Investing In the Future

December 3, 2014

The investments that pay off over time are ones that are made with a complete understanding of the context. What or who are you investing in? What is the potential for growth? What are the obstacles, and conversely, the opportunities? The act of investing is future-oriented, so there is always risk, but successful investors learn to minimize risk.

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Philanthropists often look on their donations as investments, especially here in Silicon Valley. This makes it incumbent on organizations like Global Heritage Fund to measure those investments for our donors. We need your help, yes, but we know we need to prove to you how much you can help.

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In the value sense, we save heritage. But we also change lives in communities that need it most. My last blog was about the health center we built in Colombia. We are investing in the people and communities near world heritage sites. These people need help, and their heritage sites can be the source of ongoing, sustainable investment of time and treasure in a place.

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The great thing about heritage sites is that they are OF a place. They are the cultural roots and often a physical bedrock of a community. This means that they provide much of the context, culture and opportunity that an investor needs to understand. They are a hedge against risk because they are not imported, they are indigenous.

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Heritage is in many ways the smartest kind of development. It takes advantage of cultural specificity and place specificity. It brings outside dollars via tourism and philanthropy to places that have not yet been “discovered” by mass markets. It provides training and opportunities that can lift people out of poverty.

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Do we get it right all of the time? No. But our focus on heritage – and our international network of experts in conservation, community development, architecture, archaeology and economics – gives us an advantage over others that promote community development. As I have said many times before, heritage conservation done properly integrates the community into the planning process from the start. This means they are INVESTED first and foremost.

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I would like your help as we near the end of 2014. This is the time we need to make plans for 2015. Who needs our help? Where can we leverage the most support? How can we insure that community investment precedes our investment – and will succeed it in the long run? Your support means we can do our due diligence and choose the best projects, employ the best practices, and come the closest to a sustainable future.

Beyond the Bounds of Conservation

November 20, 2014

I hope you are a member of the organization I run, the Global Heritage Fund.

Our goal is to help save world heritage sites in impoverished regions by activating them as assets for the local community. Our methodology combines Planning, Conservation Science, Partnerships and Community Development, which we term Preservation By Design®. Our goal in our second decade is to make our Community Development more robust and replicable.
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Why? Because that is best for the heritage site – to have the community benefit from a resource that they protect and cultivate just as you would a crop or a precious natural area. Indeed, at several of our sites we have both natural area reserve and a heritage site, which makes sense, since World Heritage inscription covers three categories: Natural, Cultural, and Mixed.
Trail 20 huts

Now traditionally we look at pretty straightforward ways of measuring community development. Jobs. Income. The simple obvious answers for heritage sites include things like local people trained and employed in conservation of a site; local people employed in tourism and hospitality around a site; and indirect benefits of these activities for local business, agriculture, and so forth.
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But the more expertise we develop in community development, the more we realize that these numeric metrics are only the tip of the community benefit iceberg. This summer we built a health center on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, the 7-14C Tayrona site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast. The site also just received a Global Vision Award from Travel & Leisure magazine (it is on my desk right now – the award that is)
GHFCP4 Building a Medical Center
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A couple of years ago we built a bridge over the Buritaca River at another site on the three-day hike to Ciudad Perdida. Now of course we work to conserve the ancient rammed earth platforms and their stone surrounds, and the miles of stone staircases that connected the “cities” of the Tayrona.
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But we also build bridges and health centers and install efficient stoves and graywater treatment systems in the homestays, which seem to break the boundaries of what we consider heritage conservation.
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Why not? The bridge was built after someone died during a flash flood. Ostensibly it is for the tourists, but it has become a vital resource for the local people as it facilitates transportation in the same way the original stone staircases did a thousand years ago. The health center will help if there is an emergency on the trail, but will of course primarily serve the indigenous Kogi people who live here, own and operate homestays, help ferry tourists up the trail, and are a primary target for community development.
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You see, community development is not defined as the equivalent of economic development, and neither is simply numeric. A bridge, a health center – these are infrastructural improvements that affect a whole VARIETY of metrics and improve local life and livelihoods. When you properly approach community development as an integrated piece of heritage conservation – as we do at Global Heritage Fund – you realize that your goals and targets are more than numbers.
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Community development is a process of improvement, and that improvement can mean more and better jobs, more income and other things that can be assigned numbers. But it also means more opportunities, more access, more infrastructure and more choices and options for the local population. Interestingly, it can also mean more natural area conservation like I mentioned above, because increasingly conservation organizations are moving away from the wilderness model and looking to indigenous managed – landscapes as a way to conserve the best of nature and culture in the MOST sustainable way.
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Sustainability. Using resources in a way that allows the next generation to enjoy them as well. The cultural landscape – the world heritage site that contains monuments, relics and treasure from an ancient civilization WHILE still serving as the home and livelihood of an indigenous population – is the most sustainable solution for BOTH heritage and biodiversity.
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The How and Why of Preservation

November 11, 2014

This is the title of a presentation I did for the Office of Historic Preservation, Centro San Antonio and over a hundred luncheon attendees in San Antonio last week.  I went through four thematic reasons WHY we save things:  Identity – Community – Economy – Education. 

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San Antonio is a beautiful town

I then detailed the HOW, which includes National Register designation and local landmark status and so forth.  I focused on my mantra, which readers of this blog are familiar with:  Preservation Is Not A Set of Rules But A Process.

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The more I work internationally, the more this is true.  The Burra Charter is to me the Magna Carta of heritage conservation.  It outlines how to engage the local community and local culture into the PROCESS of IDENTIFYING what is significant in the past that the community wants to bring into the future; EVALUATING the nature, materiality and essence of that significance that needs to be preserved and/or transmitted; DESIGNATING it through a workable local mechanism; and TREATING the resources tangible and intangible in a way that conserves the significance.

