Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

Moving Buildings – San Antonio

July 20, 2016

I am living in an historic building that was moved more than a mile from its original location, from the King William district, the first historic district in Texas.

Oge Carriage House YE.jpg

This is the 1881 Oge carriage house, now located near the Yturri-Edmunds house, which is in its original location near Mission Road.  Our San Antonio Conservation Society moved the house here in order to save it.  On the same property we also have the Postert House, an 1850 palisado cabin which was similarly moved in order to save it from demolition.  In fact, I remember very well in 1985 when San Antonio set a record for moving the largest building that had ever been relocated on wheels, the 1906 Fairmount Hotel.

Fairmount Moving a 3.2 million pound building was an impressive feat, and like most preservation feats in San Antonio, it was an achievement of the San Antonio Conservation Society, who instigated the move, got the City behind it, and loaned developers money to cover operating shortfalls.  It was the largest building moved ON TIRES and it made a huge splash, but we need to recall that moving buildings – on rails or logs, was exceedingly common in the past.  A few blocks away you can see the former Alamo National Bank building, a five story building constructed in 1902 and then moved in 1913 to accommodate the widening of Commerce Street.  It then had three more stories added.

Commerce Bldg3

Moving buildings was much more common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, even though the technology was more limited.  Part of the reason is economic – back then the improvements could be more valuable than the land.  Also, people prior to 1946 were less wasteful.  And those buildings were built to last.  I actually lived in an 1872 house that had been moved – only a hundred feet or so – in 1878.

915 snowS

This is the only non-San Antonio photo in this blog.  Obviously.

Some San Antonio buildings have moved more than once.  Trekking from the Main Plaza past City Hall toward Market Square, you will encounter the O. Henry House (not to be confused with the O. Henry House in Austin) where the famous writer lived while editing his newspaper The Rolling Stone.

ohenry house

Well this is one peripatetic house.  Originally it was over a mile away on South Presa Street, and threatened with demolition in 1959, the San Antonio Conservation Society arranged to have it moved to the Lone Star Brewery where it was part of a museum collection until the brewery closed in 1997, at which point it moved to this downtown location and is again a museum.

hemisfair 2stry stone.jpg

San Antonio has been saving buildings by moving them for so long that when they staged their World’s Fair in 1968 its distinctive feature was the re-use of some two dozen historic buildings.  Many more were lost, and some of those promised to be saved, like the stunning Greek Revival Groos House, were demolished by neglect or deceit.  Yet at the end of the day it was the first World’s Fair to invite historic buildings to the party, a fact celebrated by no less than the New York Times’ architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable.

hemisfair ent n strfrtS

Now that the fair is approaching its 50th anniversary, some of those buildings are being saved – and in some cases, moved – again.  Interestingly, some of those buildings will actually benefit in the new Hemisfair plan by being moved AGAIN, because they will be placed in their original orientation and in fact streets are coming back so the buildings will have a more sensitive context than they did in 1968.

WITTE stone house.jpg

This is the stone Twohig House, built in 1841 and reconstructed on the grounds of the Witte Museum in Brackenridge Park exactly one hundred years later, with furnishings provided by the San Antonio Conservation Society.  The Witte actually has several buildings in what I once derisively called “a petting zoo” of historic buildings, including this lovely Onderdonk Studio and the Ruiz House, which is adaptively reused as the Witte’s gift shop.

Witte Onderdonk .jpg

I have been to the first “petting zoo” which Artur Hazelius created in the 19th century in Stockholm Sweden.  The purpose there was to preserve an understanding of rural heritage in an increasingly urban society.  The houses at the Witte are connected to the interior exhibits on local history and thus well interpreted, but the whole question of moving buildings is problematic in the heritage conservation world.

The basic idea is that moving a building destroys the CONTEXT, the sense of PLACE.  We do not consider these art objects as much as PLACES, so our laws reflect that.  My carriage house and the little Postert House behind me are NON-CONTRIBUTING structures to the Yturri-Edmunds National Register nomination because they are not original to the site.

YW grist millll.jpg

This is the Grist Mill at the Yturri-Edmunds complex, and it is in its original location – but it is not the original building but a 1970s reconstruction on the original foundations.  Like relocated buildings, reconstructions also have a hard time becoming landmarks.  The challenging conceptual bind is this – by relocating and thus saving the structure, we retain more knowledge and information about the past and can interpret it for the public.  But we have a harder interpretive job, because context has been lost, much as in the relocation of precious archaeological treasures.  Relocation is indeed a last resort, but sometimes it makes sense, like in the case of the Stuemke Barn, which we relocated behind our headquarters in King William because it was the only remaining building left on a downtown block being readied for a skyscraper.  In 1982.  The skyscraper isn’t up yet, by the way.

Wulfff barn.jpg

That’s the thing about big real estate developers – they don’t move as fast as us.

Witte Ruiz house.jpg

Ruiz House at the Witte Museum

Perhaps San Antonio has moved so many buildings because it feels the power of preservation much more than most cities, and has done so for much longer.  This is a community that will not stand by when an element of its built heritage is threatened.  Even if we have to number the stones and reconstruct it, even if it must move a mile or more, we are not willing to simply document what was – we want it as part of our future.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lathrop Homes, 3 years after

February 20, 2016

Full disclosure:  Four years ago, I was the Historic Preservation consultant for the Julia C. Lathrop Homes in Chicago, a very important 1937 federal housing project.  This past Thursday the Chicago Plan Commission approved the current plan for the project, which I ceased to work on when I left Chicago in July 2012. I took the opportunity to compare the plan to my April 2011 Preliminary Report and to the project at the time I left.

B-9 townhsThe homes were designed by pretty much all of the famous architects in Chicago at the time, since it was the Depression and very little building was happening.  Robert DeGolyer led, with Hubert Burnham, Hugh Garden, Tallmadge and Watson and many others.  The floor plans were adapted from federal housing unit typologies and basically consisted of rowhouses, flats and apartments.  The two, three, and four-story buildings were concrete with brick facing and adopted a Georgian mode with quoined corners and decorative touches like medallions, urns, and trabeated entrances.

lathrop K6 5-11The structures were arranged into T- C- and U- shaped units grouped around a large open space north of Diversey Parkway along the North Branch of the Chicago River.  Similar units occupied a narrower chunk of land south of Diversey between the river and the embankment along Damen Avenue.  The landscape design team featured Jens Jensen, adding to the architectural significance.

central court from rfmain open court north of Diversey

central courtyardBuildings in northern section, organized around a Great Lawn.

The Lathrop Homes were one of six federally-built public housing projects in 1930s Chicago, before there was a local housing authority.  These are found across the U.S. and often functioned pretty well for decades thanks to their human scale and generous site planning.

lathrop 40sLathrop Homes kids, 1940s.

Most of the others from this period have been demolished, including the Ida B. Wells project on the south side and the Jane Addams Homes on the West Side.  Since Lathrop was on the fast-gentrifying North Side, the Chicago Housing Authority was predisposed to razing it and selling the land, but a combination of neighborhood activists, political leaders, preservation advocates and public housing advocates pushed for an approach that favored rehabilitation.

