The Filson Historical Society Digital Projects

Forgotten Foundations: Louisville’s Lost Architecture

"Progress is not synonymous with destruction; we need not obliterate before we build. Healthy progress involves the graceful adjustment of past forms by present needs into future activities. … We must be conscious of our past before we can hope to build for an unknown future." – Theodore M. Brown, Introduction to Louisville Architecture

Few question the need for the preservation of historical documents and artifacts. However, buildings rarely receive similar treatment – they must go through extensive evaluation to be considered historic landmarks and therefore worthy of safeguarding. Many structures – especially those built a few decades ago that are old enough to be considered outdated – are swept aside in the name of “progress.” This trend is pervasive in the urban cores of large cities. In the mid-20th century, downtowns were “modernized” in response to residential decline and suburban growth, with structures levelled and rebuilt. Louisville lost many historic buildings during these decades yet failed to recreate the vibrant urban scene of years past.

Do we need so many new buildings, or should we focus on spaces that people use and enjoy? Less than one hundred years ago, Louisville’s downtown was a bustling hub of daily life and the setting of both workday and evening activities. There have been recent efforts to make it such a place again. How can we apply urban planning and architecture to make city streets places where people are present, day and night? How do we create an urban experience through architecture – a place with its own unique ambiance? There is no formula or clear-cut answer. Revitalizing a living city is a challenge that requires imagination.