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Lotsa yellow stone reminds me of dolomite

There is great variety in the United States about how local historic preservation commissions and laws work – many places have only advisory and not binding review, but the legal force of the local ordinance never seems to affect the negative reactions one often gets to preservation.  Some of that is caused by preservationists who take an extreme position of wanting to put something into a time capsule, but mostly it is caused by a lack of understanding of HOW we review treatment of historic resources to insure they maintain their significance.

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So, that is the facade and….?

So, WHY we preserve is actually a great focus, because it is something the planners and builders and businesspeople and politicians can understand.  The history of preservation in San Antonio actually points to this.  Back in 1921 there were killer floods in San Antonio which led to a proposal to bury the river and give the downtown a nice new regular grid that would be more welcoming to business and development. 

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Because business can only follow straight lines???

The San Antonio Conservation Society formed to oppose this and indeed by 1929 the town had not only preserved the squiggly river, irregular streets and other supposed job-killers, they had created what is now the heart and soul of San Antonio: The Riverwalk.

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Even those who were concerned about that crafty canard “too much preservation” could not imagine San Antonio without its Riverwalk.  Indeed, since I was last in the city four years ago, they have extended it several miles further.  You can now walk or boat or ride from the downtown to the redeveloped Pearl Brewery site, itself a model of the vitality of doing redevelopment based on historic buildings.

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Then in the 1930s the Conservation Society then turned its focus to the missions (five including the Alamo) that extend ten miles south of town and represent the earliest European settlement of the region. This sort of put them into familiar preservationist territory – saving monuments of founders and isolating landmarks from the economic everyday – but it is instructive that they began with a planning and revitalization effort, one that continues to this day.

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This building was undergoing restoration when I was here in 2010 – now it is done.

Someone – maybe it was my longtime friend and colleague Shanon Miller, who invited me to speak – asked an excellent rhetorical question: How many city centers do you know that were revitalized WITHOUT historic buildings? You know, those places where they managed to build enough six-story parking garages and convention centers that everyone came downtown again even though there were no old buildings?

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That is so hip!

I was preceded in my lunch talk by Stephanie, Erik and Darby from Heavy Heavy, a local design firm that has created a campaign called “Keep San Antonio Real” and you should use the hashtag #keepsareal. I loved this because they were young and they were defining the authenticity they loved and wanted to keep in their community. Every generation needs to do this, as I explained in an important blog a few years back.

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Luminaria, San Antonio

It made my discussion of WHY we preserve easier, because here was the next generation collecting Instagrams about what people loved about their city and fighting to maintain that sense of community, belonging and rootedness that we call “authenticity.” I see it in buildings old and new, in streetscapes and colors of stone, in the trees that loomed over the riverwalk, and in the tiny two-door bungalows that could only exist in Texas.

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The good people concerned with the business development of downtown San Antonio were very interested in what I had to say. I tend to be the guy that says preservation needs to pay for itself, which reassures businesspeople, but they need to understand that usually it can and does.

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Sometimes you have to move it

The failure to preserve a building is rarely the failure of a law or a review. It is usually the failure of imagination on the part of a developer or city planner to figure out how to save what is significant and make it pay for itself.

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Imagination is freed not by understanding the HOW of preservation in all of its technicality, no more than a real estate development succeeds by understanding the HOW of zoning in all of its technicality. It is the WHY that does it. Preservation is the form of economic development that reinforces local culture, sense of place, community identity, and the economic excitement of a rebirth nurtured in local soil with local roots and the tender care of a local community.

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A quarter century ago, driving my yellow Chevy in Humboldt Park, Chicago, I pulled over and wrote down: “Landmarks serve a community by providing a point of reference, an element of 
identity, and a source of pride. The community serves landmarks by providing
 for their protection, interpretation, and enhancement. We preserve landmarks
 because our history is part of us. Our historical built environment tells us
 where we came from and why we do what we do. When we lose landmarks, we lose a
 part of ourselves.”

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But like the Spanglish of the Riverwalk quote above, my focus today is less on the lost and more on the rebuilding, a rebuilding that is ever sustainable if it is done in the form, fabric and fullness of the local community and culture.

Why we preserve is much, much more important than how – if we focus on the why, we will find the imagination and creativity to create the how.

Dali Dong village, Guizhou

October 28, 2014

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GHF Trustee Tony Wheeler, Pilar Luoro, GHF Chairman Dan Thorne, Vince Michael, Adrianne Iann, Jennifer Emerson and GHF China Director Han Li at Dali Dong village drum tower, 2014

Six months after I last visited, it was great to see the scaffolding erected to restore the heart and soul of Dali Dong village in Rongjiang county, Guizhou province, China.  This Global Heritage Fund project is one I am most proud of, because of the extensive collaboration that is leveraging our philanthropic dollars and insuring that the community will benefit from the conservation of their tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

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Dali Dong village from above

The project, as I have reported before, represents the collaboration of several organizations, including the Guizhou Cultural Ministry, UNESCO, Tongji and Peking Universities, and You Cheng, a Chinese NGO specializing in conserving intangible cultural heritage.  Not only do these multiple collaborations mean that contributions to Global Heritage Fund are leveraged several times over, they also mean that with more stakeholders, the project is more likely to be a success.

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the village lanes

The project has been made possible in large part by the work over the last six years of Global Heritage Fund’s Han Li, who has built a network of relationships that make the multiple collaborations possible.  The other great virtue of the project is the community planning – it is real and I witness it when I visit.

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All Dong villages are set along rivers and streams.  Dali Dong village also has several natural springs that provide drinking water.

I have long said that preservation is a process, not a set of rules and regulations.  In a sense, there is one rule: follow the process.  The process is one in which a community determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into the future and how that should be done.  That sentence is a distillation of the international practice of heritage conservation enshrined in the Burra Charter and other accords.