G-7 H-7 archSo the Chicago Housing Authority put together a dream team of contemporary Chicago designers, including Jeanne Gang and Doug Farr and Tom Kerwin and Pat Natke, to develop a plan that would 1.  Keep a large number of public housing units on site, 2. Preserve the historic significance of Lathrop Homes, 3. Provide an economically sustainable development to finance it all through market-rate housing.  I was on that team for two years as the historic preservation consultant.

D-8 hedges

The plan approved Thursday garnered lots of criticism. primarily from housing activists.  There were 900 public housing units there originally, although less than 200 are occupied.  The new plan will create 400 on site and the CHA is on the hook for the rest.

There is also criticism coming from preservationists, since 12 buildings will be demolished, and from neighbors and others concerned with issues like density and financing. I haven’t seen environmental objections, perhaps because there is a lot of neat stuff in terms of landscape restoration, 11 acres of new parkland and a riverwalk.

s hoyne w fr abvI’m going to focus on the preservation issue and take advantage of the fact that I was in California for more than three years so I can compare where we were THEN to where we are NOW in preserving Lathrop.  Briefly, the plan preserves more than I thought it would.

lathrop aerialBin 2009 Landmarks Illinois did a very rough concept conserving 29 of the original 31 buildings, but they, along with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and  Preservation Chicago, had come to the conclusion by 2011 that the prime goal was to preserve the larger, more significant north side of the complex.  The southern plan was constrained by a narrow site, a high road embankment, and the intrusion of a high-rise in the 1960s.  Landmarks Illinois and the IHPA argued to save the side of the buildings facing Diversey on the south side to maintain the feel of the project while adding density there.  Preservation Chicago pushed for even higher density in order to save more south side buildings.  Along with the rest of the preservationist community, I focused on the more capaciously realized north side.

K-6 cornirBuilding K-6 in southern section with 1960s highrise in rear.

As I sat in design meetings in 2010 and 2011 it was declared that a new entrance on the north side off of Clybourn Avenue would require demolition of at least one building there.  Two others in the northwest corner were written off, along with the little Administration Building at Diversey, never built to its original design.

lathrop cornerIt created a very underwhelming corner entrance to the project.

The south side plan was to save only the first portion of the buildings facing Diversey, and the power plant, which with its echoes of Battersea was everyone’s favorite building.

lathrop 2700 leavittSo this would have been sliced in half, although thankfully not in the current plan.

powerhouseeverything about this Power Plant say make me into a microbrewery

Now my report had identified the significance of the Lathrop Homes as the site  planning, layout, landscaping and exterior of the buildings, especially the largest portion north of Diversey around the courtyard.  Almost all of the building windows and most doors had been replaced and while I noted some interior stairs, the consensus among the preservation community was that the interiors were not significant.

lathrop D8 5-11

The plan approved Thursday actually preserves MORE buildings than when I left the project almost four years ago.  Instead of losing four buildings on the north side of Diversey Avenue, the project is saving all but the Administration Building.  In addition, they are saving the brick arcades that connect many of the buildings on Clybourn Avenue and add so much to the overall design of the project.  These were to have been largely removed.

leavitt townhousesOne of the buildings we wrote off in 2011 on the north side, now being saved.

B-9 corner archBrick arcade on north side of Lathrop Homes site

2016.01.15__From Bridge_reducedView of the new plan from Diversey Parkway bridge over the Chicago River, which has always been the best view.

On the south side, three full buildings in their depth are being saved, which is a testament I think to the fact that unlike many landmarks, these are four-sided buildings, and while one could create sympathetic additions, authenticity is best served by having buildings in the round.  This also preserves the vista as you cross the bridge over the river.

M-11So these get to remain in their entirety

Preservation Chicago is in favor of the plan, but just because they are saving 61% of the original buildings (19 of 31), the entirety of the north side site plan and landscape, and more of the southern half than was planned a few years back, doesn’t mean there isn’t controversy.   Take a look at the new, denser buildings being planned for the Diversey entrance to the site from the east.

2016.02.01_S300_Gateway_reduced

You can argue all day about the design of the new structures (the intent is to capture the brick veneer of the original complex to the same height) but the important question for me is what are we losing? I already noted I will not miss the wee Administration Building, so let’s look at the building at Damen on the south side of Diversey, shown here.

A-9 main This is a fine building, but if this density saves the whole north half of the site and more of the southern half than even I hoped, it is an worthy tradeoff in my view.

Bottom line?

2012 we had 14 of 18 buildings on the north side and no arcades.

Now we have 17 of 18 and the arcades.

2012 we had 1 building and 3 facades on the south side.

Now we have 3 whole buildings.

I hate to say it, but this plan got better after I left town!

2016.02.01_S100_Historic Buildings_reduced

Main Street and Community Preservation

February 13, 2016

state st lkpt

This coming week I will be lecturing about Main Street, a National Trust for Historic Preservation initiative that began in the 1970s as a way to help preserve historic downtowns throughout America in communities of every size.  This was in the era when suburban shopping malls had become the centerpiece of American life, drawing attention and dollars away from the smaller shops and services of the old downtowns.

strip mall aerialSnot quite a 30,000 foot view but you get the idea

The invention of Main Street by my dear friend Mary Means marks for me a major shift in historic preservation, the shift toward a pragmatic approach to economics.  The first shift took place in the 1960s when a half-century of community efforts to save historic residential neighborhoods became a vital part not only of municipal preservation ordinances, notably  New York City in 1965, but also the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

georg twnhssGeorgetown, arguably the first historic district not designed for tourism

Historic districts have a history that goes back to the early 20th century, and the first to be legislated – Charleston and New Orleans – did it to help control a tourist economy that was threatening to kill the golden goose.  A wave of other historic districts followed in the 1940s and 1950s but it wasn’t until Georgetown in 1950 and Beacon Hill in 1955 that historic districts actually became community planning tools dealing not with tourism but the basic economics of residential neighborhoods.

Royal and Toulouse CornerNew Orleans

Now, the immediate impulses that led to historic districts were the massive government programs of urban renewal and highway construction that were decimating cities and towns, but these threats were only countered in communities that had already organized around their built environment.  For me it marks an important departure from the curatorial model that previously held sway.

wgv parkGreenwich Village.  A really long long story.

