What is good preservation?

From the first class, the question — what is good preservation — has already emerged in my mind and I keep wondering the definition of successful preservation throughout the semester. I attempt to find the answer and think of possible criteria or standards to evaluate the preservation practice. But as a result, I find it really hard to make it, because personally I think the assessment of preservation performance greatly depends on the purpose of the preservation practice. We cannot provide a convincing evaluation of the preservation practice until we clarify why we want to preserve.

When it comes to the purpose of historic preservation, things seem to become clear and simple since we have been involved in a tendency or popularity of values-centered preservation in contemporary society. Obviously, one of our major purposes is to maximize the value or values we concentrate on in our preservation practice. Traditionally, we have historic value showing respect for the original and uncorrupted form of the heritage and seeking to halt the progression of decay. We also have age value which is obsessed with the symptoms of decay as well as the disintegration of completeness through forces of nature. However, the former aims at avoiding any arbitrary human interventions while the latter wants to remove all traces of nature’s disintegrating force. Therefore, only under some rare occasions can these two values go hand in hand in a preservation project. In addition, we have present-day values like newness value pursuing completeness and unity, which turns to be the most formidable opponent of age value. What’s more, over the past several decades, our profession has expanded its focuses and considerations into broader social and cultural context, thus bringing about extensive values including economic value, political value, and cultural value into the field. On the one hand, when we encompass more elements and features in our narrative, we become more interconnected and are able to gain a more comprehensive picture. On the other hand, the more inclusive the profession becomes, the more likely that different values would conflict with each other. At that moment, what will become our major intention or objective? Maximizing certain value(s) or minimizing conflicts between diverse values?  And what will determine a good preservation practice?  Whether the maximum of specific value(s) or the balance between conflicting values?


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