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Dali Dong woman threshing rice harvest as Han Li looks on.

The role of the preservation professional is not to determine what needs to be saved and how, but to facilitate a community discussion on the subject.  The Burra Charter was the first to acknowledge that cultural values must be integrated into the basic process of identifying, evaluating, and determining the treatment of historic assets.  WHAT is valued is not constant from place to place but bends with local culture, just as HOW it is treated is not constant.  What is constant is the process of identification and evaluation, and the integration of the community into that process.

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It was great to see the work starting in Dali Dong village.  The drum tower is the heart of the Dong community, and our work will help restore this monument, but we know that is only one piece of developing the community.  In our second decade, Global Heritage Fund is redoubling its efforts in community development, because we recognize that is the only true way to achieve sustainable heritage conservation that goes beyond the current generation.

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In Dali Dong village, community development will include sustainable tourism in one or more converted buildings.  We will also undertake more restoration projects employing local people, including the covered “wind and rain” bridges that are emblematic of Dong villages.  The government will construct an ecomuseum that will help local farmers improve their practices and yields.  Our partner You Cheng will work to market and support local intangible heritage, including the production of indigo cloth.

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Indigo cloth drying in Zhaoxiang village, Guizhou

GHF focuses on World Heritage sites, and the Dong villages are indeed on the Tentative List for inscription.  Interestingly, the Dong minority songs and music are ALREADY listed as World Heritage.  The point of the project is thus much more than monuments – it is the people, their traditions, and their traditional cultural production.

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Covered bridge in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

The project is also benefiting from a renewed focus on cultural heritage conservation by the Chinese government and a corresponding commitment of funds.  This again is the Global Heritage Fund model – to get involved and LEVERAGE local and governmental support to world heritage sites that benefit the local community.

I hope you will join us in that effort and support GHF!

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International Modernism

September 27, 2014

This week the Getty released a list of ten Modern Architectural Landmarks worth preserving, rekindling the issue of preserving the best of Modernism. I have blogged about this in the past, and even written a book about a Modernist architect who worked in at least three countries. I have seen the multitudinous modernist mass mind that is Palm Springs Modernism Week and my work with the National Trust has had more than its share of modernist masterpieces. So I thought I would share a few today, ones that struck me when I visited them.
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I had to start with Mies’ Farnsworth House, which I have been very closely involved in for the last decade through Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust. When I first visited, I was genuinely awed by it, not simply the incredible feeling of being inside and outside at the same time, but also the relentless classicism of the composition. It is entirely modern yet once you see it, you realize it is a 2000-year old Greek temple, as I said in my first blog about it in 2005. That is the measure of Modernism – time and all the architectures that came before.

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See it?

Also from 2005 was a European trip to Poland, to Wroclaw, where traversing the marvelously medieval town center I suddenly stumbled upon two buildings I totally knew from architectural history….

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There it was, all Carson Pirie Scott – it had to be one of Erich Mendelsohn’s 1920s stores?

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And this, this is totally Hans Poelzig circa 1912? What are they doing in Wroclaw?

I scoured the architectural history database in my head, trying to remember where Mendelsohn and Poelzig built stuff in the early 20th century and all I could come up with was Breslau, which led immediately to my “D’OH” moment: Breslau is Wroclaw! (Hard to admit such a silly mistake, especially given my Silesian ancestry!) Once I figured out what I had “discovered” it was an easy trip to the edge of town to find the great Max Berg Centennial Hall which made the Getty’s Top Ten list this week.

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Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

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Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

This one required a special stop on the edge of Vienna, also in 2005:
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Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

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Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

Tell me you don’t see Knossos in that!

Let’s jump up to Scandinavia for a second, which is more identified with Modernism than probably any geographic region in the world. An Alvar Aalto in Finland made the Getty list. I can claim but one trip to Sweden, but again, here was a site worth stopping for in 2007:

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Ah, Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library from 1924. Again, there is great classicism here in its volumes and symmetry, and even arguably in its ornamental bands.

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The Getty list did not include the recently inscribed World Heritage site the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, and I have sad;y not seen it, although it graces the cover of one of my architectural history books.  Here are a few Netherlands modernist highlights from our visits there:

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City Hall Hilversum, Dudok 1930

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Shroeder House Utrecht, Rietveld 1924

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De Dageraad, De Klerk ad Kramer, 1923

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Het Schip, De Klerk, 1923

Now the Getty included Le Corbusier’s apartment and studio on their list, an odd choice by my reckoning – I would rather the Villa Savoye, although I have never seen it. My Le Corbusier visits were exciting, from the LaRoche-Jeannerret in Paris to the great Mill Owner’s Building in Ahmedabad…

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I guess he was shorter than I

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He also did the Sansar kendra in Ahmedabad, interesting but not as integrated as the other. I did not get to see the private house he did there.

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Thinking about Ahmedabad naturally makes me think about Colorado Springs, where I visited the Air Force Academy in 2003. This was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. The famous chapel is of course great, as you can see in these slides, but it was the relentless grid of the entire mountaintop – a fully realized Modernist world – that struck me when I saw it in person.

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That was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. Until I went to Ahmedabad five years later and saw the IIM, one of Louis Kahn’s masterpieces (Kahn is represented on the Getty list with his incomparable Salk Institutes in La Jolla.)

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Kahn plays with arches and circles and grids as well as the orthogonal. Check out this staircase in the library

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epic

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Now I of course know the Robie House well – it stood outside my bedroom window for a whole year in college, and I have toured it countless times. How about for now we just do a couple horizontalinear descendants of that as a little formal game……..

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And let us not forget Palm Springs. They really know how to tilt a slab.

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Frey

Or fold a slab…

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Alexander

Or even a bulk up a slab like a Corbu chapel….

