Isolation is a term that comes up regularly. We can’t see the context in isolation, we can’t analyze the building or landscape in isolation, we can’t study culture in isolation, we can’t observe change in isolation & we can’t interpret history in isolation. The faster preservationists and practitioners accept the interconnection of the field, the better the field can evolve positively.
Frank Matero’s take on Brandi places “material authenticity in the forefront of conservation’s priorities… (Matero, Frank G. Loss, Compensation, and Authenticity… pp.53)”. Therefore, we deduce that conservation’s first duty is the built form and later, if possible, comes the treatment of the function or meaning. It was Brandi Cesare, who proposed that things cannot be understood in isolation, but rather as a whole. The appearance cannot be seen without the structure. He touches on the concept of unity and how it must be defined in order to establish boundaries since components do not hold any particular aesthetic significance in isolation. To paraphrase his words, separation of materials is like arranging words from a dictionary into a poem, if you separate them, you lose meaning. Brandi meant this distinction in the physical form, yet this transgresses and cuts through many more layers, and thus Brandi’s theories could be applied to neighboring social dilemmas.
Recently in class, a question was raised regarding Preservation’s approach or participation in social issues such as education, economy and racial group intolerance conversations. The Preservation Field’s role and meaning has expanded to other levels, and many of these levels are yet to be discovered. These other aspects or features that tag along with the built form are part of the meaning, and if we are attempting to breathe new life into these existing fabrics or artifacts, we need to participate in this broader conversation. So, the way I see it there are layers of the built form, first you have the physical aspect and later the existing social challenges (past, present and future). Yet these coexisting matters must be understood as inseparable and therefore be appreciated as a whole.
Scientifically speaking, you cannot appreciate a landscape by studying one single species. In the same intangible sense, it would be utopian to believe that preservation is devoid of worldly matters. Again, Isolation. We can’t observe and study things in isolation. Political matters, market values, elitism, are all part of the big picture. There is a systematic unity of all elements we observe and implore. What we find intriguing and the values we attribute to the built world and landscapes is due to the unison of diverse readings. Different elements and features compose the importance a place acquires. My point is that these matters cannot be viewed separately because by doing so, we are at a higher risk of damaging a place’s essence and distorting narratives.