Giving and Getting: the Nature of Charity

December 30, 2013

The world is too much with us, late and soon
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers
Little we see in Nature that is ours

This poem fragment from Wordsworth, learnt in the first year of high school, remains stuck firmly in my head these many decades later. To me it was a critique of consumerism, although I suppose in its time it was a critique of industrialism. In either case it was a critique born of nostalgia, a disease that makes letting go difficult, a disease of heart and mind that fears change and newness and the gross manipulations that are our human economy.

If you have ever seen my website or taken one of my classes, you know I dislike nostalgia, even though it would seem to be the base impulse behind all I have ever done professionally: the urge to preserve is a nostalgic urge, no?

ctyd 4doc-77

No. The reason I am in California running the Global Heritage Fund is the same reason I toiled behind the scenes during the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor 30 years ago. Because both approached preservation as an economically viable choice about the future, not a desperate nostalgic attempt to hold on to the past.

lock 8 houseS

Right now you and I and everyone else are being hit with end-of-year giving requests from a variety of worthy causes and charities. I have spent the entirety of my 30-plus year career working for non-profit organizations, and now is no exception and this blog is in fact an end-of-year giving request. Right here. But it is also an examination of the nature of charity.

old city merchant

Charity is giving in a way that supports getting. It is the classic “teach a man to fish” paradigm. Our way of doing it involves heritage, which is something indigenous and permanent to place.

Trail 12 peeps

That is Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who has come twice to California in the last year to present our project at Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. It is a model project for many reasons: it incorporates all four of our Preservation By Design® aspects: Conservation Science, Partnerships, Planning, and Community Development. It creates local jobs in tourism and provides infrastructural improvements like bridges and stoves and sanitation and health centers that serve tourists, peasants and indigenous alike. Most importantly, it saves heritage because Conservation is the most sustainable human economy.

Trail up i10 village

I wrote recently about how many environmental organizations were abandoning the Puritanism of the wilderness model, recognizing that the most effective way to conserve some natural areas was through a sustainable USE of the land by a native population. That is what is happening at Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.

CP 39 terraces houses

It is our goal at all of our sites in the developing world. Indeed, the special sauce that makes Global Heritage Fund unique is that we ONLY work in developing regions. We do that because we know that money spent on heritage is wasted unless the local community want to save it. They will do that if it benefits them – economically as well as spiritually. We also work in these places because we recognize conservation as the most sustainable way to develop and improve economies for the future. That’s it.

CP 16 main axis best

Our mission is to save heritage in the developing world, and do it in a way that improves lives, because that is best for the heritage, for the local people, and for the local economy. It gives the lie to Wordsworth, because we can see what is ours in nature and we can get and spend in a way that builds our powers rather than wastes them.

heshui geese 3 copy

Megafauna, Megaliths and Megamalls

November 29, 2013

My first coherent memory of the term Black Friday was in 2008, when we had two Chinese students staying at our house for Thanksgiving and they went out all night to “celebrate” this American consumer tradition. History tells me that the term dates to the 1960s, and of course I was well aware of people starting their Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving throughout my life. I was a rare participant, having suffered lifelong from male-pattern-shopping-disorder.
in Costco2
Despite advanced degrees and extensive world travel, I am unable to appreciate the beauty of this image. What’s wrong with me?

Now, the casualties from this year’s simultaneous shopping frenzy are already mounting as I write this, so as a historian I immediately think of parallels in earlier civilizations, such as the human sacrifice found in many MesoAmerican cultures. You can argue there is a difference between religious beliefs and consumerism, but you can also argue exactly the opposite, and indeed in history the distinction between belief and ritual is entirely academic.
Klaus-Peter Simon_2012
Here is an image of the world’s oldest “ceremonial” site, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, 5,000 years older than Stonehenge. (at Global Heritage Fund we are trying to conserve it through community development projects) Some have called it the world’s oldest “religious” site but we have no idea if and what religion possessed these hunter-and-gatherer societies of the Fertile Crescent at that date. We can only know about the site’s ritual use, and even much of that is still theoretical.
steinkreis av sitk
Even if we know what she is doing, we don’t know what she is thinking

The world is full of early megalithic structures, places like the Celtic stone circle in Austria seen above, or Göbekli Tepe, or Stonehenge, or the famous Easter Island statues, or the Spinx for that matter. Pyramids themselves, found in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt (duh), and of course throughout the Americas, are a kind of megalith, even if the earliest ones are rammed earth, or in this case, adobe brick.
huaca huallamarcaS
Lima is full of huacas (pyramids) like Rome is full of Baroque churches

So, we have the ancient ritual sites and their megaliths, and we have our modern ritual sites, which are megamalls, and progress is certainly measurable because we sacrifice a miniscule fraction of the number of people they used to sacrifice at these various ritual sites. So where do the megafauna fit in?
cahok interp28 life diorS

Traditionally we ascribe the rise of religion to the abandonment of the huntering and gathering lifestyle for settled agricultural societies. If you are always on the move, you can’t build a temple, right? Göbekli Tepe conflates that, since it was built by pre-agricultural society, although there are intriguing connections to the early domestication of plants and animals. Every historical shift has a push and a pull, and the ready availability of plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent and Eurasia in general was a pull, but the demise of megafauna was likely a push.
GT megalith
Is that a dodo?

