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.
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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.
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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.

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

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

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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Original iron griffin transom above entrance which had later been covered.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou are more lovely and more tempered…
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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?
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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.
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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?
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how do I love thee? let me count the welds…

The decision has already gone through several fora and will go through several more.
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…

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i will raise you up. i will protect and cherish you….

LIDAR in Cambodia

May 2, 2014

Last night we had a lovely Global Heritage Fund event at the Metropolitan Club featuring Dr. Damian Evans of the University of Sydney, who made headlines last year for discovering a new ancient Khmer city at Phnom Kulen northeast of Angkor.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
GHF photo by Bob Stanton

LIDAR, or more specifically airborne LIDAR, is a laser-scanning technique that manages to provide accurate maps of the surface topography of a place despite layers of vegetation and trees. It allows you to see landforms that may be hidden to the naked eye. Like all good modern technologies, it does what used to be done a whole lot faster. Evans described the past work of a French archaeologist Jacques Gaucher who cut through the vegetation over many years at Angkor Thom to find the surface indications of settlement within the temple complex. LIDAR accomplished the same thing in a few hours, and also demonstrated that the settlement patterns extended well beyond the city walls, a fact Gaucher had not investigated.
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Entrance to Angkor Thom with deva
The technology is theoretically simple, as we learned in the Q & A. Basically it sends millions of laser points down into the jungle and they bounce back when they hit something. The beauty part is the (very expensive) software that reads the data and then strips away the 95% of it that hit trees and bushes and surface objects and just leaves the layer showing the actual surface.
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All we have left in Angkor and related sites are the stone temples, the homes of the gods. Even the god-kings like Suryavarman II (Angkor Wat) and Jayavarman VII (Bayon) lived in wooden houses along with as many as a million people in what Dr. Evans noted was the LARGEST metropolitan complex in all human history before the Industrial Revolution.
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Angkor Wat 2012

LIDAR reveals the remnants of where the lost wooden structures stood, and perhaps more importantly, the hydraulic systems that made this massive conurbation possible. It is the small holding pools next to mounds of settlement detrita that make up the largest part of these scans and the best evidence for the everyday, non-durable society that made those great stone temples.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
thanks to elephants. GHF image by Bob Stanton

So the technology is more than a new way of doing things because it suggests we study the whole of a society and not just its stone artifacts. My blog two years ago about visiting Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat in a short period of time, revealed how I was struck by the hydrology of both places. More than their architecture, the engineering that made food production and thus population (and thus architecture and art) possible was what struck me in both the Inka and Khmer contexts.
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elephants are cool, but you need irrigation first

Not only does LIDAR do in hours from the air what used to take months on the ground with a machete, but it suggests new ways of looking at heritage and new ways of understanding it. When my friend and colleague Simon Warrack showed me Damian Evans’ LIDAR scans of Angkor last year in New York I was immediately blown away: I saw intricate, deliberate patterns in places I had been where I had seen NOTHING. LIDAR captures all the lost palimpsests and creates new, robust databases and new areas of inquiry.
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Dr. Evans concluded by discussing the Global Heritage Fund site at Banteay Chhmar, where we have worked more than six years, restoring an amazing bas-relief wall describing the exploits of Jayavarman VII, a face tower reminiscent of the Bayon, and crafting a plan for the complex while working with the community tourism bureau.
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I concluded our event last night with a call for action. Last month during a storm, another section of bas-relief wall at Banteay Chhmar collapsed, leaving the stones vulnerable to theft and the wall vulnerable to further collapse. Global Heritage Fund is seeking your support to help restore this wall, so please donate at www.globalheritagefund.org.

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Many thanks to Dr. Damian Evans, Joyce Clark and all GHF members who attended the event! More Bob Stanton photos below of Dr. Evans with me and our lovely host Joyce Clark and myself.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of SydneyMay 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney

Leading with Expertise

April 17, 2014

In approaching the second decade of the Global Heritage Fund, I have spoken of “Leading With Expertise”. This means going into a heritage sites in a developing region not with a massive restoration plan but with the best minds in modern conservation. This allows you to determine the best plan from both a conservation and community point of view, by determining precisely what the problems are and how best to approach them. It means resources are used more wisely, and by bringing in the best conservation experts we can leverage more partners, spreading the cost burden across many international, national and local entitites.
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The Sun Temple in Weishan, last week.