Main Street took an even more radical step by reducing the traditional preservationist focus on architectural design to a mere 25% of the program, focusing equally on Organization, Events, and Economic Restructuring. Not only that, but the design piece was even less curatorial because the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties had not yet been codified.  The goal was to save buildings but Mary and the others knew that would only happen if they made economic sense.IMG_7640and that was before sidewalk cafes, so you had to be creative

Also in the 1970s, the first historic preservation tax credits appeared, helping to address an imbalance (mostly in finance) between old and new buildings in terms of commercial real estate development.  This trend toward economic pragmatism and community organization took a further step in the 1980s as large government subsidies for real estate development became extinct.  The early 1980s were the era of the public-private partnership.

gaylord708sthis is where I enter the story – 25 years before this picture

I began my career 33 years ago Monday working on the very first heritage area in the United States.  Like Main Street, traditional historic preservation was only 25% of the goal, along with Natural Area Conservation, Recreation, and Economic Development.  Now historic preservation was taking on the massive de-industrialization affecting the economy.  It was the brainchild of my first boss, Jerry Adelmann and it was bold.  We held a conference in Joliet in 1984 when the city had 23% unemployment.  We saw the future – accurately as it turns out – and saw the value of our historic built environment to that future.

squander Vm quoteI’m so old I have literally been a museum piece – albeit one that “isn’t about museums”

The heritage area thing took off big time – there were over 40 across the country in 20 years time.  The public-private partnership aspect worked very well in an era of diminishing government resources and of course still does.  Like historic districts and Main Streets, it also prioritized the community’s role in self-organization for its own improvement, on its own terms.  Then my mentor, Jerry Adelmann, took his heritage area idea to China, and I followed.

Weishan north gate 2014this is the Weishan North Gate (1390) that burned a year ago.  It is now rebuilt.  Yunnan.

See, it turns out that the pragmatic approach to the development of our built environment developed by “historic preservationists” over a half century was eminently transferable .  Why?  Not complicated.  You identify the resources and assets of a place, determine how they function in an evolving economy, create vibrant sustainable models, and then scale them.  The last part is the hardest, but time has proven the sustainability of our model.

view fr twr along highwaySchoose your poison

I’m not saying that there aren’t big massive developments that ignore these principles.  They are everywhere.  They are generally less sustainable, but the real difference is community.  See all that stuff above about historic districts and Main Streets and heritage areas has a component of community control.  Even more importantly, heritage development insures that MORE MONEY stays in the local community.  It doesn’t go flying off to some faraway corporate HQ.

downtown NR distSmaybe you can ‘splain this to the MI and WI legislators who either A) don’t understand economics, or B) are being paid to send your money out of your local economy.

I’m very fortunate I was able to participate in, contribute to, and chronicle much of this fascinating half-century and I look forward to sharing it in Indiana next week!

 

 

 

 

Chautauqua: Where America spoke

November 12, 2015

“I must protest against the dismemberment of Chautauqua.”

  • Letter to William Rainey Harper from John Heyl Vincent, 4 July 1899.

12244206_10206774174906372_134990375_n

I stumbled across this nugget while researching other matters regarding George Vincent and William Rainey Harper, the first President of the University of Chicago.  Vincent’s father John Heyl Vincent was a founder of Chautauqua, which as you may know, is a place in New York state that evolved from a Sunday School into a nationwide educational movement.

The Amphitheater, built in 1893, has echoed the voices of Americans ranging from Susan B. Anthony and William Jennings Bryan to Ella Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor.  And William Rainey Harper to be sure.  It is central to the Chautauqua National Historic Landmark and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Treasures.  The Trust also named ‘The Amp” one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites back in June.

unnamed

The “dismemberment” in the letters between Vincent and Harper referred not to the physical Amphitheater but the movement itself and the richness of the educational and cultural experiences it offered.  From upstate New York (and Ontario) the movement spread and created auditoria and ampitheaters from Florida to Colorado, many of which are now significant landmarks as well.

12226554_10206774152905822_838510651_n

Chautauqua was a way of bringing great minds, great music and culture to adult Americans everywhere the the nation.  President Theodore Roosevelt called it the most American thing in America.  The Amphitheater was of course the center of the Chautauqua experience and the edifice that edified, indeed.

13037318

The current leadership of the Chautauqua Institution is trying to demolish the Amphitheater and replace it with a new one.  They FINALLY admitted that after pretending they were going the rehab route.  Always good to determine your design approach AFTER you start the fundraising.16497_10207597564368082_3536951347649320528_n

I am back in Chicago and the whole project reeks of the small-mindedness of a Chicago political deal.  There are the usual complaints about sight lines and contemporary amenities, but the more that is revealed about the deal the more Chicago it gets.  The architect has never even done a building like this before but has built a house for one of the major donors.

12208023_10206774163786094_567008669_n

*Mic drop*  You sure there isn’t a Chicago alderman or Illinois governor involved?

12231231_10206774145785644_439736676_n

The latest is that the demolition bids are way higher than expected.  Well, gee whiz you hired an inexperienced architect – looks like your cost guy hasn’t played in the big leagues yet either.

Speaking of the big leagues, when a football or baseball team wants a new stadium it is all about the luxury boxes and seat licenses.  Which is to say it is financial.  So, what are the finances of demolition and reconstruction?  About $5-$15 million MORE than rehabilitation.

AR-306099756

You see, there are limited situations where rehabilitation does not work physically or financially.  1.  A grave disorder or limitation in the historic structure that cannot be solved.  Not the case here.  2.  A new need or use that cannot be accommodated.  Also not the case here.  3.  Financial burdens.  Also not the case – they are spending MORE.  They are basically replacing an old Ampitheater with a new one.

0dea5d_5e997c11f0524ef5bdf923625cd61735.jpg_srz_p_287_229_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

Because?  Newer is better?  That works when you are selling houses, because newer is better for all of five years, and most people flip after five years.  But an amphitheater where Marian Anderson sang and Booker T. Washington spoke?  Where Van Cliburn played?  This legacy deserves better than a strip mall mentality, an insider deal and an amateur approach.

12226496_10206774160546013_1307576383_n

Nothing historic to see here.  Move along.

UPDATE: More Hijinks!

Well, as is common in these cases, a few more fun, Chicagoesque details have come to light.  The first involves the shift from “Rehab” to “Demolition” and follows a very yellowed and very tattered playbook.  You know the one: raise a structural red herring.

So, you are coming to see this incredible historic place where half of the people in your American History textbook spoke.  You want to walk among the columns, touch the benches, gaze upon the stage.  But they make you sign a WAIVER not holding them responsible in case you suffered an injury in an unsafe Amp.  BRILLIANT!

So, they did a structural study, right?  Oh yeah, they did, RIGHT before they voted to demolish it in August.  Two weeks before, but MONTHS after they made people sign waivers based on…..wishful thinking?

This is a pattern.  They had another historic house on site that they promised to rehab, started raising money for rehab and — SWITCHEROO — decided to demolish it and call the new one the same thing.  Just like the Amp.  So this is how they operate:  Fake a rehab, draw in dollars, and then throw the bomb.

Second fun detail:  The state of the campus plan and the organization’s strategic plan.  Every self-respecting National Historic Landmark has a plan.  Not Chautauqua.  The National Park Service even offered to help.  But as far as I can discover, there is no campus plan, nor a current strategic plan to guide decision-making, even if it is done in the dark.

That’s just bad policy.  Sure, it happens all the time, but rarely with an organization and a PLACE of this import, scale, and budget.

