Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

National Historic Preservation Act: Addressing the Diversity Deficit

August 4, 2015

Two weeks ago I spoke during the meeting of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation regarding the Future of the National Register of Historic Places, which will be 50 years old next year.  I detailed some of the shortcomings that have emerged over that time, including a startling “Diversity Deficit.”

Less than 5% of the buildings listed on the National Register evoke the nation’s diverse history – the rest chronicle white men, who are much less than half the country.  I also detailed many of the challenges in preservation practice that we inherited from an architect-driven 1960s practice, one that has a tendency to focus too much on the formal.

ellison bldg

The photo is one of may favorite examples, from St. Nicholas Avenue in Hamilton Heights, New York, the building lacks architectural integrity.  But Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man there in 1947, a book more relevant than ever today. The building is authentic but does not have integrity.  The problem is not the building but our practice – we adopted the architectural concept of “integrity” in 1966 instead of the international concept of “authenticity.”

Authenticity, Not Integrity

If you look closely at the integrity criterion, you do find “feeling” and “association” listed, which arguably come close to a definition of authenticity and in fact ACHP Chairman Wayne Donaldson suggested just that in response to my presentation.

The problem for professionals is that they have a hard time defining such vague terms (and you can imagine how lawyers react!).  It is only a problem if you leave it in the hands of the professionals.  Answer: Bring in the community.

heshui meeting0

The answer works in tiny villages, big cities and in every language.

Preservation is a Process.  I have said before that the way heritage conservation works internationally is by engaging the community in the Process of Identifying Heritage, Evaluating Its Significance, and Determining the appropriate Treatment for bringing that heritage into the future.

That is what the Burra Charter says, and it reconciles the fabric-and-architecture-based preservation of the West with the tools-and-techniques-based conservation of the East.  The same approach will work especially well in dealing with underserved cultural groups in the United States.  I wrote about a particularly important example of this – the Maravilla Handball Court in LA – several years ago with my friend and colleague Anthea Hartig in this blog post.  Another example in the LA area is of course the Biddy Mason memorial created in the early 1990s by Power of Place.

biddy mason 1850

One of the great examples where interpretation IS preservation.

We need to move away from the idea that historic preservation is about the past.  It is always a future-oriented decision.  The past is not a foreign country but the foundation for the future, the roots of who we are, what we do and where we will go.  So what does this mean for the actual processes involved in nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places and reviewing them?

What Are The Solutions?

I challenged the ACHP to embark on a series of solutions to make the National Register relevant for the next 50 years, including drafting new context statements designed to chronicle the histories of more Americans, especially those cultures like the African-American and American Indian that were deliberately erased or hidden at one time or another.  A great example of this is the excellent work Joseph McGill does with the Slave Dwelling Project.

carlos thropp torSS

Community tour workshop, Auburn-Gresham, Chicago, 2010.

Community involvement is essential to identifying what is important to communities, and how that importance (significance) can be brought into the future.

I pushed the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to involve community in each step of the preservation process.  I also suggested that while we might look at architectural integrity (on a sliding scale) when treating properties with architectural significance (Criterion C), we should look to authenticity when reviewing properties significant due to their association with an historic event, theme, or person (Criteria A and B).

o henry plaqS

O Henry house, Austin.

o henry plaque

O Henry plaque, Asheville.

ohenry house

O Henry House, San Antonio

To me one of the keys is interpretation.  If we can require World Heritage Sites to have a management plan (which usually includes a conservation plan and an interpretation plan) why shouldn’t properties listed for their historic significance come with an interpretive plan?

One of the greatest challenges to the heritage conservation/historic preservation MOVEMENT is the fact that we rely on ONE specialized field – architecture – to do all of our work.  Strong interpretation builds constituency because the everyday people can UNDERSTAND WHY we are saving something.

lincolns cottage best2

Nice Gothic cottage.  Hey, who is that out front?

We lament our inability to gain the traction that the environmentalist movement has.  But the environmental movement doesn’t require every supporter to be a scientist – why should we require every supporter of heritage to be an architectI?  I have debated integrity with engineers and other experts – this is a tough concept and it does not help our public image.

