Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Authenticity, Technology and more places in the heart

September 1, 2016

Last month I wrote about Colin Ellard’s work, the neuroscience of why historic buildings and good design are better for your physical and mental health than the frequent monolithic stretches of our contemporary streetscape.  You can read it here.

At that time, I promised a follow-up blog about how technology – including the kind that allowed Ellard to do his studies – also offers new possibilities for interpretation.  I taught historic interpretation classes for more than a decade, and I have always been fascinated by every kind of historic interpretation, from big bronze signs and statues, to performances and interactive displays.

kentucky sign copyOld school.  Not enough room on the sign for the whole story, so you have to turn it over…

o henry plaqueThe sidewalk sign, where most people are looking anyway..

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Or this sign at Lincoln’s New Salem, which allows you to see a building in the landscape without foolhardy reconstruction.

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Or see yourself in the landscape…

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So, at the World Heritage San Antonio Missions, you have the typical graphic interpretive signs used by the National Park Service, which do a nice job conveying how things were when we are faced with largely ruins, and like a magazine they combine drawings or photos with text to engage people.

San Jose metal plaq model

You also have the metal models that have been used for decades to help interpret sites for the vision-impaired, and indeed at some of the missions (San Jose and the Alamo) there are large dioramas and models of the missions interpreted at various points in time.  Indeed, this sort of interpretation dates back 80 years to when the San Antonio Conservation Society was helping save the missions for the first time.

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Other interpretive elements include the 21st century version of  those trippy narrated “laser light shows” you would see at historic sites in the 1970s.  Here in San Antonio you can go down to the San Fernando Cathedral on a weekend evening and see the history of the city projected onto the cathedral facade.  Next weekend (September 9) you can go to Mission San Jose and see its original 18th century colorful al seco decoration reappear “Restored by Light”.

San Jose decorative plaster.jpgA bit of the decoration tat Mission San Jose, recreated mid-20C

Now back to Colin Ellard.  The promise of our current era, which is less than a decade old, is the interpretive potential of our smartphones.  I remember discussing the use of cell phone for interpretation at an international conference back in 2007, in Sweden, and that was before the advent of the photographic and videographic potential of the smartphone.

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At that point, your phone could be a narrator only.  But that has all changed.

For a century or more the most immersive way to interpret history was the living history museum, the first being Skansen, founded by Artur Hazelius in 1890 in Stockholm, Sweden replete with relocated buildings and costumed interpreters.

skansen modelDiorama model of Skansen AT Skansen (kinda meta, huh?) 

Living history museums remain popular because they follow the old museum model of preservation, where places are removed from the economic everyday and put under glass, if you will.  And first person interpreters give you the feeling of being in another realm, another place, another time.

Guide at MasonicSMendocino, California.

This kind of “first person” interpretation was popular because it was immersive, three-dimensional, and employed costumed interpreters who made history “come alive” because they were, indeed, alive, and we are more likely to engage with people than buildings.

free quak mtg hs lvg hsty copy copyPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania

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Trenton, New Jersey

When I worked with Richard Rabinowitz of the American History Workshop 20 years ago we talked about “peopling the landscape” in a way that would mimic or substitute for an actual guide telling you the history of the place, or an actual actor reliving the history of the place.  Ellard calls this “presence” and looks to the technology of the 21st century as a way to bring the first-person perspective to interpretation of historic sites in our user-defined world.

Vince Michael - SACSSince even before Sweden in 2007, we have been touting Virtual Reality, a personal immersive environment that mimics the sights, sounds, and haptic experience of actually experiencing something.  Thirty years ago in York, England they created an indoor Viking village of AD 1000 full of smells and sights and sounds, kind of a carnival ride of immersion.  But that was nothing like what you can do today, where the user’s actions and movements actually manipulate the experience.

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But in some ways we live in the age not of virtual reality but augmented reality (AR) like Pokemon Go, a game that inserts characters into our environment.  How hard can that be to do with historic characters and sites?

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We can chase history in real space and real time with the aid of our own smartphone, which can easily provide images of any period or event in the history of a place.  You have probably seen those devices – they are little more than a box – that turn your smartphone into a mass-market VR device for your head.

vr-lasoyaHere it is just a block from the Alamo.

The future is here, and it can illuminate the past better than ever.

