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The mission of the Historic Resources Committee (HRC) is to identify, understand, and preserve architectural heritage, both nationally and internationally. HRC is engaged in promoting the role of the historic architect within the profession through the development of information and knowledge among members, allied professional organizations, and the public.

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Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

  • 1.  Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-19-2020 16:11

    Note: This is a time sensitive post seeking responses now through April 2020.

    Hi all!

    I am currently developing my terminal project paper (similar to a thesis) for my M.S. in Historic Preservation degree. I have a background in architecture, and since I have taken preservation classes as a student of both fields, I have noticed something: there appears to be a disconnect between architects and preservationists in practice and in perception. For my paper, I am exploring the roots of this disconnect and how to combat it.

    Below are some prompts to help you respond, but this is not a formal survey and I will not be including any of your personal data in my final submission. Instead, I hope to garner a consensus from practicing professionals and students alike that will either affirm or contradict my initial perception. I have avoided defining my interpretation of this disconnect so as not to influence anyone's response. 

    • What is your position/profession/background? (for POV context)
    • Do you think there is a disconnect between architects and preservationists that impacts the efficacy and success of their interdisciplinary interactions in practice?
      1. What do you think are the causes of this disconnect?
    • Do you think that architects and preservationists hold stereotypical assumptions about the other field that subsequently impacts their interdisciplinary communications and negotiations in practice?
      1. Can you summarize these assumptions as you believe they are held?
    • What do you think can be done to attain more productive interdisciplinary communication between architects and preservationists as it relates to the practice of preservation?

    I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences here. Whether you have been on a project team, acted as a consultant, or are currently a student, I am interested in your opinions. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond to this post! (It would be great if you could share it with others as well!) I hope to produce a paper that young practitioners of both fields will find useful, but I can't do that without well-rounded input. I really appreciate any and all contributions! Thank you!

    Best,

    Skyla

    ------------------------------
    Skyla Kapri Leavitt
    University of Oregon | College of Design
    Master of Architecture | 2020
    M.S. in Historic Preservation | 2020
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-20-2020 17:33
    Hi Skyla,

    Terrific questions! I'll try to send you my thoughts later. In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, you may wish to also pose these questions on the Historic Preservation Professionals group on fb. You're likely to get quite a bit of conversation there!

    All the best to you,
    Cory

    ------------------------------
    Cory Rouillard AIA
    Jan Hird Pokorny Architects, P.C.
    New York NY
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-20-2020 19:44
    Yes, there is a disconnect, particularly between traditionalist practitioners and preservationists although I think modernist practitioners share some of the frustration, for different reasons.  In designing additions to historic buildings or infill within historic districts the requirement from Standard #9 to differentiate is commonly exaggerated while the co-equal requirement to be compatible is  neglected. Careful coordination of details and materials that would make a design compatible is frequently resisted by many preservationists for fear of creating a "false sense of history".  The rigid necessity for design work to "be of its time" is almost always interpreted to mean that new work should not resemble old, even though parts might be machine made vs. hand worked, use new materials instead of old, and be very much of modern times.

    I'm a traditionalist practitioner.
    The Secretary of the Interior's Standards were inspired by modernist ideology meant to enable modernist design work and to discourage fakery, inadvertently (or maybe intentionally) causing a codified prejudice against traditionalist and historicist design work.
    Yes, I think stereotypes exist, including the one I hold that many preservationists are enthusiasts of bad modern design simply because it is modern and are prejudiced against even very good historicism or traditionalist design simply because it is not modern.
    Work needs to be done to further define what constitutes compatibility and compatibility needs to be considered equal to differentiation when evaluating new design in the context of existing buildings and historic districts.  Work also needs to be done to develop and clarify what should inform the evaluation of infill construction within historic districts or other architecturally sensitive contexts.  Obnoxious, stylistically differentiated design needs to be discouraged so that more compatible designs which might be differentiated can become more common.
    Generally, architects and preservationists need to become better at what they do and they need to hold design review boards, academics and fellow professionals to the highest standards possible.
    David Ellison, Architect

    The D. H. Ellison Co.
    2002 W. 41st St.
    Cleveland, OH  44113

    216-631-0557





  • 4.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-21-2020 17:45
    David Ellison,

    Interesting opinions, but I don't agree to the absoluteness you are representing, in fact, I think this very much depends on local and state preservation offices. I do feel that the positions are often extremist at both ends of the spectrum, and we shouldn't use the term "modernist" in this context, as that is not accurate. "Contemporary" would be the better term? Especially given that many modernist designs are now eligible (and/or have been listed) for historic status (and are very worthy of it, as well).

