One way of becoming aware of Adelaide as a historical city is through reading its architecture as if the built form was a cultural text. The urban build form is part of our visual culture. and it gives us a sense of history that acts as a counter to the functioning of the media's 24 hour news cycle as a mechanisms for historical amnesia.
Architecture embodies the ideologies involved in its inhabitation, construction, procurement and design. It displays the thinking of the individuals involved, their relationships and their involvement in the cultures in which they lived and worked. In this way, buildings and their details are cultural artefacts that can be read for the history they embody.
We can interpret buildings and landscapes as cultural artifacts with historically specific meanings that can be understood in particular context over time. A first cut highlights the large number of nineteenth century buildings scattered amongst the modernist ones of the 20th century. Adelaide slowly became modern--ie. a shift from low-rise to modernist high-rise.
Modernism now surrounds us. It is familiar. We realize that modernism in architecture and urbanism touches on, and is touched all at once, by all spheres of human life. It signifies an industrial Adelaide; one that is slowly receding into the background with the emergence of, and the shift to, a service and informational economy.
Modernism also meant centrally-planned development regarding the regarding the “city as a machine”. In Adelaide that basically meant a car-centric suburban development, where walking from one place to another is not feasible any more. The characteristics are familiar: money-oriented development governed by loose controls produced building forms whose disadvantages have been widely discussed: skyscrapers with plenty of sellable floor space but whose form destroys the urban fabric, cookie-cutter housing that does not really fit anyone’s needs, office parks that are not close to where the workers actually live.
A second cut would highlight the spaces or the voids between the building’s forms. They are defined by (and define) the relationship between these forms and the movement of the people on the street. They help to define the experience people have on the street. It is this embodied experience that helps to make the inner city a pleasurable space to live in.
Often the the relationship between these architectural forms and the movement of the people on the street takes the form of a nostalgia for the old and a desire to preserve the old architecture as heritage.