Week 6 Question- Silvia

How can preservation open its doors to creatively and collaboratively “placemaking” with artists? An example that comes to mind is Funeral for a Home, which stimulated community, art, activism, preservation, social justice and more into one light. Do the historic reenactments at Gettysburg constitute as performance art inspired by preservationist values?


Week 5 Question

Why do the intangible stories and emotional qualities embedded in history and place generally get treated as trivial and second rate within the realm of Historic Preservation? Preservation has to be grounded in the physical fabric for obvious reasons but the reason why there is such open confusion about the field’s identity is because it spans beyond the physical realm. As Kaufman says, “If preservation were fundamentally a technical discipline, then it would be appropriate to gauge its success by technical measures. But it is not: it is a social practice, part history and part planning. Its ultimate goal is not fixing or saving old things but rather creating places where people can live well and connect to meaningful narratives about history, culture, and identity.”

Everyone can name or tell a story site that is important to them yet not everyone has the desire to protect that place involved nor does everyone realize they might hold the power to possibly contribute to its future. I am not saying that every place should be “saved” or landmarked and that we should all live in old buildings, but for now it seems we are only navigating “inclusiveness*.”

*Preservation recognizes the broad spectrum of cultures, experiences and stories that are embodied within the physical environment of our communities and strives to identify, document and protect those resources. Thomas Mayes in We Need to Talk (and to Listen).


Beware the ides of March (Week 2 Question)

In comparison to the Roman aqueducts, our Dams, Nuclear power plants, power grids, wind turbines, etc. have come a long way technologically speaking. Chusid explains that the Romans valued their aqueducts because they were functional- the aqueducts brought water- and symbolized the skill, power, and greatness of the Roman Empire. Do we value our modern day equivalent systems for their functionality and visual representation of the power and glory of our “empire”? Are we not more distanced physically and mentally from these industrial systems, in part because in some cases, like Nuclear Power Plants, they are actually dangerous to our well-being, but also because we have become so accustomed to them, we hardly think of them. We try to preserve the remnants of ancient industrial landscapes but how about the industrial landscapes of our own time?

Memorial for a Ruin: Fort Union, a cultural landscape.

Fort Union is a cultural landscape that stretches from both ends of the spectrum, “from the purely cultural to the purely natural” discussed by Robert Cook in Is Landscape Preservation an Oxymoron? In Fort Union’s case, oxymoronic landscape preservation can also be attributed to its 1954 designation which, specifically stipulates that it be preserved as a ruin. At the time Fort Union was designated, the intention that the site be preserved as opposed to reconstructed was a noble one. However, years of looting, poor initial construction and weather have been erasing the ruin Fort Union was sixty-one years ago. Management has sustained the ruin with “patchwork preservation,” and up until recently, this preservation approach might have prevented its total decay, but inclement weather due to climate change is accelerating damage and threatening the remaining material fabric. If we were ecologists like Robert Cook, we could just sit back and watch Mother Nature carry out her own preservation plan. But because we care for more than ecology, the erasure of the ruin is our problem. As the adobe walls crumble, it is very possible that in the near future the cultural landscape known as Fort Union will only exist through collective memory. To act more in thinking with Boito (less like Ruskin) and maintain the layers of the built fabric would be ideal but since this is a challenge under normal circumstances, and nearly impossible in this case, we must rely on memory to keep the history of Fort Union alive in future.

Fort Union’s historic value is immense; over a forty year life span (1851-1891), the fort underwent three separate constructions (the third of which is most structurally visible today) and served as a depot to the West before trains could transport supplies to the forts and Americans in the West. It was built on the Santa Fe Trail which, was itself arguably established on trails and routes used by Native Americans. It was a hub for the US military fighting Native Americans, like the Apache. One of its last uses was to serve as a collecting station for Native Americans being sent to reservations and oh, it also played a role in the Civil War. If this isn’t the very history that defines America, I don’t know what is!