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Gruen

There is a loss there right now, hard to believe given the scale of the Palm Springs Modernism Week phenomenon. But as Richard Nickel said, old buildings have only two enemies: Water and Stupid Men. Guess which one is to blame in the desert?

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Cody

Speaking of water, the Getty list included one of our National Trust National Treasures, the amazing Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candela in 1963 and now the subject of a seemingly successful effort to save a massive concrete landmark younger than me.

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Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2010

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And here is Hilario explaining his design

I have to add this one from my first visit to Palo Alto a few years ago.  I saw it from a distance and had to drive around the block to stop and take photos.  Later even got inside – the geometry of the Air Force Academy plus the materiality of raw concrete.

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great interior

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There is obviously way to much International Modernism to cover in a single blog – so let me finish with some of my favorite concrete gems…

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Dulles, never dull

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Ando in St. Louis

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Barry Byrne in Cork

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Breuer in Collegeville

Planning for the Future; not Scrambling for the Past

September 21, 2014

I was re-reading one of my blogs from nine years ago (430 posts now – I guess I am about consistency and endurance whether I like it or not) and was struck (again) by my (consistent) non-ideological approach to heritage conservation. That blog “Heresy and Apostasy” basically took to task the concept that preservation had some kind of ideological purity and that those who didn’t try to save absolutely everything all the time were not “true” preservationists.

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I recalled my youth in the field, when I did come close to that position, but it was never one I was completely comfortable with. First, ideologies sit outside of history and thus fail all tests of time. Second and more to the point, I began my career working on a heritage area – the first in the U.S. – and the goals there were historic preservation, natural area preservation, recreation, and economic development. Preservation was part of planning for the future. Preservation was a wise economic decision, especially in a post-industrial economy.

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Lockport, Illinois

When I worked at Landmarks Illinois, we always tried to save important buildings, sites and structures, and sometimes we couldn’t. It seemed we were always reacting, trying to put out brush fires. It is a hard life being an advocate, because you care passionately and you will suffer many losses.

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And Mullets. And Inspector Gadget trench coats

We tried to plan. We did a lot of work on historic churches in Chicago, on historic boulevards, and other efforts that were pro-active, planning for the future rather than scrambling for the past. These efforts are intrinsically more satisfying, because rather than simply understanding a building, site or structure’s significance, you also understand its condition, context, and possibilities. But we spent a lot of time putting out the brush fires, or trying to.

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Despite the mullet, we did save the building

This is why I am honored to be leading Global Heritage Fund, an organization that focuses its efforts on Planning, Conservation, Partnerships and Community Development. Notice how similar that is to the description of heritage areas? We undertake projects only after a thoughtful review of how we can help a community not simply save a resource, but activate it economically for the future of that community.

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GHF project at Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Don’t get me wrong – we deal with threatened heritage. The problem is there is TONS of threatened heritage around the world – no one can save it all. But if you are going to try, you should approach the problem as one that needs to be solved for the future. GHF puts together not simply a plan to say NO to loss, but a plan to say HELLO to the future. How can a site survive not just the threat of destruction or deterioration but become a cherished and useful part of the community for the next generation?

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GHF project at Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

We have learned a lot recently about the importance of making sure the local community is part of the design and implementation of a project. This is a tenet of preservation planning since the Burra Charter amendments of 1999, but it is not always practiced. There are preservation/conservation traditionalists – the puritanical monks (a delightfully mixed metaphor) I referred to in my 2005 blog who actually abjure such practicality. For them, the test is the dedication to the cause, not the success of actually saving something.

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When I was young and impatient, I resisted the impulse to plan. The building had to be saved and we should try everything in our power to do it! No matter what! But that can lead to non-sustainable preservation. There are some buildings I labored to save SEVERAL times before someone came up with a PLAN to really conserve them for the next generation.

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Saved four times in ten years. I kid you not.

I just wrote an article referencing the first house saved in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1922. And again in 1924. And again in 1932. That is not unusual, that is what happens without a plan.

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I guess third time is the charm

The second reason planning is so important is community. The people who live around a world heritage site are its stewards, and if they don’t feel ownership of the project from the initial planning stages, all of your money is wasted. This is our biggest logistical challenge at Global Heritage Fund, but when I see it happen, it is the most rewarding because it means every nickel is being well spent.

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tea and oranges all the way from China

This is not enough for either the puritans or the romantics, who suffer from nostalgia, that 17th century disease that was “dangerous but not always fatal. Leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium and a return to the Alps usually soothed the symptoms.” When I was a twenty-something advocate, I was once accused of nostaglia and I bristled visibly. I don’t save things because I have a disease of the past. I save them because they make the future better.

When you lose world heritage

Better is not just a pure economic term. Wealth alone is meaningless without culture, and heritage sites are repositories of culture, which is what differentiates humans from animals. They are records of culture and roots of new culture, and their value lies not in the permanence of their meaning but in their physical permanence. This is what allows them to keep granting meaning to our communities.

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Weishan, Yunnan

The economic argument is essential because it dictates survival – then once you have a threshold of survival, you can worry about research and interpretation and reinterpretation. And at Global Heritage Fund (join here!) we pride ourselves on bringing the latest scientific conservation techniques and practices to every site. That is the Conservation piece. Then we have the Planning piece, which leads directly into the Community Development piece. Partnerships is the fourth piece of our special GHF puzzle. We collaborate with partners, because we will only be there a few years but someone has to watch over these sites over generations.

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Please join and support Global Heritage Fund. We can’t do it without you!

