F: We are old.
H: What are you saying?
F: We are old. After all we have been through, we are still here. But why? Why are we here? Nobody is listening.
H: Yes, we are old. And we are still here. It is our destiny, accept it.
F: Destiny? What do mean, destiny? We are here, but what are we doing? The world passes us by. People do not care about our history. After all we have endured, they simply pass us by. They merely glance at us and they pass by.
H: Well, that is the way it is. People are always on their way.
F: Only caring about tomorrow… They are afraid that looking back equals standing still. What is wrong with standing still? Reflecting on life, contemplating. Doesn’t that matter anymore? Well?
H: Their lives are too short for that, I would say. They are not like us, they have much shorter lives.
F: That is true. But shouldn’t they have even more reason to listen to us because of that? We have stories to tell. We witnessed a lot. Should that just be forgotten?
H: I do not know. What do those stories mean to the humans?
F: It just as much theirhistory as it is ours. If they would listen to what we have to say, they would understand us. If they knew abouthistory, they would know what constructs us. Then they would understand why we are who we are.
H: Fine, let’s say that they will listen to you. I doubt that, but let’s just assume, for the sake of the dialogue. What would you tell them?
F: I would tell them our story! I would tell them about everything we have seen. They would hear how dust covered our existence, how fetid machines were places in our midst. They would know how we saw the city grow around us. How we witnessed wars! We have been through it all!
H: Would you make us heroes?
F: I would simply tell them the truth, tell them about what happened in the past. They would hear what the industrialisation meant. I would tell them how we saw the factories collect around us, how the canal shaped our city. It were foul, filthy times. Spaces were filled with hot, smoky vapours, floors bore the weight of heavy labour. Back then the people really constructed things! On, around, aside, between us, more was built every day. The horizon filled with the slender chimneys of a growing industry. Our crevices filled with dust.
H: You do know how the phrase it…
F: Well, on the other hand, it wasn’t all pretty. There were large differences. The rich families we belonged to had everything, the working class had nothing. Equality was unknown. It is good that things have changed. A lot has changed.
So, I would also tell the people that things have not always been the way they are now. We stayed, but we had to change. We changed with the times, with the shifting of functions. We survived many things. Even the anger of the sledgehammer, which meant the end of so many, we survived. Every day we look at that horrid bridge for which so much had to be demolished. We are still here. But why? What is our purpose?
H: What does it matter?
F: We have been through itall, but nobody cares. We escaped oblivion, but were still forgotten. They look at us. Some even call us beautiful. And old. That is what we are. Beautiful and old, nothing more, nothing less.
H: That is not what we truly are, that is what we are to them. Don’t we carry our history upon us? The stories left their marks on our stones. We are still here, and with us, our stories. We are connected to the people. Even if they have forgotten the meaning of our stories, they still feel them.I admit, to some we are nothing more than a decorated façade and picturesque shutters. But there are people who notice more than that. Can’t you hear them, talking about ‘character’, ‘identity’ and ‘heritage’? They don’t really understand what they are talking about, but some day they will.
F: Are you saying we should have more patience with these people?
H: We have no other choice.
F: Then still I am sad. There is so much more we could do, if we were allowed to.
H: What, then? What do you want to do?
F: We could speak of our stories. We could narrate our history! If the people would take a little more interest in our stories, we could make them tangible, illegible. And those stories would give meaning to our appearance. The worst thing is that so little people know what happened here in the past. I was a factory. For one and a half centuries, I was a factory. For decades, textile manufacturers have dyed, woven and shipped their fabrics here. I helped making this city what it is today. But myhistory is forgotten, my identity denied. All people see is a pretty, old building. A decorated edge on the wall, cosy windows with shutters. Time has passed me by. I will never be what I once was.
H: You can’t lose what you once were. And there are people to whom you mean something, who know what you were before.
F: They are old. And people don’t grow very old, you know. What will happen to us when they are gone?
H: Then our story continues. Don’t linger in the past. There’s always a new chapter. New history, new stories. Not everything can be preserved. We are a sum of what we once where and what we are today.
F: New chapters, new stories. But not without forgetting the old ones. Could the people do that?
H: The people are headstrong most of the time. Some are pretty stuck, you know. They just do what they have always done. But they are improving. They don’t just wipe out everything anymore. There are some who appreciate our history, and pass it on. Even though they do it by accident, they are on the right track. Whether they will ever really learn? We will wait and see.
F: Wait? Sure, what else can we do? We will just stand here.
H: Well, it is a nice spot.
F: Sure. But for how much longer?
This dialogue was originally written in the context of the graduation research ‘The Industrial Narrative’. In this research, the relationship between stories and architecture of industrial buildings was explored. The dialogue takes place between two buildings: the old factory (‘Auw Fabriekske’ in Dutch) on which the research focused, and the adjacent house.
With this article we introduce Myrthe Buijs as contributor to Writingplace. Myrthe graduated cum laude at the chair of Architectural History and Theory of the Eindhoven University of Technology in 2012. During her architectural education, she developed an interest in research and writing, which resulted in setting up the TU/e architectural magazine Archiprint. Her interest in writing and architecture now forms the basis of her freelance practice. She writes journalistic pieces and reviews on architecture as well as fiction with a focus on buildings and public spaces.