One of the quaint truths about human societies is that they almost never, ever live in any sort of harmony with nature. We love the myth of people living in harmony with nature, and that myth meant Avatar made a boatload of money, which is too say that myth FED our expansive economic ecosystem that depends on consumption of more resources than our environment can sustain. That is ironic in the original sense of the word, BTW. It is relatively easy to see in the fossil record how prehistoric humans on every continent wiped out the megafauna: giant kangaroos, mastodons and woolly mammoths, huge felines, etc. We might wonder at how they could have managed these huge kills, but the “big game hunter” still exists – the human impulse is to go big. And when a tribe managed a big kill, they got a big payoff in terms of calories and clothes and tools. So we killed off all those big beasts. Probably a very male thing.
Unlike architecture. Hard to see the male imagery in that…

While the men were going big in the hunt, the women were gathering fruits and nuts and berries and eventually emmer wheat and barley and THEY probably figured out the idea of agriculture, which was much less dramatic than the big hunt but more productive in the long terms of calories and clothes and sustained societies better. Besides the Ice Age was over and nutrients in the soil were OFF THE HOOK.
OI egyp breadS
3000 year old bread. Stale, but nutritious.

SO, if you go to the Fertile Crescent today you see lands of milk and honey where everything grows in blue peace with the environment, yes? Well, no. It’s more like lots of desert, because of the lovely human tendency (all genders pull together on this one!) to exploit our resources until we totally run out.

I remember touring the archaeological monuments of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, where our guide pointed out from one summit the remains of eight significant prehistoric monuments, wedge tombs and dolmens and the like, and noted that there was only one contemporary house in the same viewshed, because the land was much MORE populated five thousand years ago.
gleninsheen crop02
You know, before it got gentrified

Now comes the time in the story when I make an analogy to heritage conservation. So here goes. In preserving and conserving historic sites, we tended to start with the megafauna: the huge monuments like Pyramids and Great Walls and Palaces and whacking great ginormous temples….
cahok world hertS
coba pyramid
roy palace

Then we got a little more sophisticated, which is to say feminine, and started cultivating our cultural landscapes, but since we did it in a curatorial (male) fashion, we tended to demolish as much as we conserved, so we got historic landscapes that were more like petting zoos than living landscapes…
Skansen, the granddaddy of them all

But then we started listening to the likes of Jane Jacobs and tried to imagine actual sustainable environments that retained their roots: both in architectural design and place history, and we imagined we could sustain these historical cultural landscapes in a living, evolving way…
bank st vw
Calif St Ital TudorS
44th berkeley

And that’s as far as we have gotten. Happy Black Friday!

PS: I treated the monuments to landscapes argument a year ago here.

Commercial and Interpretive

November 15, 2013

I was at a meeting of the National Trust and several citizen preservation groups in Monterey concerned about the future of the Cooper-Molera Adobe, a house museum in Monterey, one of the treasures of California’s Spanish capitol. I blogged about Cooper-Molera two and a half years ago here, and what I said remains true – the site has been largely shuttered due to state budget cuts, cuts which are not going to be reversed.
copper molera2013s
When the National Trust announced it was working with a developer to come up with restaurant and other commercial uses at the site, there was a fair amount of community uproar, especially among volunteers who felt the site should stay interpretive. And this debate: “Commercial versus Interpretive” was still active when I was there last month. And it is a false dichotomy. This is NOT an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation.
cooper molera kica ctS
As I said in 2011, the site was always commercial and it still is because there is a gift shop on the corner. The barns are currently empty due to code issues, and the site is a hub of inactivity. Commercial uses would not only be interpretively appropriate, they would raise awareness of the site and bring its historical understanding to many more people.

I spoke about my own experience with another National Trust site, the Gaylord Building in Lockport, Illinois. This was the National Trust’s first “adaptive re-use” site and its first industrial building. It was restored by the Donnelley family in the 1980s and half was made a restaurant and the other half a series of interpretive exhibits and museum-type uses.
gaylord f SWs

We did a strategic assessment there about seven or eight years ago and we learned that the building has a split identity – people either saw it as a museum or as a restaurant. And the two never met. The answer was too make the restaurant more interpretive and the interpretive side more commercial. Have more exhibits in the restaurant and a shop in the museum side. This would unite the building’s identity and as I said above, bring the historical message to a much larger audience.
publ ldg nwall

But the more I thought about it, the more this artificial distinction bothered me. I thought of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, which I visited about 15 years ago. When you visit, you learn that the tomb of Strongbow in the nave was in fact the site of the most important binding legal agreements in the land through the centuries. Not only was there no separation of commerce and sacred culture, but they were in fact legally bound together. You needed to go to the church to do business. Because that was THE public building.
christchurch ca

If we want to reach the public with historic sites that have a lot to relate about history and architecture and the roots of our shared places, we need to make those places the center of public life. But the preservationist impulse is often the opposite: Save it. Remove it from the world. Hide it. Protect it.
bkly shingley2s
Why leave your building outside where there is rain and weather and stuff?

This is wrong. As I have well learned running the Global Heritage Fund (join here!)the only way to preserve something over the long term is to make it useful and productive for its community. Then the community will preserve it sustainably over the long term. There is no amount of money that can save a building forever – none, even if you put it indoors somehow and encase it in amber. Everything deteriorates. The only way to truly save something is to make it vital and central to enough people that they will keep investing in it forever.
farns viw08flS
Like this submarine. As Mies’s grandson Dirk Lohan noted, it would be ludicrous to have this design in a place that didn’t flood. If it doesn’t get wet, it has no message.