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What it looked like in 2006 when my SAIC class documented it

This is what we did in the past week’s mission to Weishan, Yunnan, China. Readers of this blog will recognize the Southern Silk Road city where I have worked over the last eleven years.

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The North Gate, 1390

Weishan was the home of Zhi Ni Ni who founded the Nanzhao Empire in 7th century AD.
Weishan Heritage Valley includes Weishan town with national landmark North Gate, which dates back to 1390, and several Ming era temples and courtyards, the Dong Lian Hua Muslim village national landmark, the Weibaoshan temple mountain with the national landmark Chang Chuen temple, and 22 other Taoist and Buddhist sites.
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Wen Chung Palace pavilion, Weibaoshan

Most recently, GHF brought international conservation expertise to Weishan to develop recommendations for preserving the Yi people mural “Dancing Under The Pine Trees” at the Wen Chung temple on the sacred mountain Weibaoshan. Painted in 1759, the mural is the symbol of the Yi people of Weishan and documents their cultural traditions, but is threatened by moisture, structural weakness, and environmental factors.
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Karena Morton with GHF Project Director Han Li

Karena Morton, an international mural conservator who works for the National Museum of Ireland, spent three days meticulously documenting and analyzing the issues affecting the mural, which include its position on a pavilion situated in a pool in the innermost temple courtyard.
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By “leading with expertise,” GHF is helping Weishan make the right conservation decision for this cultural icon, insuring that local officials spend their money wisely.
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Our work in Guizhou is also emblematic of “leading with expertise” because the challenge here, as elsewhere in China, is not the infusion of funds but the organization of the effort and GHF’s own Han Li, China Project Director since 2008, is the organizational nexus of the combined efforts of UNESCO, the Guizhou Cultural Ministry, Peking and Tongi Universities, and the Chinese NGO You Cheng, which works to conserve intangible heritage.
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这是 典型 的 贵州 村庄

As Han said in a recent program on Chinese television, the goal in Guizhou with villages like Dali Dong is not to make them tourist sites, but to add tourism while buttressing the basic economic vitality of the village within its traditional built and natural environment.
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Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Han Li’s expertise has led the Provincial Department of Culture to place her at the center of the project, leveraging the resources of Global Heritage Fund tenfold, with contributions by Peking University and UNESCO as well. Our impact is not defined by the size of our investment, but by the expertise of our people, who have assembled broad partnerships to achieve a common goal, conserving a traditional village, its agricultural landscape and ways of life.
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That is a tall order, but another expert, Dr. Du Xiaofan of UNESCO’s Beijing office, is pioneering the cultural landscape model in China. The goal is to promote community equality and involvement – as the Burra Charter calls for – rather than bring in tons of outside funding. Tourism can supplement the local economy, but must not replace it – for if the local culture is lost, there will be no reason to visit.
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Global Heritage Fund also brought Gerald Adelmann, director of Openlands Project and Board member of the Center for US-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University, to Guizhou to see the project at Dali Dong village. I have worked with Jerry for three decades, since he pioneered the combination of cultural and natural conservation with the first heritage area in the United States. Jerry brings a wealth of experience to the challenge of preserving traditional villages, not just their architecture but their agricultural lands, their crafts, and their patterns of life. This is the greatest challenge of the 21t century, one GHF is tackling from Transylvania to Timbuktu.

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Jerry Adelmann, Karena Morton and Han Li at Yi people mural, Wen Chung Palace, Weibaoshan.

As a rapidly developing country, China has arguably emerged from developing status and does not present the same economic challenges as other GHF sites. But their need for expertise is clear and explicit, from the overreliance on tourism that threatened to destroy the city of Lijiang (GHF’s first project in China) to the current cultural landscape challenge in Guizhou.

