As I understand it, "site specificity" is a sensitivity on the part of a work of art or architecture to the context in which it finds itself.
One example is the garden in Toronto’s chic, little downtown neighborhood called Yorkville. This garden reproduces the lot lines on the houses that once stood on the garden plot. It also represents the geographical and floral variation of Canada, with the forests of BC represented at one end and the shore line of the Maritimes at the other. The garden is specifying of where its plot once stood in time and still stands in space.
Site specificity has found its way to my hotel in Boston, the Jurys. This is located in a 1920s architectural landmark, the former Boston Police Headquarters. In the 19th century, the Boston Police Force became a largely Irish American institution. And it turns out that the owners of the Jurys, the ones who put up $60 million for the restoration, are from Dublin. The Jurys embraces this historical "loop the loop" with enthusiasm. Think of us as a new Irish immigrant, here to celebrate, with this building, the old Irish immigrant.
It seems to me almost certain that the Jurys hotel, had they done this restoration say 40 years ago, would not have embraced this building, and, if they had, they would have worked to efface its origins and their own. Forty years ago, architecture in general and hotels in particular were sited in the modernist "everywhere "space. They looked to blend into the hotel scape and the Boston one. More particularly, Irishness still carried the taint of a hardscrabble immigrant community, making it an unlikely historical reference for a hotel that reaches, successfully, for elegance.
Site specificity reopens locality and history as sources of the meanings on which capitalism can draw. It will help capitalism fight off that long standing charge that is it the champion of uniformity. In the Jurys case it is not bleaching out the historical particulars but restoring and then celebrating them.
As I was arguing in an earlier post, I think we can look forward to a time when our local Starbucks will carry design references to the neighborhood, city, and region in which it stands. This even as it carries the mark of a national brand. This too will largely put paid to the intellectuals insistence that the marketplace is the enemy of culture, difference, variation, locality, history. In any case it moves us beyond the time that the best capitalism can do is the faux Disney tableaux, the cultural other or historical other in heavy quotation marks, sensitized, as those glassine bags used to say, "for your safety.
We shall see. But I think the Jurys hotel in Boston says that if the intellectuals were ever right, they are now quite wrong. More to the point, if capitalism is now an agent working for an ever intensified and integrated locality, things are going to get very interesting indeed.