Going back to our friend Strongbow at Christ Church, there is perhaps a Biblical, New testament reference that makes preservation purists want to excise commercial from interpretive, even when you are interpreting a commercial site. Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, right?
cr fran wyps15
More Father than Son, but my all-time favorite Wyspianski window

Two thoughts there: One, the story proves that commercial transactions in sacred space go back WAY before Strongbow, again probably because it makes the most sense to transact business in the most public of places. Two, if you actually read the passage, it wasn’t just moneychangers – it was also dove (pigeon) sellers, which were used for sacrifice, and a major trope throughout Old and New Testaments is moving away from blood sacrifice.
Dali cath12 near entS
Here’s a picture of a Catholic church, so there
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and here is a synagogue
DLH mosq doorsS
and a mosque

But even if we go with the religulous approach to preserving something by keeping it free of the Taint of Mammon (good band name), aren’t we diluting its historical message by radically changing its use? The only time Cooper-Molera WASN’T a commercial site was when they made it a museum.
drawing rm b

And what is a museum? Why only the NEWEST use of all! We have had shops and offices and temples and houses for thousands of years. When is the first museum? A little over 200 years ago. Here’s me in that VERY FIRST museum 31 years ago, when the idea of a museum was closer to 170.
vince louvre82
The naked guy behind me is about 10 times older than the idea of a museum

One of the lessons I have struggled to learn my whole life is the virtue of the “both-and”. My dissertation advisor Bob Bruegmann kept admonishing me to get away from dualities, from “either-ors”. So I understand where the fine citizens of Monterey are coming from. I came from there too. I also sought to see the world in dualities and I also sought to throw the dove sellers out of the temple.

grk temp brit mus

But that supposed “purity” is a false message that garbles and fundamentally alters – not in a good way – the meaning of historic sites. For too long we have conveyed that to be historical is to be unengaged in life. But history DID NOT happen like that – it happened right at the vibrant and completely messed-up center of life. Unless we put our historic sites right into that messy center they will have neither historic nor contemporary validity.

tai he dian cls
It’s not Forbidden anymore

Diversity in Preservation: Rethinking Standards and Practices

November 1, 2013

I have been Vice Chair of the Diversity Task Force for the National Trust for Historic Preservation for several years and yesterday at the National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis we held a Conversation Starter that represented one of the results of our work.

Exactly 20 National Preservation Conferences ago I did my first national presentation and it was part of a session on Inner-City Preservation that sought to answer the question: how do we get more minorities and inner-city dwellers involved in preservation? My answer was: Wrong Question. They are involved. I chronicled a long list of Landmarks Illinois efforts in Chicago to that date, including my experience with the North Kenwood community, which I wrote about in the Future Anterior journal in 2005. The question was more appropriately, how do we integrate our efforts with theirs? This is the same question National Trust President Stephanie Meeks has been asking – how do we reach local preservationists?

The difference twenty years later? Well, for one, the Diversity Task Force has been talking with the National Park Service about Standards and Practices and how they might be amended or altered to create and recognize more diverse historic sites. Ray Rast of Gonzaga described his challenge surveying and documenting sites associated with labor organizer Cesar Chavez. He kept running into issues of INTEGRITY, which is the word we use in the U.S., because back when we created the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, the international word “authenticity” was too scary.
1817 hudson muckdoor

Now, both words are difficult to define, but integrity is slightly more problematic because it tracks more closely with the strong visual, formal and architectural focus of the preservation movement over time. This is why the redefinitions of preservation as process in the last fifteen years have focused on how authenticity is determined. Integrity is loads easier. It means simply: Does the architecture look like it did historically? Does it convey its significance?
LG road victorianS
This question is relatively easy for architectural historians to answer, but it makes much less sense to regular historians and to many of our minority cultures whose significance lies in narratives or other elements of intangible heritage.
afric ceme 2 sign

Rast also noted that Standards and Practices present an either-or proposition rather than a continuum. Either a property has integrity or it does not. It is a Pass/Fail system: you either get an A or an F. He suggested degrees of integrity and I find this idea intriguing.
purple onion bldgS
Whattya think? A C+?

How do you measure how well a property conveys historical significance that has little to do with architecture? Where Lincoln died, or where the Declaration of Independence was signed, for example? ALL sites of historic significance require interpretation, yet we judge their ability to convey significance by the same standards we use for sites exemplifying great architecture or craftsmanship. Shouldn’t the sites listed under Criterion A for History have a different relationship to integrity than those sites listed under Criterion C, where their significance REALLY is contained in their architectural fabric?

We need to recognize that not everyone is trained visually. We don’t all see the same thing, because our eyes (and other senses) have not been trained equally. I began my career as an historian, and I can actually remember a time over 30 years ago when I did not yet SEE the architectural world around me. My eyes were opened. It was a dramatic transformation.
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The other issue that ALSO affects buildings of architectural significance is the one of “period of significance.” A building’s initial construction is usually where the period of significance begins, but even within the architectural world this can change: these houses were built in a Federal or Italianate style but heavily altered in the 1920s to a completely different style. What is their period of significance?
linc pk w spano2s
linc pk w Meno rehab2s

These buildings actually DO convey their significance: the rehabilitation of the Old Town neighborhood by artists in the 1920s. They actually convey the story BETTER due to their lack of integrity because you can see the transformation that occurred. The convey the history of community preservation, of people fixing up houses and promoting their historic neighborhood.

This is not to say that standards should be discarded. As fellow paneliest Irvin Henderson pointed out, their is a healthy give-and-take in the debates over integrity between the expert preservationists and the community activists: we don’t EITHER side to simply do what they want. But we need a more precise, sliding scale of significance that filters the concept of integrity differently when faced with different kinds of significance.