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Traditional covered bridge in Dali Dong village

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Han Li leading partnership discussion in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Dr. Wang Hongguang told me that international expertise is needed because research in cultural heritage issues is not yet advanced enough in China. Thus, targeted model projects and the expertise brought by GHF through people like Han Li, Karena Morton and Jerry Adelmann can easily leverage ten times the investment. More importantly, this expertise means that China will have examples of the right way to approach key cultural sites, and will in the future be able to replicate and even export these models.
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Couple at landmark courtyard house in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

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Greece: A Future in Heritage

April 8, 2014

Last week at the invitation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation I participated in a conference on youth unemployment in Greece. The first day featured leading labor economists defining the scope and depth of the problem, which is quite staggering in a nation where youth unemployment reaches 60%. The keynote was by Jeffrey Sachs, who discussed the particular place-based challenges of youth unemployment and the challenge of technology, especially robotics. He proposed focusing on export, which includes tourism. A variety of other scholars and professionals also spoke, including Alan Krueger and Richard Freeman, who proposed that Greece target the growing Chinese tourist market. Many, including Robert Lerman, talked about how to train or educate youth for the next economy.
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Day Two was more upbeat, beginning with a keynote by Mike Lazardis, who invented the smartphone and enthused us all about the connection between research and economic growth. Next up were plenaries discussing where the problem could be addressed, including Agriculture, Entrepreneurship and Cultural Tourism. It was my role to respond to the potential for addressing unemployment through cultural tourism, which is precisely what we do at Global Heritage Fund.
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I described GHF’s mission – to save threatened heritage sites – and how sustainability only comes through stewardship. How do you create stewardship and ownership? By insuring that the heritage site redevelopment benefits the local community, the only long-term stewards.
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Heritage practice gives us a process, following the Burra Charter, to integrate the community into the planning process from the beginning. I talked about community based tourism and the challenge of revenue capture – how do you keep the money in the local community? heshui meeting0

The Foundation, the Initiative for Heritage Conservation and the Ministry of Culture are working together on pilot projects at Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens, and Brauron in Attica. The two sites take advantage of existing touristic infrastructure. At the same time, I warned about distinguishing between types of tourism – they are focusing on high-end, which is good, because not only is the return better, but the impact on the site is less than mass tourism. I also advised that they insure a long-term entity to maintain the site through captured revenue, otherwise the effort will simply create another unsustainable state subsidy.
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My cultural tourism bottom line? Capacity, control and capture. Identify your market, your site capacity and critical mass; control the process to insure the site gets saved; and capture the revenue so it benefits the local community. Plenty of obstacles, but the right goal.

Following the Money

March 29, 2014

In understanding the motivations of various actors in a social economy, the mantra “follow the money” is used by analysts of many political and economic persuasions. After all, both Karl Marx and Adam Smith were materialists who saw the basic economic relations within a society as the best predictor of behavior. The corollary is that actions inspired by faith, love, loyalty, or other belief systems are less important.
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Acting with cupidity

Now, we all know that you can manipulate a whole collection of belief and identity systems to get people on one political side or another in defiance of their own economic interests. That’s not what I want to talk about, because the endgame there is a political point and I want to follow the money, especially when it leads us away from the fantasy of the false dichotomy.
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Money or Culture You Decide

The false dichotomy is of course the free market versus the state, and as a historian I can promise you that the one NEVER happened without the other. Indeed, following the money usually means massive private investments are following huge public investments which can occur in the form of land grants, subsidies, tax breaks, or, most commonly, infrastructural investments. Two hella ginormous examples in American history are the construction of the railroads by giving away tons of government land and the construction of the highway system by the government, which amounted to a massive subsidy of both automobiles and the trucking industry.
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Land grants also funded “public” universities, many of which were subsidized by state governments, although interestingly those percentages have dropped so low at places like the University of Michigan it is hard to consider them public anymore.
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They all had ag schools, which were a subsidy to the dominant industry

When we follow the money behind the recent proliferation (over 200% from 1998 to 2008) of for-profit universities the subsidy becomes obvious – student loans. These institutions are basically created to capture government investment in students, with 80 percent of their revenues coming from taxpayers and their students borrow at a much higher rate than traditional not-for-profit universities.
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So what got me thinking about this was the decision this week that Northwestern University football players could unionize because they are effectively working for the university. And if you look at that famous map of the highest paid public officials in every state, you realize that it is mostly university football coaches. So here you have a massive industry that is subsidized by a.)student loans, b.)possibly state money(not at NU), c.)gate receipts from football games, d.)other receipts from said football, and e.)free labor.
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Now of course the not-for-profit universities also have another subsidy – their not-for-profit status. They share this with churches, which are also subsidized, despite our Constitutional amendment that prohibits the establishment of an official religion. You ever wonder why you see so many storefront churches in the inner city? Because everyone is real religious? Because no one else is courageous enough to set themselves up there?
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Follow the money. It’s because it is a lot cheaper to run a tax-free church in commercial space than an actual commercial enterprise, even though money changes hands in both scenarios.

