Thinking about the past for the future

What’s next in preservation theory?

After spending this half of the semester thinking, reading and talking about what the past centuries have thought and concentrated on in terms of preservation theory, I want to make some of my own guesses as to what may be the topics that the next century of preservation grapples with. This is not to say that the all the issues raised by Morris, Ruskin, Viollet, Boito, etc. will not be at play–the issues discussed by preservationists in the past are just as relevant as they are today. But today, in the year 2015, there are many other factors at play then before.

First: race and socioeconomic status. The first true example, to me, of race and class explicitly discussed in preservation theory (that we read) was in the Dolores Hayden reading. The next generation of preservationists will have to deal with issues of race, class and socioeconomic status in ways that their predecessors were never challenged to do. Does preservation just serve those who are privileged? Should goals of preservation be expanded to include accessibility issues? WHO is it that preserves? Though these questions have come up before, I believe that the 21st century is going to inform these questions in new ways.

Second: sustainability. In this new “era” of ecological consciousness, the sustainability and efficiency of buildings is all the more important and heavily scrutinized. When making the case to demolish, sustainability has become a frequently cited reason. And who doesn’t want to have the most sustainable structure possible? It’s a hard case to fight against. The future of preservation theory must move to think about the pros/cons of buildings ecologically. Weighing the costs environmentally against those of heritage or cultural value loss. Theory must be pushed to consider the weatherization of buildings: the level of intervention willing to go to make a building more efficient. In certain cases, is it more sustainable to reuse/adapt an old structure than all the resources that would go into a new one?

These are just two issues that I feel are on the forefront of political, economic and social policy today. When preservation theory takes its next steps I think they are issues that need and will be discussed. After talking about economic theory today in class, I am excited to learn more next semester!

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