Authenticity, the preservationist’s gravity.

The advertised foursome, Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction as we all know are based on The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards’ treatment approaches of historic buildings. Recently, we were given a simple task at class, to catalogue one known project into each of the four categories in preservation plus a fifth alien category, something else entirely. Promptly, we realized how complicated it was to decipher which intervention(S) took place. Therefore, is it an attainable reality for a project or landmark to unquestionably fit into just one of these interventions? And if such were not the case, as many have already suspected, how does one even begin to decipher what’s what in the built world. And sadly, in some measure, to quote Boito “my soul was worried”.

Quick google search on The Colosseum preservation process.

Quick google search on The Colosseum preservation process.

For instance, The Colosseum. Most would certainly allocate this one under preservation. One renowned prime example of roman architecture and engineering, major tourist destination, countless appearances in literature, movies, just to name a few. And let’s not forget: A RUIN. Just the word ruin impels one to think of a place that has not been reconstructed to its original design, just “preserved” to age well, a tad of Botox to not deteriorate further, yet no deliberate repairing done. Well, The Colosseum has had great amount of work done, and apart from the usual maintenance, repair, intervention, re-making of some areas, it has also endured anastylosis. How are we able to tell?

Now, my intention with the former premise is not to “romanticize” values, or denounce preservation, restoration, etc as a “deceitful” process of identification. (ejem, Ruskin) I am bringing forth these dated vague divisions towards the built environment. They initiate as a decent starting point to comprehend processes, but nowadays they seem corresponding to rudiment approaches. However, this is not recent news for preservationists. These somewhat archaic processes fail to capture the truthfulness in the work. Nonetheless, why may this aspect aggravate many of us? Why does it constantly distress us if we cannot easily identify or read into the process? It well may be the authenticity factor, rigorously described by many theorists.

How do we sway from searching for genuineness and Ruskin’s and Boito’s endless search for truthfulness in the historical setting? The word authentic is extremely problematic just as, the distinction of values is ambiguous. For many, lack of authenticity is synonymous to history’s betrayal. So even if authenticity is in the eyes of the beholder, authenticity is a dubious measure that we employ as means of validation. Furthermore, as antiquated as Ruskin’s or these other theorist’s premises may be perceived, it is hard to shake off this basic argument. In the quest of ailing the built environment, are preservationists spellbound to authenticity and its derived values?

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