Except Chicago.

Images courtesy Committee to Save The Historic Chautauqua Amphitheatre

Post script – check out the comment below!  Full on ad hominem!

Visit Save The Amp! to find out more!

CHQAmp_4a03988u_c1899_LOC_mr2016 UPDATE:  The board of the Chautauqua voted – as expected, opaquely – to trash the Amp and spend $41 million demolishing and replacing it.  Power corrupts.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES!  A lawsuit has been filed by those who want to preserve the building, charging that the process had circumvented local and state laws requiring architectural and environmental review.  Given what is chronicled above and the Institution’s proclivity for process-avoidance, it could be true, and the Supreme Court has issued a stay on the demolition – Stay Tuned!

12 FEBRUARY 2016 UPDATE:

Well, the stay is lifted so they can begin demolition.  I am very sad about this loss, not least because as the National Trust, we do not lose that many of our 11 Most Endangered Sites.

The next step after the loss of the Amp should be the delisting of Chautauqua as a National Historic Landmark – that is what happened to Soldier Field after a spaceship landed in it a decade ago.  That wasn’t even a full demolition like this one, and to their credit, the Soldier Field folks were transparent and straightforward about what they were doing.

 

Strategic Thinking and the Heritage of Every Single Day.

September 9, 2015

One of the many benefits of my three years in Silicon Valley, buttressed by 30 years of serving on non-profit Boards of Directors  (I whittled it down to four recently.  Well, five.)  is that I have been steeped in strategic thinking and strategic planning.  While this may seem like a normal exercise to the MBA crowd, it is something that tends to be lacking in the historic preservation/heritage conservation field.

hutong demo8

Aaugh HELP they are tearing it down!!!  NOW!!

I have to give credit to my sister Clare Bergquist for this insight, because my tendency was to look at my recent work and think it was just more of the same.  The stuff I always did.  I was always the pragmatic, economically sensible preservationist in the room.  Clare noted, correctly, that my approach is actually strategic, a quality in short supply in our field.

smashing_ancient_artifacts_in_mosul_museum_library

For good reason ofttimes.

We tend to think of preservationists (I use the U.S. term grudgingly) as: advocates focused on the short term goal of saving something; bureaucrats focused on current policies for saving something; artists and architects focused on the significance of beauty; historians and community activists focused on the beauty of significance; or wonks focused on balancing the old and and new for economic reasons, which are notoriously short-term.  None of these are positions of strategic thinking.

oak hill porches

1000 square feet, $4650 a month.  Built 1908 as a hunting lodge.  Great location, for now.

So I think about the business mentality of Silicon Valley, the business sense of my sister Clare and the economic pragmatism I have brought to the heritage conservation field since I first waded in over 32 years ago.   I remember that blog I wrote four years ago about being in the middle of a strategic planning process on the Board of Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the same time.  Did it again at Global Heritage Fund, and I have been especially doing it the last few years as I try to outline a future for our field that includes all peoples.

DD abv w wom

The luxury of perspective

I have been writing recently about the need to improve our heritage tools in the United States in order to reflect the diversity of American history and the diversity of the American people, and it came to some extent out of my international work, where we have the advantage of needing to connect with very diverse cultures and geographies.

biertan vw to church

Siebenburgen, oder?

How do we connect?  The answer is in a culturally specific way in every single case and place.  It is the opposite of the lawyerly idea of precedent.   I have said for many years there is a PROCESS (see the Burra Charter) that works anywhere because it engages community and culture.  It isn’t about museums or monuments because the only thing that can save a resource or tradition is a group of people who need or desire to use that resource or tradition EVERY SINGLE DAY.

div1

We will have a Learning Lab on this at the National Preservation Conference in DC in November.

I was explaining this to someone at the California College of the Arts last week and they said simply “I have never heard anyone talk about historic preservation that way.”  I realized that my sister was right and I have had the great fortune to explore this field for so long from so many perspectives and so many geographies.  I took a great risk leaving a tenured endowed Chair at a major university to move to California and run an international conservancy.  What is the payoff?

“I have never heard anyone talk about historic preservation that way.”

z4

Also I got to go to Libya.  After Benghazi, so there is that…

No headway can be made in any field without taking risks.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take some risks and view this field from a whole variety of angles, and I am now convinced more than ever what we need to do.  I am very grateful I have had this summer to view my field and my experience from the distance required to think strategically.

CP 61 best

And the specific steps we need to take

The latest revelation came in my last blog, when I reflected on the huge opportunity I had to present my ideas to the National Tribal Preservation Conference.  Indian country reminded me that yes, heritage is about culture, and yes, it is about community, but it is also about continuity.  The greatest mischief of our High Modernist 1960s historic preservation was not even its surrender to the methods and objectives of architecture, but its assumption that the past lay at a distance, across a gulf that could not be bridged.

roman bridge

The Romans built the bridge.  The Allies bombed it.  But there it is.

Heritage conservation is first and foremost about community, aiding them in identifying what elements of their past they want, need and can use in the future.  Helping them evaluate the significance of their cultural inheritance and determine what the appropriate treatments are for each specific context.  There are no precedents, although there are analogues, and there are experts, but they are nothing without community support.  The heritage must be made part of the economic everyday.  It must be resources and artifacts and traditions and rituals and languages and landscapes that are used EVERY SINGLE DAY.

vince louvre82

Even when no one is watching….

Community.  Culture.  Continuity.  This is how I continue to talk about heritage and I am so very pleased at the many opportunities unfolding that allow me to continue this important work.

Farnsworth House 2015

June 21, 2015

It has been 13 months since I last blogged about the Farnsworth House (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1951).  In that blog I detailed the various options that had been studied to try to conserve the house despite the increased flooding of the Fox River at its location near Plano, Illinois.

farnsworth615c

Last week.  Maybe next week too.

I have been involved in this house for a long time due to my Board service at both Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and for the last couple years I have also served on the Technical Advisory Panel looking at flooding mitigation options for the Farnsworth House.  I have been a cheerleader for the process the National Trust has undertaken, and I have listened especially closely to the National Park Service, since it is essential in my mind that any actions taken insure we preserve the National Historic Landmark status of this iconic masterpiece of architecture.

farnsworth615b

I came into the process as a skeptic, not wanting to move or alter the house.  Let it flood, I said, taking a purist position.  It’s a submarine, I said.  I did not like the idea of moving it because we bought it in 2003 so it wouldn’t be moved away.  As Dirk Lohan (Mies’ grandson and an important architect in his own right) says, the house makes no sense if it is in a location that does not flood,

FH 2013 terrace hosue

I became convinced that the hydraulic option – putting the house on hydraulic jacks that would lift it out of harm’s way in the case of a flood – was the best preservation option, and I still believe that.  Doing nothing, I realized, relegated the house to the status of archaeological ruin.  But of course doing anything with a house of this international significance will cause some people to get their knickers in a twist, pressing upwards as they express objections to actions which could harm this landmark.  As all actions can.  As inaction will.