    Could we build an addition in complete masonry, next to a brutalist historic building? (I think we could). Might some preservationists deem it to be not close enough to the original? (I bet they would).

    As with anything the execution can widely range, and it can be successful (or not) with very similar (style adjacent) as well as dissimilar (abstract, but proportionately cohesive) design solutions. It takes mastery in either case to be respectful, yet distinct in the solution.
    Often times, it seems that the judges on preservation panels are lay-people who might be challenged with the determination what is an appropriate (and what isn't) solution. And, granted, it is a very difficult judgement to make, even for us professionals, at times, until we can see the completed project.

    Finally, I think the US, due to its limited historic resources, lacks a lightness in its relationship to historic structures, that many European countries have embraced (Italy, France, ...). It would be unlikely that a glass pyramid addition to the Louvre, or a glass cupola addition to the Reichstag, would have ever happened in the US.
    And, there is a role for architecture in historic discourse/critical reflection, as seen in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, or the Military Museum in Dresden (both masterpieces by Daniel Libeskind, where arguably most of his work isn't)...

    100 miles is a long distance in Europe ... 100 years is a long time in the US.

    ------------------------------
    Tobias Strohe AIA
    Partner
    JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE
    Denver CO
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-21-2020 09:10

    Skyla,
    An interesting topic that I actually get to discuss regularly. Glad to share some thoughts with  you:

    What is your position/profession/background? (for POV context)

    I am an architect in my 41st year of practice. 31 of those years have been spent dedicated to historic preservation, the focus of the firm I founded. In addition to architectural practice, I have served for much of that time and continue to serve on various professional committees, non-profit boards and regulatory boards and commissions, local and state-wide, all focused on historic preservation. With Modernist schooling and 10 years of conventional architectural practice prior to specializing in historic preservation, I think I have an informed view of both sides of this issue.

    Do you think there is a disconnect between architects and preservationists that impacts the efficacy and success of their interdisciplinary interactions in practice?

    Yes

    What do you think are the causes of this disconnect?

    They are very different approaches to architecture with historic preservation techniques being far and away less commonly understood. The design and construction industry (owners, architects, engineers and contractors) is focused on new construction, as it always has been in the US. The techniques that have been developed to make new construction attractive and efficient often don't translate well to renovations in general, and historic preservation in particular.

    Do you think that architects and preservationists hold stereotypical assumptions about the other field that subsequently impacts their interdisciplinary communications and negotiations in practice?

    Stereotypes certainly exist, but the problem is a basic conflict between approaches to a project stemming from a lack of understanding of what is required of each. When I have worked on the regulatory side of preservation, I have always noted that my biggest and most frequent problems come from intelligent, sincere, talented, well-intentioned architects who have no idea of the goals and techniques of modern preservation practice. They do not understand the goals of preservation and their commonly held assumptions about historic buildings are wrong.

    Can you summarize these assumptions as you believe they are held?

    The assumptions are common, surprisingly widely held and generally incorrect, such as high cost for preservation, inflexibility or resistance to modern systems, difficult and esoteric approval processes, and especially the idea that historic preservation is only about the aesthetic, the look, which ignores the underpinning concept of preserving authenticity.  

    What do you think can be done to attain more productive interdisciplinary communication between architects and preservationists as it relates to the practice of preservation?

    Education about the differences is the primary need. We have been very active in the local AIA to add preservation to CEU options, chapter programs, policies, awards programs, and publications.  With the revelation that preservation is also a very sustainable practice, the opportunity to bridge this understanding gap may be at hand.



    ------------------------------
    Norman Alston, FAIA
    Principal
    Norman Alston Architects
    Dallas, Texas
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-23-2020 06:16
    Mr. Alston sums up a number of the issues quite succinctly and mirrors my own experiences. I'd add "time" into the assumptions along with "high cost" - as in "we don't have time to assess and deal with all these unknowns." There often seems to be a strong desire to start with a clean slate and build new as opposed to trying to work around existing features and issues.

    ------------------------------
    Thomas Bank AIA
    Principal Architect
    Simply Stated Architecture, P.C.
    Lemoyne PA
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-23-2020 10:26
    With 35 years in the profession and 30 of those in historic preservation, I wholeheartedly agree with Normal Alston's comments.  I often work as a consultant to architects who are not familiar with preservation, the creativity it allows and the excitement of breathing new life into a discarded building.  I will throw in to this conversation that sometimes, setting one's ego aside and letting the building speak for what it needs and the design statement it already makes is the hardest thing for many architects.  Designing a new building allows an architect to express themselves and bask in the glow that goes hand in hand with that expressionism.  Putting that ego trip aside is very difficult for many architects, especially if it's in an area, like preservation, where they have little or no training and experience.  Putting an addition on a historic building is crippling for someone who can't get their ego under control. 