Cultural Landscapes: The Confluence of Conservations

October 6, 2013

I have blogged previously about the differences between natural area conservation and heritage conservation, especially in terms of use-value, as I wrote about last year in this blog. The basic point was that natural area conservation is largely about preserving non-use value – a liability (or at least an externality), while heritage conservation is about preserving use-value – an asset.
Big Sur 97bS
we could all use some of this

That blog also delved into the 41-year history of World Heritage, which includes both cultural, natural and “mixed” sites. I detailed how we had shifted in heritage conservation from iconic and monumental singular sites to broader cultural landscapes. In recent discussions with conservation foundations, I am sensing a new confluence of heritage conservation and natural conservation as both approaches are moving into the arena of cultural landscapes.
heshuie fields4
Guizhou, China

More than one foundation that sees the conservation of natural areas as its mission has moved into funding efforts to protect indigenous peoples and landscapes: cultural landscapes that are NOT “wilderness” in any traditional sense, but whose balance of humans and nature seems to be in a sort of equilibrium we would not claim for our American cities and suburbs. At least two foundations I recently met with are looking at specific regions where indigeous people occupy – and farm or shepherd – a landscape in a way that may preserve the natural environment in an overall sense despite the “taint” of human occupation. Instead of merely keeping people out of these areas, the goal is to allow traditional indigenous economies to manage those landscapes in a sustainable way with traditional agriculturalist and pastoralist practices.
Trail 20 huts
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

The evolution of natural area conservation from wilderness to occupied landscapes has occurred over a long period, and arguably efforts to preserve Andean watersheds or Central Asian steppes without regard to political boundaries has its roots in the earliest national parks. My own experience in heritage conservation began with an organization that is still not 50 years old that undertook a comprehensive look at the landscapes near Chicago and identified pristine nature amidst industrial and agricultural development and devised a scheme to preserve BOTH.
canal view to indS
Illinois & Michigan Canal near Channahon.

Arguably, it is the historic preservation people who got to the party late, focusing on iconic architectural landmarks to the exclusion of layered landscapes where history might best be captured in ordinary structures. In my dissertation research, I identified a gap between the traditional architectural preservationists who sought to save individual landmarks and those community activists who identified potential historic districts almost a century ago. Those groups slowly came together in the 1960s and 1970s, just as the environmental movement achieved an apex of influence on public policy.
gv face reflex
Greenwich Village, Manhattan
El Capitan strea Alex5

It has been argued that both environmentalism and historic preservation are reactions against industrialization and its effects on the landscape; that both are somewhat nostalgic oppositions to economic growth. This argument fails to account for the entirety of my 30 years in the heritage development field but it does reveal an interesting bias that accounts for the current trends in regard to occupied landscapes.
mt vernon
Here is Mount Vernon, famously saved in the mid-19th century from the depredations of development, especially “manufactories.” There is of course its iconic association with George Washington, but if you go there today you realize that it is a plantation, which is to say, a settled agricultural landscape. Ann Pamela Cunningham and her friends saw BOTH the house and the landscape as worthy of preservation. The first preservation group in the US was the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The motives were nostalgic and anti-progress, but their goals were both historic and environmental.

princeton btlfd
Princeton Battlefield

So perhaps it is not unusual that these two movements are coalescing AGAIN. I remember being really struck by Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature a quarter-century ago when he argued that most of the truly wild places were gone. It is hard to find pieces of the planet untouched by civilization (or at least societies). I have visited the archaeological sites of many past civilizations who so despoiled their landscapes that they made deserts of rich fields and ruins of great cities.
burren pavements
The Burren, Ireland. Cromwell’s general said of the landscape, heavily populated millenia earlier, “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.”

If you look on the National Trust website today, you see the fruits of decades of efforts to move from icons to “places that matter” and you see that the targets of the movement in the U.S. are, in addition to architectural landmarks, places as vast and diverse as the Mississippi Delta, Chimney Rock and even Princeton Battlefield. Internationally, the trend is quite similar, and it is instructive to look at the goal of BOTH heritage and natural area conservation, which is NOT stopping change, but MANAGING change.
rui9ncrop and river
Wachau, Austria

Managing change is what heritage conservation is all about. For the Global Heritage Fund project in Guizhou, our goal is to come up with ways of preserving both the structures and folkways of these World Heritage minority villages as they become linked by fast roadways to the big cities. It is a classic GHF problem requiring careful community planning and conservation while working with communities and partners to insure positive economic and social benefit.
heshui waterwheelS
Waterwheel for pounding wood pulp to make paper, HeShui Village, Guizhou

Many of our projects combine heritage conservation with natural area conservation. We have had many support our Classical Mayan archaeological site of El Mirador in Guatemala because it preserves massive Mesoamerican pyramids as well as disappearing rainforest. Similarly, when you trek to our site of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, you are in both the Tayrona indigenous area and a national park.
CP 39 terraces houses

Over thirty years ago I began working on an effort to save a landscape that had pristine natural areas, historic towns, steel plants and vast agricultural plots. It was a whole story of human existence layered into a landscape and it was a pioneering approach to the concept of conservation as managed change that does not remove nature or history from the economy, but manages its future as a vital – and conserved – element of the economy. I have been privileged to witness the confluence of heritage and natural conservation over those decades, and to be able to participate in it every day.
vw to lock 8s

Los Gatos

September 15, 2013

I have lived in Los Gatos for well over a year now and am past due to blog about it. Like many of the communities in the Bay Area, it has a rich history that is still visible in its buildings and landscape. It also has a kind of branding, namely its name, which is Spanish for cats.
gato on mainS
These stylized regal cats are found in many public and private places and seem to be a cross between Egyptian cat-gods and guardian lions rather than the mountain lions which the place was named for. I am tempted to insert a joke about cougars relating to our downtown venues of Mountain Charlie’s and Number One Broadway but I shan’t.
los gatos reserv roadS
But safe to say you find these cats everywhere….
Los Gatos penthouseS

The town is way down in the South Bay next to San Jose, and is the gateway to Santa Cruz on the coast. Indeed, we live in the Santa Cruz mountains just over the county line but we are still scholastically and politically within Los Gatos, although its downtown is about 10 miles away. The town began, if I can believe the historic plaques along the onetime railroad in the town square, in the middle of the 19th century, which again is common for this part of the country (see my summer blog on Watsonville.)

