Week 6 Question

If any conscious act of preserving something is itself a reflection of cultural beliefs and values and therefore constitutes an additional layer of history, why not be creative with it? If some modification to or loss of historic fabric can play a role in reviving a building for a new and interesting use isn’t it worth it? Maybe the goal of putting a building back into lively use should be prioritized above retaining meticulous historical “accuracy.”


Week 5 Question

Why have related fields such as history, art history, and cultural geography surpassed preservation in terms of reflective and critical analysis? Is it that preservation has been stunted and is still considered an emerging academic field, or that it straddles too many fields? Could it be related to preservation’s connection to material and fabric that have limited the scope of what has historically been considered worthy of recognition (recalling Kaufman’s observation that it’s harder to come up with justification to preserve heavily modified and used structures vs monuments or masterpieces)?

Week 3 Question

Studying space at the cultural landscape level requires a deeper analysis of the intersection of social history, policy, geography and culture and how they influence the way we use land and how space is structured than is often called for in preservation. While historic preservation has embraced the concept to some extent, it feels as though it has been limited to places that demonstrate clear historic significance at the town scale, or human-altered landscapes that tie into valued cultural traditions (ie “definable” cultural landscapes). How can we move beyond using the concept of cultural landscape as defining the scale and type of use to recognizing that, in fact, everything is in one way or another connected to a cultural landscape? Can we use ideas behind cultural landscape studies to change the way we approach contextual histories of the sites and buildings we work on?

Week 2 Question

To me, discussing the compatibility and incompatibility of Historic Preservation and Sustainability reveals the need to integrate more material-based quantitative measures of preservation into preservation policy. Chusid’s chapter on Natural Allies makes the point that Preservation values are typically more qualitative in nature, tied to narrative and historical significance, while Sustainability promotes measurable, quantitative improvements. Reading this chapter had me wondering how the integration of more quantitative measurement that emphasizes retention of historic fabric on a sustainability basis, such as in local conservation districts (and perhaps in areas that are old and intact, but not superlatively “significant”) in preservation policy, might change the overall attitude of the public towards preservation and conceptions about what it encompasses and whether there is any precedent for this kind of district.

The View From Up Here

high line condo

Zaha Hadid condo design next to the High Line.

Edward Glaeser argues that blanket historic district designations can stifle development and drive up the costs of living to the point that only the wealthy can afford to live in the district. He cites Paris and Manhattan as examples. He also praises the high rise for its ability to provide the biggest bang for the buck in terms of housing to ground space and suggests that a more lax attitude about building up should be embraced in cities. I think these are both valid points in theory; however, in practice, there are so many forces at play shaping the development of cities, things don’t always pan out that way.

As I thought about potential examples, it occurred to me that hybrid scenarios may be the most dangerous in terms of destroying economic diversity. What happens when the character of an area is attracting developers and zoning allows or even encourages them to develop luxury high rises? It feels like we are seeing this in most of our big cities (San Francisco and Brooklyn come to mind) and it goes beyond the standard gentrification argument because it is often policy that is encouraging these transformations and in many cases, even subsidies for new development.

I think the High Line in Chelsea presents an interesting case study to illustrate the point. The project is widely regarded as one of the most successful and creative re-use projects in the past decade.  And it is a great example of innovative design as well as a lovely park. However, due to some—let’s call it creative—zoning by the City, a number of luxury high rise condos are being constructed around its southern end, threatening the views and the feeling of open space that the park was initially praised for providing, and negatively impacting the surrounding neighborhood, which is already virtually unaffordable.

Reconfiguring an initial plan for a local landmark historic district by re-drawing the district so that none of the properties adjacent to the park were included, the City left those areas free for developers and is approving structures up to 30% taller than even the non-historic zoning allows. It’s an interesting scenario where a re-use project and the historic character of the area has heavily influenced the market value of the surrounding real estate, ultimately, to its own detriment. And it proves that none of this ever happens in a vacuum. It doesn’t make sense to discuss the market value of preservation without the support of policy incentives and protections, particularly when there is an arguably contrary policy driving new development.

What’s in a Name?

Reading Dolores Hayden this week got me thinking about a local situation back in Tucson and the fact that sometimes, even when there is some intent to incorporate “bitter” or negative history, it can be challenging given the current preservation framework and tools.

Today, at the heart of Tucson’s downtown sits a concentration of oppressive, concrete and smoked glass municipal buildings typical of 70’s brutalist architecture. Weaving between them is what many design-minded individuals in town have come to recognize as a hidden gem: a series of waterscapes comprising one of the few surviving Modernist landscape designs in Arizona, designed by the internationally known landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. Of course, this was also once the heart of Tucson’s Mexican American community, an area called La Calle, that was nearly all razed during Urban Renewal.

