Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The late Václav Havel on preservation...

As many are likely aware, this past weekend Václav Havel died at the age of 75. He led ‘the Velvet Revolution’ that in 1989 defeated authoritarian communism in Czechoslovakia.  A recipient of the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, he was the tenth and lastpresident of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic.

In 2010 Václav Havel spoke at a forum on architecture and commented on community, growth, and preservation.  Some of his comments offer a perspective on many of the issues that presently face Palm Beach.

They follow below:

“What was until recently clearly recognizable as the community is now losing its boundaries and with them its identity. It has become a huge overgrown ring of something I can’t find a word for. It is not a community as I understand the term, nor suburbs, let alone a village. Apart from anything else it lacks streets or squares. There is just a random scattering of enormous single-storey warehouses, supermarkets, hypermarkets, car and furniture marts, petrol stations, eateries, gigantic car parks, isolated high-rise blocks to be let as offices, depots of every kind, and collections of family homes that are admittedly close together but are otherwise desperately remote.

Why should a developer worry about whether his building suits the locality in which it is built, so long as it be reached by the shortest route and it is possible to build a gigantic car park alongside it? What is to him that between his site and his neighbor’s there is a wasteland? And what is to him, after all, that from an airplane the city more and more resembles a tumor metastasizing in all directions and that he is contributing to it? Why should he get worked up over a few dozen hectares that he carves out of the soil that many still regard as the natural framework of their homeland?

The designers’ civilization in which we live is one of the many secondary consequences of that modern-era pride whereby people believe they have understood everything and they can therefore completely plan the world.

Wonder and an awareness that things are not self-evident are, I believe, the only way out of the dangerous world of a civilization of pride.

It is necessary to wonder. And it is necessary to worry about the non-self-evidence of things.” 

Alexander C. Ives
Executive Director
Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach
311 Peruvian Avenue
Palm Beach, Florida 33480