Week 6 Question

I thought that the Cronocaos article brought up some interesting points (although somewhat stark and overgeneralized) about the ambiguities and contradictions within the preservation field, and the fact that the westernized ideology of the field has to adapt in order to survive. The second bullet in particular spoke about time and the author’s belief that “Time cannot be stopped in its tracks, but there is no consideration in the arsenal of preservation of how its effects should be managed, how the ‘preserved’ could stay alive, and yet evolve”. I do feel that at times in their zeal to preserve/save a structure some preservationists forget that buildings are a part of the current world and try to freeze a building within a particular period. How do we balance the fact that we need to make these buildings functional and work by current standards yet not allow this to make us compromise on important values?

Week 5 Question

Kaufmann’s book states that (although still a work in progress) African American issues have earned “significant interests and support” in areas of heritage preservation compared to other minority ethnicities, particularly Filipino and Mexican groups. Kaufmann also pointed out that a significant component of the cultural heritage of these groups lies in oral history (an intangible object), rather than the built fabric. Intangible objects/values can be difficult to assess (thus are often overlooked) because they are not fixed within a medium. This breaks away from traditional notations on what should be preserved. I thought the examples given in the text —Florida combining their historic preservation and folklife departments together and Michigan’s efforts to include folklife as an integral part of the community’s history— were good strategies to spread awareness of intangible objects and their equal importance to built fabric. Are these policies that other municipalities and states have utilized? And if not should they be? Also with the Hispanic minority quickly becoming the majority, how will current attitudes on how and what should be preserved change?

 

Week 3 Question

 

Since cultural landscapes are fashioned from the natural landscape by a cultural group, many of the values which define these spaces can be intangible. I wonder what is the best approach in giving  intangible values an equal footing as other traditional values (such as aesthetic, historical, and environmental values) when preserving and promoting these landscapes?

Week 2 Question

It has been pointed out that environmental values are a powerful agent in establishing the significance of a structure because unlike traditional approaches that focus on architectural and historical significance, environmental values provide a quantifiable measurements. These quantifiable measurements are a way of reaching out to various stakeholders/groups, and a means of helping them realize (in a language they can understand) the numerous benefits of preservation over new construction. The readings have stated that this path is rarely utilized or at the very least not utilized as much as it should. What is the best way of getting those who advocate for the reuse of buildings to see environmental values as important as architectural style and historical values? Also, how do we get those who write the criteria and policies on green building to see reuse and renovation as equally or even more ecologically beneficial than new construction?

The Economics Behind Preservation

A reoccurring theme in our readings and class discussions has been the importance of a holistic approach to analyzing cultural heritage. Week 7’s readings dove deeper into the economics of preservation and its impact in the field. In various ways the texts explained how there is typically some kind of economic benefits associated with the preservation of buildings and landscapes. In the past our line of work has been dominated by architects and archaeologist, and it is imperative that we find ways of bringing experts from different disciplines into the discussion. One way this can be achieved is through promoting the economic benefits or values of the preservation field.  I found the point about how economic values can be used to create/highlight the social value by bringing heritage and non-heritage users together particularly insightful, because it went further than connecting the value to monetary benefits.

Another aspect of the readings centered on incentives that allowed more communities to become involved in rehabilitation projects. In the economic impact study in Connecticut by the firm PlaceEconomics, various benefits such as the direct and indirect creation of jobs and the fact that tax credit and grant programs are making rehabilitation projects more “affordable” for builders and developers, were highlighted. The small non-for-profit developer I worked at in New Haven, CT. used programs and grants (some of which were listed in the impact study) to subsidize the various costs associated with our gut rehab projects. The focus area of the organization was in the impoverished neighborhoods of the city (Newhallville, the Hill, and Fair Haven areas), and the use of these funds (and other funds such as lead and asbestos removal funds) allowed us to sell affordable energy star certified rehabbed houses to low-to-moderate income families. For instance the construction costs alone for 2500 sqft. gut rehab could be around $300,000, and the organization would sell the property for about two-thirds of that cost. These funds allowed for a greater range of families to be able to afford properties that had historical character and were energy efficient.

Gut Rehabilitation and the Energy Star Certification Program

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines four treatment levels for historic properties- preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction. After graduation, I worked as an assistant project manager/architectural designer for a small affordable housing developer in Connecticut (NHS of New Haven), which specialized in neighborhood revitalization through the rehabilitation of dilapidated houses. Typically, the acquired property would be in extremely poor conditions; missing wall finishes and flooring and having significant structural and water damage. Because of their decrepit state, NHS preformed partial gut rehabs on these houses. Gut rehabilitation is taking a building down to its studs and structural members and replacing the old materials with new materials. This is often a red flag within preservation circles and the cause of many debates.