FH 2013 frontal

Doing nothing will do great harm to the building, and it is clear from the National Park Service and others that doing nothing is NOT a preservation option.  That is the archaeological ruin option.  Yesterday in the Chicago Tribune Blair Kamin reported on what has happened in the last year as some preservationists – John Vinci in particular – have objected to the hydraulic option and forced the National Trust and Landmarks Illinois to investigate a new option – moving it almost half a mile to a new site on Dr. Edith Farnsworth’s property where it will 1.  flood less, 2. allow a reinterpretation of the original landscape, which was ruined by the introduction of a highway bridge in 1970, reimagined as a manicured landscape in the 1970s and 80s,  and altered by the loss of a sugar maple tree that framed the house in 2012.

fh f riverS

This tree is no more

Doing anything dramatic – and dramatic options are all that remain – will upset or excite people.  Look how the Miesians got upset about the new window stops at IIT Crown Hall – a quarter-inch slope meant that a NON-RIGHT ANGLE had been inserted, thus wrecking (??) Mies’ vision.

the bite

Don’t tell me you can’t see that.  Come on! 

Landmarks Illinois has to approve whatever solution obtains thanks to their preservation easement, and they will make the decision as a Board.  Thanks to local opposition, the National Trust is now looking at this new relocation option.  (Note:  I have not been on the Landmarks Illinois Board for two years)

cornfield bus

Like here.

I still prefer the hydraulic solution because it keeps the building in place.  I also reject the irresponsible claims by some that this technology is somehow a big deal.

About Hydraulics

Let me take you back to to 1854, when Elishu Otis demonstrated the safety elevator.  Hydraulics – which preceded Otis by a decade – powered that elevator.  His innovation was a brake.  Within a few years, hydraulics allowed tall buildings to be practical.  By 1882, four years before Ludwig Mies was born –  you had a company in London running high-pressure mains 184 miles powering some 8,000 elevators.  So if this 175-year old technology worries you, avoid elevators.

333 elev doors

You’ll never get me up in one of those things.

Hydraulic jack technology is older than the zipper, the typewriter (what’s that?) and the automobile.   As the great Bob Silman, who investigated ALL of these options, noted, we put our lives on hydraulics whenever we get on an airplane.  All those noises you hear?  Hydraulics.  Think of all the times you have flown and the hydraulics on the landing gear failed.  Go ahead.

airplane

Sorry I’m Amish.

Back to the Decision – and Owning It.

Indications are that this relocation option – like the hydraulic solution – will still meet the National Historic Landmark status requirements.  This is really important and a key factor in the decision in my view.  The relocation option also appears to have the favor of John Vinci – who has no official role in the process.  Landmarks Illinois DOES have a role in the process.   As soon as we at the National Trust present our preferred option Landmarks Illinois will need to make a decision, especially in light of the fact that we have investigated this new relocation option based on their reaction to the hydraulic option.

farnsworth11 grtS

I get it – I have been in this field for over 32 years.  I LOVE being in the John Vinci position of sniping and throwing brickbats against the powers that be, safely outside the decision-making process.  That’s what I did in my 20s, and that saved some buildings from uncaring owners or inconsiderate government entities.  But Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust quite literally TOOK OWNERSHIP of this house a dozen years ago and are now responsible – there is no one but ourselves to snipe and throw brickbats at.

farns living east1109p

Or stones.  Maybe I should have said stones.  It’s a glass house after all.

So my role of late has been to praise the process the National Trust has undertaken over the last three years and to insist that every organization involved take ownership of the eventual solution.  Landmarks Illinois has made this a Board decision as opposed to a decision of the Fund and Easements Committee.  Fine.  But no decision – like taking no action – is NOT an option.  That decision will likely not be comfortable, but I for one will own it.

farns bedroom1109s

You make your bed you sleep in it.

UPDATE:  A European perspective.  A couple of weeks later I was in Europe with a local preservation group in the Ossola Valley and an Irish ICOMOS Committee Chair.  I mentioned the Farnsworth House flooding problem and without context or prompt they both said, nearly in unison:  “Jack it up.”  This would not be a fraught issue in Europe.

Do you know the Bessemer process which allowed the industrial production of steel, which made the materials of the Farnsworth House possible is ALSO younger than hydraulics?  Don’t worry – the old technology will not be visible – just the purity of the Modern.

Transforming Heritage Philanthropy

May 13, 2015

Last week in this blog I presented some concepts on how we can create a more democratic, diverse and inclusive heritage conservation in the United States, largely by applying the lessons of international heritage conservation over the last twenty years, notably the Burra Charter.  Preservation is a process, not a set of rules.

lincolns cottage best2

President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington DC

The second challenge we face in bringing our field into the 21st century is organizational and financial.  When preservation was about monuments and house museums, it looked to the traditional 19th and 20th century model of the non-profit institution for its organizational and financial logic.  This was how Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association; how William Sumner Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and indeed this was the idea that Congress had in 1949 when it chartered the National Trust for Historic Preservation to take care of great house museums.

woodlawn bestS

Woodlawn plantation, where it all began…

As I have pointed out many times before over the last decade, this model had financial problems, mostly due to the eternal misconception that ticket sales to tour a house museum could provide the revenue needed to operate same.  In fact, ticket revenues top out at about 20-25% of annual operating costs, and this was as true in William Sumner Appleton’s day as it is in our own.

Lyndhurst E besterS

Sorry, I don’t do windows..

Organizationally it is challenging as well because non-profits, especially historical societies and other groups who undertook heritage projects, tend to the orchidaceous, working to maintain not only artifacts large and small, but narratives.  This can lead to the classic problem:  you visit a site once in fourth grade and never need to return, because it is still the same.

dining room2

I swear someone moved that fork….

I covered all of this in my previous blogs about house museums here and here.  To me the value of conserving ANYTHING from history is that is can be re-examined and re-interpreted as new data come to light.  This is the opposite of many olden-days preservation efforts, which saw a singular story in their artifact(s).

office PAS

If you ask three inhabitants, you get three different stories..

It is also useful to look beyond the interpretive issues and focus on the organization.  Non-profits can be dynamic, evolutionary and creative, but those with a heritage bent will tend not to be disruptive, like every startup right outside that window here in Silicon Valley.  They also have historically tended to be reactive, arising in response to crisis.  This too, puts preservation into the legislative/regulatory world (you get a stop sign only after someone gets run over) but in a greater sense, we need to apply the lessons of the Burra Charter to how we organize and fund preservation/conservation.

money or culture

If only it were that simple…

What do you mean, Vince?  I mean you engage the community from the beginning not only in identifying heritage and how to save it in a culturally appropriate way, but you engage the community in the financial and organizational structure as well.  Crowdfund – which as everyone in Silicon Valley knows, is not a way to raise money for a project (you still think that?  where you been?) but a way to raise constituency and customer base in order to attract serious investors.