Today a visitor to a historic site like, say, the Alamo, expects to be able to take their own mobile device and experience the battle of 1836, along with the founding of the mission, its original construction in the early 18th century as well as its iconic rebuilding in 1849 with the roofline that now defines this city.

In fact, San Antonio hosts some of the most amazing firms whose VR can take you all over the world.  Taking you to March 1836 can be done.  Now.

Alamo selfieUnlike physical reconstruction, current technology allows you to adapt the interpretation with every new bit of factual evidence that comes along.  Instead of freezing a place in a singular interpretation based on one set of ideas or information, it is endlessly adaptable, and – in the parlance of historic preservation – eminently reversible.

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Plus it caters to current consumer/tourist demand, which is to see sites on individual terms.  In the Information Age, people happily trade Quality for Control.  We have become used to being able to control our experiences for ourselves.  Apps appeared a few years ago – in fulfillment of the idea expressed at that Sweden conference in 2007 – that allow people to hear or see elements of place history from their own mobile device.

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The future is here, and it makes the past more accessible than ever.

 

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A Reconstruction Avoided: Tustan

August 7, 2016

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Ten years ago this November.  My blog covered the event.

That is Vasyl Rozhko at the end of the table with me to his right.  I was in the Ukraine at the invitation of Myron Stachkiw (pointing at left) and other heritage experts, including Henry and Chris Cleere and Taissa Bushnell.  Rozhko’s father had spent his life documenting over 4000 post holes carved into 55-million year old rock outcroppings along a river in the Carpathian mountains.

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L1000367_1Photograph copyright Felicity Rich, 2006

The elder Rozhko had basically mapped out the extensive wooden fortress that guarded this site as a toll post from the 9th through 14th centuries, and it had been his dream to reconstruct the fortress.

vasyl tustan'Our team of international experts urged them not to attempt reconstruction.  Architecturally, in the absence of plans or photographs, it is generally impossible to know exactly what things looked like.  Moreover, the medieval wooden fort at Tustan had been added onto regularly for centuries.

tustan interp5The layers of construction at Tustan.

You also have the interpretation problem caused by reconstruction, which George Skarmeas identified last week at the Alamo Plaza presentation:  once you build something, docents and tour guides which soon describe it as authentic.  You create a false sense of history.

L1000413_1At the time of my 2006 visit, I had already been teaching courses in interpreting historic sites for some time and I knew something about audience engagement.  I pointed out that visiting the rocky outcrops, seeing the carved post holes and stair channels and even historic graffiti, gave tourists a sense of discovery.  When they saw the artifacts in the museum and the illustrations above, they could re-create the site in their mind.

tustan gate w-illoS This is the most effective kind of interpretation because it requires the active imagination of the visitor, creating a much richer experience and insuring that what is learned is retained.  You build your mind muscles.

L1000417_1You can also build other muscles climbing the rocks.

This was not always an easy sell in the Ukraine, which had rebuilt an important church destroyed by the Soviets (which they had good documentation of) and where they even proposed reconstructing the Desiatynna church that had been destroyed 800 years earlier by the Mongols (for which they had NO clue beyond the foundations).

governor's palace, williamsburg virginiaold postcard of the Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg, Virginia

Reconstruction used to happen here in the West, especially during the period between the Athens (1931) and Venice (1964) charters when our field was in its infancy.  Skarmeas pointed to the famous 1930s example of Williamsburg, where the Governor’s Palace was reconstructed based on the foundations and a SINGLE 17th century drawing of the exterior.

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Thirty years later, Jane Addams’ Hull House was reconstructed based on an 1897 painting that showed a hipped roof, despite the fact that 1893 PHOTOGRAPHS of the actual gabled roof existed.  (I did the definitive research on this back in the day)  You see, reconstruction can reinforce a false interpretation and thus take you in the direction AWAY from authenticity.  That’s why we avoid it.

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Besides, we live in the age of virtual reconstruction, when you can assemble bits into wonderful renderings of how things looked and make it available to everyone with a phone.  In fact, I was excited to learn that this is exactly what has happened at Tustan, where 3D models and virtual renderings of the fortress over time have obviated the need for misleading reconstruction.

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It is encouraging to see how technology has helped reverse the more destructive tendencies of early-20th century heritage conservation.  It is very encouraging for me personally to see the progress at Tustan (and the advancement of Vasyl Rozhko!).  Preservation has always been a future-oriented enterprise, and the 21st century is proving that out which each new decade.

