Show Off Your Age: An Interpretive Restoration


The Cultural Hall at the Children’s Grand Park is a resilient survivor. Since it was built as a golf club house in 1971, it has been reincarnated twice, and suffered severe neglect for decades, regarded as an eyesore within an otherwise idyllic landscape. The patchwork of temporary remedies further deformed its appearance into a monstrous oddity. It was an obvious decision for people without an intimate appreciation for its vicissitude of fate to declare the building dead, and make way for something new. Masked behind layers of warped sheets of plywood, however, a proud Modernist masterpiece, a structural tour-de-force, incorporating the latest innovations in concrete construction, was waiting to be rediscovered. It deserved respect for several reasons other than its disputed architectural value. It is a repository of forgotten memories, still capable of inspiring our minds and restoring our ties to our heritage. Leaving aside its obvious sentimental value, we must recognize the textural beauty of its aged surfaces, the expressive scars of which cannot be simulated without passage of time.

To highlight its raw beauty of age, we applied the method of interpretive restoration. If historical restoration typically restores the original state of an aging building, the interpretive restoration reveals and isolates the aged components in its current state, without disrupting its natural weathering process. The interpretive restoration is open to creative revision of a given artifact without a heavy burden of proof for historical accuracy. It encourages active interventions into the original building to explore new spatial configuration. Contrasts between old and new surfaces are clearly delineated, and newly inserted components are visibly isolated, to allow the aging process of the existing building to continue without interruption. The resulting assemblage provides a complex web of textures and materiality. Instead of reversing or slowing down the natural life cycle of a building, it facilitates gradual decay. As the aging building slowly fades into its inevitable demise, its elegance is maintained.

The interpretive restoration is similar to adaptive reuse, but the extent of its programmatic transformation is less aggressive. If adaptive reuse often colonizes the existing building in entirety with new uses, the interpretive restoration inserts new uses within isolated containers. The existing building maintains its autonomy, without a dramatic transformation in its identity. It does not become residential condominiums inside a shell of a cathedral, or a museum behind a façade of a courthouse. Rather, it exists next to, or together with, the newly inserted buildings inside a building. 

On the other side of the spectrum from historical preservation is the renovation, or remodeling, which aims to improve an existing building dramatically and comprehensively. It often employs the “before-and-after” presentation technique, which is more effective when the renovated image is unrecognizably different from the original image. Two photographs next to each other must look as if they were two completely unrelated subjects. All clues to the past appearance are meticulously erased. But the interpretive restoration, as applied to the Children’s Grand Park project, promotes co-existence of the traces of the past with new additions. Through selective editing, the newly configured space accommodates both before and after.

In preparation for the editing process, the first phase of the project involved archival research and site exploration. We treated the Cultural Hall as a cultural relic, and illuminated its historical past through original drawings, photographs, and documents. In addition to its historical significance as an architectural masterpiece, we placed equal weight on its social value as a repository of memory. In selecting desirable areas for conservation or reuse, our focus was mainly on the concrete structural frame. With this greater emphasis on the social value, the process distanced itself from literal restoration, in favor of more abstract reinterpretation. It was an attempt to highlight the historical past of an aging monolith without turning it into a time capsule.

The design method can be summarized into two strategies of adaptation and insertion. While the structure and the overall form of the existing building were maintained, hidden components were revealed through selective removal and restoration. The found spaces were linked to the surrounding landscape through adaptation of new uses as outdoor spaces. Within these new exteriorized spaces, new pavilions were then inserted. Dramatic spaces buried beneath remnants of time were reclaimed through aggressive removal of non-structural elements, and new uses were found for various defunct pocket spaces. The new insertions were structurally and visually isolated from the existing building. 

The Cultural Hall had a net floor area of 4,886 m2, which was reduced to 1,222m2 by turning most of the unused spaces into landscape, linked to the surrounding landscape of the park. The landscape passages through the interior volumes of the building created a literal architectural promenade.