We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate

Early in Historic Preservation readers are presented with the ideas of Violett-le-Duc who’s preservation philosophy was to restore buildings to a better state than they could have been constructed originally. This reminded me a lot of that old Boy Scout rule my uncle taught me while camping, “Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.” However, this philosophy is no longer en vogue.

Instead, there are preservationists who boast that they are environmentally sound and that their work benefits local communities. Yet, they also frown upon installing energy efficient windows and actively  at those who reuse of historic building’s remains in the construction of new buildings. (p. 16, 117-118).

Sure, it might not be historically accurate to do so, but I think that “remixed” buildings with non-traditional uses have a lot more potential to be helpful to society than these some of these preservationists want to admit.

Even guidelines for building rehabilitation are semi-problematic. “A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the buildings and its site and environment.” (p.112) Which, according to Historic Preservation, means that a historic church should be restored for use as a religious bookstore or community space rather than a gym or clothing boutique. What if a gym, clothing boutique, or non-religious business was more beneficial to the neighboring community? What if these non-traditional uses improved neighborhood health or brought more jobs to the area?
I’m not saying, “Let’s pave paradise & put up a parking lot.” What I think I’m trying to say here, is that this book truly is an introductory text. Honestly, I’m getting a sense that the book might be more than a little biased as well. The issues of preservation are far more nuanced than Tyler & Co. are presenting here. Does anyone else get this impression?

For example, one of the most interesting parts of this reading was the brief section that discussed how the Chinese, Native American, and Japanese cultures view preservation. (p. 24-5) This portion really deserved to be expanded upon because the ideas presented were completely different, but just as valid as those presented in Historic Preservation. I wanted more detail into why these differing ideas are not a solution for contemporary America’s historical buildings.

I’m hoping that the chapters assigned next week will better detail how preservation connects with economic revitalization, gentrification, and similar issues.

Stray Observations:
-Loved the Eisenman’s Arrow thing. (p. 104)

-What is happening with the citations in this book? They are so few & far between.

3 thoughts on “We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate”

  1. I agree with you that some Native American views of preservation, basically the emphasis on place not individual structures, is a more holistic and a less material concept. I also thought the Chinese version of preservation through art and writing interesting. Likewise, is one Japanese approach where they recreate the Ise Shrine every twenty years in sympathy with nature’s life and death cycle. Always interesting to see other cultures views on things.

  2. You bring up a great point Kaci! Let’s talk more in class about this idea of “perfect preservation” vs. “usefullness”. I’m torn! The historian in me wants to walk into an 1879 house and get to see it exactly as it once was. But the urbanist in me appreciates purposeful, multiple use spaces.

  3. Kaci, I completely agreed with you on the super short presentation of other perspectives of preservation. I got really excited when I read the header of the section, bookmarked it, and was dismayed to find it was only a few sentences on each perspective. I would love to hear examples of how the alternative preservation plays out in the real world, aside from the Ise shrine example. Also, it would be interesting to see how preservationists, designers, or planners had somehow combined separate perspectives into a single project.

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