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Places of the Heart Part 1

July 8, 2016

I just read Colin Ellard’s Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life because I saw a reference to his studies, which measure how buildings and landscapes affect our bodies and minds, our thoughts and emotions.  He famously tracked persons’ stress levels as they encountered blank and forbidding urban scenes versus human-scaled and interesting ones.  Blank and forbidding facades increase cortisol and stress.  Varied and humane ones trigger dopamine.

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Where are the people?  Why don’t they flock here?

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Oooh, that’s better, yes, right there…

The book is an excellent survey of recent advances in neuroscience that further demolish the old mind/body and brain/heart dichotomy.  We all know that architecture and design can affect our feelings, but it turns out that affect – our feelings – are also part of the infrastructure of our thoughts.  Ellard describes his own reactions to places like Stonehenge and St. Peter’s in Rome and traces the history of built structures from the pre-agrarian ceremonial structures of Göbekli Tepe which are for him “prima facie evidence of our early understanding of the power of built structure to influence feelings.” (p.15)

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Celtic stone circle in the Wachau, Austria.

The book is rich in references to a wide variety of studies in neuroscience, including Giacomo Rizzolatti’s discovery of mirror neurons in the early 1990s, where even the adoption of a pose (or the witnessing of that pose) can affect one’s affect. This reminded me of my work over 20 years ago developing a wayfinding system for the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, where consultant Richard Rabinowitz’s American History Workshop developed interpretive systems that altered your posture to make history come alive.  Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright used pathways, compression and release of space to direct our attention.

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We walk the walk with Wright

Ellard very early quotes John Locke (the new one, not the old one) in regard to WALLS – which Locke notes were not just created for protection but also “to protect us from the cognitive load of having to keep track of the activitites of strangers.”  The enterprise of psychogeography is thus the commodification of ATTENTION.

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Who needs a TV?

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Attention is itself an amazing illustration of the interconnections of mind and body.  Ellard notes that we “form preferences for certain types of faces within 39 milliseconds of their appearance” and we extract the gist of a landscape scene within 20 milliseconds, which means that these processes are happening faster than our “rational” mind can process them.  But we process them nevertheless.

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Eppur si muove

Living in San Antonio the famed River Walk is an excellent example of the kinds of things that appeal to our basic neural emotions and thoughts.  Curving lines, a variety of materials and images, an ever-evolving perspective.  This is even codified in the River Improvement Overlay that requires design variety at the River Walk level, a perfect codification of Ellard’s thesis that “by simply changing the appearance and the physical structure of the bottom three meters of a building facade, it is possible to exert a dramatic impact on the manner in which a city is used.” (p.110)

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Even if it is a parking garage…

This is rooted in our basic neural processes, according to Ellard “we are biologically disposed to want to be in locations where there is some complexity, some interest, the passing of messages of one kind or another.” (p.113)  It is not simply variety, but the URGE TO KNOW.

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I love the San Antonio River Walk.  Also, I think it.

Invigli Via Ascanio best

Milano

This knowledge of the psychogeography of everyday life is in fact a powerful tool for heritage conservation; for preserving the detailed, human scaled buildings of the past that accomplished information variety and integrated attentiveness.  This is much more than aesthetics.  It is mental health.

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Fort Collins

STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO WHERE WE DELVE INTO TECHNOLOGY (and Authenticity) (and how all cognition utilizes ellipsis)

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Alamo Plaza and Modern Archaeology

June 30, 2016

One of the great things about being in San Antonio is that they have 300+ years of history and a city archaeoligist.  My years at Global Heritage Fund brought me into contact with a lot of archaeologists, just at a time in history when the field was being revolutionized by LIDAR, ground-penetrating radar and all sorts of other high-tech options that allowed us to evolve beyond simply digging things up, which is inherently destructive.  Here is a blog about LIDAR from a little over a year ago.  I also did a lecture at the Pacific Union Club a while back on the latest in archaeological technology, and another blog last year titled Heritage in the Age of Virtual Reconstruction.