    Grace A.M. Smith, RA, LEED AP
    Designsmiths
    616-866-4089





  • 8.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-21-2020 16:56
      |   view attached
    Skyla
    I am likely not your typical respondent. Preservationist, licensed Architect, professional architectural conservator. 
    And yes there is a disconnect. One teaches what one knows. The Vast majority of those teaching preservation are not licensed architects or professional conservators. They are typically preservation bureaucrats teaching that aspect but not really intent on reaching out to or producing architects sensitive to cultural resources. How and where are they to learn? 
    A significant skill that is not taught at the University is analysis/reading Historic buildings. This is the language imprinted on and within historic sites. Before you beg to differ you must realize that if you are taught anything at all it is at best a conversation level exposure. There are few architectural historians who can translate well enough not to get woefully lost trying to decipher changes made during the lifetime much less those made during construction before occupancy. 
    Despite the fact that more than 3/4 of all construction dollars are expended on existing buildings that is not a major area of study in schools. 

    That said, back in the early 1990s I wrote several chapters in an obscure book on the conservation of Wyck in Philadelphia along with Marigene Butler FAIC Head of Conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and others. 
    The one on "The Archiects Point of View" 



    Attachment(s)



  • 9.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-25-2020 03:09
      |   view attached
    Your questions were part of the report from 1990 by the HRC vis-a-vis the role of architects in preservation.   There are great quotes in that report from the founders of the historic preservation profession who served on the HRC during the post WW II era.  Your concern over an apparent disconnect was presaged in that document.    You can retrieve from the archives on line in the HRC webpages.


    ------------------------------
    Barry Sulam
    ------------------------------

    Attachment(s)



  • 10.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-27-2020 22:06
    Hello Skyla,

    Echoing previous responses: great questions! Also, echoing other responses: yes, there is and has been a significant and unproductive disconnect. You have gotten some terrific feedback which aligns with my experiences. Here are brief responses to your questions. I'd be happy to get into this more with you at some point if you would find that useful.

    POV? About half of my 50 year architecture career has been spent focused on existing building renewal and transformation, including historic preservation (HP). Earlier in my career I focused on design that is both environmentally and culturally contextually-appropriate. I became an early advocate for green building which brought me to appreciate that the importance of existing building re-use and adaptation were largely overlooked by the mainstream of the architectural profession. I coined the phrase: The greenest building is...one that is already built.

    Disconnect? I describe my work in the terms of renewal and transformation because I believe a major factor in the disconnect of HP is that it is not considered to be on a continuum of building design. This mischaracterization is as common among architects who consider themselves HP practitioners as those who do not. HP and the existing building re-use and adaptation are, almost without exception, not taught in architecture school. Where it is, it is usually the passion of a single professor, not a part of an inclusive curriculum.

    Stereotypes? Of course. As is often the case, they are based on a grain of truth encased in a thick layer of lack of understanding. I don't think this is a tremendous barrier. Lack of commitment to integrating HP is the essential issue.

    How to Improve? The statistics of the building stock are going to force dramatic change over the next two decades. This will bring many more "traditional" architects to work with existing buildings and change the nature of HP. There is an avalanche of mid-century modern-era buildings which are reaching an age when they MUST be renewed. Their characteristics are very different from the generations of buildings which have been addressed in HP practice since 1966. Add climate change and the benefit of existing building re-use is greatly magnified.

    Hope this helps. Thanks to Barry Sulam for sharing the AIA paper from days of old.

    Carl

    ------------------------------
    Carl Elefante FAIA
    Principal
    Quinn Evans Architects- DC
    Takoma Park MD
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-28-2020 22:30

    Skyla,

    You have received some very thoughtful responses, including two from my valued friends Norman Alston and Carl Elefante.  My POV begins with a combined Beaux Arts and Bauhaus education in the UK  as an architect, and later in Town and Country Planning, a practice in Canterbury, England for four years (working with a very demanding legal structure for work to 'listed buildings') and teaching in an architecture program that, for the last 40 years has embraced a structured curriculum leading to a Certificate in Historic Preservation. (The title I now regret, but the concept remains a cross-disciplinary education and skill-set development for any graduate student in any discipline.) I retired from teaching nine years ago, but continue to write and consult.