Period of Significance

Ouch.  Another one.  When I was on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council in the late 1990s, most of the National Register nominations we got listed the period of significance as the date of construction right up to 50 years ago, which is the (completely unfounded – see here) standard.  My opinion, at that time, was that it was confusing since it seemed to me you could then make changes to the building as long as they fell within the period of significance, which included aluminum windows and doors and so forth.

chess recordsS

Chess Records, 2120 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.  A 1911 building whose storefront is 1957 and whose period of significance is 1957-1967 when Chess Records was there.

I now see what the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency staff were trying to do – grant as much space as possible.  In the 1960s and 70s and even 80s (big hair – we couldn’t think straight) we followed the hoary old architectural practice of restoring a building to a certain date.  By the 1990s we realized that information could be lost – or misinterpreted – by choosing a single date.  The building above makes total sense restored to two different dates  a half-century apart.  Plus, starting in 1990 we allowed historically-styled additions to buildings, finally recognizing that style in itself is not an age indicator.

joliet lib chg vw09s

Joliet Public Library, (Daniel Burnham, 1903, left, with 1990s addition right)

The biggest problem with Period of Significance and Integrity to is the underlying assumption they make about heritage conservation/historic preservation.  They assume that it is about a point in the past.  They assume there is a gulf between the present and the past and that we need to design and build a bridge to get there.

This is the most problematic concept underlying our preservation practice and the National Register of Historic Places.   It puts things at a distance, just like a traditional house museum does, telling us not to TOUCH.

model and paintingS

If only we could do this at scale, then it would be protected!! 

(Ironically, this is one of the most vibrant house museums in the country, Jame Addams’ Hull House Museum.  It was restored based on the (incorrect) painting seen there despite photographic evidence showing an entirely different roof form.  Architecturally it has negative integrity, but tons of authenticity due to the programming and interpretation.

HH soup908b

In this space the public in invited every week to debate issues just as Jane Addams did.

This is the biggest conceptual problem causing the Diversity Deficit and requiring a rethink of how we use the National Historic Preservation Act, which turns 50 next year.  We have to stop letting our preservation practice suggest that what we are doing is somehow a separate thing.  That is the world of the museum and monument, not the world of living resources.

guizhou town view

My international experience, especially in Asia, has underscored the value of living heritage – not only intangible heritage but also those places where the techniques and tools of historic form-making survive, just as language and music survive.  They are all in danger of being lost, but contrasting living traditions to our own National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 made me realize how much of our preservation practice is predicated on a lack of continuity – the fact that there is an irreparable break between present and past.

Pocantico Group 2

This February I was part of a Climate Change and Heritage conference at the Pocantico Center in New York.  The group included Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation, who served as an advocate for living heritage.  No gulf.  Continuity.

Dept Interior Indian murals3

Department of Interior mural by Gerald Nailor, c. 1940

In this regard, I am very excited to have the opportunity to repeat my presentation in two weeks for the National Association of Tribal Preservation Officers.  The goal of American Indian tribes is to conserve their culture, which was deliberately suppressed for much of our history.  It is about bridging the chasm, erasing the gulf and building continuity with the past.  The last significant legal updates to U.S. preservation practice came in the early 1990s with legislation focused on native American tribes.  I think this is an ideal place to reinvigorate our national preservation practice.

NOTE:  Welcome to the second decade of this blog.  It began in August 2005 and here we are 455 posts later.

A few days in Milan

July 26, 2015

The Italian excursion described in my last blog had another half, and most of that was in Milan.  Milan gets a bad rap in comparison to the other large Italian cities, largely because it lost more of its fabric in the Second World War, and the rebuilding sports much of the bland utilitarian vernacular of the 1950s, but our peregrinations around this city offered more than the great Gothic cathedral.

Duomo at night2

Although it is pretty great, in both senses of the word

Duomo ext sculpt wdws

Duomo full view ls

Duomo aisles lkg back

Duomo interior vaults

Not an errant nave

We took one day to visit three of the other marvelous old churches, and it was revelatory.  I used to comment about Rome that you couldn’t walk a block without stumbling on a Roman ruin or a Baroque church.  Substitute “Lombardy Romanesque” for Baroque and the same can be said for Milano.

