Architect Pierre Lahaye writes, “Symbiosis is defined as an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, usually to the advantage of both. In the context of architecture, this translates into a view of the art of architecture as an expression of the spirit of an era. That is, buildings that are designed today should be part of the cultural heritage of future generations,” writes South African architect Pierre Lahaye
He published this definition in his essay, entitled, Symbiosis and Architecture, in the July 7, 2010 edition of Leading Architecture and Design. He suggests that South Africans embrace the symbiosis of European architecture with African motifs, thus fusing culturally different building designs into a unique architecture that exists for that region only. Lahaye notes, “Architecture does not express a single system of values; it is a conglomeration of many different value systems, or an order that embraces many diverse elements. Formal architectural modes of expression, sign and symbol will produce a multivalent and ambivalent meaning. The conscious manipulation of elements from different cultures will evoke meaning through difference and dysfunction.”
I would like to broaden this definition of architecture symbiosis to include the fusing of both old and new. Two examples that I have seen of my definition of symbiosis are the bar at the Hotel Telegrafo on the Plaza Mayor in Havana, Cuba and the “Dancing House” overlooking the Vitava River near the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.
The idea of fusing old and new is much more common that the fusion of different cultural edifices. To me, this fusion proves that the former building can be updated in a unique way to the building’s original structure, providing new spaces and new uses for the original footprint.
The bar at the Hotel Telegrafo has incorporated the original internal arched support structure as a visible form in the renovated bar. The arches give support as well as define the space. They do not support a ceiling, giving the bar a much more airy and spacious appearance. New tile and bar furniture update the space into the 21st century, marrying old and new.
The Dancing House is now an iconic landmark in Prague, built in the 1990s, and designed by Croatian-born Czech architect Vlado Milunic in co-operation with Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry. The building’s site is significant because it sits on one of the sites bombed by the 8th American Air Force in February 1945. (See The Bombing of Prague: Was it a Mistake?)
The structure stands amid buildings dating back to the Neo-Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau periods. Rather than mixing cultures, this building mixes European architectural periods. (See Dancing House Building, Prague by Frank Owen Gehry) Unlike the bar at the Hotel Telegrafo, which incorporates both the old and the new, the Dancing House is the new, anchored against the older structures. Because the two parts of the building are so visually different, the structure is known as deconstructivism. For years considered controversial, the building has become so popular, it is now featured on a gold coin issued by the Czech National Bank in 2006.
Symbiosis is used mostly in biology, but I enjoy seeing such ideas spread to other disciplines, realizing that the pure definition can enhance new ideas in other realms.