The Joy of Infrastructure

September 8, 2014

I have always loved infrastructure, which seems counterintuitive for an architectural historian,but isn’t really, especially one who grew up in the crucible of modernism, Chicago. Modernism in architecture can be defined as an attempt to combine the three pillars of architectural art, Utilitas, Firmitas, and Venustas or Utility, Commodity and Delight. The idea was that the engineering that underlay the “beauty part” of the architecture has radically evolved in the Industrial Age but we were still using old clothes to dress it up.
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It is made of bricks and its expression is bricks

So I like infrastructure because it is the engineering of the place. And I guess I always have – I was still in high school when I first visited San Francisco and for some reason my strongest memories were of the transportation infrastructure. Now of course everyone knows about the cable cars, one of the few National Historic Landmarks that move.
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But I was also struck on that first visit by the layers of transportation technology. There were streetcars from the 1930s in all of their Roger Rabbit streamlined splendor; brand new BART trains with their boxy 1970s futurism; Muni buses both gas and electric; and even a horrific double decked highway along the waterfront that even a teenager knew had to go. Not to mention the bridges.
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When I first went to Paris, the first tour I took was L’Egouts de Paris, which is the Sewers of Paris. This was in 1982. I even bought postcards.

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I remember bringing my daughter to the Lincoln home in Springfield and her memory was not of the formal rooms full of period pieces. Those things live on. What amazed her was the outhouse, a three-holer. I don’t have a picture of it, but I have this even more multitudinous one from the Roman occupation of Sabratha, in Libya.

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Things like sewage and subways are what make large civilizations and large cities possible. Carrying the night waste out to the fields is certainly sustainable, but only to a certain scale. You want to house a million people you need barays and aqueducts and the Holland Tunnel and Verrazano Narrows bridge.

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Besides a lot of cool modern buildings and the first skyscrapers, Chicago also had a vast number of moveable bridges, so I suppose there was a natural infrastructural love there.

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Not to mention the L train structure in the Loop – it actually caused the name The Loop – and is also on the National Register…
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And then there is the famous Plan of Chicago, which Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett authored in 1909, which everyone remembers for its beautiful Jules Guerin drawings that made the city look like Paris.

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But as I pointed out long ago, the Burnham Plan was not about Beaux-Arts style. It was not about the Venustas of Hausmann’s Paris. It was about the Commoditas of sewage and transportation and other elements necessary for efficient urbanism. The whole point of the Beaux-Arts Michigan Avenue Bridge was not its balustrades and pylons and sculpture but the fact that it was double-decked and commercial traffic could move more quickly below.
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Amsterdam, which I also visited in 1982, had its amazing network of grachten or canals.

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One of the reasons I have always loved Pingyao in Shaanxi, China is that it retains not only hundreds of original courtyard houses that fomented the first Asian draft banking system, but it is one of the only cities to retain its entire city wall, and infrastructural feature of almost every medieval Chinese city, one that is gone almost everywhere else.

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And if you recall my post about Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu from 2012 what strikes me most about those monuments of Khmer and Inka civilizations is less their ornamented buildings than their amazing hydraulic systems that made those buildings possible. Chinese canals, Roman aqueducts, dams and railroads are all the vascular systems of civilizations, and in this way the most significant remnants of their might.

Great Wall 90 vwS
It’s a great wall, yes, but it is really more of a road

We tend to personalize everything. The old kind of history focused on battles and leaders, which is arguably less significant than supply chains. The United States entered World War I and helped the allies win why? Strategic brilliance? Raw numbers? No, the fact that they could not only transport a million men across the ocean but they could KEEP THEM SUPPLIED. Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. The Confederacy had plenty of courage and lots of good generals but once every port was blockaded, it was over.

But both history and heritage conservation have moved over the last half century toward the WHOLE story, not the personalized one. This is not to say great actors cannot affect history, but the bottom line is always going to have a canal or a highway or an oil refinery or a water main in it. My first job was working to help create the first heritage area in the United States, the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, which followed an 1848 canal 100 miles across the Illinois plain to Chicago.
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I remember some people spending an inordinate amount of time trying to prove that Abraham Lincoln had traveled on the Canal. He probably did, and he certainly knew of its significance, and of course five years ago they put a statue of him along the canal in Lockport. But why do we need to attach a celebrity to something to make it historic? Isn’t the second most successful canal in North American history good enough?
gaylr from linc ldg

When I visited Ciudad Perdida last year, I marveled at the stone platforms built by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of what is now Colombia. They were simple but as you traveled from platform to platform on stone staircases in a wet mountain jungle you suddenly realized that the Tayrona had done for their jungle what Daniel Burnham was trying to do for Chicago a century ago: make things move more efficiently.
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The Three Gorges Dam in China falls into an unbroken tradition of canals in the Middle Kingdom that dates back thousands of years. There is an architectural boldness to certain large empires, but it is always preceded by an infrastructural boldness of equal dimension. And boldness can become hubris.
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The stepwells of India I wrote about recently here are another example of infrastructure that has finally been recognized as World Heritage, thanks in no small part to their beauty, but also their engineering. My experience with the I & M Canal was prescient – I wrote two years ago here about how the hottest thing in urban design was repurposing old elevated rail lines into recreational attractions, most notably at New York City’s High Line.

pavement and plantsS

Even the national expressways are now historic, an expression of that same good old American know-how that ran a supply chain across the Atlantic nearly a century ago.

280 n beutyS
280 north of Palo Alto is the prettiest of them all

I remember watching the wonderful 1947 film noir Call Northside 777 which was filmed entirely on location in Chicago and Joliet prison and saw these huge cylindrical steel structures that held gas tanks, an infrastructural element that had vanished from the Chicago landscape but can still be found in other parts of the world. And then there are the grain elevators….

grain elevators trainsS

I spoke to Bob Bruegmann when he was writing his book on Harry Weese because he had come to the conclusion that Weese’s greatest work was not a building at all, but his design of the Metro in Washington, D.C. He was right. Like the Baths of Caracalla….