LG plaq firstS

Impossible to read that, but it basically says Los Gatos was a stagecoach and later rail stop on the way to Santa Cruz. I would say it would be fun to see the days when the Peninsula was served by stagecoaches, which would stop at various points to get fresh horses, but I won’t wait long to see it again: that is basically Elon Musk’s plan for his ever-expanding Tesla electric car empire: You pull into a Tesla station, swap your battery, and continue on your way. Just like the Pony Express. Another great Silicon Valley innovation only eight generations old.

forbes millS
So this is the town’s historic site, Forbes Mill, which was built in the 1850s drawing power from Los Gatos Creek and kept Forbes’ name despite his complete lack of success running a flour mill. This is actually an 1880 addition saved from demolition in 1982 to become the local historic museum which every town has.
forbes mill muse plqS

Downtown Los Gatos sort of consists of three roughly parallel streets, Santa Cruz Boulevard, which is Main Street, University Avenue next to it, and Los Gatos Boulevard on the other side of Highway 17, which gives way to strip development once you get past the downtown. Here is a classic view of the section of Los Gatos Boulevard that is historic:
LG Main Street 1890s blockS
purple onion bldgS

Just past is the modernist City Hall and even more contemporary Public Library, followed by the 1923 High School, which is picture perfect, a Classical composition set back on a vast lawn:

Another mile of Los Gatos Boulevard features a lot of Victorian houses, in fact I would argue that the Queen Anne defines Los Gatos the way the Italianate defines San Francisco (and they both command seven figures on a bad day)
LG Blvd 2m VictS
LG road victorianS
LG Blvd Alma hopusS
The last one there is the 1905 Alma House, which was on the market for $5 million last year. There are also lovely runs of Queen Anne cottages on University Avenue and on the other side of Santa Cruz Boulevard throughout the town:
great victorian wilderishS
LG Bld Vic cottgS
univ ave victorianS

LG Blvd VictorS

This one right at the intersection of Highway 9 and Los Gatos Boulevard sort of reminds me of early Frank Lloyd Wright Shingle Style with its Palladian window:
LG Blvd and 9 palladianS

univ ave victo carS

One of the most elaborate Victorians is on Santa Cruz Boulevard and is now the popular Palacio restaurant, but of course was once a funeral home.

Now, there are of course bungalows and even a few mission style houses, although fewer than you might expect given the location. And of course plenty of postwar moderns in the “Likeler” tradition.
LG Blvd bungalowsS
LG Blvd bungaS
SC blvd postwar4s

episcopal churchS
This last is the Episcopal Church next to “Old Town” which is really a shopping center but is the site of the historic city center and has a faux Mission to “prove” it.

Downtown you have everything from the original Opera House and Romanesque business blocks to corner-turreted shops and even an Art Deco movie theater now under restoration.
opera houseBs
well bldg sunglassesS

I love this one which features polychrome terra cotta images of the Missions which defined the Camino Real and the whole bottom two-thirds of California.
TC bldg4s
LG night TCs

Speaking of architectural detail, check out these panels right on the main downtown corner, stoic as innumerable Teslas and Priuses roll by….
corner bldgScorner bldg detailS

I’ve always been enchanted by this little Romanesque gem, now an office, on University Avenue:
LG Blvd RomanS

Now, we live up in the mountains in an area called Villa del Monte, very close to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake on 1989. The Villa itself is a 1918 house which still exists and has a fabulous Roman atrium design.
the villa courtyard colsS

It is cool to see how historic houses, like this 19th century schoolhouse converted into a winery, survived earthquakes – this is less than half a mile from the epicenter.
burrell schols

Most of the houses are post-1960, but there are some fine ones and some fine wines, since we have a lot of wineries here. (and will continue to do so after temperatures rise, unlike Napa)
villa best winery houseS

You can even see the tunnel that cut through the Santa Cruz mountains and made Los Gatos an important place.
the tunnelS

The stunning Lexington Reservoir I pass every day traveling to and from town:
lexiington reservoirS

But can you see Los Gatos? Some of my mountain neighbors have, but my own sightings are nil. Unless you count live music nights at Mountain Charlie’s…
mountain charlie detS

GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.
CP i main iBest
and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

Jeff trademarked his approach: a focus on careful PLANNING – both conservation planning and site management planning; the latest in scientific CONSERVATION; local and national PARTNERSHIPS; and most importantly, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. What attracted me to the organization back in 2008 was this mission and methodology, because it was in line with my understanding of historic preservation/heritage conservation, an understanding you can see repeated in this blog over the last eight years.
PY Nan st vwS
Pingyao, China. I first visited this site for GHF in 2008.

I was thinking about some of my early blogs back in 2005, especially the one called Heresy and Apostasy. I had, together with one of the big preservation organizations, agreed to a plan that saved some buildings but demolished others. This upset the holy hermits of preservation, who like all ideologues and fundamentalists, brook no blurred lines in their pursuit of purity.
Bas Relief detailD
No blurred lines here – Jayavarman VII bas-relief, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Not only did I find that approach unrealistic and unproductive in 2005, I found it that way in 1983 when I was the punk with the halo. That is because my introduction to historic preservation was through the heritage area, a Reagan-era public-private partnership model that paired historic preservation with natural conservation, tourism, and economic development. Sound familiar?
lock 8 houseS
Lock 8 and 1840s locktender’s house, Aux Sable, Illinois

Now of course I screamed and shouted to save buildings, but for over thirty years I have understood preservation/conservation to be an economic strategy. I recognize the distinction between the museum and the everyday to be an artificial distinction. You can raise money to preserve a museum piece, to be sure, but you need to keep raising that money – forever. I soon realized that the majority of preservation happens not by removing objects from our everyday and our economy, but by placing them at the center of our everyday economy. By exploiting their use value.
cuz it costs lots of money to remove things from society

Within the basic impulse to SAVE something is the impulse to keep it forever from harm, and the tendency to remove it from the economic everyday that threatened it. But this tendency is dead wrong on every level, because hermetic removal is at best a temporary solution. You can no more escape the economic everyday than you can escape the atmosphere. Moreover, if we take a piece of heritage and say, make it a house museum, we are in fact repurposing the site for a new use. One that happens to suck eggs economically, for the most part.
c-m overhang
Wanna lose a million dollars a year? Take a general store and turn it into a house museum.