     

    Part of the 'disconnect' is driven by the interpretation of the term 'historic preservation,' used in the US based on the name of National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the title of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). As you well know, most of the rest of the world uses the term Heritage Conservation, stressing the broader scope of the field: heritage, includes cultural as well as physical assets, and conservation that suggests "wise use of resources," not that they resist change but respond to it. (Interestingly a New York Times editorial by Binyamin Applebaum on 27 January makes the same assumptions that HP is all about maintaining the status quo. I have not responded yet, but Stewart Brand's How Buildings Change Over Time is a good guide to my thinking.) James Marston Fitch, the first educator advocate for this field, titled his 1982 book "Historic Preservation: The Curatorial Management of the Built World."  The subtitle is the key as far as I am concerned.  The NYT editorial suggested that the US should adopt gradations of listing, rather than the two we now have. (National Historic Landmark for the most important heritage assets, and National Register of Historic Places, which is extraordinarily broad and includes neighborhoods with coherent character like the Vieux Carre, but also swathes of other less distinguished neighborhoods that have earned the ire of Mr Applebaum!) In any case, the number of structures that should be maintained in some specific state is really small. Applebaum suggested the National Capitol, which has in fact changed significantly over time! As an adopted Texan I would have to cite The Alamo of course, but that too poses some unique challenges.  Whose Alamo are we talking about? The iconic gable was added to an earlier structure by the U.S Army!

     

    My point would be that all architects make change to the existing environment, and all do it by 'design.' I would argue that design from scratch, while challenging and should always recognize context, is perhaps less of a challenge than being tasked with the CURATION of an existing building (making the best of the past) while adding the CREATION of a new layer or chapter in a building history to ensure that it meets present needs and future possibilities, is sustainable economically, functionally satisfactory, and emotionally sustaining . . . that is, it 'adds value' by blending the old with the new to create a new whole.

     

    The AIA Historic Resources Committee (the oldest standing committee of the Institute) recognizes and celebrates that challenge.  The Association for Preservation Technology International brings many disciplines together to serve as an exchange of information and talents. The National Council for Preservation Education identifies and qualifies programs, like the one of which I am privileged to be a part, that do indeed have 'structured curricula' to prepare people for this extraordinarily fascinating field. Look for Certificates rather than just the degrees. (For the record, I do not see either HP or HC as a discipline, but as a field of practice that requires the dedicated support and application of many disciplines.)

     

    Good luck in your studies and for your future.  Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

    David

     

    David G Woodcock, FAIA, FSA, FAPT

    Professor Emeritus of Architecture

    Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation

    Texas A&M University

     

    979-218-5950 cell

     






  • 12.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-28-2020 22:53
    Dear Skyla and all: To add to the pile, a pioneering, and now esteemed preservation architect once told me that when he was in school (at a revered program), and described to his professors that he wanted to study old buildings and learn how to design additions, he was told something to the effect, "If you design additions, you're not an architect." Times have improved, but that sentiment may still be floating around.
    I might add that, for the purposes of your study, you might investigate the even more evident disconnect between the "green building' movement (however you define it) and the preservation movement, though this too has been improving. Hope this helps.





  • 13.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-28-2020 10:49
    Skyla,

    I respect the opinions presented to date - and the professionals who offered their thoughts.  I however, do not see the disconnect between between architects and preservationists to be any more significant then the disconnect amoung architects themselves --those in large firms verses small firms, international practices verses local practices, residential verses commercial or institutional --  and find it more to be the nature of a diverse profession.

    What is your position/profession/background? (for POV context)

    I am an architect with 37 years of practice dedicated to preservation, restoration and renewal of heritage sites with a distinct focus on sustainability, authenticity, community engagement and education.  I hold degrees in both architecture and preservation and have rarely in my professional life separated my identity purely to either group.

    Do you think there is a disconnect between architects and preservationists that impacts the efficacy and success of their interdisciplinary interactions in practice?

    I have clearly seen a distinct disconnect between architecture students and those in historic preservation programs.  It is here that I believe we need to work toward better integration and understanding of the potential success through cross pollination and drawing upon the education and strengths each bring to the table.

    In practice I do not see a disconnect but rather respect and deep engagement between architects and preservationists.  That said, I am speaking from the perspective of someone who straddles both disciplines.  I have developed profound relationships and partnerships that draw upon the expertise and respect of all professionals on the team culminating in rich and lasting success.

    What do you think can be done to attain more productive interdisciplinary communication between architects and preservationists as it relates to the practice of preservation?

    I have found that the most successful communication and cross pollination between disciplines occurs in the same way as successful communication and sharing of ideas between any two people - Listen twice as much as you speak.