Would Fort Union be worth mentioning if it weren’t for its natural landscape? Even as a ruin, BJ Jackson’s comment—“But nowhere else are the works of man on such a generous scale, nowhere else do towns and cities stand out so dramatically against their setting”—applies. Should we lose the material pieces of Fort Union and all that remains are the prairies, rolling clouds and the Turkey Mountains (first seen by Native Americans, then by the Spanish and lastly by Americans (and tourists)), Fort Union National Monument will continue to be a cultural landscape in need of preserving.


Fort Union, View of the Turkey Mountains.

Huxtable v. Gans

Hayden (The Power of Places) outlines well how Ada Louise Huxtable and Herbert Gans wrote to shape the preservation attitude in New York City at a time when preservation laws and the idea of historic districts and landmarked buildings were relatively new. As Randy has mentioned, a consciousness for the need of preservation in the city existed earlier on, but before 1965 there was not a legal system established to support it. Huxtable and Gans represented and voiced parallel opinions on what preservation should in fact protect—they both wanted to preserve but within that shared desire their opinions never touch. Should preservation pinpoint outstanding examples of architecture, as Huxtable would have wanted or include a vernacular scale of ordinary buildings, as Gans argued? Fifty years later there is a growing movement of Preservationists thinking more holistically about preservation; both the components of what Huxtable and Gans argued for being included more harmoniously, at least there is more of a dialogue happening.

To recap, Herbert’s issue with Ada was that he felt her preservation agenda didn’t extend to lesser more obscure buildings; in his opinion her work was elitist and she was a snob who defended monumental buildings. Maybe Ada was elitist—she’d not be the first preservationist accused of being so—however she didn’t exactly have an easy job either. In self-defense she said:

Because their restoration and re-use are formidably difficult and costly and their land values usually high, these are the hardest buildings to preserve.” She scolded Gans, “so ‘elite’ them not; they need all the help they can get.”

In New York City the perspectives voiced by Huxtable and Gans continue to battle out but not just against each other, they seem to be imploding on themselves too. This past summer I witnessed two cases at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission that bring to mind Huxtable and Gans’s different schools of thought. One concerned the individual landmark, former First Church of Christ Scientist on the Upper West Side, and the other a proposed extension of the West End Historic District, also on the Upper West Side. In the case of the First Church of Christ Scientist, designed by Architects Carrere & Hastings (Ada would have approved), developers were seeking variances from the Commission in order to go ahead with converting the church into a condominium. After a few rounds at the LPC the developers ultimately got the go ahead—albeit with less wholes punched into its façade than initially desired. What would Huxtable have said about the LPC condoning such treatment of a landmarked building? The LPC ruled in favor of the Upper West Side Historic District Extension but cut out a number of buildings, in particular a stretch running along Broadway. After review of the initial proposal, which had included them, the LPC claimed that those buildings left out did not meet their value standards. While Gans probably would have considered the proposed Historic District extension a “neighborhood” by definition more in kind with Huxtable’s understanding of the word than his own—a “complex network of social as well as spatial ties, [that] implied a working-class population… like [1960s-70s*] Williamsburg or Bushwick”—it is an example of the vernacular not being valued enough to warrant preservation.


Former First Church of Christ Scientist (built 1903).

Preserving Adaptive Marketplaces

Donofrio’s description of Boston’s Faneuil Market Hall inspired me to think about other historic food markets with significant urban roles that are also being used to attract visitors under questionably “synthetic” narratives. The day-to-day visitors of the market place have changed over the years since the Agora of the ancient world. Today we are more responsible for our own food shopping (and cooking) and so the ways we experience markets and food shopping has also changed. When we go to a market like Faneuil Market Hall or Chelsea Market in NYC, Redding Market Terminal or Covent Garden Market in London, we are literally feeding into a material way in which to relive an intangible past.