Porter House Los AltosS

In the olden days – and still today – preservationists wanted to find an “angel” with carloads of money to come save their rare treasure.  And indeed, when you are looking at buildings that were built for absurdly wealthy people, it makes sense that you would need one to keep it going.  But this model runs counter to the Burra Charter – if the community is not INVESTED in the project, they won’t give a damn about it and eventually that angel will go join the other angels and then where will you be?

HDL 38 best

Well, if you are here, it is a nice place to see…

This is to me another illustration of the Burra Charter’s utility – it works as well in suburban Chicago as it does in darkest Peru.  This doesn’t mean you don’t have major donors, and even principal donors, but you need to spread it out because to be sustainable you have to last GENERATIONS so you need to generate enthusiasm from the local community.  This is of course why people often turn to governmental institutions, since they represent the community and presumably have the resources over time.

c-m overhang

Except when they don’t…

Except when they don’t, which is why Congress created the National Trust in 1949, remember?  My entire career has taken place in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and the dawn of the public-private partnership, when every weight must be carried on several sets of shoulders.

msi karyatids

or heads…

35 years of whining about regulations means that conserving historic buildings, neighborhoods and structures today is a market-driven, project-based public-private partnership that takes advantage of the economic and community vitality that preserving things provides.  And it provides it at a better price point and lasts a hell of a lot longer than shoddy new stuff.  Historic Preservation tends to be for real capitalists, not the whiners.

high stair vic

There are too many steps!  I don’t wanna!  Waah!

Philanthropy has changed in the last 35 years as well.  Now, donors are impact investors who want to see results, not simply attendees at black-tie galas or members of exclusive clubs.  People want metrics, and while we may be MORE that way out here in Silicon Valley, it is a nationwide, and indeed a worldwide phenomenon.  We have seen the rise of social entrepreneurship.  We have seen the distinction between profit and non-profit blur (you don’t need to make a profit in Silicon Valley to be one of the world’s biggest companies after all) and we have seen the slow decline of old-line membership organizations.  We need the Uber-app for heritage conservation, the one that let’s you donate with a click and get a pic of the difference you made NOW.

jaquard loom

And of course follow the thread if you wish

Our brave new world of apps and sharing and creative destruction needs to be embraced by the heritage field, but we do have a deep-rooted bias against it.  Ann Pamela Cunningham wasn’t just trying to save Mount Vernon, she was trying to save the Union, and in a very real sense, an already obsolete agrarian aristocracy.  What did she say in 1874?  Oh yeah, this:

Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge…Let no irreverent hand change it, let no vandal hands desecrate it with the fingers of progress…Let one spot in this grand country of ours be saved from change.[i]  

old loco

Aaaugh!! Progress!!!!

She was particularly cheesed off by the “manufactories” that could be seen from Mount Vernon.  Not only was preservation anti-economic and anti-Progress, it was anti-Industrial Revolution, which actually has echoes in the contemporary philosophy of William Morris.  But setting yourself up outside of the economic logic of your world cannot work over generations.  Which is why we, in the heritage field, will continue to embrace and engage our current social economy so we can succeed in twenty years.

old techno

And we do need to get rid of some overhead…..

There are lots of ways to do this.  Successful house museums are the ones with diverse programming, extensive community engagement, and leveraged gift/book shops with vigorous online presence.  Successful preservation organizations are the ones who are able to kickstart enough people to convince the donor/investors to participate and ramp them up to the next level.  Yes, we need members and galas, but at the end of the day the dynamic organization is going to get the honey.

012409_0815

can’t rest on your laurels, much less your Turrell

The opportunities for social entrepreneurship are massive – heck they are doing it in Barcelona with Gaudi already and the Wall Street Journal is reporting it.  The biggest opportunity out there, and the biggest lesson of the valley is that you want to be a desired brand that people will pay for.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation was created so that Congress didn’t have to try to save these old houses.  Tomorrow it can be the brand every historic building owner wants.  There is an obvious analogy:

leed plaqueS

LEED.  LEED certified.  Architects have it on their business cards after their name.  LEED is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council but you have to PAY FOR IT.  They used to do it just by design – you designed something and checked off their boxes for nice things like graywater treatment and bike racks and you got a LEED plaque even if the building required 20,000 truckloads of garbage to build.  They got smarter, noticed that half of their certified buildings weren’t performing to standard, and started to get the kind of metrics modern investor/donors need.  They are a must-have success story and someone in the heritage field will figure out soon how to brand themselves that way.  I blogged about this 3 years ago here.

ballaghmore castle sng

Do you get points for insulating walls that are 3 feet thick?

So how does heritage conservation become socially entrepreneurial?  By building on community engagement.  By insuring that heritage is at the center of neighborhood planning.  My reminding everyone that their favorite neighborhoods and commercial districts are historic and by trading on and trading for that superior value-add.

852-54-w-armitgs

But is there parking?

But What About International Heritage?

Internationally, the case is simultaneously simpler and more complex.  Most countries do not have tax incentives for historic preservation – I remember presenting to a group in Ahmedabad, India in 2008 and the Ahmedabad Times only covered one element of my speech – tax incentives for preservation.  Now, seven years later, India actually has them, but in general the philanthropic model of the Anglo-American NGO is foreign in most places.

doshi and vm

Balkrishna Doshi and I, Ahmedabad, 2008

Nonprofits in the U.S. live and die on the tax deductibility of contributions – there is far less of this culture in other places, which suggests one thing:  If and when they adopt a philanthropic culture, it will be an entirely new model.  Data mining, place-sharing, community-leveraging, economic modality-defying and disruptive for sure.

PearlLamAPt furnitur

This is not your mother’s china…

China and India will fill up with social corporations faster than we can perceive, and we may be learning from them how to pay for – and organize – the basic human concept of determining what elements of the past we need to have in the future to sustain ourselves.

[i]Quoted in Sherr, Lynn, and Kazickas, Jurate, Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A guide to American Women’s Landmarks., New York and Toronto,Times Books, Random House, 1976 and 1994, p. 464.

Wisdom from the Past

April 17, 2015

We had a great panel discussion at the Legion of Honor last night and one moment that stood out to me was when I asked the four achaeologists to each describe a particular conservation challenge at their sites.  Dr. John Rick of Stanford, who works at Chavín de Huántar in Peru, talked about the challenge of water on the site.  Water is indeed one of the greatest challenges to preservation – the Chicago photographer/preservationist Richard Nickel famously said that old buildings have only two enemies:  water and stupid men.

csestop

The problem here was not water.

But back to Dr. Rick and the water at Chavín.  What was his solution to water pooling up and eroding walls and artifacts?  Simple, find out that the ancients did millenia ago, because water (like stupid men) is not a new problem.  The builders and inhabitants of Chavin had in fact developed a sophisticated drainage system.  Modern conservators and excavators had blocked what they thought were “ventilation shafts” but were in fact regulating standpipes for the drainage system (like those ones behind the shower when you tear out the tile.)

images

Chavín.

hedcarus lead pipe

lead pipes, Illinois c. 1874.

