s voice.
What do you think?