Week 6 Question – Lukes

In their introduction to their ‘Cronocaos’ exhibition, OMA laid out a series of ambiguities and contradictions surrounding the idea of preservation. I found one of these to be intriguing considering the voice saying it as well as the intended audience to hear it:

“Through preservation’s ever-increasing ambitions, the time lag between new construction and the imperative to preserve has collapsed from two thousand years to almost nothing. From retrospective, preservation will soon become prospective, forced to take decisions for which it is entirely unprepared.”

Considering Mr. Koolhaas and OMA are such an influential pillar in the architectural industry’s dialogue and self-reflection, what could be the message to disciplines not immediately concerned with preservation? The idea that longevity should be considered (or, for temporary construction, at least acknowledged) in design and architecture may seem obvious, but is it? How can this be communicated in both a theoretical and practical context to disciplines responsible for design, construction, funding, and management of sites that will/may be formally preserved in the future?


Week 5 Question – Lukes

Kaufman makes an argument, when the author is discussing transnationalism, about the importance of cultural geography that transverses existing borders. Further discussion is given to the ‘layering’ of culture, or rather the existence of separate histories and narratives inhabiting the same space. This, in my view, can become a hazard to official documentation and nomination as historic sites. Due to the nature of nominating sites for historic designation, there requires a certain amount of focus or selective investigation into a physical location. However, how can we be certain we are not ignoring one part of historical context in order to focus on another that occurred at the same place but was distinct? This is addressed to a degree in the Stonewall nomination, which discusses the history of Greenwich Village as a historic site but adds a degree of resolution by nominating a site whose stated significance lasted 6 days. I what ways can we use this as an example to further a narrative that encompasses a larger site, a longer timeframe, or a more diverse community?

Week 4 Question – Lukes: What makes Obsolescence?

Is obsolescence unavoidable? Can it be seen as a failure of design or a failure to preserve? Abramson, in his book, writes on several neighborhood/city/regional master plans that were proposed, with a common theme being that a complete overhaul of the built fabric is necessary because of obsolescence. If that is the case, why do some seemingly less dynamic buildings work for so long compared to others (one example being a complex such as Pruitt-Igoe) and what factors affect a sense of obsolescence? As a final thought, who decides what is obsolete?

Week 2 Question – Sustainable Partnerships

In several of the readings for this week, the authors discuss reports made by different agencies, going as far back as the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s 1979 report on the energy conservation benefits of preservation. Similarly, the United States Energy Information Administration gathers similar data but on an larger, utility-level scale. However, the energy efficiency/adaptive reuse aspect of historic preservation has been slow to develop. What can be done to think of historic preservation as an extension of energy conservation, especially with regard to professional partnerships with agencies such as the EPA, Department of Energy, and non-profits?

Disneylandrieu and Authenticity in a Transplant City

Apologies, I wrote this blog post previously and never posted it.

Authenticity is an idea, to me, that is easily explained on the surface level but when it is considered becomes more and more convoluted. In the past I had seen authenticity as a yes/no question, where a building, neighborhood or other artifact was ‘presumed guilty’ when its authenticity was called into question. Driven by a desire for originality, there was also a bit of nostalgia involved as well. A place seen in media or in person was frozen in a time that may have never existed, but it felt authentic. An attempt to return to that time, especially when it is mixed with driving tourism, has been referred as Disneyfication. Reading that amused me because I have recently moved from New Orleans, a city where that word has sprung up aggressively over the past five years.

Many Mardi Gras parades position themselves as satirical of all sorts of news over the past year with no subject off limits. From satirizing everything from city corruption to the BP oil spill to the parades themselves, each parade tries to top the others. One parade, Krewe du Vieux, kicks off parade season as the city’s most satirical (also most adult-themed, just in case you feel like Googling it). Two years ago the theme was “Disneylandrieu,” a portmanteau of Disneyland and Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans mayor. Floats highlighted concerns by many residents over the tourism industry in the city and the amount of city resources spent to maintain its image it has cultivated over its near 300 year history.

Not without cause, the history of post-Katrina New Orleans has become “Whose city?” Instead of city, replace it with history, culture, buildings, rights to return, and many more and one can see a city prospering while having a crisis of conscience. As such many have chosen to cling to those ideals and artifacts that inspire the most identity. The issue many native New Orleanians have however, is the amount of people moving or vacationing to the city and claim to have identified with the city. “How New Orleans Are You?” is the undertone to many conversations I had with local residents. Looking at this through the preservationist lens, I see this as an example of social sustainability in the city. Much has been made of the gutting and rebuilding (including deciding where to rebuild) and maintaining the fabric of the city after the 2005 hurricane, but we are given pause to examine this 10 years after.

