St. Louis, Missouri
Today I'd like to begin a series of posts on historic preservation in the twenty-first century. David J. Brown, the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recently published three articles on the future preservation and how it adjusts itself to change, stay relevant, and win support for the cause. The inspiration for these articles is the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) and the hundredth anniversary of the National Parks Act (1916). Over the next three days, we'll be talking about preservation and change; preservation and people and preservation and politics. For today, we're going to talk about historic preservation and change. Specifically, how does preservation adapt to a world in constant flux.
|San Jose Church|
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA
'[p]erhaps the most important thing to say about preservation when it is really working as it should is that it uses the past to make us nostalgic, but to make us feel that we live in a better present, a present that has a broad reach and a great, sweep arc, and that is not narrowly defined, but broadly defined by its connections to other eras, and its ability to embrace them in a larger, cumulative whole. Successful preservation makes time a continuum, not a series of disjointed, disconnected eras."
|TWA Worldport Terminal|
John F. Kennedy Airport, New York
|Protestor in Taksim Square Gezi Park|
|Historic Textile Mill|
A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rte landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory.
This is true whether it's a textile mill, a log cabin, or a grand space. Places change as they become invested with meaning, memories, and stories. People don't attach any particular significance to bricks and mortar, they attach significance to the stories that reside within those bricks and mortar. Filtering landmark building through the architectural historian's prism, not by the character-defining features and without any empirical knowledge, narrows the scope of understanding of what makes older and historic buildings so unique. In the book Bedside Essays for Lovers (of Cities) (http://www.amazon.com), Danile Solomon observes what the sustainable city must maintain, "...is the culture of the culture of the city: the way people in New Orleans, the way they dress in Milan, dance in Havana, speak in London, wise-crack in New York, and look cool in Tokyo." In short, part of what historic preservation is about the intangible elements that make a place unique.
|Johnny Cash's Boyhood Home and Museum|
At the local level, preservationists are beginning to realize that different situations call for different tools. For example, the National Trust's Preservation Green Lab aided the City of Seattle pass America's first outcome-based energy code. The outcome-based energy code includes a Performance Target strategy for new buildings and an Operating Energy Alternative for existing buildings, each allowing flexibility for property owners and designers to pursue innovative retrofit approaches that will provide the highest return on investment. (http://wwww.preservationnation.org/...center/.../outcome-based-energy-codes.html)
|Arcadia Farm Fall Fest 2013|
The National Trust and its allied organizations are leading the charge to move beyond the ubiquitous house museum as the best choice for historic buildings and sites. In a growing partnership with the non-profit farm-to-table organization, Arcadia, the National Trust is looking to go beyond the tried and true house museum by formulating a new use for its historic site Woodlawn. In a bit of shameless self-promotion, David Brown announces, "We are opening the doors to broader public participation and setting up a 21st-century use that relates to the site's 19th-century roots as a place for experimental agriculture." Sometimes you have to step back into the past in order to go forward into the future.
The National Trust President Stephanie Meeks has argued that we "Stop debating whether house museums are a flawed model, and instead channel that energy into the original impulse: the desire to preserve the houses where our history was made. To preserve these properties-to sustain their place in history and advance their meaning-we need to think anew, and act accordingly." Here, here. The house museum is not always the right answer. Right now, preservationists have a wonderful opportunity to make the field a relevant part of the ever changing future of our communities. In order to do so, preservationist must embrace change, borrowing Mr. Brown's use of the eminent Mark Twain quote about telling the truth, "It will amaze your friends and confound your enemies."
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