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.
fh terrace oSs

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.

FH 2013 straight

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….

wr mendel2

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

wr poelzig2

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.

wr berg4
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

wr berg11
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

This one required a special stop on the edge of Vienna, also in 2005:
kmarxhof fr1
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

kmarxhof fr3
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:

L1020304

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.

L1020301

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:

hilversum rathuis14s

City Hall Hilversum, Dudok 1930

troos schroder house1s

Shroeder House Utrecht, Rietveld 1924

de dageraad6s

De Dageraad, De Klerk ad Kramer, 1923

het schip3s

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…

headless roche jean
I guess he was shorter than I

millowners finals

millowners int vwS

sanskar kendra ctS
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.

usafa chap butt

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.

usafa chap 9 spire
usafa chap int ceil2

usafa dorm layer

usafa chap march

usafa o dorm

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.)

IIM 05s

IIM vw dorms2s
Kahn plays with arches and circles and grids as well as the orthogonal. Check out this staircase in the library

IIM lib helical stair6s
epic

IIM curvcircl voidbridgeS

IIM vw to lib and entS

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……..

robie super horizS

main view bestS

robie 08 straightS

marin co courthouse cls

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

tramway gas 65frey
Frey

Or fold a slab…

alex steel folded plate
Alexander

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

Gruen Bank2
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?

spa hotel2
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.

DSC_0233
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2010

DSC_0263

hilario candela10s
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.

concrete churchS

great interior

nice front viwS

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…

dulles angleS
Dulles, never dull

DSCF8789
Ando in St. Louis

fr saddle roof view
Barry Byrne in Cork

SJA banner church sidevw
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.

just say NO!3s

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.

state st lkpt
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.

chgo bdg 1189a
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.

chicago buildingS
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.

BC crane workS
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?

CP lodge Romauldo SG
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.

heshui geese 3 copy

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.

hsbf detail04
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.

Manigault rear2
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.

heshui meeting0
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.

Weibao WC mural team
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.

DSCN1554

BC bas ChamsS

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.
monad wallS
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.
cable CAR13s

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.
SF green deco strtcarS

red streetcarS

streetcar70sS

embarcadero hwy plaq

GGB on to itS
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.

wefb06

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.

latrine

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.

aeri ny8 v-z

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.

south branch f wolf ptS

Not to mention the L train structure in the Loop – it actually caused the name The Loop – and is also on the National Register…
wabash to trump13s

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.

pln chgo ccS

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.
mich bridgeS

Amsterdam, which I also visited in 1982, had its amazing network of grachten or canals.

keizersgracht boatS

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.

PY walls 53s copy

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.
vw to lock 8s

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.
CP 61 best

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.
3 gorge lock abvJPG

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.
mary kev mary carla vince1s

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

view.php

vince louvre82

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.

vm-ellora16

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?

gandhara buddhS

vm prentics vwS

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.

the great view2s

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.

climb up24

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

DSCN1645
Hey it’s Jayavarman VII! I loved him at the Bayon!

DSCN1687

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.

hutong-tr37

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?
lissys-ag08s
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.
396739_567749758592_721580886_n
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.
DSCN1682
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.
oil refin 135s
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?
group w kids

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.

birth ganges
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.

eure pflichtS

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.

IMG_4908
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.
IMG_4900
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.

guggenheim int downbS

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.

IMG_5111

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.

Lyndhurst f rvr bestS
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.

Leon's custardS
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.

hist socy archivesS

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.

Met stepsS
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.

aic 1206s

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.

montpe giftS
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.

VM infinity mirrorS
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.

medieval scholars
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)

collos in82
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.

Solomon morris washgS
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.

greenbaum vw2
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.

X HY new pitS

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.

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

Victoriana California

August 7, 2014

I have written before about how I am surrounded by Victorian architecture in Northern California, and this week we made it up to Humboldt County where you get it in spades. The capper is of course the Carson Mansion in Eureka, which has inhabited every architectural style book I have owned since 1983.
Carson HouseAs

This over-the-top horror vacui of a composition dates from 1884 and in my first architectural style book it illustrated both Queen Anne and Eastlake styles (it also supposedly embodies Stick and Italianate) and is still the centerpiece of Eureka, which blossomed as a lumber town in the Gilded Age and saved just enough of it for a critical mass downtown, despite a godawful prison and too many parking lots.
Pink LadyCs
The famed Pink Lady across from the Carson Mansion. It’s for sale!
White house rowS
A row of Shingley Queen Annes on 2nd Street

Eureka trades on this history and did save a reasonable chunk of the old downtown with some very fine big Italianate and Queen Anne blocks from the late 19th century. This one has an excellent new tourist center (beer on draft – how can you have a tourist center without beer on draft??)
Yellow Ital blockS

McDonald BldgBs
Now that’s my kind of McDonald’s

Big green Ital blockS

Corner shingle sideS
Shingle Style influence here, with a nice rounded glass oriel

Eclectic frontS
The plaque on this one even says “Eclectic,” which is Architectural Historian for “I give up.”