Duomo ectasy archbish altar

You can’t even walk a block in the Duomo without encountering an ecstatic Baroque altar

S. Marie D Grazie view best

This is Santa Maria della Grazie, where we did NOT see DaVinci’s Last Supper since we had not booked in advance.

This is a distinctly different architectural style, older and more often in earthy brick accented by stone, linking it to the nations to the north.  If we love Rome for its grand marble palaces and churches, we can easily love Milan for these treasured landmarks, many of which date back over a thousand years.

S. Ambrogio altar

Besides there is plenty of Baroque inside – this is an altar in San Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio best view

Here is San Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan.  The oldest part dates to the 9th century and the towers (one for the canons and one for the monks) and hidden front are excellent examples of the Romanesque popular here.  As in Rome and other parts of Europe, the buildings are thickly layered with fragments of their history, as found in the forecourt of S. Ambrogio:

S. Ambrogio fresco n fragments

Frescos and lintels and capitals, oh my!

S. Ambrogio column frags

S. Ambrogio nice facade and tower

The interior features a stunning dome, the gilded skeleton of St. Ambrose (among others) and this fabulous dome.  There is a strong Byzantine sensibility in the forms of these churches, one that resonates with the ancient Roman empire in a way the Renaissance and Baroque do not, because the tradition is more continuous.

S. Ambrogio dome and saints

These churches will often have surviving mosaics from the 4th or 5th century, which means they are basically from the Empire, evincing a continuity of tradition rather than a rekindled one.

S. Ambrogio sarco detail

Detail from a Roman sarcophagus incorporated into the pulpit at S. Ambrogio.  9th century from 4th century original.

S. Ambrogio T 6 C column

6th century column in the treasury, S. Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio T 4th c mosaic

4th century lamb mosaic, S. Ambrogio

S. Ambrogio great painting

And a nice Renaissance painting from a thousand years later.

S. Ambrogio snake column0

It’s right near the snake column, which takes us back to the first millenium and looks like a prop from a Conan movie.  You can see the sarcophagus in the background.

S. Ambrogio TC courtyard entlang

S. Ambrogio TC ctyd colum

The courtyard by Bramante

Now, the next church, San Lorenzo Maggiore, also dates to the 4th century and was the largest building in the West at one time.  The approach through the Ticino gate is fantastic, with a row of Roman columns partially enclosing the forecourt.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore arcade tram

And a tram.  That would upset Americans.  Wussies.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore facade

You should see this place at nighttime it is like Woodstock or something.

By far my favorite of the wealth of treasures inside is this 4th century mosaic of Christ the lawgiver.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Christ mosaic2

Notice he has no beard.  It must have taken another century or two to grow one.

The Roman styling of this is stunning for those of us – namely ALL of us – raised on a Renaissance idea of Christ.  Even more stunning is the mosaic on the other half dome across from this – Christ as the Sun.  This one has not survived as well, but you can make out Christ one-upping Sol Invictus and taking the reins of the sun’s chariot from Apollo to launch the new day.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Sun mosaic

I love it when you can actually see one culture transform into another.

It seems only the mosaics near the ceiling survive, and they include these guys as well:

S. Lorenzo Maggiore C mosaics

Ave, Dudes

A side chapel has some more Byzantine style mosaics, which are fun to contrast against Renaissance works – I adore the wonderful layered depth of these Milanese churches – 1500 years all stuck together in one place.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore Byzan ptg


S. Lorenzo Maggiore deposition fresco


S. Lorenzo Maggiore Barok ptg


And a few interior shots but when you go make sure you go the the treasury to see the mosaics and also the undercroft where you can see the Roman foundations of the basilica.

S. Lorenzo Maggiore frescoa

S. Lorenzo Maggiore interior

S. Lorenzo Maggiore upside capital

Umm, you may want to call the conractor back….

