Preservation by Adaptation 

How authenticity and pragmatism battle over adaptive reuse


After our discussion of Gregory Donofrio’s article, “Preservation by Adaptation: Is It Sustainable?”, the following thoughts came to me.

It is difficult for some preservationists, and architects for that matter, to come to the realization that buildings do not last forever, nor are they supposed to. They fall out of use, because there is no longer a demand for them or because they no longer have the capacity for usefulness due to decay. To be sure, some buildings try to live forever, and are quite successful at it. They gain social value which eventually becomes heritage value. [In class we discussed food trucks bearing social value but not heritage value, i.e. the past made useful. (Would a food truck have heritage value if George Washington had been a patron there?)] Indeed, preservationists take it upon themselves to combat this natural process of decay. The (physical) past can either remain useful in the present, or we work at finding or creating a use for the (physical) past in the present. This second option is often a case for adaptive reuse.

Is deciding on adaptive reuse an act of giving in, selling out, or simply failing at preserving? Are we doing a disservice to the existing fabric by diverging from authenticity, or are we actually benefiting the existing fabric? When an old fire station is converted into a unique loft apartment, something is lost, i.e. a fire station, and something is gained, i.e. an awesome apartment with fireman sliding poles to get downstairs to breakfast in the morning.

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