Alamo obl16.jpg

It seems that the investigation of the Alamo Plaza to determine the 1836 battle boundaries is focusing on digging.  There is one good reason for this – they are planning to engage the public in the discussion, and having actual pits will foster curiosity and engagement, as this recent article describes.  There has been and will be use of ground-penetrating radar as well, and we can hope they use the full range of 21st century technology for such an important site.  As George Skarmeas said in the article – it is like Athens in terms of the layers of history!

In fact, there is an excellent summary of the latest developments in archaeology – and historic interpretation – just up the river at the Witte, which has an excellent exhibit on the Maya.

Witte Maya show overlay

Actually, the technique here is pre-digital.  Those older blogs show examples of the kind of virtual reconstructions that have been available to visitors for decades.  The excellent thing about this type of interpretation is it does the same thing as digging in terms of engaging the public.  You do more than simply look at a single thing: you see the layers and allow your mind to reconstruct the historic view.  This is, in fact, how your mind works.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Heritage in the Age of Virtual Reconstruction

October 27, 2015

I was going to write this blog on Saturday when I heard the legendary Harold Kalman speak at the National Trust for Canada conference in Calgary.  I had the honor of being the opening keynote speaker on Thursday night, and Harold won at least two awards on Friday night, including one for lifetime achievement.  Notwithstanding his elder statesman role, he had some keen insights into where heritage is in 2015, and the keenest came when he answered the inevitable question.

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Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria.  BEFORE.

I got this question a lot during my years at Global Heritage Fund:  What can we do about the destruction of monuments by Daesh (ISIS) as recently happened in Palmyra?  Hal Kalman had an interesting answer distinguished by its lack of urgency.  Monuments get damaged and destroyed.  The Parthenon was pretty well blown to bits in the 17th century.  That Roman bridge I saw in the Ossola Valley got blown up in World War II, and yet there it is.

roman bridge

Kalman’s response was neither cavalier nor a call for reconstruction.  Indeed, the preceding discussion had focused on the 21st century approach to heritage – which was of course my topic Thursday night – which is an approach that has shifted from the preservation of physical materials to VALUES and ASSOCIATIONS.  This is the basis of reforms I have proposed in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Since the 1999 Burra Charter and the 2003 ICOMOS statement on intangible heritage, we have evolved to a new understading of What. We. Are. Trying. To. Preserve.

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From VOA TV Ashna via Twitter and Lionsroar.

Yesterday we saw these stunning images of 3-D holographic projections of the famed Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.  Undertaken by a wealthy Chinese couple, the virtual reconstruction of the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in February 2001 has garnered a ton of attention.  Have you heard of the Bamiyan Buddhas?  Of course you have.  And has their destruction by the Taliban erased them from your memory?  Have they been erased from our collective patrimoinie?  Au contraire.

I posted this on Facebook this morning and a friend commented “Would love to see this site someday.”  Think about that for a minute.  Didn’t the Taliban destroy it despite the protestations of millions around the world?  Isn’t it GONE?

No.  We want to see it and now we have the technology to do so.  We have been using technology to supplement and animate heritage sites for decades and the technology keeps getting better.  Heck, even in the 1960s you could go to Rome and by a book showing ancient Roman sites as they are with acetate pages that flipped onto the surviving elements and allowed you a vision of what the site looked like 2000 years before.

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Basilica of Maxentius NOW

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Basilica of Maxentius THEN

Hal Kalman quoted several recent scholars, including Australia’s Laurajane Smith and my friend Ned Kaufman who have focused on the preservation of values and associations.  The values and associations of the Bamiyan Buddhas have not gone away – you could argue that their physical destruction has even intensified those values and associations.

Now of course there are still the fragments, the niches in the walls, the valley context, so in many ways they are currently in a physical state not unlike the Basilica of Maxentius.  Unlike Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange, they have not been replaced by a careless hulk that not only erases but replaces their context.

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might make a nice hologram…

This is not to say we don’t want authenticity.  Indeed, the entire heritage enterprise is about authenticity and that is key to my call for the reform of historic preservation practice in the United States.  Authenticity is not found only in buildings or fragments of buildings.  As the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994) stated:

“authenticity judgements may be linked to the worth of a great variety of sources of information. Aspects of the sources may include form and design, materials and substance, use and function, traditions and techniques, location and setting, and spirit and feeling, and other internal and external factors.”

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Shinto temple, Ise, Japan.  A thousand years old and rebuilt every generation. Authentically.