So remember what I said about Rome being a place where you stumble into a Roman ruin or a Baroque church on every other block?  In Milan you have to walk maybe two blocks.  Here is a Roman ruin we stumbled upon.  A piece of a whacking great amphitheatre actually….

Amphitheatre park w sign

Even had its own free museum with a rare gladiator ceremonial stelae and more mosaics and sculptures from the Roman era.

Amphitheatre museo gladiator stelae

Plus an amazing chorale group rehearsing and we were the only ones there…

And the fact of the matter is you stumble on Baroque (and Romanesque) churches all the time

S. Anthony Adate int2

St. Anthony Adate

S Stefano

S. Stefano

s. carolo

S. Carolo

S. Biblia

S. Biblia

Another church off Garibaldi Brera

In Brera

Hey, and if you want the overwrought contraposto and languid emotionalism of the Baroque, just stop by the City Cemetery, which is 19th century but every damn tombstone is adorned with a massive bronze sculpture dripping with emotion.

Cemetery another

Okay, this is a nice sentiment

Cemetery white tombcls

Now this is a little more heart-rending..

Cemetery Casati-Briggs sleeper

Alright, you amped it up now please tone it down a bit…

Cemetery Ego Sum close2

I said DOWN, not UP to 11!  Give me a nice Victorian lady in a button-up dress mourning…

Cemetery kissing guys

…two emaciated guys lying head-to-head in full liplock.  Okay, I give up.

The first monument we encountered on entering the city was the great (in both senses)  Castello Sfroza, which is ginormous and full of art.

Castello Sforza main and corner

Castello Sforza vault room n stats

Castello Sforza resting guy

Take a break if you get tired from all the walking…

I was also struck by the level of decoration in a host of downtown commercial buildings.  I mean, this city has Atlanteans by the bucketful.

Baroque bldg

Bank of Italy

Bank of Italy

motorbuke facade


Via Dante facade Gutteridge

Hang on guys!

Barok Heads church cls

That’s another church – see what I mean?

Pza Cordusio Generali

Large Cairoli curving facade

Take that, Rome!

Castle near S. Ambrogio best

They can do monochromatic Baroque, but in Milan they bend toward the Lombardy contrast of red brick and gray stone, like in this cute little corner castle.

The commercial building to end all commercial buildings is of course the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel, right next to the Duomo.

Galleria Vittorio Emm ctr

Render unto Prada…they actually have binoculars installed so you can see the detail up high.

University fr abv

Now this is the University of Milan, view from our dear friend Francesco Gnecchi-Ruscone’s terrace.  The Ca’ Grande seen here dates to the 15th century.  We also went out to find some of Gnecchi-Ruscone’s work, including this block of flats north of the park, which brings us to modern Milan

FGN residences

And we must of course include the Torre Milano, perhaps the most Ür-PostModern building in all of Europe if you will excuse the catastrophic clumsiness of that construction.

Torre Milano

I meant the clumsiness of the literary construction…

But the real place to visit now to see the latest is Piazza Gae Aulenti, a district full of new buldings designed in contextual relationship with one another.  As is often the case in such arrangements, there is an emphasis on primary forms and their contrast, but the curves and spikes and bends and folds and colors do have a harmony in more than one view and dimension

Pza Gae Aulenti view up

That is the UniCredit tower in the middle. Urbanist view.

Pza Gae Aulenti curve and UniCredit

More the windswept Modernist view from the plaza itself, significantly named for a pioneering female Milanese architect.

Pza Gae Aulenti people

Pza Gae Aulenti curves etc

This is what happens if you look at too much LeDoux before bed…

Pza Gae Aulenti green towers

Green architecture much!  We saw these on the train ride in and from that angle the massive cranes needed to plant trees that high were visible.  Vertical Forest by Boeri Studio.

Milan is known of course for fashion, and indeed a Gnecchi-Ruscone launched the Industrial era here in the silk industry.

fashion desigual

I went shopping with my wife, the most arduous test of love there is…

Duomo St. Barth rear

Renaissance Runway:  An exquisitely flayed St. Bartholomew by Marco D”Agrate, 1562 in the Duomo.

tram near Pza 14Magg

The trams in Milan are wonderful, in part because like those in our own San Francisco, they are an encyclopedic collection of cars from throughout the 20th century.

