Gray Matter: Between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

I find it disturbingly appropriate that Lowenthal’s ‘Heritage Crusade and its Contradictions’ appears as the first chapter in “Giving Preservation a History” by Mason and Page.  The title alone harks on the idea that there exists so many contradictory ideas and theories within the field, let alone in history itself.  If Ruskin, Viollet, and Boito could all sit in the same room and discuss one preservation project, each would take on distinctly different and often opposing positions on the subject.  To the layman, all would seemingly have valid arguments.  So who is right?  Is anyone right?

Obviously one could make an argument that there is a wrong answer to the question presented above, however how many right answers exist?  Possibly hundreds?  Likewise, there are hundreds of questions about each project that a preservationist need face constantly.  Is it worth preserving?  Is it a part of cultural heritage?  Does it possess value?  ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are almost never the clear response.  Gray Matter, if you will, is always in the mix.  A project does not always fit clearly into one level of intervention box.  That is, projects are never strictly preservation, or rehabilitation, or restoration, or reconstruction.  In many cases a potpourri of the above can be applied.

So is there a wrong way to preserve?  Or, perhaps, is all preservation good?  Bluestone would argue not.  The great thing about preservation is the artifacts and built environment that we can keep.  But with millennia to go in the human race and a relatively static amount of space available, isn’t it possible that our planet could be overrun by block after block of historically relevant spaces?  Could not over-preserving the built world render each existing artifacts less important with the approval of each new addition, leaving our environment statically eclectic at best?  Should we posses a fear of preserving too much?

While I do not know the exact answers to the questions posed above, I believe they lie somewhere between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

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