They trade on the Victorian so much in Eureka that 25 years ago they rebuilt a long-gone San Francisco house from what is now the Financial District. Thankfully the sign and guides note that it is a recreation.
Carter House Inn RecreS

We were walking past the Carson Block and noticed they were exposing some of its original skin…
Carson TC exposeS
That’s terra cotta!
Carson skin exposesS
and pressed metal bays…

So I went back Monday and ran into my old friend Bill Hole, who was helping with what appears to be a great restoration.
Carson Block w craneS

A few more shots of historic Eureka
Carter House Inn hotelS
Carter House Inn Hotel – amazing place
Nice false frontS
old-timey clocks, brick sidewalks, the whole shebang
View of downtownS

Shingle corner bldgS
Horse carriage. Forgot that part of the whole shebang

Blue Vic cottS
fine lookin’ cottage
Rundown Class houseS
This one needs work

But wait, there’s more! A few miles down the road there is Ferndale, which I seem to recall was the subject of a coloring book and which featured this building that I also used incessantly in architectural history slide shows:
The Big DoubleAs

Great Inn Vic addS
Bed and breakfasts expand into inns and tourism adds to the “cream” economy – you certainly pass a lot of cows on the road into town.

Fab frontsS

IOOF and2s

Victorian InnS
The Victorian Inn. Says it right there in the name!

Vic Gothi cottgS

This house near the downtown reminds me that there is a strong current of Victorian Gothic in the houses of the North and Lost Coasts of California. As one would expect, you get a slight lag from the East Coast, so Victorian Gothic which peaked in the East in the 1840s is still making itself felt here in the 1850s. After all, it took three months to get here. But get here they did, mostly by boat and they brought so much of their architecture with them that the famed historic town of Mendocino has been used as the set of an East Coast town in multiple movies and TV shows.

mendo front viewS
Mendocino, She Wrote. Why doesn’t the sun rise over the ocean?

Mendocino bay chute remnantsS
Emare-gency, Emare-gency Everybody to get from street!

Spenser Hills 54s
Plenty of 1850s Gothicky houses

nice mendo saltboxS
And a few saltboxes

mendo viewS

The most distinctive feature of the townscape are the ubiquitous water tower- originally headed by windmills that powered the wells below and filled the storage tanks. Almost every house has one, and it adds an interesting atmosphere to the town. The Main drag has plenty of false fronts and of course the hotel, while there are two major house museums in town and plenty of B & Bs.

Mendocino HotelS
Mendocino Hotel

Shops in MendoS

Ford HouseS

maccallum houseS
Verging on the Gothic again. At least in the vergeboards

Kelley House closeS
Kelley changed the spelling of her last name to make it classier

Didjeridoo bestS
This is where we stayed. Could be East Coast if not for the obvious drought

We had wonderful guide who played an 1880s character and took us by the Masonic Hall with its huge (carved from a single Redwood) sculpture of Time and the Maiden.
Guide at MasonicS

Now I could go into the details of historic tourism and the economics of house museums and the decline of the logging industry and so forth, but this was a vacation so I am just going to show a few more pictures of Fort Bragg, a few miles up the Coast from Mendocino.

Fort Bragg strfrtsS

Ft B Golden WestS

Guest House ObliqueS
This is the Guest House. No, really, the name was Guest

Ft B fronts3

Ft B City HallS
City Hall

gothic window houseS

So, for those of you who wondered if I missed Victorian architecture in California…

Oh, you can see my posts extolling the architectural history of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz as well, not to mention Watsonville.