Via Broletto streetv8ew

God I love infrastructure

Milano trams

Somehow it all fits together

Speaking of infrastructure, there is a canal system that has become a popular destination, especially the Invigli area, lined with restaurants and boutiques, each of which has mosquito spray onhand:)

Invigli Via Ascanio yellow best

Invigli stroll

Invigli Via Ascanio best

Invigli Via Ascanio boats bldgs

Francesco and his wife left all friends a standing invitation to drop by their house in the evening for a gin and tonic, so let us end in this evening waterside paradise at Milan’s first gin bar, Gino 12.

Invigli Via Ascanio Gino 12c

Associazione Canova and the Ossola Valley

July 8, 2015

entrance bldgs

This is the entrance to the village of Canova in the Ossola Valley in northern Italy.  Most of these stone houses date back hundreds of years, and the stone not only forms their walls, but their roofs as well.

Canova view

Here is a view from Oira, which is another village but only a couple of hundred meters away.  This is a view of the church in Oira from Canova.

vew to chruch

I was at first mystified that these were separate places.  Then I realized that this landscape told a story of agricultural life in a preindustrial era.  The scale of these villages in itself hearkens back to the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, when people did not travel far at all.

bluhaus vw3

We stayed in this house, called Casa Blu.
bluhaus fr abv

More views of Casa Blu

bluhaus upstairs

casa blu 20

A couple decades ago, Ken and Kali Marquardt started restoring houses in this village, many of which were abandoned and falling apart.  They formed Associazione Canova, a nonprofit dedicated to saving these wonderful buildings and villages, which invited me to participate in the 14th Annual Architectural Encounter, where I spoke about The Über of Architecture.

stone roof

The stone roofs are ubiquitous, and amazing.  You would think the weight of flat stones overlapping each other would be more than a roof could bear, but not so.  They rest on purlins and beams just as other roofs, but they last hundreds of years if maintained properly.

roof detail shelter

ghesc ent town proj ceiling

Take that Mr. Code Inspector!

Perhaps the most lyrical of all the stone roofs we saw (and we saw a lot) was this circular one in Oira that covered an icehouse many meters deep.


Some of the houses in Canova have become bed-and-breakfasts.  Each house had a massive fireplace like you would see in a 17th century Colonial on the east coast, but here they have two small windows on either side.

flury fireplace

Not only were roofs and walls made of stone, but we even saw this abandoned house in Oira with a stone waste pipe – cylinders of stone hollowed out.  Why not?

stone waste line

When you are dealing with thick stone walls, adding modern conveniences like electricity needs to be in conduit, and in our house I saw the most beautifully designed conduit.

casa blu electrics2

The village itself is about eight old buildings (and one new one).  A marvelous mountain stream cascades through the town, once powering several mills, including this one that was restored up in Oira.

mill house

This part of Italy still has great amounts of hydropower, and the running fountains in every town were a welcome sight to our drought-weary California eyes!  In addition to the mill, Oira also has this surviving winepress made of massive timbers in a stone room barely larger than the press.

winepress screw

We visited several other abandoned villages that are slowly being reclaimed, including in many cases old frescos and wall murals in Ghesc and its neighboring village, where a couple of Italian architects have taken on the “serial preservationist” role of Ken and Kali and are working to restore houses in places that don’t even have electric service yet.

ghesc ent town Ch Pa side2

Mural on wall in village of Croppomarcio

monast mural2

A mural from one of the houses preserved in Sacro Monte monastery

flury yellow door

Mural above the house with the yellow door in Canova.

ghesc ent town proj stair ch

Another staircase for the code inspectors….

ghesc chepa paola hs

Maurizio and Paola’s house, Ghesc.  They are the only residents of this village.

ghesch 1560 chepa  paola

Their house dates to 1560 as shown by this carved stone.

ghesc long bldg dis

A Ghesc fixer-upper

ent town astragal

This open upper area is a loggia called an astragal that is a feature of the buildings near Ghesc.