    ------------------------------
    Jill Gotthelf AIA, FAPT
    Principal
    Walter Sedovic Architects
    Irvington NY
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 01-29-2020 11:01
    Appropriate treatment of historically significant buildings by architects requires two primary ingredients. First, the architect must have a set of values that drive the initiative to understand each building deeply before engaging in a "design" for new uses. The result of this disciplined research and analysis is the identification of a design context, the building's significant characteristics (materials, details, massing, colors, textures, assemblies, etc.). The second is the application of a disciplined methodology to both define the design context and create a source of design inspiration within and respectful of the historic context. The outcome of design derived from a historic context should be additive, creative and inspiring, not dumbed down.

    One of my favorited projects in my career was a collaboration with Nader Tehrani. Nader, then head of Architecture at MIT and now Dean at Cooper Union, after numerous in-depth discussions about the value or lack thereof of extant/historic fabric would say, "tell me the historic context and i will design to that set of conditions." His outcomes were masterful. The resulting project was exceptional, winning a national Progressive Architecture award among a number of other national and international preservation and design awards.

    Jack Pyburn, FAIA
    Historic Preservation Studio
    Lord Aeck Sargent, Atlanta

    ------------------------------
    Jack Pyburn FAIA
    Knowledge Community Leader
    Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Inc.
    Atlanta GA
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 02-09-2020 21:34
    Hi All,

    I want to deeply thank everyone that responded for the time, energy, and thought that went into sharing your opinions, whether on this thread or privately with me. If you reached out to me directly, I apologize if I have not had a chance to get back to you--the amount of responses I got was overwhelming, far more than I could ever have hoped for. I am of course very appreciative, but it has also been a lot to keep up with!

    In the spring I look forward to sharing my project with all of you; I think the amount of responses I have received is evidence of how important this conversation is to have and be aware of, among all of the other issues these fields face. Your feedback will help me present a well-rounded discussion of these issues, one that will continue to evolve over time with changes in our fields, hopefully for the better.

    Sincerely, thank you.

    Best,
    Skyla

    ------------------------------
    Skyla Kapri Leavitt
    University of Oregon | College of Design
    Master of Architecture | 2020
    M.S. in Historic Preservation | 2020
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 02-21-2020 15:31
    Hi Skyla,

    I appreciate the challenge you have undertaken.  I'm sure you can see from the numerous responses, the question has existed for many years.

    I'm a preservation architect having founded my firm in 1977.  I was "appointed" to the Historic Resources Committee in 1990, served on its steering committee and was its chair in 1996.  I agree with my colleagues, there is a disconnect between architects and preservationist. While I could add some personal experiences to substantiate the claim, I believe you have plenty of evidence from the other respondents.

    Upon reading all of the replies thus far, I became curious and checked to see if you had posted the question on the Committee on Design's site.  I was not able to find it if you did.  It occurs to me that your research could benefit by collecting responses from architects outside of the Historic Resources Committee.  Knowledge Communities such as the Committee on Design for example.  Also, the Academy, our Knowledge Community made up of architectural educators is another possibility.  I doubt it, but perhaps our impression is one sided.

    I would look forward to an opportunity to read your final paper.

    Thank you for taking on this challenge!

    ------------------------------
    Jerry Berggren AIA
    Berggren Architects
    Lincoln NE
    ------------------------------



  • 17.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 02-21-2020 17:51
      |   view attached
    Jerry Berggren's response made me think.  We've been trying to address a part of the problem, and that is nebulous criteria for evaluating projects... and has to do with Design Review Bodies...  everyone from citizens to owners and developers to architects and preservationists...  Anyway, in case you are interested in the draft "guide" we have been working on, I've attached it here.

    ------------------------------
    David Ellison, AIA
    Cleveland, OH
    www.dhellison.com
    ------------------------------



  • 18.  RE: Architects vs. Preservationists: Is there a disconnect between the fields? (Seeking responses now!)

    Posted 02-24-2020 18:04

    Hello Skyla-

    I wanted to concur with Jerry Berggren's comments and rather than repeating his well stated position, let me simply offer my support for his statements.  However, our positions in the profession are similar, both preservationists, his background is largely from the private consultants view point and mine is as an architect/owner representative within State government, but points of view are very much in alignment. Like others we look forward to your conclusions.

     

    Robert C. Ripley, FAIA

    Capitol Administrator

    Office of the Nebraska Capitol Commission

    Nebraska State Capitol, 7th Floor

    P.O. Box 94696

    Lincoln, NE 68509-4696

    402-471-0419   fax:  402-471-6952

    bob.ripley@nebraska.gov    web: www.capitol.org