Sustainability in Preservation

I thought Donofiro, in his article Preservation by Adaptation: Is it Sustainable?, brought up two interesting points on sustainability in preservation- #1: the importance of nonarchitectural heritage and #2: the importance of economic and social sustainability. I must admit, I tended to think of preservation in terms of safeguarding culture heritage- primarily through the built environment. I understood that intangible aspects of culture were used to validate the value of a site, but I had never really thought about these elements as being on their own heritage list. UNESCO’s website defines intangible cultural heritage as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants”. I feel that a better integration of intangible culture (which Donofiro also calls nonarchitectural heritage) within preservation law, would offer a richer understanding in how places and people relate to each other; in addition to contributing to the site’s overall sustainability. The article mentions that there was a joint effort between the American Folklife Center and the Secretary of the Interior to create recommendations to carry out this integration, but it never came to fruition. I wonder why.

A reoccurring concept in our readings and class discussions is the importance of taking a holistic view when trying to assess the impact of a building, landscape, or artifact. Often when assessing value in terms of sustainability in preservation, we often focus on the conservation aspect (materials or energy). Remembering to take into account the social and economic sustainability of a project is an important factor in whether or not a project will be able to efficiently support itself. In the case study using Faneuil Hall Marketplace, we see that these factors were not fully integrated into the project.  Even though it appeared that Faneuil Hall and its surrounding infrastructure was a success in terms of the number of visitors, the site had lost some of its original character. This was because the adaptive reuse practices hadn’t fully taken into account the cultural, social, and economic factors; thus forcing the vendors to radically change their business models in order to survive.

Personally, I think adaptive reuse is a great way to ensure the continued use of buildings. But as with many things, there aren’t any quick fixes. Materially fixing a site and changing a few aspects, doesn’t magically make it sustainable.  True sustainability in preservation comes from expanding the scope of values, carefully analyzing all parts of the site, incorporating various experts in the decisions, and coming up with a unique site-specific plan.


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