So much of art history was crafted for churches, not because the artists were especially religious or not, but because that’s where the money was. Before the Europeans figured out ways to enslave Americans and Africans on haciendas they enslaved their own at monasteries, the plantations of the Middle Ages. Sure Henry VIII needed to get divorced and hence quit the Roman Catholic Church, but if you follow the money it was not love nor faith but the vast assets of the monasteries that made the dissolution worthwhile.
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Besides they look a lot cooler as ruins. Ruins that inspired 19th century Brits to invent heritage conservation

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Tax exemptions and incentives have been huge for historic preservation, although it is important to note that the incentives were crafted because the actual real estate market was biased toward new construction, a byproduct less of the nature of construction or even supply and demand, but the peculiarities of financing, especially that most revered of economic principles: certainty.
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I certainly know the market. I can certainly predict the cost of the middle building, but the flankers may present unknowns

In this case the historic preservation tax incentives helps older buildings by offsetting the deficit caused by the difficulties of getting financing on the same terms as new construction. Form follows Finance, which follows subsidy, like student loans, and highways and sewers and so forth.

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I live in Silicon Valley, which the economist Ed Glaeser (my blog on his book is here) called one big City of Ideas covering some three dozen municipalities over 60 miles of the Bay Area. Glaeser plays to type by whining about regulation, but he has a point in this autoclave of a real estate market, since the vast reserves of open land, parks and forests has pushed prices up in the most attractive parts of the Bay Area.
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So, are the parks and climate externalities that drive up the price instead of place you could build, thereby driving down the prices? Or are the high prices in part a result of this being a really nice place to live, thanks to the parks and climate? I have often blogged before about the fundamental middle- and upper-class desire to control the environment you live in, or at least have a say in the process. The money is following the climate, and it is following the public subsidies of Big Basin and Windy Hill and Vasona Park.
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Not hard to take on a daily basis

We were looking for souvenirs for our Japanese student guest last weekend and the postcards included one that pictured a wrecked wooden shack and the postcard says “Bay Area Fixer-Upper, $996,000″ which is true down here in Los Gatos but probably underpriced for Palo Alto.
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this one’s in good shape, but would command more than 996k

But the Bay Area market is not driven simply by supply and demand nor even by regulation and climate. The key for Glaeser is the face-to-face encounters, the logic of concentration which is in fact the logic of capital. People crafted the 21st century economy here and still do so daily with their company-subsidized lunches and their Save The Shire t-shirts. That’s why Zuckerberg came here, even though he invented Facebook in the midst the the second-greatest concentration of technology in North America. Success breeds success and money follows money.
google carS
Drones are illegal in California but this Google car has been following me for 21 months. I suppose I should be happy someone is following me, even if that someone isn’t money…

Conservation at El Mirador

March 19, 2014

I finally had the opportunity to visit El Mirador, the longest-running Global Heritage Fund project in Guatemala. The preClassic Maya site lies in the Peten region at the northern edge of the country, in the heart of a surviving rain forest. Howler monkeys greeted our arrival by helicopter.
View from La DaS
This is the Kan (snake) kingdom of the Maya, a series of cities and ceremonial sites that represented the most advanced civilization in North America two thousand years ago. Today many of these sites are part of the Mayan Biosphere Preserve. We are conserving BOTH culture and nature here, which is important, because you see the deforestation in the area around the park and it is disheartening.
top La DaS
View from La Danta, the largest pyramid at El Mirador and the largest pyramid BY VOLUME in the world.