Of course the ancients had to deal with water, and if you look back a few blog posts, you will find me waxing on and on about water at Machu Picchu, at Angkor, and so forth.  You don’t get to the point of building great masonry monuments unless you have a society to back that up, and that society needs a water system.

I also saw an article this week about Lima, Peru, where I have traveled.  Here is a city of 8 million with like three little creeks and no rain.  How do you get water?  We can do clever things like fog harvesting and toilet-to-tap-purification and desalination.  What is the latest water technology to come out of Lima?  The Wari one.

coast at bridgeS copy

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink….

It seems the Wari – who were the really important civilization in Peru long before the modish Inca – had a system of amunas, ancient stone canals which channeled water from the Andes into natural reservoirs and springs that could help the Wari survive dry times.  1500 years ago.

ancient irrigationS

here’s one at Pachacamac in Lima, oldest ceremonial site on coast.

Two lessons here:  1.  Don’t assume your modern technology is the only or even the best way to attack a problem – you are probably not the first one to encounter the problem.  2.  We conserve heritage for many reasons – history, education, jobs, identity – but also to learn about previous technologies that have been lost.  And there have been a few.

concrete construction5s

Concrete.  It is how we build tall and supertall buildings today.  But it was still new technology a century ago.

unity temp const

Unity Temple under construction c. 1907.

Or was it?  The French discovered concrete in the late 19th century.  Only the Romans had developed it two millennia earlier.

collos int vm82

Collosseum, Rome.

You see, one of the best reasons to preserve things is so you don’t FORGET how to make things.  Because we have.  Did you know that chrome plating was invented at Columbia in the 1920s (and perfected in Germany in 1937 and USA in 1950)?  It followed on other types of plating, like nickel, which had been developed throughout the 19th century.  Truly a modern wonder.  Except the Chinese did it 2200 years ago.

chrome pltg

What are we trying to preserve?  I love the debates about tangible and intangible heritage, about whether we preserve the artifact or the way of making it.  The Japanese Shinto temple is destroyed and rebuilt every two decades, but it is done so with original tools and technologies – that is what is being preserved.  When we stick epoxy and steel into Mount Vernon, we are preserving the artifact but not the technology.  There is much to be learned from an artifact that looks as it did, but there is also much to be learned from how that artifact was made.

stone fit closeS

Peru.  I guess the drywall guys are late.

Have you seen those videos where some guys figures out how to block and tackle a Stonehenge-size menhir into place using pulleys and wood and a hole in the ground?  That is reverse engineering, which is a kindly antidote to wacky ideas about ancient astronauts.  The people of the past were not smarter than you, nor were they stupider.  They did amazing things with what they had at hand.

tp86 rubble

And like us, they sometimes forgot.

Resiliency and Climate Change

February 16, 2015

Last week in Colorado I showed two slides of the Farnsworth House, which I have been blogging about for a dozen years.  The first image came in the section of my talk about the Threats to our Heritage, such as Climate Change.  I had also showed images of it earlier in the week, when I participated in a Climate Change and Cultural Heritage conference in Pocantico, New York, with a whole variety of players, from colleagues at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Society for American Archaeology, World Monuments Fund, English Heritage and many other, collected together by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  So here is the first slide, which is Farnsworth House experiencing a “100-year” flood for the first of three times in the last eight years.

FHFlood0028

I then showed another slide of the Farnsworth House later in the keynote with the caption “The Process of Preservation is Adaptive and Resilient” because I was talking about the only universal in cultural heritage conservation – the process – and I was deliberately framing the discussion in the necessary terms, which you will note say nothing about mitigation.

farns viw08flS

This is how we began our discussion a year ago with the Trustees of the National Trust, and while I was a facilitator of that discussion, I must credit Anthony Veerkamp for doing the research.  I then moderated a panel at the National Preservation Conference in Savannah on Climate Change, that included the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Park Service.  The Park Service is dealing with this issue, as is the DOD and everyone else, because the sea levels will rise 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century.

Shark fin cove framed

John Englander, who began the discussion in Savannah, works with communities around the country to plan for the sea level rise, and even frames the discussion as an opportunity to plan for something you know will occur as opposed to being caught off-guard.  The discussion is not about mitigation – that’s what reanimates the troglodytes – it is about adaptation and resiliency.  How do we adapt historic resources to new climatic realities?  How do we make our historic buildings and sites more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events?

Slawsons view napaS

and where you gonna plant grapes when Napa gets too hot?  (actually that is the trick – look where the big producers are buying land in Monterey County and you can see where your wine will come from in 2040)

Skipping over the mitigation question is not an evasion of responsibility, but the fact remains you could shut down every car and building in the world tomorrow and the sea level will still rise 3 to 6 feet by 2100.  And it is not an even situation, because how water flows and rises and falls is affected by all kinds of things.  So Manhattan is sitting on schist and actually in a pretty good situation, but MIami is sitting on some of the most porous limestone known, so even a braintrust of Dutch polderbuilders can’t make a levee that will save that.

bancroft49

collins92s

hey at least they kinda look like boats

If you know about that stuff you realize that some of our own NorCal polders like Foster City are NOT sitting pretty, but interestingly the first place in Cali to get wet turns out to be Sacramento, 80 miles inland.  Geology ain’t simple, and neither are watersheds – just look at the Chicago River – has run west, east, and west again all since the Pyramids were built, and only that last shift was anthro-engineered.

Chgo River 614S

Now, if you have read my posts about the Farnsworth House, you will recall that I first approached it as we will no doubt need to approach many cultural heritage resources:  let them become the future of underwater archaeology.  Make decisions based on significance and community needs, and perform the unpleasant but necessary triage that will save some things with precision while allowing others to collapse into that state of romantic ruin that so inspired John Ruskin.

Fountains abbey cloister

It was a dissolute place anyway

Now, I changed my mind about the Farnsworth House because it is an amazing work of art and architecture and its value needs to be kept above water – although also in a floodplain, since its design makes no sense outside of a floodplain.  But we can’t elevate every landmark in the way of the water and we can’t move every lighthouse.  Some of it will be lost.  But, as Englander notes, we have the opportunity to plan for it over the coming decades – so there is that.  Some things, like my favorite National Historic Landmark from the 1880s – will be moved.

LUCY

LUCY!

Others will be lost, partially or completely.  But the majority of the activity we will undertake in the coming decades will not be about radical saves or radical losses of cultural heritage.  It will be about how we make our heritage more resilient.  Just as this Beaux Arts gem was retrofitted to withstand seismic events, so too we will work to make our historic buildings more adaptable and resilient in the face of weather events and rising sea levels.

city hall3 S

As always, 19th century buildings will have the upper hand, since they were built in a time when they were viewed as moveable assets and 19th century North Americans had no problem shifting buildings around.  The oldest house I ever owned was built in 1872-73 but MOVED in 1878.  It’s still there, about 500 feet above sea level outside of Chicago.