The landscape itself is in desperate need of attention: trees and plants have died and never been replaced, pavers and slabs have been lifted and cracked by tree roots, and the canyon-like fountains that tie the landscape together haven’t been operational for years. Additionally, incompatible public art, xeriscaping, and a “vibrant” color scheme have been introduced over the past decade, masking the cohesion and intent of the original design. Given that it is some of the only public space in a rapidly “rejuvenating” downtown and that the property is owned by the City, it has become a liability as well as an embarrassment.

This fact has not been lost on the City, but dealing with the space is tricky. Tucson, especially downtown Tucson, is an intimate community. People and families affected and displaced by Urban Renewal are still nearby and the space carries strong negative associations for a large percentage of Tucsonans. To many, the loss still feels fresh. Prominent architects and public figures have suggested the site be demolished and restored back to private housing, including affordable housing options, to right the wrongs committed. Arguably the preferred solution, the sheer cost of demolishing of the multi-acre site to prepare it for development would be, literally, prohibitive. This leaves the option of restoration.

Not surprisingly, a group of motivated individuals, spearheaded by an enthusiastic landscape architect transplanted to Tucson from the East Coast, has taken up the cause. The Eckbo Landscape National Register Nomination Form was approved last month. While the group is aware of the conflicting social dynamics and painful public memory embedded in the site, they are using the recognition of the site’s historic value as leverage to rehab the space and make it usable again. Multi-million dollar improvements to the site are included in an upcoming bond election and the national recognition undoubtedly adds legitimacy to the cause. Others, however, feel that recognizing the site as the “Eckbo Landscape” (as it is now referred to in any agendas or literature associated with the bond) unduly emphasizes and glorifies the Urban Renewal period and fails to recognize the site for what it should be remembered for.

This case points to some of the glaring flaws in national preservation policy, namely, its lack of provision for recognizing multiple narratives related to a particular site. Because of the requirement to adhere to the four NR criteria, I assume, the authors emphasized the connection to the famed designer in order to have the best chance at getting the property listed. Though I have not read the nomination, I imagine they may have also included the Urban Renewal story under Criterion A, though the way significance is framed is, to a degree, left to the author’s discretion, which in a case like this is troublesome. Apropos of nearly any of the future-oriented readings we have done for class, this case demonstrates a number of the challenges that the field is grappling with and calls for a more creative solution.

eckbo historic view

The Tucson Convention Center landscape circa 1970

eckbo today

The landscape today.

Meyer Street

Typical barrio streetscape circa 1870 (Meyer Street)

It’s All Part of the Process

I enjoyed Frank Matero’s piece on Cesare Brandi which examines how the way in which we choose to preserve, interpret, and convey meaning through preservation of historic fabric is, in and of itself, a meaningful layer of history. The notion of letting the artifact’s treatment be “readable” by the viewer complements approaches to material conservation today. But I wondered, are there cases in which we could apply a similar approach to making visible the layers of preservation theory to a specific site? I know there are some cases where this is intrinsic to the site itself (reconstructed ruins sites in the southwest like Wupatki, for example), but what about when the alterations to the visitor’s experience of the site have been more subtle and their impact on the resource is more indirect? These layers can be equally interesting and can arguably be just as telling of our history as the resource itself.

Because I have in-depth knowledge of the site, the adobe mission church at Tumacacori National Historical Monument came to mind. The mission was designated a National Monument through the Antiquities Act in 1908 and in 1916 the National Park Service took over management. Its roof was replaced to protect the exposed adobe walls, but for the most part, it was left as a stabilized ruin and has since been treated with the specific intention of making fairly clear to the visitor what is has been replaced over time and what fabric remains original. During the New Deal Era, the park director, Frank Pinkley, gathered funding and a labor force to construct adobe walls around the site, put in a parking lot, and design and build a visitor center and garden through which guests would enter the park. The visitor center design was based on a research-gathering expedition comprised of a group of professional architects, engineers, and photographers who traveled to various mission sites in Northern Mexico (all via various forms of New Deal funding, because Pinkley was creative like that). The team recorded architectural details and features from various mission sites and incorporated them, often outright copied, into the revival design. This was a novel approach for its time and completely re-shaped the visitor’s experience of the site while leaving the resource itself more or less unaltered.

Though this history isn’t concealed, it’s not really emphasized to visitors of the park either. I had a similar thought while visiting Independence Mall, another layered site that, if you can read it, tells not only what resources were valued, but how we felt they should be framed and appreciated at different points in time. The re-framing of the “important” resources through clearance programs and the creation of the mall was about presenting them in a way that conveyed their significance. The same is true of Tumacácori.

A visitor to either of these sites who is unaware of the ways in which they’ve changed over time is missing out on a fascinating layer of history that can really help build a comprehensive understanding of the site. I think we often assume that the motives that shape and direct visitors through an effective site are best kept to officials and professionals, with the objective that the emphasis and the experience remain focused on the artifact. But what if, as we accumulate layers, we start to view the process as part of the heritage?

Tuma Framed

The mission framed, literally, by the visitor center just as Frank Pinkley envisioned.

Tuma feature

Shell motif detail from the Tumacacori visitor center, inspired by details found at Cocospera in Mexico.