Archive for August, 2013

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.
HMB JailS
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.
jianziS
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.

Skeuomorphs

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…”

columns
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
banks,
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

DB026006sun
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.
williams
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.
DSCN7883

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…
palladian
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

2015 Update:

Look at this one from Italy!

skeuomorph lamp

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.
IMG_0053
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…
portmerionS