So Global Heritage Fund was designed to help communities lift themselves out of poverty by conserving their world heritage. Job training in conservation. Community based tourism. Maintenance and enhancement of craft traditions. Building community value and investment by saving its root heritage.
jianzi, Pingyao

So, the obvious question is: are you just selling out? Is this also a legacy of thirty years of neoliberal backlash that just needs a robust statist solution where everything valuable stays in the museum where it belongs? No. The reality is this: I can spend millions of dollars restoring a heritage site, but if the local community does not benefit from that site, all of my money is wasted and it will just need to be preserved again ten or twenty years from now.

Worse, if an outside NGO comes in and conserves an architectural or archaeological treasure without involving the local community FROM THE GET-GO, you not only create a dependency on millions of dollars every decade; but you alienate the locals, who might decide to loot the site, since they have lost ownership of it.
chornankap sacerdotisa
chotune museum
This is last year’s discovery of a sacerdotista at Chornankap; and the museum of Chotune/Chornankap in Peru. There used to be looters there. Now the local community supports the archaeological sites and everyone gets their wedding pictures taken in front of the museum. If looters come, the community chases them away.

So, the reality is that this model of investing the community with an initial stake in the project is better for the conservation of the site. And better for the community. In fact, it is the true model of sustainability. We have been misled (I also found a 2005 blog about “greenwashing”) into thinking sustainability is in the DESIGN. No, it is in the design process, which means it is something you PLAN, by insuring that long-term stewards are part of the project from the beginning.
ctyd 4doc-77
Local planners documenting courtyards in Pingyao, 2008

Of course, we still have to raise money, but ideally we can leverage more money and investment with this model. My vision for GHF 2.0 is to take this to the next step: to lead with expertise in conservation science; to plan with community needs and desires first; to leverage multiple partnerships to maximize impact; to identify economically viable models for sustaining sites; and to promote community development as the best way to save heritage. Because it is.
Bas Relief workers on wall

We are celebrating our first ten years with a big Gala here in Silicon Valley on October 2, which you can read about here. In the meantime, visit our website and learn about projects, investigations, future tours and an organization that understands how heritage conservation has always worked. And always will.


August 10, 2013

A skeuomorph is “a design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary.” Like the body shape of an electric guitar.
new guitarS
“i sing the body electric…”
Examples include the shutter sound on a digital camera, lightbulbs shaped like candle flames, the newstand app that looks like a wooden bookshelf, and plastic lumber with wood graining.
plastic wood chairS

I announced my intention to write a blog about skeuomorphs in architecture and my dear friend Elizabeth Milnarik pointed out that “architectural history = skeuomorphism, or the rejection of skeuomorphism, more or less.” She is right.
capitol hill ruins5
“…meets some fragment huge and stops to guess…”

The classical (in every sense) example is the capital of the Corinthian column, derived in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Callimachus when he saw acanthus leaves growing around a votive urn or basket, according to Vitruvius.
corinth capital PFA

The Greek and then Roman temple is itself a collection of forms borrowed from other materials and rendered into stone.
parthenon back pediment
These forms have been in turn borrowed on the largest architectural scale to signify the elevated nature of government buildings,
VA State Capitol
houses of worship,
la madeleine
lincoln bankS
and homes
classical cuyler2

Khmer architecture in stone is based on wooden precedents, which explains not only its rampant skeuomorphism, but also its goddawful engineering.
apsaras window96
the spindled windows and
galleries f abv35
the shingled galleries and
tp 91 archi detail
the carved corners and
collapsed corbel
the constantly collapsing corbels

Chinese architectural tradition, even when it remained within familiar material (wood), often exaggerated and/or multiplied once-functional architectural features for aesthetic effect. The duogong bracket system originally provided structural support from column to roof purlin, and cantilevers called ang allowed the adjustment of roofline curves (in itself practical originally, since it protected structural elements from weather and allowed more light and air within).
gingxu temp struc2
Eventually the duogong became decorative and nonfunctional
changchun  det

those ang are SO retro!

Gothic architecture, as its name implies, is a kind of skeumorphism squared, retaining distorted features of previous architectures, the natural or wooden forms long forgotten.
gothic acanthusS
“…oppresses like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes…”
ste chapp bits00
Durham cathedral
Oh look! It’s the transition from Romanesque to Gothic at Durham Cathedral!

The Renaissance and the Baroque totally doubled down on the whole skeuomorph thing, refining forms with forms and creating a massive vocabulary of design elements completely abstract in their relation to any original natural inspiration.
stfmlk ch dec
“…getting and spending we lay waste our powers; little we see in Nature that is ours..”
stfmlk ch ent
sort of like heavy metal

Modernism of course was a rejection of historical styles, which is to say a la Milnarik a rejection of skeuomorphism, most neatly summed up in the German phrase Neue Sachlichkeit which can be translated as new objectivity. A plain box devoid of ornament seems an apt expression of engineering and need.
But the fact of the matter: there is always that attempt to sweeten, to make forms subjective, even without ornament.
kmarxhof fr2
now the soundtrack should be New Order
troos schroder house1s
the practical aspect here is the separate architect/lover’s entrance, not visible

Frank Lloyd Wright understood architectural ornament as “the conventionalization of natural things, revealing the inner poetry of their Nature.” The Egyptians conventionalized the lotus; the Greeks the acanthus; civilization itself was “a conventionalizing of our original state of nature”; and architecture “the highest, most subjective, conventionalization of Nature known to man”.
unity exterior colsS
This is a conventionalized hollyhock
FLW willits sidechair
Wright didn’t need to retain skeuomorphs that would make you feel more comfortable. He didn’t care if you were comfortable..
Wright apprentice Barry Byrne designed modernist Catholic churches, assiduously avoiding skeuomorphs in an idiom that almost requires it. You can buy the Byrne book here.