These particular markets listed above cater especially towards tourists. Tourist markets count on visitors who are drawn by the food and the idea that those markets have been there for a very long time (so, the food must be good). People believe though that more than good food connects such contemporary markets with their original counterparts. The legacy of such markets is inspired by their history. Covent Garden, Chelsea Market, etc. have claimed their locations as part of their identities, which is another reason why they attract tourists. They remain destinations for grumbling tummies but are organized in ways that have adapted to current food trends and modern ways in which food is presented. In his essay Donofrio includes an anecdote about some Bostonians who would have been happy to see the food stalls at Faneuil Market Hall disappear because “the food vending made the market a mess with its “sawdust, grease, tangled lettuce leaves and carrot crates.”” This dirty filter disturbed the impeccable historic image of the “Cradle of Liberty,” spoon-fed to tourists—when really the image of the ground strewn with pieces of lettuce is much more realistic of an active marketplace. The 18th century atmosphere of Boston’s original markets were not curated to appeal to tourists, they served a functional purpose for everyday people who needed to buy their food. Donofrio goes on to say—and I think this is an important way to frame how we think about markets and preservation efforts generally—that the way in which the marketplace has been adapted today is not a rejection of its original purpose, but simply another layer that is being added onto its history, which in this case, is in more in keeping with its origins than if Faneuil Market were to be relocated altogether. Targeting markets towards tourists should not be the only way to preserve them either as “synthetic reconstructions” or as a more authentic part of “historic continuity.”

Neighborhood farmers markets might better resemble older forms of marketplaces but access to them is limited by location and possibly financially—they can be pricey. What design would make it possible for us to experience markets from a more historic point of view? I also wonder how we can measure the value of a market space that is not permanent but has cultural integrity. The nature of the market is extremely temporal—personnel, the stands, all the pieces of the market appear and disappear weekly and/or seasonally, so how do we catch something so fragmentary and mobile to preserve it?

Reding Market, Philadelphia.

Chelsea Market, New York City.

Covent Garden Market, London.

Faneuil Market, Boston.

Faneuil Market, Boston.


The “i” in Preservation?

When we talk about preservation, we can dissect it into an endless number of categories, but I want to divide it specifically into two: preservation for “me,” “myself,” or “I,” and preservation for the global “us.” There is a personal connection to sites and history that individuals can preserve in their very memory, and there is also the impetus that personal interest can stir in inspiring the preservation of a more communal place.

Philip Johnson’s personal interest in preserving his Glass House building, for example. As retold by Daniel Bluestone in his introduction to Buildings, Landscapes, and Memory, Johnson identified himself as a preservationist depending on when it served him best, and used the National Preservation Trust to ensure that his legacy be remembered. Johnson had very particular ideas about what was good enough to be preserved and felt that his own work was. Johnson may have had altruistic intentions—he picketed the demolition of Penn Station in his youth—ultimately he used preservation as a tool to serve himself. David Lowenthal’s preservation theories are similarly ego driven. Lowenthal could be speaking about himself when commenting that “it is no longer the presence of the past that speaks to us, but its pastness.” Once considered a giant of the conservation movement, his relevance has now arguably passed. The repetitive expression of his ideas has marked him outdated, or certainly driven our present interest away. We now spend more time acknowledging his “pastness” than we do actually discussing his contributions to conservation theory. He may already be doing so for himself, but will we soon be raising a monument to Lowenthal? Lowenthal’s magnum opus, The Past is a Foreign Country, and Johnson’s Glass House have in common that they identify a scripted chosen moment of the past.

This sense of “knowing,” which Johnson and Lowenthal exemplify and attempt to systematize, is innate perhaps to all of us, but clearly it can be manipulated and molded to serve the ego, perhaps allowing for the “us” in preservation to be forgotten. Preservation is not humble. Amongst the Romans, Glendinning connects a “duty of self-interested respect to the world of the sacred,… a duty for which the Latin word was pietas.” This duty was expressed by physical monuments and today I argue that as monuments, and arguably all architectural/ archaeological sites, have become symbolic of man (Alois Reigl), our pietas is aimed at our own self-interested perspective, as Lowenthal, Johnson and others have exhibited. Preservation being both personal and community serving… is complex.