Recently, I’ve explored the concept of genius loci. I started with a look at the theoretical underpinnings of the concept. Next I looked at genius loci in practice. Today, I would like to look at a concrete example of how genius loci is being preserved and enhanced in Phoenix.
One concrete area where the City of Phoenix has made some baby steps in promoting authentic urbanism is with their adaptive reuse policy. The concept of adaptive reuse grows directly from genius loci. Before the days of cookie cutter developments often designed in corporate offices thousands of miles away, buildings were designed by local architects and builders who became deeply familiar with the site that there were building on. As well, often the original owners of these building were local business people who were familiar with the history and nature of the site. As such, most historic buildings are, at the very least, sympathetic to their site, and in many cases have become an integral part of their place.
When the original use of a structure changes or is no longer required, as with older buildings from the industrial revolution, architects can change the primary function of the structure, while retaining some of the existing architectural details that make the building unique. In many cities, adaptive reuse has come to define the character of many neighborhoods, and in some instances, creates neighborhoods where none existed before.
While Phoenix is late to the game, having lost the majority of our original buildings in the downtown core, in one of their more lucid moments, Phoenix City Council passed one of the nation’s most advanced adaptive reuse ordinances. The program is far from exhaustive, however, as, even the City continues to tear down buildings with importance cultural and historic significance but it is a step on the right direction and an important part of preservation what little ‘genius loci the city has left. In total, the program has supported 30 total adaptive reuse projects in the past 18 months, although a few of them did not proceed past plan review due to the economy.
One example of adaptive reuse that will be familiar to many Phoenicians is modifying an older building structure for use as a restaurant or bar. Notable examples include Tuck Shop, The Lost Leaf, The Roosevelt (pictured above), Paisley Town, Hula’s Modern Tiki, The Vig, Postino, The Parlor (pictured at right), St. Francis and the recently opened Duce.
Such projects help impart spirit of place in two main ways. First, they help keep the existing ‘spirit of place’ by building on what is already there. Second their use as new, and often unique businesses add a new level of genius loci to their neighborhood, in a way simply not possible with the ubiquitous series of cookie cutter chain restaurants. As Peter Koliopoulos, the designer of The Vig Uptown has noted, this new wave of adaptive reuse projects is just the beginning of Phoenix becoming a real city with its own identity and character instead of an anonymous series of chain restaurants and big-box stores.
What is your favorite example of adaptive reuse in Phoenix or your hometown (restaurants or otherwise)?