Stepping Into World Heritage and Why

June 30, 2014

It has been six years since I wrote about stepwells, those amazing structures found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Communal water sources, stepwells range from simple community structures to elaborate complexes replete with stunning architectural detail. When I wrote six years ago I described the Adalaj stepwell in Ahmedabad, but I only included a single image, so I am remedying that here.
adalaj stpvwS

adalaj stp1s

adalaj upS

adalaj shrinewS

I was thinking about stepwells last week because here at Global Heritage Fund (join us here!) we began our joint investigation of stepwell conservation last week when Ahmedabad architect Yatin Pandya journeyed to see the initial stepwell restoration projects in Rajastan led by Gram Bharati Samiti and make recommendations for the next step.

I was also thinking about stepwells because I spoke to a Chicago friend who has been documenting hundreds of them throughout India over recent years. They are fascinating structures, essentially underground, but often decorated with elaborate architectural trabeations and sculptural groups, as you can see at the most famous one, Rani Ke Vav in Gujarat, which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site last week by UNESCO.
Rani_ki_vav_second_tier

Rani_ki_Vav_sculptures

Stepwells encapsulate the mission of Global Heritage Fund: they are heritage sites that were – and often can remain – the centerpiece of a community, a source for water, yes, but also a source of communal pride. Especially when they have been recognized by UNESCO for their “outstanding universal value.”

Why should we care about history? I have spent my life answering that question and I recognize that most people are focused on the present.

When we say “HERITAGE” we are in fact talking about the present – and the future.

Why is World Heritage important? Because of a problem in the PRESENT that threatens the FUTURE. We recognize sites of “outstanding universal value” because we are concerned that they may not make it into the future. These listings are a call to action.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tomioka silk mill warehouse, Japan, one of several industrial sericulture sites inscribed

WLM_-_EvaM1978_-_Van_Nelle_Fabriek_Rotterdam
Van Nelle tobacco factory, Rotterdam. This one is found on the cover of books of modern architecture

snake site
Qenko near Cusco, a major stop on the Qhapaq Nan

The Qhapaq Nan, or Inca Road, was one of the more exciting inscriptions this year, because it is all about context. The road runs through six countries, roughly from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina. 273 sites over 6000 kilometers. Talk about your cultural landscape! At Global Heritage Fund, we investigated several sites along the road as potential investigations, including the site of Pachacamac, one of the ancillary Qhapaq Nan routes and the most important coastal arhcaeological site in South America.
templo sol corridor
Near Templo del So, Pachacamac, 2012

As the World Heritage meeting was taking place, I was standing on Donkey Hill in Los Gatos, looking out over San Jose and all the way up to Moffett Field when my phone rang (Thanks, Modern World!) and it was Al-Jazeera wanting to interview me about the new World Heritage listings.

Their piece that evening focused on the Pyu Kingdom sites in Myanmar, which was great, because Global Heritage Fund got involved last year with Sri Ksetra, the most notable of these sites, through the work of our Founder, Jeff Morgan. I was amazed that the stupendous stupa-laden site of Pagan (or Bagan) was not listed, since that was one of the most impressive sites I visited during my first Asian sojourn in 1986.
pagan_2
Stupa-fying

But the interview inevitably turned to the same topic my previous two interviews with them focused on: what do you do about sites that are in conflict zones? Earlier this year UNESCO put on the THREATENED list all six sites in Syria, which I was interviewed about in March. What do you do?
hotw_syria_emma_update1
hotw_syria_damage1

The question begs for an answer that somehow you can intervene, but of course neither UNESCO nor organizations like Global Heritage Fund have the ability to intervene in a war. Moreover, throughout history, heritage sites have not only suffered from wars, but they are often TARGETED because they have great spiritual value to local populations. Destroying them is a way of terrorizing those populations, or in the case of the 1990s Mostar bridge, splitting the populations along sectarian lines.
1599px-Bridge_Mostar
and its later restoration was a step to mending those divisions

The Bamiyan Buddhas were targeted by the Taliban and the jihadists in Iraq are currently threatening a range of heritage sites there, nihilism in the guise of religion. What can you do about these threats? I told the interviewer that UNESCO has very limited resources – they have now inscribed over 1000 sites in the last 42 years. This designation does not bring much money – “that is why organizations like Global Heritage Fund exist” I told them. We need to raise the money and identify national partners to save or restore sites like these – UNESCO can offer technical support but not so much money.

halong bayt sign

World Heritage status is like National Historic Landmark status or local landmark status. It is the recognition of outstanding value for massive resources (think 273 sites over 6000 km) and it brings them to the attention of both the professional heritage community and the general public. It is that RECOGNITION that local and national governments, and private philanthropies like GHF – use to leverage the funds needed to save these vital places. The status means you can lobby governments to spend more on these sites because they are more important. It means you can try to generate philanthropy based on the same concept – here is where you can MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

falun mine1
Talk about a money pit – one of my all-time favorite World Heritage Sites – the Falun mine, in Sweden. Photo by author, 2007.