DC metroS

Postcard Tourism

September 1, 2014

We live in the era of the selfie, and like any trend, there is a plethora of pundits and pontificators prattling purposefully about the privations of said practice. Time Tells reminds you that everyone worries about everything when it is new, but if you look closely you see it isn’t.
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A quarter century ago I did this thing where I took my picture in front of heritage sites with my arms raised high in the air. Yes, we had selfies back then even if we had to get someone else to take them, or use the timer that those old-fashioned cameras all had.

vince in saigon 2001

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When I backpacked around the world in 1986, we had a phrase: “Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt.” Today we got the selfie to prove we were there.

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This goes way back. Richard Halliburton took his picture in front of the Taj Mahal in 1925. The Grand Tour predates photography, but the message of travel and exoticism and the appropriation or possession of cultural sites goes ALL THE WAY back. What is a Gandhara Buddha if not a kind of Alexander the Great selfie?

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Take a look at that last photo – the Machu Picchu selfie. I am as guilty as everyone else of engaging in this postcard tourism. And it’s a damn shame, and I will tell you why. This is Peru, the country with more heritage sites than any other in the Western Hemisphere. And everyone goes to see this one. Why? because it’s important? No, it’s of tertiary importance at best. It’s 300 years younger than Notre Dame de Paris, was occupied for less than a century, and the craftsmanship of the four sites you see on the way to it are much more impressive.

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But look at it. It’s gorgeous. It’s like a celebrity – all good looks and charm and not much substance behind. What does everyone remember about the site? Not a monument, but Huayna Picchu, that wonderful soft-serve ice cream cone of a mountain that is in the backdrop. Look at that. ANYTHING would look cool in that setting. A rusted truck would look awesome there. Anyone standing there would look super fantastic in a selfie! Top of the world, ma!

monjas D wall

view to circum wall

castullo supports

Now this is Marcahuamachuco, about three hours from Trujillo in the north of Peru. It gets a fragment of a fragment of the tourism that Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley do, but it is a thousand years older, steeped in mystery – and ALSO on top of the world – you get a 360-degree view of mountains as you wonder at these 3-story stone structures – both round and rectangular, built 1600 years ago for some ritual or seasonal purpose not yet know. During that 3-hour drive from Trujillo, itself a World Heritage site, you will pass about 4000 archaeological sites. 4000. Peru has a fascinating history going back thousands of years and covering dozens of unique cultures and EVERYONE goes to see the youngest site of the shortest-lived empire.

It’s as if tourists came to North America and only went to Las Vegas and Disney World. Oh, wait. They do that. Never mind.

But Vegas and Disney are like replacement windows – you can keep putting a new one in and imagineering it better to suit the visitor experience. Nothing there needs to be old or authentic or conserved. That also means you can dump a very large number of tourists there without worrying about the wear and tear on the attractions, because they are replacement windows, which means you just keep replacing them.

The problem with actual World Heritage sites is that they do react to the wear and tear. Angkor is being trampled by tons of tourists – probably 4 million or more this year, which is not good for its historic fabric.

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AW gall crowdS

AW churn pivotbS
Vishnu as pivot in the churning of the sea of milk. There’s a metaphor here somewhere…

So Global Heritage Fund has been working for over six years three hours beyond Angkor at Bantyeay Chhmar, which is as massive and significant and well crafted as anything at Angkor, but gets less than 2000 visitors a year. Partly there is a limited tourist infrastructure and this region was not secure in the 1990s, but the basic point is that we need to spread the tourism out, people! You don’t all have to do the same thing!

BC bas elephant

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Hey it’s Jayavarman VII! I loved him at the Bayon!

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So there was an article quoting both Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet and a GHF Board Member, and myself. We talked abut Ciudad Perdida, which I wrote about at the time of our visit last year here.. We actually determined the carrying capacity of the site (and the 3-day trek to get there) and while we have grown tourism from a couple hundred to 8000 people a year, adding $26 million to the local economy, we know we can still double tourism before we will see any negative effect on the site or the environment around it.

CP 61 best

We tend to find these “undiscovered” places at Global Heritage Fund, partly because circumstances make them available (removing landmines at Banteay Chhmar or the Plain of Jars in Laos, getting rid of narcotraficantes in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, etc.) and partly because we see the incredible imbalance of celebrity-site tourism and want to remedy it so that more people in these countries can share the wealth of the tourist dollar.

vm ilkley moor87
Wirsta bin sin I sae thee on Ilkley Moor bar tat?

Sustainable Development

August 23, 2014

Sustainability has been a popular buzz word for quite a while now, and the basic meaning is pretty clear: do things in such a manner that you can continue to do them.

Trail 20 huts

When it comes to natural resources, it means using them in a way that does not deny the next generation the opportunity to use them. When it comes to economics, it means a system of effort and reward that can bring prosperity to the next generation, not just the current one. When it comes to society, it means that social structures, human rights and livable communities are likewise structured in a way that they can be passed on to the next generation. You get the basic idea: Do things in a way that allows you to keep doing them.

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There is a fourth pillar of sustainability, and that is culture. This implies that you need to create systems and structures of exchange and production that work in concert with local cultures. This is why various colonial attempts to civilize other parts of the world throughout history don’t work and aren’t sustainable: they try to replace local culture. Even if you offer people better environment, economics and society, you can’t do that without considering culture or it won’t work.
diagram-four-well-beings

We tend to focus on the environmental side of sustainability – using scarce world resources in a manner that does not deny future generations. Obviously this favors things like renewable energy sources, efficient agricultural practices, mitigating the negative effects of our altered ecosphere, etc. Secondly, we do seem to “get” the economic side of the equation: how do we craft our production consumption and exchange in a way that allows it to continue for our kids?
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or not

Now this becomes a problem in economics because many of our financial institutions and systems for the creation and maintenance of corporate capital function on a short-term basis, not the long-term basis implied by the quest for sustainability. Profitability is measured in three month chunks and stock markets careen up and down by the minute with the discipline and patience of a pubescent child.
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I totally get it. I don’t want to grow up either.

