Honest Shabbiness and Identity at Faneuil Hall

While reading Greg Donofrio’s article on the restoration and change of uses in Faneuil Hall, I found the interview with a local resident who lamented the lack of “honest shabbiness” after work was completed. Not only humorous, it brings ‘condition’ into the preservation conversation quite well. I associate it with the idea of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The condition of a building informs the user experience which, when compounded among every other’s experience, creates an identity. Though Faneuil Hall retained the same form as well as function (at least generally, as a market) the condition that was associated with the chaos, litter and degradation was taken away and replaced, which I would argue served as a major catalyst to the changes in vendor sales detailed by Donofrio. In order for the turnover of users to occur, there must both be a reason for new users to visit as well as a reason that previous users do not want to do the same.

In this way the ‘shabbiness’ of Faneuil Hall comes as an endearing aspect of the marketplace that users experienced but did not necessarily identify until it was taken away. I interpreted these conditions to be a side effect of the market as a utilitarian place, where business priorities were moving product and small profit margins for the vendors. The aesthetic beauty took a secondary role because they were not needed to service customers. Of course, it wasn’t entirely gone, since it would be less appealing for a customer to buy from a vendor whose space smelled like rot. After the conversion, however, the idea of Faneuil Hall as a destination, whose business interests focused on user experience and recreation, took hold and resulted in larger profits for those that either adapted or invaded the space that previous vendors had left.

Donofrio makes a strong economic argument for why vendors would change what they sell as well as why outside businesses would seek a share in the new market, but he also mentions that so few pre-renovation vendors returned after it was reopened. I think that the role of interruption was the main reason for this. Such vendors that occupied Faneuil Hall dealt with small profit margins, quick turnover of goods and most importantly the lack of capital that allowed their business to float for a few months (and years) without failing. Once Faneuil Hall was closed, these tenants needed to immediately find new sources of income, and either found it elsewhere or the disruption caused their doom. From a planning standpoint it serves as a good lesson that many utilitarian uses of a space are not there because of any sort of cultural structure or loyalty to place, they are there for business and by interrupting it Faneuil Hall failed in this social and economic preservation as soon as it closed for renovations. Perhaps if work had been done in stages, or otherwise avoiding a complete shutdown more tenants would have stayed (and could be counted as those who “returned” after reopening), though the changes over the next few decades may have remained.

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