La Data RHa
Dr. Richard Hansen, who has been working with GHF for almost a decade, looking up La Danta

As I said in a blog not too long ago, we are seeing a confluence of heritage and natural area conservation. Not only does World Heritage recognize both (and “mixed” sites) but many of our projects are both national parks or preserves and cultural heritage sites, like Ciudad Perdida in Colombia and El Mirador. Saving the heritage helps save the rainforest.

VM on La DantaS
Me on La Danta

At the same time, conservation of excavated temples and artifacts is made more difficult by the rainforest. One of our principal efforts in 2013 was to construct this shelter over the famous Popul Vuh plaster relief mural. This will help conserve this fantastic ancient artwork.
PV Cover 11s

PV himselfS
This is Hunahpu, one of the hero twins of the Popul Vuh, he is carrying the head of his father after defeating the bad guys in the ball game

RH PVs
Dr. Richard Hansen explaining the myth

PV seocnd layerS

A similar cover helps conserve the temple of the Jaguar nearby.

Jaguar coer2S

Jaguar strS

The site is vast, occupying a basin that stretches north of the border into Mexico and represents not only a rich and well-preserved ancient civilization, but a rare and intact stand of native rainforest. My visit was brief but the impact was great.

View down escala La Da grpS
descending the pyramid (but not all the way into the underworld

During the summer field season over 300 workers are employed here in archaeology and conservation. The next step is to develop an ecologically sensitive way of visiting the remote jungle site – if you want to avoid the helicopter now you have to trek for two days (and there are chiggers and other nasties). Hansen’s preferred solution is to use the historic roadways, made of many layers of lime, that link the sites in the basin with the world outside the rainforest. In the meantime, work goes on and the faces carved millennia ago emerge in the jungle…
stone face nr PVs

To support GHF’s work at Mirador, click here!

Yangon Heritage

March 6, 2014

Rangoon. The Garden City of the Orient. It really was, and thanks to a half-century of neglect, it still is. Sort of like Havana, Rangoon gives you that sense of stepping back in time, before the glass skyscraper shopping centers, before Rayon and ubiquitous telephony. I rarely wax nostalgic but when I walked the streets of Rangoon in May of 1986, I fell in love with the colonial architecture.
Colonial_building,_Yangon,_Myanmar
You could feel the sense of time there. I have never been to Havana, but I have experienced the sense of time frozen in architecture in a few other places – Budapest a decade ago, Georgetown (Malaysia, not D.C.) in the 80s, even Leeds back in ’82. It is an architecture that begs for preservation but not restoration. It is messy but it is literally dripping with history; with significance
03_heritage_web
I was in Chicago last week meeting with Thant Myint-U, an historian, author and leader in both the preservation movement in Burma as well as its peace process and emergent democracy. Global Heritage Fund is working with Yangon Heritage Trust because like YHT, we see conservation of architectural heritage as a vital social and economic development tool.

Thant is considered one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine and I think it is significant that he thinks so much about preservation.

shwedagon
This is my photo of the great Shwedagon Pagoda, 1986.

For a couple of years now, there has been a rush to Rangoon, which sits neatly between the great South Asian cultural sphere of India and the great East Asian cultural sphere that includes China and Japan. The rush is prompted by openness, trade, and of course that time-capsule city that is just dying for redevelopment in the time-honored manner of all Asian cities….
shinjuku
shang mus INup
towers2
Yum. Can’t wait.

So Thant sees a rare opportunity to preserve the best of the old – and the garden city feel crafted by the original designers and NOT LOST due to the depredations of mid-century highway engineers – while allowing Rangoon to evolve into the 21st century. Almost every other such opportunity in Asia has been lost.
Bund E
Except the Bund, although it is dwarfed by the rest of Shanghai and outsmarted nightly by Pudong across the river.

Shortly after visiting Rangoon in 1986 I went to Singapore, and while it is cleaner and safer than anywhere in the U.S., my impression was: The alien shopping centers have landed and they are having a sale. Not warm and fuzzy. Not special character.