915 snowS

There are whole cultures threatened by rising sea levels, and not just the various Polynesian islands soon to be inundated.  At our conference we had Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gulla Geechee nation on the Sea Islands off of Georgia and Florida.  A physical artifact can be made resilient and even adaptable, but how do living cultures respond when they are put in new environments?  As is our efforts to save cultural landscapes across the world (Global Heritage Fund), the challenge of preserving intangible heritage may be even greater than finding new techniques and new uses for buildings, sites and structures.

The new urban commandments

January 4, 2015

Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design.  Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate.

campus ctr coolS

Amherst

In contrast to the 1985 speech, architects have received HRH’s 10 principles positively.  Leaving aside the virtues of the modernist design that characterized most of the 20th century, let’s take a look at the 10 points.

garden B

Filoli

“Developments must respect the land. They should not be intrusive; they should be designed to fit within the landscape they occupy.”

This is indeed a good principle and one hardly limited to traditional design – having grown up on Frank Lloyd Wright, it is arguably at the center of each of his schemes.  I also wonder how it fits into the classical landscape architecture we find in sites like the one pictured above, which I guess would please most traditionalists.

geometry

Taliesin West

“2: Architecture is a language. We have to abide by the grammatical ground rules, otherwise dissonance and confusion abound. This is why a building code can be so valuable.”

Architecture absolutely is a language, and like English it is a language enriched by evolution and adaptation, not a language that tries to erect barriers around its purity like French.  Like Picasso, a good modernist should first master the traditional rules.  The last sentence is odd:  In the States building codes are largely a public safety phenomenon, having evolved from fire codes, so there influence on the formal design is minimal.

grk temp brit mus

British Museum

“3: Scale is also key. Not only should buildings relate to human proportions, they should correspond to the scale of the other buildings and elements around them. Too many of our towns have been spoiled by casually placed, oversized buildings of little distinction that carry no civic meaning.”

Barring the rhetorical oddity of the first sentence, this is one of the best principles.  There are certain examples of modernism that destroy human scale as well as their surroundings and these are usually disasters.  Again, the principle works beyond style:  Speer’s totalitarian Classicism also destroyed human and contextual scale.  I would also argue that scale is the connecting link between individual works of architecture and their context.  Note the “civic meaning” exception that allows for focus buildings, which for many urbanists of the 19th and 20th century, were supposed to be public buildings, not physical advertisements for their rent.

wabash to trump13s

Chicago

“4: Harmony − the playing together of all parts. The look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours, which does not mean creating uniformity. Richness comes from diversity, as Nature demonstrates, but there must be coherence, which is often achieved by attention to details like the style of door cases, balconies, cornices and railings.”

Again, I totally agree with this, a basic principle of all design.  Harmony by definition is the integration of diverse notes to create a whole richer than the sum of the parts.  I would argue rhythm, scale, materials and massing are much more important than architectural details.  But details are important – I tend to rank the ultrahigh buildings of East Asia by their ability to hold detail at close range and not only from the distance of the skyline view.

rue royal31

New Orleans

“5: The creation of well-designed enclosures. Rather than clusters of separate houses set at jagged angles, spaces that are bounded and enclosed by buildings are not only more visually satisfying, they encourage walking and feel safer.”

This is again quite true.  A sense of enclosure is a brilliant planning device that speaks to basic human connections.  Not sure about jarring angles – I think good architects can employ a variety of geometries to achieve pedestrian-friendly satisfaction.

fire lane central ct

Lathrop Homes, Chicago (1937)

“6: Materials also matter. In the UK, as elsewhere, we have become dependent upon bland, standardized building materials. There is much too much concrete, plastic cladding, aluminium, glass and steel employed, which lends a place no distinctive character. For buildings to look as if they belong, we need to draw on local building materials and regional traditional styles.”

This is interesting.  Using local materials is of course much more sustainable, and we have plenty of egregious counterexamples, like the Chicago skyscraper clad with Carrerra marble that failed or even our dear Getty, its stone shipped halfway across the world.  Having said that, concrete, glass and steel can indeed be local materials and I have seen them done humanely and done awfully.  My friend who restored the River Forest Women’s Club, a 1912 Prairie design by William Drummond, noted that the brilliance of the design was that very simple materials were used in a luxurious way – again a central tenet of Frank Lloyd Wright, who raised the level of several generations of “standardized” materials through design.

gale hs ceiling

Quarter-sawn oak.  Standard 1893.

012309_1026

Humanized concrete, 1920s.

johns tubes

Pyrex glass tubes, standard 1938.

flw unit frtbS

Standard glass, local limestone and wood, 1947.

“7: Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused. We should also bury as many wires as possible and limit signage. A lesson learned from Poundbury is that it is possible to rid the street of nearly all road signs by using ‘events’ like a bend, square or tree every 60-80 metres, which cause drivers to slow down naturally.”

This is sound urban design, and I have witnessed it as far away as Weishan, Yunnan, China, where they buried the utilities over a dozen years ago in the historic Southern Silk Road city.  We are also reminded here that HRH has put his money where his mouth is and built a model suburb according to his principles.  Historically, of course, our cities here in the States were overrun by wires and signs from the earliest times.  Their absence is solely a 21st century phenomenon.

nice view to N gate

Sadly, the landmark North Gate from 1390 just burned

“8: The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process. Streets must be reclaimed from the car.”

Points for brevity and clarity here.  Car landscapes do not encourage commerce.  This has been a key to urban design for the last generation.

sitting and walkingS copy

You do a nice enough pedestrian space, they will move a major museum from the Upper East Side.

“9: Density. Space is at a premium, but we do not have to resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate. I believe there are far more communal benefits from terraces and the mansion block. You only have to consider the charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London to see what I mean. It is often forgotten that this borough is the most densely populated one in London.”

Density is another challenge – you CAN have great density without great height, although the two neighborhoods described derive their density from value, and the density of the wealthy may not be a prescription for the average urban place.  I personally like a nice tower here and there to set things off, foster diversity, create focus and reference points, and, of course, to encourage a pedestrian environment around transportation nodes.

main street corner

Another model town, nearing its 60th birthday.

“10: Flexibility. Rigid, conventional planning and rules of road engineering render all the above instantly null and void, but I have found it is possible to build flexibility into schemes and I am pleased to say that many of the innovations we have tried out in the past 20 years are now reflected in national engineering guidance, such as The Manual For Streets.”

This is also good sense and reminds me of the old preservation joke from about 15 years ago:

“What’s the difference between a highway engineer and a terrorist?”

“You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

highway lkft abvS

I don’t think that is true anymore, and what Prince Charles has enunciated here is not a defense of traditionalist style as much as some good advice for ways to look beyond style to the principles that make urban spaces human spaces, which is to say they accommodate people, their economies and societies, their cultures and their activities.  They are principles that emphasize diversity and flexibility.  The movement to preserve historic places created some of the first places where these principles could be negotiated and fulfilled by existing buildings – whatever their style.