So, what are good types of sustainable economic development? This is a question I wrestle with a lot because at Global Heritage Fund (Join us now!) we don’t just conserve heritage sites – we insist on projects that involve the local community and provide them with new economic opportunities.
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Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

These can range from hands-on training as stone conservators or masons, new hospitality jobs as areas open to tourism, and a host of economic spinoffs as a heritage site becomes an attraction not only for visitors but for residents. Significant sites also generate public investment, further bolstering the local economy.
Trail 8 cook
One of the locally owned homestays on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, where local revenues have grown from almost zero to $27m annually in the last decade.

Now in my work in preservation in the United States over the last 32 years, I spent a lot of time talking about the economic benefits of reusing old buildings, the economic impact of historic districts (its all about the externalities! – check out this one.) Historic sites are inherently the most sustainable form of development, and the logic is both straightforward and universal.
Dtheater other side

Think of standard forms of economic development. A factory. An office building, a shopping mall, a farm or a power plant. Even a prison. These are all things that produce jobs for the local economy. They are investments that create profits and usually leverage the public investment that is handmaiden to all forms of economic development.
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Oil refinery. Let’s not forget oil refineries.

Now these are REAL forms of economic development if you listen to some folks, because they create a lot more jobs and economic impacts than some sappy historic site, right? And for the hormone-addled denizens of stock markets, they are great because that big impact is monetized quickly. Then what?
factory demoS

Well, then the factory closes and you tear it down. And the jobs leave. In fact, the famous 2005 Supreme Court case – Kelo – that upheld the right of governments to condemn private land and turn it over to other private developers for economic development purposes has some very ironic facts at the heart of the case. You can see my 2009 blog about it here. The City of New London condemned a bunch of houses to make way for a multipurpose development around a Pfizer factory. In 2005 their right to do so was upheld and by 2009 the factory and thousands of jobs were gone. That is not sustainable development.

If jobs pick up and move quickly in New England, imagine how much easier it is to do that in the places where Global Heritage Fund works, the parts of the world that REALLY need jobs and economic development?
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I have a colleague who worked for some big tech firms as they moved their factories from California to various parts of Asia, and they kept moving every few years. There was no factory that lasted even a generation, not to mention two generations.

taj mahal2

So, if the historic site pictured above generates economic activity, will it be torn down and the jobs moved to another town? What do you think?

nice view to N gate

To some extent we have accepted the 21st century economic reality, creative destruction, but the interesting thing to me is that developing heritage sites works against this trend. Heritage sites can not only provide jobs for their conservation and tourism, they can become externalities that continue to contribute to local economies as long as they survive. They enrich a place. If they are well conserved, they will last generations.
torres workers wall

That is sustainable development.

Mediation and the Myth of Original States

August 11, 2014

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If this is a brain teaser or rhetorical question, you’ve already heard it wrong. It’s a false choice that exists only in the mediation of the mind and nowhere in reality.

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Birth of the Ganges, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. Historians argue whether the yogic figure in the center is Arjuna or Bhagiratha. Michael Rabe says both. In most situations, the answer is not either or but both and.

All mediations between reality and cognition distort, and the first distortion is the myth of categories with impermeable boundaries. I blogged about this two years ago in “Categories Are Your Frenemies.” Categories are like a learning device and the mature mind realizes that their boundaries are permeable, while the immature mind finds comfort in the security of their permanence. Collect a whole bunch of (false) categories and you can cook up an ideology.

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Welcome to Time Tells, and indeed Time is the invisible fourth dimension that allows categorization to occur. I am fond of saying all ideologies are wrong because they are static while the reality of society, politics and economics is dynamic. Then you have the whole problem of linear versus circular time (which I also dealt with in 2012 here.) but let’s stay outside of quantum metaphysics today and focus on one of my favorite words: Mediation.

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Nature and artifice or just pure mediation?

We live in a media-saturated world and both children and adults are lambasted for how much time they spend staring at screens devouring all sorts of “media.” These screens have been growing both massive and tiny at the same time (which proves my first point) but much of the content remains very similar to the old print world, the world which saw panic over both comic books and television in the decade BEFORE I WAS BORN. The main distinction is that we now have user-created content and crowdsourced content, and of course the endless scroll of “Comments,” which formerly had to be hand-written on bathroom stalls.
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The modern world is so much more transparent, don’t you think?

But to focus on content, as the ideologists do, is to ignore the mediation. To mediate is to create a bridge between reality and its multivalent perceptions, and it is the nature of such bridges that they frame reality on the one side and thus perception on the other.

Felton bridge2s
See? Felton. It’s a landmark.

The problem is that people forget the frame is there – they naturalize the mediation and feel in direct touch with reality. We know that we “frame” arguments and that we can’t trust news sources (except for comedy outlets – how did that happen?) but we still tend to forget about the frame. This is a mistake. You have to know how the lens works otherwise everything will remain upside-down.

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Of course it is much easier when you can see the frame – we know to doubt newspapers and websites, because these are “media” which mediate. The frames of religion and ideology are equally apparent. The harder frames are cultural, so ingrained in our Erziehung that their mediation is invisible. Successful ideologies and religions align with the invisible cultural norms, taking advantage of their invisibility. Thus “normal” is aligned with a particular power structure, whose frames vanish in the social and linguistic everyday.

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While it would be fun to spray the fungos of bald ideologies all over the outfield I think it more useful to try to connect with the sliders and de-cipher some of the normalities we assume as original states and find their specific – and fantastically modern – historical origins.

family at hut-3

One of my favorites is the nuclear family, a post-World War II construct that maximizes consumerism by insuring that other relatives stop living at home as they had for all of human history, thus selling more mortgages and washing machines and toasters and BBQ grills.