inside astragal

It reminded me of the traditional houses of Guizhou with their open upper floors for storing grain and produce.

arch built by students

Associazione Canova works with students in summer field schools who have done projects such as the arch restoration shown here, along with another flying staircase of cantilevered stone steps.

big house side

This is the village of Cuggine, completely abandoned but local officials hope to find people to restore these houses as well.

sun temple

This is the “sun temple” in Roldo, dating to the Roman era.  Its tower was added in the 15th century but the mortar on the lower section shows how early a structure was built on this pre-Christian site.

stone detail old mortar

Our Architectural Encounter itself took place in Domodossola, the main town, at Sacro Monte, a World Heritage site that includes several monasteries and chapels that were constructed after the fall of Constantinople so that pilgrims could traverse a more local version of the Via Crucis since Jerusalem had become inaccessible to Europeans.

sacro with grotto

main square dinner

The central square of Domodossola

roman bridge

A Roman bridge, repaired after partial demolition during World War II.

oira view

My fellow speakers were Dan Phillips of Phoenix Commotion in Texas, who builds houses from recycled materials using untrained labor, and Francesco Gnecchi-Ruscone, a 91-year old architect who built many modern buildings around Milan and beyond.  He also was a professor at Yale twice, once at the invitation of Paul Rudolph and once at the invitation of Vincent Scully.  He was a most amazing man and we visited him at his home in Milan a few days later.

francesco talks Ken Kali hs2

Many thanks to Ken and Kali, to Maurizio and Paola, to Giada, Francesco, Dan and Marsha, and our Canova hosts Dorothea and Peter.  What better place to ponder the future of architecture than beneath the stones of its rich past?

great stnwork facing bluhaus


arch encounter sign

Tragedy in Nepal

April 28, 2015

Last weekend we witnessed from afar another massive human tragedy with the earthquake in Nepal.  Thousands are dead and injured and those who have survived are beset with problems due to loss of infrastructure, power, water and more.  Heritage took an incredibly hard hit as well, with great Nepalese temples and towers – many of which survived the massive 1934 earthquake, now lying literally in tiny pieces.  I spent some weeks in Nepal back in 1986.


Heritage Conservation is often inspired by loss, and while we naturally value life and limb above the loss of culture, they are separated by degree more than category.  Just as ISIS targets heritage as a terrorist act to deprive people of identity and will, so the loss of heritage sites in disasters like this earthquake is a visceral loss of a significant piece of what makes people human.  We do not live by bread along and life without culture and the human connections provided by culture is a lesser kind of living.


Durbar hall in Katmandu – a World Heritage Site – before and after the earthquake.  Posted on Twitter by Mohan Almal

Un terremoto de 7.9 grados mató a unas 7 mil personas en Katmandú, capital de Nepal. Sus templos medievales y la espiritualidad atraen a turistas de todo el mundo, entre ellos a una periodista argentina, que estaba en la ciudad cuando se desataron los temblores.Un millón de casas y estatuas, palacios y monumentos protegidos por la Unesco hoy son escombros. Los costos para la reconstrucción son impagables en un país con índices económicos del cuarto mundo. Crónica de una catástrofe que interpela la relación entre naturaleza, desarrollo y conservación. – See more at:

There is already drone footage of the devastation here.

“We have lost most of the monuments that had been designated as World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur [Patan].” said historian Prushottam Lochan Shrestha.  UNESCO has pledged to send in experts.  The devastation of heritage strikes at the heart of what makes us human.  It also hurts economically, when so many sites are destroyed in a nation where more than 8% of GDP is driven by tourism.

One of the most distinctive architectural features of Nepali architecture are the heavily bordered and embellished multi-pane wooden windows.  I loved these so much I bought and framed a print of the pattern.  Yet, these beauties are also partly responsible for the failure since it creates large horizontal voids in the structure, according to Randolph Langenbach, a dear friend and expert on architecture and earthquakes.

The challenge now is to care for the injured and the displaced.  But we also need to rebuild their nation and their landmarks, to insure the culture connection that makes us thrive rather than merely survive.