During the parade, members of the Krewe handed out trifold fliers welcoming the onlookers to Disneylandrieu, “Mitchey Mayor’s Gentrified Kingdom.” Made to emulate the Disneyworld map, attractions such as the “Drunk Bridal Party Second Line”, “NYC Transplants Daring Journey”, and “Goofy Pedicab Traffic Jamboroo” reflected what New Orleanians identify as current annoyances.

However, I would argue that this serves as a part of the healing process of the city coming back together. A lot of New Orleans’ identity was destroyed by Katrina. The goal, I believe, is to preserve as much as possible, but it is impossible for the city to live in the past and it would be foolish to try. However annoying, this may be the start of new values that all residents can get behind at a certain point. If sustainability is defined as satisfying the needs of the present without sacrificing the needs of the future, I see preservation as complementing that. Preservation has a duty to satisfy the identity of the present without sacrificing the identity of the past.

Honest Shabbiness and Identity at Faneuil Hall

While reading Greg Donofrio’s article on the restoration and change of uses in Faneuil Hall, I found the interview with a local resident who lamented the lack of “honest shabbiness” after work was completed. Not only humorous, it brings ‘condition’ into the preservation conversation quite well. I associate it with the idea of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The condition of a building informs the user experience which, when compounded among every other’s experience, creates an identity. Though Faneuil Hall retained the same form as well as function (at least generally, as a market) the condition that was associated with the chaos, litter and degradation was taken away and replaced, which I would argue served as a major catalyst to the changes in vendor sales detailed by Donofrio. In order for the turnover of users to occur, there must both be a reason for new users to visit as well as a reason that previous users do not want to do the same.

In this way the ‘shabbiness’ of Faneuil Hall comes as an endearing aspect of the marketplace that users experienced but did not necessarily identify until it was taken away. I interpreted these conditions to be a side effect of the market as a utilitarian place, where business priorities were moving product and small profit margins for the vendors. The aesthetic beauty took a secondary role because they were not needed to service customers. Of course, it wasn’t entirely gone, since it would be less appealing for a customer to buy from a vendor whose space smelled like rot. After the conversion, however, the idea of Faneuil Hall as a destination, whose business interests focused on user experience and recreation, took hold and resulted in larger profits for those that either adapted or invaded the space that previous vendors had left.

Donofrio makes a strong economic argument for why vendors would change what they sell as well as why outside businesses would seek a share in the new market, but he also mentions that so few pre-renovation vendors returned after it was reopened. I think that the role of interruption was the main reason for this. Such vendors that occupied Faneuil Hall dealt with small profit margins, quick turnover of goods and most importantly the lack of capital that allowed their business to float for a few months (and years) without failing. Once Faneuil Hall was closed, these tenants needed to immediately find new sources of income, and either found it elsewhere or the disruption caused their doom. From a planning standpoint it serves as a good lesson that many utilitarian uses of a space are not there because of any sort of cultural structure or loyalty to place, they are there for business and by interrupting it Faneuil Hall failed in this social and economic preservation as soon as it closed for renovations. Perhaps if work had been done in stages, or otherwise avoiding a complete shutdown more tenants would have stayed (and could be counted as those who “returned” after reopening), though the changes over the next few decades may have remained.

What Happens When Our Rules Conflict Themselves?

Reading through these many philosophies of preservation/restoration/conservation/etc.ism it becomes clear, or rather not clear at all, where these ideas overlap not only with each other but also with themselves. Boito, in his interview, starts off simply enough, comparing (and mocking) Villolet-le-Duc’s ideas of “arranging [the monument] so that the new seems ancient.”  He then takes on a main critique of this, authenticity. Using loaded and emotional words such as ‘liar’ and ‘cheat,’ Boito takes the attitude of someone who has been personally slighted by someone or thing that has changed the narrative of this monument without care for others. I would argue that taking this attitude is fine, so long as understanding that, like a palimpsest, there remains a ‘true’ form that exists behind what one sees today, or tomorrow, or in one hundred years. I found myself sympathizing with the second character in the Boito reading, who was punished with Boito’s mocking for the simple crime of trying to find an answer.

Cesare Brandi, in his writings, does touch on the concept of time, but by only using two points (that of creation and recognition) it ignores so much of the structure that it does a disservice. Decay, and the reasons for decay, are important events in the life of a building/monument/artifact, so where do they fit in the narrative? Nothing in an artifact is static, even if it may seem that way based on scales of time. The fact that preservation is even a field of study shows it has meaning (and this implies some sort of action be considered and taken), and I wonder which of these authors for this week would consider certain options worse that doing nothing at all. But if the best solution is to do nothing, it must also be justified.