Cladding – what lies beneath?

I recently came across a photograph showing the gradual reveal of a historic facade in San Antonio. The captivating photo, posted on Reddit, documents the evolution of a building over time…and through the vision of multiple developers.

Cladding has become a familiar word to many after the Grenfall Fire of 2017, where the flammable material was blamed for the rapid spread of flames, causing approximately 80 deaths and 70 injuries. Cladding was not only used to insulate buildings, but as an aesthetic choice to, ahem, improve the appearance of a building, most often witnessed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The featured image is an interesting example of what happens when we return to the original facade of a building. Fifty-ish years ago, a developer chose to cover the 1928 Hedrick Building with aluminum cladding a la Piet Mondrian. All in the name of progress. People LOVED and continue to love Modernism. For many, the brick and architectural details of the past were visual reminders of challenging times — the Great Depression and the World Wars. It’s understandable that Modernism felt fresh and inspiring.

The slow reveal of the original architectural details demonstrate why the exterior of a building can greatly affect us psychologically. The original facade instills a sense of awe, whereas the Modernist cladding closed off that experience. Although I’m sure people were in awe when the cladding first went up. Unfortunately the cladding did not stand the test of time. While researching the Hedrick Building, I came across two videos, five years apart, both from KSAT News in San Antonio. After watching both videos you can clearly observe the change in attitude towards the building.

2012

2017

As mentioned in the video, the Hedrik Building is currently being developed into upscale apartments. The condo-ization of a space usually, not always, leads to gentrification, but that’s another post altogether. However, the visual reward of one less Modernist mistake is a step in the right direction. The more we take pride in the exterior of our buildings, the more we can grow an environment which serves the people on our sidewalks. By providing pedestrians with an aesthetic experience of enchantment and curiosity, we can encourage more citizens to walk and explore.

My hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada holds countless examples of classic buildings hiding under metal cladding or reflective glass. A (not so) fine example below. Brick is visible from some angles of the building. The exterior lacks any kind of activity or thoughtful design. Pedestrians are given a whole lot of nothing, and suddenly half a block becomes an unengaging space.

If you glance beyond the insurance building, you’ll notice the architectural smoothie of hoping-to-be-classic-brick, modern glass, stucco, and aluminum, alongside ornate Victorian-ish black iron railings. Perhaps we’ll save that for yet another post…stay tuned.