But enough about the big styles, what actually got me going is one of the most basic and baffling skeuomorphs: the square chimney. We have so long identified the square chimney as the appropriate form, even though the structural element is circular, a tube. This is given away by the Victorian chimney pots, which follow the shape of the smoke vent even as the masonry does not.
euclid lake NE
I see a chimney. I know it is a chimney because it is brick and square
box chimney op
So I see new houses built, or old ones with new fireplaces added like this, and they put cylindrical metal chimney tubes, and then they add rectangular plywood boxes around them – because that is the shape they are supposed to be – and then cover the plywood with fake brick – because that is the material they are supposed to be.
TC at LHS showS
Terra cotta is a material whose sole rationale is skeuomorphism, more easily rendering detail than carved stone or other masonry material.
new terra cotta n wabash
I suppose the most ubiquitous, and arguably outrageous skeuomorph is the Palladian window, which is based on a Roman triumphal arch, so it was never a window at all but now it is everywhere, not because it helps the window to DO anything, but because it signifies classicism just like those columns and pediments…
i got a classy house
221 s pall det1111s
actually this is our house back East
office PAS
and this is my office here in California
flw home best crop
Even Frank Lloyd Wright was not immune to Palladian temptations..

nasty replacements taylor OPs
Speaking of windows, the whole multi-paned window like the one you see here – which is a nasty, short-lived plastic replacement window that won’t last as long as Real Housewives of Atlanta is perhaps the most common architectural skeuomorph. The multi-paned window goes with Classical and Georgian styles.
campbell ctr bldg cls
So, this 19th century building in Mount Carroll, Illinois has the multi-paned windows, just like this ACTUAL Georgian Building in Trenton, New Jersey:
trent hs copy
But the fact of the matter is that by the middle of the 19th century you could produce reasonably large sheets of glass almost anywhere, so the old crown (English) and broad (German) methods of manual glass production were over with and you could produce windows like this throughout the civilized world in the 1850s:
ital details midway
In fact, technology would have allowed a single pane in each sash but the popular Italianate style went for paired things (brackets, arches, panes). We still see multi-paned windows everywhere, which are skeuomorphs for something that has not needed to exist for 200 years. The modern ones are just strips of plastic that reduce the amount of light you get inside. but they SIGNIFY Classicism or Americana or Oldy-Timeyism or something.

It is the signification carried by certain forms – and perpetuated by form-givers – that ultimately explains the skeuomorph. Architectural history is indeed a history of skeuomorphs and the rejection thereof, so Elizabeth is right. Or Wright.
heurtley super bestS

Virtuality in preservation

August 4, 2013

So we are driving in Sonoma County and we come to a town and see these lovely Victorian buildings on the hill.
Bodega first view
There are some other people there taking pictures of this big old Italianate that looks kind of like a school, and a church and an antique shop
Bodega st. theresa
Bodega antique
Bodega birds bldg
Now you might recognize this last building, but I was like the first viewer of The Sixth Sense or Fight Club and I was unaware of anything except a very cool mid-19th century buiding, so we went into town where we were looking for a fabric store and found a craft store and some other nice buildings like so…
bodega quoing house
Bodega 1870s
Bodega bukcfronts
Bodega store wi AH manni
So why did the store have a mannequin of Alfred Hitchcock out front? And one of Tippi Hedren inside?
Bodega stoere tippi display
And unlike when I saw The Sixth Sense and figured it out, I needed a storefull of The Birds memorabilia to connect that building with the movie that made it famous.
Bodega store birds displ

Now, earlier we had swung by one of my favorite buildings in Marin County, which is noted in architectural history as one of the late great works of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Marin County Courthouse.
Marin county courthouse bes
marin co courthouse cls
But this is also a movie set – it was in the late 1970s for THX 1138 and in 1997 for Gattaca, where its futuristic 1950s design ably represented the mid-21st century.

Appearing in a movie can make a place or a building more famous and more attractive to tourists, which might seem to be cheating since the “history” being added to the building is fictional by definition. Yet, when we film a famous movie at a site, that is part of its history too, right? I am reminded of being in Marfa, Texas, at a National Register hotel, which had a whole room dedicated to memorabilia of the film Giant, which was made there in the 1950s. More recently, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed in the rural hipster mecca.
paisano courtyard bS

chinati concrete18s
hipster because Donald Judd

Even places that have legitimate and ongoing attraction for tourists because of their architecture get a boost from movies. Think about Paris after The Da Vinci Code. Already famous buildings became the setting for a novel and then increased the interest in those buildings tenfold. Of course, LA is full of scenes from movies since they are mostly made there. TV has a similar influence – twenty years ago Germans called this monument in Chicago “Bundy Fountain” because it appeared in the opening credits of Married With Children
buck fntn

The point of all of this virtual history of place is that it is a kind of historia, a narrative that may in fact have been inspired by the place or not but is definitely attached to the place. In terms of tourism, this connection to fictional narratives can exponentially increase it – just look at the tourism of Universal Studios Hollywood, which is where TV and movies are really made.
but this building is part of the purpose-built amusement park that goes along with the studio tour, so not sure where that fits into the analysis.