Indeed, World Heritage status, like landmark status, is often TARGETED to help save threatened sites. UNESCO named several such as new inscriptions (listings) last week, including South Jerusalem, Erbil Citadel in Iraq, Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, and the City of Potosi, Bolivia. Threats are of course not only conflict but also poaching, looting, uncontrolled development and climate change. GHF documented these threats to our global heritage several years ago in print, and we are still fighting, although we are fighting to SAVE while others are fighting to DESTROY.

When you lose world heritage

To truly save a site, it must benefit the local community that lives there, which is the GHF model. Because heritage is ALWAYS about the future.

Preservation as Social Practice: Theaster Gates

June 13, 2014

Thanks to my dear friend Lisa Yun Lee I had the opportunity to tour three of Theaster Gates’ urban building projects on the South Side of Chicago yesterday. Gates has degrees in urban planning and ceramics, and is described as a social practice installation artist. He preserves old buildings in a creative repurposing for the local community. His work is not standard preservation, but I think that is a good thing. The first project I saw was the Stony Island Arts Bank, a 1923 Classical bank I watched deteriorate for decades. He saved it.
SIAB acrossS
SIAB columnsS
The mixed-use plan includes an incubator for local black businesses, a performance space, and even a bar in the basement vault, which is too cool.
SIAB vault
SIAB vault doorS
Apparently there are firms that specialize in restoring old bank vaults!

His approach is to save what historic elements are there, but not necessarily to replace missing pieces, an approach that reveals the layers of history, rejoices in the patina of age but also celebrates the value markers of re-use and present purpose.
SIAB cofferS
For example, he will save the surviving plaster of the coffered bank ceiling but will not replicate the missing pieces, blending in plain plaster (by a real plasterer!) making past and present visible.
SIAB transom extS
Original iron griffin transom above entrance which had later been covered.
SIAB 3rd flr wallS
Surviving third floor wall finishes that will be preserved.
Gates has created a design build not-for-profit that executes his projects, which use the city and its artifacts as a palette for an art practice that strives to provide for the community through libraries of books and records, studios and gathering spaces. Gates follows a long tradition of saving buildings, but not in an architecturally pure manner. He also saves materials and recycles them in other buildings. We visited his Dorchester Projects, started five years, ago, which have grown from two buildings to incorporate much of a once forelorn block in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.
TG Dorchester AsTG Dorchester BsTB Dorchester bokintS
Lotsa books
We then visited his own studio, in an historic Anheuser-Busch building on Kimbark Avenue. I was amazed by the re-use of various features like industrial doors, including a bunch that had been made into a built-in bar, the sensitivity to layering surviving elements while signifying replacement pieces in various ways.
TG Kimbark ctydS
Gates has a great sensitivity to the richness of materials, telling me about how he would plane certain wood planks for re-use while retaining the imperfections of others, based on his own sensitivities to the material. We talked about the value of craft, about the Asian approach to preservation that focuses on process and performance rather than materiality and the paper architectural design as the original.
TG Kimbark cornerS
TG Kimbark magsS
TG Kimbark mex doorsSTG Kimbark Johnson booksS
Gates has also preserved other things, such as the John Johnson (Ebony/Jet) Publications archive, which he acquired when the firm sold its building on Michigan Avenue to Columbia College. I shared my own connection – my grandfather was a printer who worked with Johnson when he was starting in the 1940s.
Too often preservation has gotten a bad rap because it is seen as too precious, too focused on rules and regulations. I told Theaster that one of my first blogs nearly nine years ago was called Heresy and Apostasy because I had a broad, inclusive view of preservation and was regarded by some as heretical. My view of preservation has always been that it is about a community determining what elements of the past it wants to bring into the future, and yes, there needs to be professional and creative guidance for that process, but why can’t an urban planner/artist achieve that vision as well as an architectural historian like myself? Theaster Gates has done this in a manner that promotes the ongoing creative recycling not simply of buildings, materials, and artifacts, but the city itself.

