Cotton – Week 6

These readings picked up on a few themes that have been on my mind this week. When we hear about the treatment of historic fabric like that at the Park Avenue Armory—where the old was “de-layered” and the new overlaid such that the blending created something wholly new and imaginatively conceived by the hand of an artist—the first question usually asked is “Is this preservation?” (looking at you, Carolyn!) I want to be contrary and ask, “So what if it isn’t? Maybe preservation should be more…”

I’ve been thinking this after visiting Fonthill and the Bishop White House. At a site like Henry Mercer’s incredibly individualistic and artistic castle, it makes perfect sense to preserve the space in situ. The Bishop White House, on the other hand, was completely restored in the 1960s by the Park Service to its colonial floorplan after its first floor was cleared for use as a commercial space in the 19th century. Entire new walls had to be put in, and today furniture populates the building that never really belonged there. This is historic preservation (er, well, restoration.) I ask, as long as we are essentially creating a space from almost nothing, why shouldn’t we get creative? Why can’t we do…more?

While I have a mile-long list of issues with this OMA paper (preservation is an “untheorized” set of “regimes we don’t know, have not thought through, and cannot influence”? Are you kidding me, Rem?), I also welcome the challenge to reconsider and expand our notions of best practice. Whereas OMA might have preservationists devote more theory to demolition to create a tabla rasa for a new wave of ego-maniacal architect’s social experiments, I’m far more in favor of pursuing the type of theory demonstrated by the Park Avenue Armory. What if the notion of preservation could expand to include such creative measures? What if the Bishop White House could artistically tell multiple stories all at once, seamlessly  shifting between the now and then—without us doubting that this is preservation? Perhaps this would prove to OMA that we can actually “negotiate the coexistence of radical change and radical stasis that is our future.”

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