One of my favorite visits over 20 years ago was Portmerion, Wales, where they shot The Prisoner (say that in conversation and confusion ensues) back in the 1960s. It was a funny fantasy place of slightly off-scale buildings, not unlike Disneyland but preceding it by two generations. It was an architectural fantasyland and it became a perfect movie set. Interestingly, what keeps the tourists coming since the 1970s is Portmerion china, so the layers of historia keep building…

the quantum mechanics of culture

July 18, 2013

- written in magic marker across the top of my windscreen in 1984 -


When I studied history in college I reasoned that historical events were “overdetermined,” that is to say that they could not be explained by simple cause-and-effect. The causes of World War I, for example, are a big mushy stew of militarism, a rising capitalist industrialism, a Byzantine network of alliances and treaties, and a global economy still shedding the creaky structure of mercantilism. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was the “event” at a point in time and space which purportedly set these multiple causes into motion.

In quantum mechanics you can’t have a point in time and space, especially if there is movement.

stein siegel

Everyone who hates history class knows it is about memorizing dates. I like memorizing dates but I remember having a big argument (before a big history test) with my college roommate about the nature of dates in history. He felt that historical events had a discrete beginning and end. The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865. I disagreed, saying you could always push the boundaries of an event forward and back. The Civil War really began with the 1860 election, or the Dred Scott case, or the Compromise of 1850 or the Missouri Compromise 30 years earlier or the three-fifths rule in the Constitution or the African slave trade or…. the point is it just goes on. You could argue it ended in 1865 or with Reconstruction or the Voting Rights Act or you could argue that it is still going on in Sanford and Austin and Raleigh.

In string theory the attributes of subatomic one-dimensional elementals resonate over time, causing matter and its opposite.

arch bldg brise tamu

You start pulling the threads of history and you get more and more entangled. I like the messiness of history, as I note on my website and over the years in this blog. Overdetermined in cause and effect, indeterminate in time, rich in detail. In the post-Enlightenment world we have also seen history in a positivist trajectory, something most human cultures (and religions) in time have rejected. See my post on 2012 and the End of Linear Time.

Liongrv gdn cool door cS

Historians are always playing catch-up with science and medicine, those disciplines which can legitimately claim some crazy-ass accomplishments over the last couple of hundred years. We’ve doubled lifespans, cured diseases, gone from a 90-second powered flight to the moon in 66 years, and the latest plane crash had a 99 percent survival rate. But in history we still fall back on great leaders and military tactics, even though these approaches have been challenged for the entirety of my life. Humans, by nature, gravitate to singular explanations. But science and medicine have made their advances by rejecting simple agency, so should we all. Yeah, it’s harder. You have to think and work and stuff.

M-theory posits a universe with 11 dimensions, which is 7 past Time.

adalaj stpvwS

My doctoral work began as an investigation into the role of Modernism in historic preservation: how had a movement defined by forward-looking optimism that technology could solve societal ills also give birth to a retrospective nostalgia for more primitive urban and architectural forms? This research takes you of course to Sigfried Giedion, who wrote “Space, Time and Architecture” in 1941, an expansive and historical take that saw (a certain strand of) contemporary architectural practice as not only the culmination of centuries of slouching toward perfection, but also an expression of the radical new scientific understanding of the 20th century, namely Einsteinian space-time. Technology had made a quantum leap (haha) and architects were giving form to a new understanding of the world.

great interior2s

Exactly 20 years later Jane Jacobs totally dismantled Giedion as a faux-Einsteinian, treating cities as two-variable or statistical (disorganized complexity) problems when in fact they were biological (organized complexity) problems.

Here, kitty kitty. Schrödinger suggested a quantum biology when he introduced quantum physics.

embarcadero swirlS

My actual dissertation investigated the multiple motivations behind the creation of historic districts in the United States over the last century or so. It was a crude attempt at defining how some things were “overdetermined” and looking for strings across time and place that might provide insight not only into the creation and disposition of historic districts, but the nature and trajectory of the preservation movement itself. I found historic districts served a variety of motives, often focused on development and often expressive of a desire for a local democracy of the built environment (or partial secession, depending on your perspective)

Sf Ital rowhousS

In quantum entanglement, the measurement of a value in one element of a pair causes the other to take on a correlated value – with little regard for time, space or separation of the pair.

“Entanglement” seems like a better word that “overdetermined,” not only because it resonates more neatly with the social and political, but also because it challenges the idea of agency itself. Maybe historic preservation is the correlated pair of modernism, each spinning in the opposite direction.

ruins III 2011s

Heritage preservation has graduated from its Euclidean approach of looking at individual monuments in space to embrace cultural landscapes combining tangible and intangible heritage, like some sort of quantum field theory.

stein above3

The deeper you dig into quantum mechanics, which is an attempt to understand the basics underlying everything (matter, gravity, etc.), the more fugitive your goal becomes and the more weird the particles (or waves) become. But that fugitive state is what attracts me to this perturbative analogy.

flute columns

What are we trying to preserve? A window into the past? An archive of information or potential information? A masque of earlier culture? A design, and if so, the intention or the result? A ruin as a palimpsest that reveals time by its decrepitude? Beauty? An object? A practice? The practice of making a kind of object? It is always fugitive, though, because as soon as you preserve whatever it is, you have re-enacted it in a different time. The more correctly you measure its historical spin, the more impossible you make its contemporary correlation.

st basils day82

To preserve heritage sites we need to engage the local community, find an economically viable use – in short, construct a future for the past. This is way beyond particles or particulars and well beyond waves and trends and it seems to me quite entangled and every attempt to define or measure it causes another spin and the meaning slides and the matter resolves….

st basilz nite b

photos: airstream show, Palm Springs, 2011. Stein (town in Austria) history plaque designed 1977, photographed 2005. Texas A & M, 2007. Suzhou, 2012. Adalaj stepwell, Gujarat, 2008. Palo Alto Methodist Church, 2012. Embarcadero paving, 2011. San Francisco Italianates, 2013. Ruins III sculpture, Chicago, 2012. Stein, 2005. Columns at Sabratha, Libya, 2013. St. Basil’s Moscow, 2013, day and night.


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