 May 14 UPDATE
A second earthquake has further rattled the people of Nepal.  I had the opportunity to spend some time with Randolph and get more detail on the damage and also on the traditional vernacular of Nepal which is a seismically resistant combination of masonry bearing walls with timber bands that act as O-rings.  Much of the devastation in the second temblor happened to concrete frame buildings.  One of the challenges, he notes, is that engineering is so focused on frames that we have forgotten the seismic utility of the wall, which provides elastic capacity and dampens the excitations of earthquakes.  Frame strength will always be exceeded in an earthquake event, so you need walls – this is why seismic retrofits here in the Bay often go beyond bracing to create shear walls like this:
xanadu bsmt shear wall
Hear a report on the importance of heritage to Nepal here.

Preservation by Design® Four Points

March 26, 2015

Global Heritage Fund is distinguished by its approach to saving heritage sites, and that approach, called Preservation By Design®, has four points:  Conservation, Planning, Partnerships and Community Development.  The latter point is what distinguishes us from traditional preservation advocacy groups, so we will get to that.

In a few weeks, I will be moderating a panel discussion with Global Heritage Fund project leaders at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.  The panel will focus on these four points so I thought I might preview the discussion here.


Let’s break down the diagram:  The top half – Planning and Conservation – is about heritage.  The bottom half – Partnerships and Community – is about development.

Historically, preservation organizations were advocates who focused their efforts and their expertise in the top half of the diagram.  Historically, architects, archaeologists and conservators were trained in that same half.  Often their curatorial training explicitly excluded community and partnerships.  It was a flawed model.


Dr. Santiago Giraldo and the health center Global Heritage Fund built near Ciudad Perdida last year.

That has changed, and Global Heritage Fund has been part of that change.  I had the good fortune of starting my preservation career in 1983 working on the first heritage area in the U.S., which united historic preservation, natural area conservation, and economic development.  Heritage areas are “partnership parks” that leverage public and private entities to focus often limited resources on sites that have both a depth of cultural heritage and a potential for economic development.

CP 61 best

Steps built perhaps 1000 years ago by the Tayrona, Colombia

Unlike an earlier generation trained in curatorial practices my practice (and my teaching) was always focused on making heritage resources part of the economic everyday.  Tourism is a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the whole puzzle.

So, let’s look at the Four Points:

Planning (and Design)

Planning has always been a key part of the GHF model because we are dealing with heritage sites in impoverished regions.  Often the barrier to World Heritage inscription is not the significance of the site, but the lack of a management plan.  Over the years, GHF has built up its expertise in conservation and management planning.  In Pingyao, we worked with Tongji University to do a comprehensive city plan that went well beyond heritage conservation.

PY view to mktS

The modern approach to heritage conservation is to begin with a process that engages all community stakeholders in the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of their own heritage.  This is the biggest shift from past practice, where the experts came in and told the community what was significant and how to treat it properly.  Since the revised Burra Charter in 1999, that has not been accepted practice.

heshui meeting0

In the old system, there were universal standards for identifying what is important; for evaluating it significance; and even for how it should be treated.  That has changed.  I get quite animated when talking about heritage planning because it is a PROCESS that is universal:  engaging a community in a discussion of what elements of their heritage, tangible and intangible, should be brought into the future, and the culturally appropriate way to do that.

Conservation (Science)

What remains universal in the treatment of cultural heritage are basic facts of organic and inorganic chemistry.  How to treat various stones, bricks, mortars, muds and woods, although these too vary greatly and it is important to have regional expertise.  Also, unlike the earlier generation, conservationists today recognize that traditional cultural techniques and practice may well have significant insights into appropriate treatments.  Scientific study can get you a chemically correct treatment in short order, but a thousand years of practice may well have already found the solution.

mesilla the door beams

Mesilla, New Mexico

OC mosqu tile

Mosque, Tripoli

test walls

Test walls, Pachacamac, Peru

We end up building test walls a lot – we are doing that at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, the “world’s oldest ceremonial site”.  We have also built shelters over archaeological sites like Göbekli Tepe, Catalhoyuk (also in Turkey) and several temples at El Mirador, in Guatemala.  This is conservation as well – protecting precious artifacts from the elements.