50s kitch truman museS

Another is cheap energy. We think of energy being cheap before the 1973 oil embargo, which it was, but its cheapness doesn’t stretch that far back – it was expensive in the Victorian era, which is why the buildings and interiors of that era – that you often see in house museums – had a functional purpose of saving energy costs.

EVERY 19TH
Says it all

Another one, which I blogged about last year, is the museum. This one has more of a provenance, but it is younger than the United States.

brit mus ancient
Lotta frames here too

Buildings to house artifacts and display them to the public has always had an aura of public service, although its emergence in the late 18th century with the advent of modern capitalism suggests a consumer motivation as well, one that ultimately revealed itself at the Met in the 1960s when Thomas Hoving made the mummies dance.

nouveau rm orly
Ceci n’est pas une Chambre à coucher

I have been very involved in the question of house museums through my role with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. House museums are even newer, dating from the middle of the 19th century, although their real explosion (to some 15,000 nationwide) happened in the same post-World War II era as the nuclear family, which explains part of their plight.

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Lyndhurst, New York

See that postwar era had several things going for it that helped house museums – cheap energy (a rare 30-year blip in human history), a resurgent automobile culture (without the icky multigenerationalisms of the Grapes of Wrath), a booming domestic tourist economy (that coincides roughly with the cheap energy blip) and a triumphalist patriotism that encouraged investigations into American heritage and history.

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happy days

The house museum became a cultural trope – thousands of small communities across the U.S. got involved in historic preservation because they wanted to save a significant local building, and in more cases than not, the proposed use of the site was as a museum, both in the Mount Vernon sense of a glimpse into a former era, but also as the local historical archive – a place to collect local history. This gave it a secondary purpose beyond tourism, although with limited means of support.

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The house museum became normalized, so we didn’t notice it’s daft economics when the context changed. Buildings need maintenance, but you can skate 10 or 30 years until things get really bad, and when it comes to buildings, that means a big capital bill. Local taxing authorities are usually the only ones capable of footing these kinds of bills, because the traditional house museum model requires about an 80% operating subsidy beyond ticket sales.

4Mile Inn 1880s
especially if it is 4 miles out of town

If the first museum was state-sponsored and the first American house museum sponsored by a (uniquely American) charity Board, today we have also become quite used to the commercialization of the not-for-profit sector, despite the fact that this phenomenon is younger than me. I grew up reading ad-free Mad magazine, watching commercial-free public television, and going to museums that had never had a blockbuster show or hung a banner from their facade.

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When Thomas Hoving became Met director in 1967, a satirical cartoon appeared showing banners on the building. Then this satirical fantasy became reality and now everyone does it.

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The above image would not be normal 40 years ago, but it looks normal today. The frame has shifted. The house museums that make it are the ones with a serious multi-platform commercial operation, or at least a programmatic one that mobilizes a large enough consumer base however that base is monetized.

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Pens cost ten bucks. Ain’t no hand-knitted potholders here

It seems we lose a sense of the mediation within a generation or so, as context shifts. What little remains visible of the mediating frame is mistaken as the residue of an original state, rather than merely the residue of its more recent iteration. There are no original states anymore than there is an answer to the false chicken-egg dichotomy.

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a selfie is the image of an image, selected by the content’s imagination

Perhaps the most deceptive frame of all is again the one implied in the title of this blog: Time Tells. Because in our particular cultural context, we tend to see history in a progressive trajectory. Not only does this contradict traditional cultural paradigms (e.g. South and Southeast Asia) where time is circular and repetitive, but it is also a shockingly modern concept, arising out of the same “Enlightenment” that gave us pretty much most of our modern academic curriculum.

georgina school INT
also Canada

We can also thank the Enlightenment for reinvigorating Science, because that does offer a provable alternative to the endless confusion of cultural frames that distort our perceptions – the experiment must be replicable, reducing the effect of context. But you know what else the Enlightenment gave us? History.

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What, now I gotta think about it? Can’t I just copy it like before??

This is not to deny Herodotus, Thucycdides, The Venerable Bede or even the Pentateuch, but the modern sense of history as a social science divorced from morality or divine agency, is really an Enlightenment project. (Thucydides is only translated into a Latin a year before the fall of Byzantium, and thus his rediscovered realpolitik falls in the Renaissance – and he only makes it into English in 1628)

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Recognize this? It is a stone quarry from the Reniassance

I like bringing up these historical contradictions because we so often lose sight of mediation and we so often think we can see original states, but we can’t. Each of them is a cultural construct, a frame that excludes as well as it includes, a mediation that distorts as much as it perceives. I don’t like to see history used as a justification for a contemporary power struggle, but that is how it usually happens.

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Haym Solomon and Robert Morris, who financed the American Revolution. They never got paid back. Turns out we have ALWAYS had a national debt problem.

So where do I get off thinking I can see through this? Where is my original state? Aren’t I a prisoner of my culture and my DWEM power structure? Actually, the science is simple. I’m the guy in the infinity mirror up there – I don’t need to stand outside the Milky Way to see it, but I need to rigorously compare the frames to each other so we can identify what in our current frame is a residue of an earlier frame.

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look out

Time Tells, not by revealing an original state or a “true” category, but by exposing and contrasting the accumulation of mediations, like an archaeological pit that allows us to see the context – the chicken bones and broken china and coprolites – behind the monuments.

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There is of course a corresponding area of inquiry here: the perception of the exotic or the Other, which plays into much of what we do in this heritage field – especially in terms of tourism. But that will have to wait for another day. And another mediation.

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Divvys and food trucks. It is your duty to support them. Welcome to 2014


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