Heritage is not a luxury, it is a fundamental social value that differentiates us from beasts.  The whole world is poised right now – as they have been since the start of the Syrian civil war – to run in and do something about all of this world heritage as soon as they are able.  Daesh (ISIS) has mobilized concern for sites of outstanding universal value just as the Taliban did before them, and contrary to their supposed motivations, they are increasing the value and association of these sites.

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Warsaw was rebuilt after World War II because it had to be and because we had incredibly good, precise documentation of what it looked like.  The Parthenon has been partly and may someday be entirely put back together despite the vandalous use of it as an ammunition depot by the Ottomans and the even more vandalous Venetian volleys that pelted it with a thousand shells during the siege of 1687.  The temple had survived incredibly intact until that point.

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But at least we have Nashville….

If we understand heritage in a mature way, and we welcome it as a future enterprise in an age of virtual reconstruction, the infantile destroyers will never be able to take it away from us.  It is like travel itself, not only a wonderful investment in your education and understanding, but an investment that cannot be stolen from you while you breathe.  You can take away a stone or knock down an arch or blow up a statue but you cannot take away our memories, our thoughts, our values, and our social conscience.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Über of Architecture

June 17, 2015

Later this month I will be heading to Associazone Canova in Italy to participate in the 14th Annual Architectural Encounter so I am thinking about the future of architecture.

My three years in Silicon Valley have demonstrated the revolutiuonary transformation of human interaction and the infrastructure of our environment: the landscapes, pathways, and buildings we inhabit.  The App Age  of Über and Airbnb and Google has reprogrammed our normal relationship to goods; services, and to space itself. Interviews are carried out in coffee shops, coffee shops are in libraries, homes are hotels, cars are taxis and even clothing may not have a single owner. Clients are no longer fixed but fluid, and the key design element for future resilience will be in fact fluidity: the space, the plot, the wall or the wearable that can adjust to the next radical disruption.

As a human society we are arguably moving away from the settled lifestyle we pioneered 11,000 years ago when we shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

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small agricultural plots in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Are we moving back to a peripatetic lifestyle where we constantly move not only in space but also in technological platforms?   The Industrial Age was a major shift away from agriculture, but until recently even that transformation, involving massive human migrations to cities, remained in the mode of a settled multigenerational life. The end of World War II saw the rise of the nuclear family, who were still supposed to settle in a single geographic location and work for an industrial concern for a lifetime.

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Studebaker – the only car company that started with the Industrial Revolution (Palm Springs).

Now we are in the age of retooling as knowledge systems explode and individual lives are subject to constant reeducation and career moves. We adapt to changing realities and modalities. Resiliency has replaced sustainability as a leading concept not only in architecture but in political economy as well.  We are in the obverse of High Modernism, which felt it could determine all future needs and design accordingly.

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IBM Building, Chicago, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  It was designed for room-sized computers and floor-sized heat exchangers.  Now it is a hotel.

The design byword today is resiliency, a kind of adaptability, which interestingly, has been the dominant mode in historic preservation/heritage conservation for the last 50 years. Indeed, when the High Modernists were designing buildings for Forever Needs, preservationists in Soho and elsewhere were repurposing old buildings for new uses.

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Even in Milwaukee

Jane Jacobs saw old buildings as incubators for new ideas and new businesses. Don Rypkema, the leading spokesperson for the economics of preservation, makes the same argument every day and has made it in over 40 countries worldwide. We know that adaptive re-use is the economic underpinning of older buildings, sites and structures. What does this mean for design?

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Greenwich Village.

“Long life loose fit” is one foundation for resiliency. Buildings become non-specific in their uses. Again, this has been a foundational idea for historic preservation for a half century, but the Über/Airbnb world requires a further step: multiple uses not simply in time, but in space.

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Musee d’Orsay, in time and on time

I am reminded of an example I learned from the architect Yatin Pandya back in 2008. Yatin described the Manek Chowk, a major public square in Ahmedabad, a city on the tentative list for World Heritage status. In the morning the Manek Chowk is covered with hay as animals wander and feed throughout the square. By late morning the plaza is transformed into a shopping area as people buy pots and pans and choose from a vast array of locally grown vegetables. By noon it becomes a market for bullion and jewelry. Each evening the shops vanish, tables fill the square and dozens of nighttime food stalls service a human population in the same space where animals feasted the morning before.

