The “Ultimate Goal”

Preservation’s “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” (Kaufman, Place, Race, and Story, p.1)

As preservationists we have the responsibility to tell stories of the underrepresented, dispelling the notion that our practice is an elitist stewardship of “ornate mansions and national shrines,” and furthermore transform the public understanding of the field to that of a craft of enlightenment, by attempting to grant those who live in our world a comprehension of complex, intangible cultures and identities that exist or existed in it, through the simple act of tangible storytelling.

The ambiguity – but also importance – of ‘feelings’ of attachment to a place pose a dilemma near impossible to categorize through technical language of preservation policy. The result is either a law that excludes the concept of ‘feeling’ entirely, or leaves it so vague that anything could be deemed worth of preservation due to ‘feelings’ equating to ‘resources’. Let’s try to write something that works.

obsolescence – expect, prevent, adapt

Should architects design for expected obsolescence (which either could mean the same thing as ignoring it, or could instead mean using materials that will fail within a few years),

design to prevent it (i.e. design a “timeless” building),

or design for adaptability (i.e. design with adaptive reuse in mind or design using reusable/easily deconstructed materials)?

too vague.

The term “cultural landscape” is extremely vague, perhaps intentionally, but the definitions of the English word “landscape” have expanded dramatically and continue to do so, such that any space touched by humans or not could be considered a landscape.

Should we continue to use this vague term to describe whatever we mean by it and struggle to define it through extensive interpretations and qualifiers, or should we choose to name concepts with words that carry with them the specificity necessary to communicate efficiently?

Preservation by Adaptation 

How authenticity and pragmatism battle over adaptive reuse

After our discussion of Gregory Donofrio’s article, “Preservation by Adaptation: Is It Sustainable?”, the following thoughts came to me.

It is difficult for some preservationists, and architects for that matter, to come to the realization that buildings do not last forever, nor are they supposed to. They fall out of use, because there is no longer a demand for them or because they no longer have the capacity for usefulness due to decay. To be sure, some buildings try to live forever, and are quite successful at it. They gain social value which eventually becomes heritage value. [In class we discussed food trucks bearing social value but not heritage value, i.e. the past made useful. (Would a food truck have heritage value if George Washington had been a patron there?)] Indeed, preservationists take it upon themselves to combat this natural process of decay. The (physical) past can either remain useful in the present, or we work at finding or creating a use for the (physical) past in the present. This second option is often a case for adaptive reuse.

Is deciding on adaptive reuse an act of giving in, selling out, or simply failing at preserving? Are we doing a disservice to the existing fabric by diverging from authenticity, or are we actually benefiting the existing fabric? When an old fire station is converted into a unique loft apartment, something is lost, i.e. a fire station, and something is gained, i.e. an awesome apartment with fireman sliding poles to get downstairs to breakfast in the morning.

The House Museum

The House Museum

The Four Levels of Intervention within the Standards for Preservation as set out by the National Parks Service include Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. In class recently we briefly discussed examples for each. Someone mentioned Elvis’s house as an example of rehabilitation, given that the building has changed use, from a house to a museum. However, within the field of historic preservation, house museums are considered merely preservation, despite the obvious change in use. While the buildings are meant to look like they once did – when a famous person lived there, for example – , often times old furniture is brought in to help recreate the look of the place, putting the visitors under the assumption that furnishing belonged to the original resident. This can be viewed as a deceptive tactic toward authenticity. A stronger argument for the classification of the house museum as something more like rehabilitation lies in the physical changes made on a structure that turn change them from homes into museums. Adaptations for safety as well as much heavier and frequent foot traffic, particularly on stairs, change the aesthetic of the home from something domestic to something public or civic. Coverings with rough gripping material and incongruous railings pull the visitors back from the past into the present day. Oftentimes a portion of the house museum will have been converted into a gift shop, a move that completely ruins the authenticity of the site, and prevents the building from falling of the category of strict ‘preservation’. Furthermore, guardrails or ropes often prevent visitors from having free range of the house, limiting the experience of them from being totally immersive.

Cases such as Independence Hall are equally altered. Once used as a house of government, the building and space within it lack the qualifications for a strict definition of preservation. Alterations have been made to accommodate the program of museum.

A house that is not lived in has a different feeling than house that is lived in. Museum houses lack the life that an actually preserved house provides.