Rangoon is the last best hope for crafting a modern Asian city that respects not only a few odd landmarks, but an urban landscape, a balance of then and now, a place made humane by the urban patina of these buildings.
01_construction_web

There are challenges – sorting out the ownership and tenancy rights, and these are primary in Thant’s mission, which seeks to secure a conservation NOT reliant on gentrification. That is a tall order, but in every important sense, he is up to that challenge and I will work to make Global Heritage Fund a partner in that effort.

Another challenge lies in the naysayers. I heard it more than once – why would the Burmese want to preserve the colonial architecture built by the British who literally conquered the country?
07_green-building_web

This is a common slam against preservation, and it ranks up there with the other fallacies used as excuses by those who find preservation HARD.

Fallacy Problem One: This assumes that the oppressed peoples IDENTIFY that architecture with oppression. They might. They might not. First thing you should do is ask them. Thant has and is acting on the answer.

Fallacy Problem Two: The architecture of oppression can become the people’s architecture in no time at all. Here is a palace of a despotic ruler:
louvre cr cr
Except they chopped his head off and opened the building to the public as the WORLD’S FIRST MUSEUM causing, well, museums.

Here is a palace of 600 years of despotic rulers:
forbid city e ctyd2s
So when radical Communists took over the country they demolished it, right? Um, no, they made it into a public museum and tourist attraction.

Here is what every NEW building in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos looks like:
mcmansion khmer
It’s French. You want to show off your newly minted middle-class status, you build a house in the style of the colonial powers. Short answer: Don’t assume what the architecture symbolizes to people until THEY TELL YOU.


Fallacy Problem Three:
The embedded notion here is that people just want to get ahead and you and your fancy-pants aesthetic snobbery are preventing them from their unencumbered march into prosperity.

This is a fallacy in the developed world as well, proceeding as it does from the assumption that ANYTHING that gets in the way of redevelopment is an impediment. Like buildings. Like zoning. Like laws. Like financing. Like infrastructure.

We don’t consider zoning or financing impediments but maybe we should, because they can shut down a development project COMPLETELY. An old building CAN’T DO THAT. The worst it can do is change the FORM of the development project.

Why is that so HARD? Maybe Yangon Heritage Trust will prove that is isn’t.
09_elevator_web

Santa Cruz Victorians

February 23, 2014

Santa Cruz is a lovely place, famous for its boardwalk, its gritty street life (it is the Bay Area bookend to San Francisco after all), its surfing (Steamer Lane and the Surfing Museum) and of course UCSC whose mascot is the banana slug.
SC view to bcwalkS
That’s the boardwalk
surfing museumS
Surfing museum
SC Steamer ln ripsS
makeshift memorials at Steamer Lane

The history of Santa Cruz begins of course with a mission, and indeed Santa Cruz has the oldest surviving building from a mission, although it is NOT the mission church.
mission real bldg bestS
But what always strikes me in Santa Cruz are the Victorian homes. The place is lousy with them and there are several landmark districts.
Victorian SCs

Santa Cruz victorian13s

2nd Empr nr missS

This Second Empire just down from the mission is one of the classics, but the modest ones create a wonderful streetscape….

SC Vict 78

SC Vict 86

SC Vict ent94

SC Victs 90

SC Vict stat92

Of course, many have new uses, like Dr. Miller’s, which would be the epitome of hipsterdom if the world were ironic enough to allow such to exist:

SC doc millersS

And this awesome 1880 Italianate that sells vaping supplies (It’s Santa Cruz!)

SC green italianS
I guess flowers too. Anything green. Or green-like.

And of course B & Bs…

SC Vict b&b88

The beachfront, which is obviously primo property, also features many Victorians, although I sometimes have to look twice to see what is actually 120 years old and what is a modern addition or detail. Can you spot these below?

SC victo bombS

SC victo beachS

SC vic beachfrtS
This one is a little easier because you can see the concrete foundation – the whole left half is modern. That precious turret is a bit harder to figure, though.

santa cruz QAs

SC thin Vict96
Ah, and the classic garage underneath – this is actually a Bay Area-wide phenomenon, seen in the Italianates of San Francisco, the Shingles of Berkeley, and every post-1900 rowhouse you can find

SC Vict Episc Ch

I will finish with this little church, one of several from the era. Why do they always have two doors? I mean, if it were a Quaker meeting house from the 18th century in Southern New Jersey I could see it, but….


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