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.We hope you'll join us February 7-8 at the annual HRC Taliesin Colloquium where we'll discuss how codes have impacted existing buildings and what to expect from upcoming code changes.
Note: This is a time sensitive post seeking responses now through April 2020.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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 G Woodcock, FAIA, FSA, FAPT
Professor Emeritus of Architecture
Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation
Texas A&M University