The most poignant recalling of that fact was when we drove from the bank building to Dorchester and passed St. Laurence Church, in the process of demolition. Gates is recycling the bricks.
St. Laurence demo2s

You can argue about various approaches to preservation but there is no argument that once a building is lost it is lost…

Farnsworth House 2014

May 14, 2014

I have been involved with Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois for over a decade. I recall vividly the day (December 12, 2003) Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully bid on the house at Sotheby’s in New York, saving it from the possibility of being dismantled and moved to another place. Like all great architecture, the Farnsworth House was designed for its specific location along the Fox River, and this context is part of its significance.
farnsworth11 grtS
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou are more lovely and more tempered…
distant viewS

Now, that context has been altered many times. Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who commissioned the house in 1946, moved in (weekends) in 1951 and used it for twenty years, basically kept the wild landscape. When the state condemned part of her land and built a noisy road and bridge near the house in the early 1970s, she sold it to Lord Peter Palumbo, who planted trees to screen the road, landscaped the whole grounds with Lanning Roper into more of the traditional lawn we see today. Then, to top it off, the tree that framed the house from the river side finally totally died and was removed.

Farnsworth809s
with tree 2011
FH 2013 straight
without tree, 2013

But the biggest problem has been the flooding, which thanks to development upriver, has seen the houses inundated by three 100-year floods in the last 18 years. So, we at the National Trust assembled the best minds in the business in terms of architecture and engineering, to come up with a plan to help protect the house from flooding. My initial response, seen in my blog last November, was: it’s a submarine. Mies designed it for a floodplain. Let it flood and keep fixing it. As Mies’ grandson Dirk Lohan, who restored the house after the most disastrous flood in 1996, said, the house makes no sense if it is in a location that doesn’t flood.

fh angl f riv
It was Lohan who suggested what has now become the preferred alternative: To create a system of hydraulic jacks that would raise the house out of harm’s way with the onset of Fox River flooding. In short, to turn it into a lowrider.

FH 2013 frontal
where do I put the speakers? and how do I pop the clutch?

Another option was to move it to higher ground. The biggest problem with this option is that higher ground is pretty far away and thus you lose the context which caused you to save it in the first place. You get back to the Dirk Lohan problem: the building makes no sense if it is located in a place that doesn’t flood. That’s why it is sitting on stilts.
FH 2013 best
c’mere gorgeous

The other option, which some preservationists prefer, is to raise the ground it is sitting on, so it is closer to the river but 7 feet higher. This is actually just as expensive as the other options, if not more so, and arguably changes the context much more. Plus, you get the classic problem involved in all restoration decisions: what are the logistics of doing it? Preliminary investigations show that that much landfill isn’t even available, and the slope down to the river would alter the view from inside, which is kind of the whole point.
FH 2013 lvg room
i want a doctor to take your picture

All three options pretty much involve some disassembling and moving of the building. The submarine option is the only one that doesn’t, and given that floods will only get worse given all the factors causing them, constant restoration could easily cost more over the long run. So I was persuaded that Lohan’s plan, which has now been studied by Bob Silman, who is the best, is the preferred option. I gave up on the submarine.
farns lvg to deck1109s
but I will never give up on my love…

If we have to pull it apart and reassemble to some degree, it should be on the same spot and ideally in the same context. The hydraulic option offers this, although as always the devil will be in the details, such as do you leave the terrace under water or raise it too? If so, how do you deal with the point where the house joins the terrace?
FH 2013 travertn
how do I love thee? let me count the welds…

Another option discussed has been a bladder system that would use the power of the flooding water to raise the house, kind of like the giant styrofoam tubes that keep boat docks floating. Again, the excavation requires temporarily relocating the house, but there is another problem – a bladder system – like a temporary dike that would rise up and surround the house – would be subject to 600 psi of pressure from the floodwaters – not true for the hydraulic jack and truss system.

FH 2013 forest vw

I came into this project a skeptic (as did many others on the panel) and I am now convinced that the best preservation solution that conserves both the architecture and the site that the architecture was designed to feature is the hydraulic jack option. The others seem less secure (bladder/dam) or more damaging to the design (raising/relocating).

FH 1011 views

The decision has already gone through several fora and will go through several more before it is finalized. Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune summarized the options and the Trust approach in an excellent article a few weeks ago. Beyond the decision is of course the very big question of funding what will be a multi-million dollar project. Who knows, the result may prove useful for other architectural icons as the world’s oceans rise…

FH 2013 terrace hosue
i will raise you up. i will protect and cherish you….


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 165 other followers