‘Young’ and ‘old’ are ways to characterize any number of living things; they can also describe cities. About ten years ago I co-chaired a time capsule project, which was one part of our city’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. The capsule instructions ask residents who are here in 2111 to open it and learn more about what their city looked like at this early stage in its history. Imagine a time capsule project to celebrate a city in Europe. The instructions might say, “Open in 1,000 or 2,000 years.”
This brings me to the subject of architecture, young and old. In my city, we still see a few log cabins from the late eighteen hundreds. Several houses, a church, a barn and a railroad trestle have survived since the first quarter of the twentieth century. Contrast this with the aqueduct of Segovia, Spain (first and second centuries AD); the Gothic cathedral in Toledo (thirteenth century) and the Alhambra of Granada, a Moorish palace completed near the end of the fourteenth century.
We filled our city’s time capsule with photographs, a written history, and messages from its leaders. A time capsule from a nine-hundred-year-old cathedral might contain a sample building stone, a piece of stained glass, and a silver and gold cherub. A capsule representing the Alhambra might hold an example of each of its different tile patterns, a segment of a stucco wall decorated in carved calligraphy, or samples of stalactite ceiling decorations. But while our time capsule serves a purpose of sharing a small piece of the past and present with residents of the future, an architectural past that will likely be gone by the time they open it, there should be no need for time capsules in these other locations. If the structures have lasted a thousand years, there’s every reason to believe the people in the future will still have a chance to see them intact, at least in 2111.