Preservation Education

This fall I handed the Directorship of the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program here at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago over to Anne Sullivan, AIA. Anne has taught in the program since it began in 1994 and is currently president of the Association for Preservation Technology, among other accomplishments. I of course remain the John H Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation.

But I also remain involved in preservation education and next week in Austin, Texas I will be part of a panel discussing the future of preservation education. This is a topic I spoke on in the Ukraine in 2006 and Sweden in 2007, and at that time I was focusing on the need for hands-on opportunities for students, and how important that is to the learning process. Haptic. Muscle memory. Seeing more by DOING.

I also talked about the proliferation of short courses, continuing education courses and “certificates” that bundle together various preservation classes, since we had just approved new standards for these non-degree programs during my tenure as Chair of the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE).

But next week my role at the Conference will be to ask questions about where preservation education is going in the 21st century. A key question involves the NCPE Standards for preservation degree programs, which date back 30 years and are focused largely on history and documentation, a legacy in some ways of the Historic American Buildings Survey, crafted by the AIA and the feds back in the 1930s.

As usual, practice is outpacing theory. Almost all preservation degree programs include the following coursework, none of which is required by the NCPE Standards:

Preservation Law
Building Materials Conservation

And the following courses are rapidly expanding across our programs:

Real Estate Development
Curatorial Management

The last of course is the trendiest, but preservationists are better equipped than most to sort the wheat from the (extensive) chaff in the sustainability cornucopia. We have embodied energy, zero transport costs for structure, and landfill-light rehabilitation options that NEW construction cannot compete with in less than 30 years.

I will be outlining these issues for a panel and then we will hear about how preservation graduates are being employed: and what they are NOT learning that they NEED to learn. When preservation education began, we assumed we were training students for government jobs. Now, of course, the majority of our graduates are going into the private sector: federal programs never grew to their imagined scale and the introduction of tax credits 35 years ago means that much more preservation happens in the private sector.

What courses do our students need? What skills do they need? How have changes in preservation practice been reflected in preservation education?

The discussion will be next Saturday October 30 at 8:45 AM in the Hilton Austin, Room 406 – Register for the conference here. I will report on the results!


The session went very well and we had a really good discussion. Basically, the information Trent Margraff gathered from analysis of job listings and Ann Thornton’s analysis of skill sets all agreed on several key points:

Most new preservation jobs are in the private sector. This was not a surprise, but a confirmation of a long-term trend.

Students need more business, management, negotiation and innovation skills. These are the golden keys of the private sector and generally not central to programs based in architecture, history and planning. However, many programs do deal with these issues in real estate development and site management. But we need to do more. This is something I am very cognizant of in the realm of historic sites, which are desperate for more business management and operations skills.


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5 Responses to “Preservation Education”

  1. rossbre Says:

    Hey I really appreciate your blog. This post really got me curious. I’m a young architect and haven’t really delved into the world of preservation, but was wondering if some of these new technologies like laser scanning, rapid prototyping, cnc milling are becoming useful in reproducing elements that are difficult and expensive to recreate. Or is the idea that replicating in these ways is a big no-no in preservation. You cover the what and the why of preservation really well, I also a little curious as to the how.

  2. bghelou Says:

    I don’t know what kind of behind-the-scenes power you wield, but your preservation education post showed up in my RSS reader right after — very clever, Mr. Bond. Er … Michael.

  3. pietrow1 Says:

    Vince – I look forward to hearing about the conclusions of this discussion. I think the Continuing Education credits might help to give those of us with HPres degrees more credibility. A majority of respected occupations either offer or require these.

    Pam Pietrowsky

  4. preservegreen Says:

    I think this discussion is so incredibly necessary and glad you’re going to be a part of it. Change is definitely needed in this field as jobs are scarce and we need to bring preservation into new sectors and partnerships to keep generating interest in this field with students, post-grads, and the general public. This will only serve to foster more interesting and creative careers and help to save more buildings. I fly out Saturday, but am hoping I can make this before my flight! Thanks for posting!

  5. tahoefoundation Says:

    Vince your work in education is exemplary and far reaching. It would be interesting to read an overview of of the last century of preservation/conservation education– where have we come from and where are we going as it relates to America’s Heritage? Have you written any or know of any articles I could read which would provide me with such information in 3-10 pages? If not, would you consider doing one? I’d love to hear it from someone who is inspiring us all to move in informed directions as well as who has helped shape the direction we are heading. Plus in walking the walk, you have literally been around many blocks, surveyed them, written about them and done something to empower the folks living on them through outreach and education.
    Alexandra Profant
    Director, The T A H O E Foundation
    Toward Architecture Heritage Outreach Education

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