Before hordes of preservationists and Ruskin enthusiasts pick up their pitchforks and march towards New Haven, it is important to put things into perspective. The acquired properties were basically on their last legs and without intervention would have been demolished. It is also important to keep in mind that they had been significantly altered (particularly the interiors) and often not well done. These alterations did not contribute to a particular architectural style or an important expression of the historical or cultural value. In addition, much (if not all) of the original interior details had been stripped away. Even though our houses fell into the category of “gut rehabilitation”, our goal with every property was to retain as much of the historic fabric as possible and undo the jumbled layouts of previous renovations. After learning about the differences between the different treatment levels I wonder if gut rehabilitation is closer to restoration work then rehabilitation. (To see before and after exterior photos of some of the projects click here)

Some of the principles we tried to maintain in our houses were:

  • Reestablishing the original appearance of the exterior; which often meant repairing (and replacing were necessary) the original wood clapboard siding, reinstalling original fenestrations, and restoring or sometimes reconstructing front and rear porches.
  • Keeping any original trim work around windows and baseboard and if it could not be saved or wasn’t present, installing a period appropriate trim
  • If present keeping any unique features such as stain-glass/leaded windows, built in cabinets, and hardwood flooring.
  • Avoiding the removal stairs (because they were often one of the few remaining unaltered elements and their removal would require significant changes to the original layout).

In addition to rehabilitating these buildings according to the Secretary of Interior Standards, the houses (starting from 2011) were energy star certified; which created another layer of complication. Some of the traditional procedures one would use to achieve a high enough rating for certification (and to be eligible for rebates and incentives), would contravene principles of the Secretary of Interior Standards. The biggest issue we faced was how to seal the envelope of the building in order to achieve the necessary ACH (air changes per hour). Since the houses were constructed using plank sheathing, it was difficult to effectively seal the building without using a material like spray foam insulation. The problem with spray foam is that it’s considered a non-reversible material, and its use in historic buildings frowned upon. When I left NHS, this was an issue they were still trying to work out with SHPO.

Looking through the various requirements the EPA sets for Energy Star certification, it is obvious that these conditions were created with the mindset for new construction. The EPA does acknowledge that “the some of the current program requirements present unique challenges for existing homes, even those undergoing a gut rehabilitation”; so they developed alternative measures which they believe will make certification more attainable. The problem is that even with these alternative measures it is still very difficult to obtain certification and follow the Secretary of Interior Standards (see Energy Star website for more information on requirements). With requirements (particularly those for ACH) becoming more and more stringent I wonder if builders and developers in the preservation field will forgo Energy Star certification. Or maybe with enough pressure the EPA will create separate criteria and requirements for rehabbed properties which allows for a more level playing field.

Click here to read more about the Energy Star process for rehabilitated homes

Interior view of one of the 1st floor rooms prior to construction

Interior view of one of the 1st floor rooms prior to construction

Interior shot of the third floor den space before construction

Interior shot of the third floor den space before construction

Image of house before construction

Image of house before construction

After image of front fascade

Image of house after construction

Sustainability in Preservation

I thought Donofiro, in his article Preservation by Adaptation: Is it Sustainable?, brought up two interesting points on sustainability in preservation- #1: the importance of nonarchitectural heritage and #2: the importance of economic and social sustainability. I must admit, I tended to think of preservation in terms of safeguarding culture heritage- primarily through the built environment. I understood that intangible aspects of culture were used to validate the value of a site, but I had never really thought about these elements as being on their own heritage list. UNESCO’s website defines intangible cultural heritage as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants”. I feel that a better integration of intangible culture (which Donofiro also calls nonarchitectural heritage) within preservation law, would offer a richer understanding in how places and people relate to each other; in addition to contributing to the site’s overall sustainability. The article mentions that there was a joint effort between the American Folklife Center and the Secretary of the Interior to create recommendations to carry out this integration, but it never came to fruition. I wonder why.

A reoccurring concept in our readings and class discussions is the importance of taking a holistic view when trying to assess the impact of a building, landscape, or artifact. Often when assessing value in terms of sustainability in preservation, we often focus on the conservation aspect (materials or energy). Remembering to take into account the social and economic sustainability of a project is an important factor in whether or not a project will be able to efficiently support itself. In the case study using Faneuil Hall Marketplace, we see that these factors were not fully integrated into the project.  Even though it appeared that Faneuil Hall and its surrounding infrastructure was a success in terms of the number of visitors, the site had lost some of its original character. This was because the adaptive reuse practices hadn’t fully taken into account the cultural, social, and economic factors; thus forcing the vendors to radically change their business models in order to survive.

Personally, I think adaptive reuse is a great way to ensure the continued use of buildings. But as with many things, there aren’t any quick fixes. Materially fixing a site and changing a few aspects, doesn’t magically make it sustainable.  True sustainability in preservation comes from expanding the scope of values, carefully analyzing all parts of the site, incorporating various experts in the decisions, and coming up with a unique site-specific plan.