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Manek Chowk, 2008, mid-day

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Market at Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad

I think our future buildings – and of course our past buildings, will become microcosms of the Manek Chowk. We are already seeing this in coffee shops that have recognized – and started to monetize – their role as offices for the legions of information and service workers who no longer have or choose to use a formal office.

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Palo Alto, California.  It was a movie theater.  Then a bookstore.  Now it’s a coffee shop/entrepreneurial platform.

The idea was incipient in preservation when I came on the scene over 30 years ago. I recall the buildings of Printers Row in Chicago, formerly industrial and now transformed into residential lofts, office lofts, shops and even religious structures. Every city in the world has a former warehouse and industrial area where the buildings have been saved and re-used as housing, galleries, offices, shops and more.

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And the church (left) serves multiple congregations

This trend will continue to define our future and the shifts will become both more broad-based and more granular. We will share buildings as we share our apartments on Airbnb and our vehicles on Über and our bicycles with everyone else in New York or London or San Francisco or Washington.

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Chicago I think

Adaptive re-use of buildings is morphing into adaptive use of all buildings (and sites and structures).  While recent architectural theory has revolved around issues of sustainability and resilience, technology has been viewed as a new way to design, and a new set of elements to incorporate into designs.

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Refracting light through colored glass is a hell of a technology.

The technological revolution actually implies a new approach to design that in many ways will finally realize the century-old modernist goal of uniting engineering and design.  Modernism was a reaction to In the idea that 19th century architecture had become obsessed with the visual qualities of facades and lost its connection to engineering – modernists were to reunite those two elements, and our friend Mies van der Rohe was one of those proponents.  Yet, as I explained in my book The Architecture of Barry Byrne, there is always the attempt to sweeten, or make beautiful, the resultant form.

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Sweet!  LeCorbusier – Mill Owners Building, Ahmedabad

Google and Apple and Facebook have all hired starchitects to design them wacky new buildings that will SYMBOLIZE their technology, but I think it is much more interesting to look at the buildings that birthed and nurtured this technology – because they are historic warehouses and loft buildings.  Long life loose fit.  New ideas need old buildings.

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Firefox building on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

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Headquarters for a variety of tech companies, San Francisco 2015

It seems to me the use of buildings – in time and space – is the key to a sustainable built future,  Facades always were a kind of advertisement, a signifier, of dignity or permanence or comfort or desire.  Maybe the 19th century split between architecture and engineering is an ongoing battle between space we need to occupy and do things in and symbols we want to create on the landscape.

first unitarian church Providence

Gothic, Classical – this one has it all.  But it really doesn’t SAY Unitarian…..

I have been having many discussions about the future of the National Register of Historic Places, which will be 50 years old next year.  One of the challenges, which I wrote about in connection to the need to make the National Register reflect the diversity of the American experience, is to get beyond the focus on facades, which still dominates our review of potential landmark buildings and districts.  While this makes sense for those buildings nominated under Criterion C for architecture, it cannot be supported at the same level of formal scrutiny when you are dealing with sites significant for Criterion A (history) or Criterion B (famous people).  That significance may be interior, and it is inherently related to use, not form.

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The barn where legendary horse Man O’ War lived, near Lexington Kentucky.

If these musings prove true, the multiplicity of meanings embodied in historic significance will be embodied in spaces that were used in multiple ways by multiple agents, lending over time a multiplicity of significations.  This will take us farther from the facade, or the facade will become – as it in in the Manek Chowk or Piazza Navona – an interior wall, a backdrop for actions that will resonate in that wall over time.

pala navona

this place matters

As we slide into the Über future we should also take with us the other great lesson of preservation: how to make good buildings.  We save them because they CAN be saved, because they have sufficient inherent resiliency to be repurposed.  Indeed, preservation of old buildings, site and structures is all about resiliency.  So when our 21st century shared space economy gets in full swing – remember where it started: with old buildings.

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Its an asset, a resource, a performer that beats any new building by 48 truckloads of debris.

FYI last one is a totally altered 1880s cottage where Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney lived when they first married.  You should see the amazing fireplaces they designed on the inside.  Oh, and she lived there in the 1940s after Walter died and she was compiling Magic In America.  So there.

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.)

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Chavín.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.