PV Cover 11s

2013 structure protecting Popul Vuh mural, El Mirador


I came into this field in the 1980s, so I have no muscle memory of EITHER a highly funded public sector or a highly funded NGO sector.  The first heritage area (I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor) was signed into law by President Reagan in 1984.  It was a public-private partnership with a minimal budget.  It was effectively a mechanism for creating partnerships and leveraging scare public and private dollars toward a common set of goals:  Heritage; Recreation; Economic Development.

55 reagan 84

I had to get a security clearance to be in this room.

No one goes it alone anymore.  Global Heritage Fund’s model is to find half the funding – 50% – within the country we are working in, from government or private sector.  Our best projects, like Guizhou, China, leverage even more.  We actively court our compatriots around the world – World Monuments Fund, Prince Claus Fund, Getty Conservation Institute, UNESCO, ICOMOS – to see how we can work together, share expertise, and bring more resources to key projects by combining our efforts.

BC wall work3s

Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Community Development

Global Heritage Fund started a dozen years ago, and was born in the era of the public-private partnership, the Burra Charter and heritage as a community development strategy.  There are two reasons for this.  First, heritage can be threatened by the local community if they see the site as having potential to be looted for short-term gain.  This was the case in many areas, and it was exacerbated by the old curatorial approach to archaeology and conservation.  But many of those places turned it around by engaging the community in a genuine process of evaluation.  There used to be looters at Chotune/Chornankap in Peru, but today the site is the pride of the community, a cooperative venture with the local government, and if any looters came -t he community would probably chase them away.

museo chotune

Museum at Chotune/Chornankap, Peru

If a heritage site can be shown (and it can) to have MORE value over time by being conserved, the community will want to maintain the benefit.  Historically conservationists have often trained local teams to assist their work, but the modern approach is to not stop at conservation training, but add tourism and hospitality training, to look at other ways that heritage sites can attract ongoing human and financial investment.  Why do people invest their time and treasure in a place like San Francisco?  Because it’s convenient?  I don’t think so.

GGB on to itS

Drop dead gorgeous?  Yes.  Convenient?  No.

cable carS

Totally obsolete transportation system.

By 2010 international organization like UNESCO and ICOMOS were heralding cultural heritage as a key development strategy for the developing world.  The message was getting out.


Now, normally we think of economic development as a factory, or a highway construction, or an office or other job-producing project.  A heritage site would seem to provide less jobs and income than a factory, right?  Sure, but what is your timeframe?  How long does a factory provide jobs before finding another place where labor is cheaper?


A heritage site is of a place and is not going to move.  If it becomes an income generator, that is the most sustainable form of development, because it is renewable and ongoing over time.  Tourism is the most obvious income generator, and at Ciudad Perdida it has added $3 million to the local economy, most of that captured by the community.

Trail 9 mule load

In other communities, where the heritage is part of the urban or village fabric,  tourism is simply the wedge of investment in PLACE that follows as heritage and environment create an attractive package that makes people and businesses want to be there.

X drum tower nightS

Come for the terra cotta soldiers; stay for the dumplings…..

If you don’t have a chance to join us on April 16, check back here for a summary!

How does a project director, working on the ground, get all four of these aspects to work?  That is what we are going to be discussing at Preserving the Past; Investing in the Future: Archaeology in the 21st Century at the Legion of Honor on April 16, with Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who runs the project at Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, Dr. Lee Clare, who is heading up the excavation at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, and Dr. Richard Hansen, who has been working at El Mirador in Guatemala for decades.  Find out more about the event here.

Fort Collins

February 11, 2015

I have been very busy and I will be posting soon about the resiliency and cultural heritage in the face of climate change, but for the meantime, here are some views of the historic district in Fort Collins, Colorado, which I visited last weekend.



The lovely Romanesque with a lion head keystone was a bank.  There seem to be a lot of historic banks there.


This was the Poudre Valley Bank, one of the first brick buildings in town from 1878, second story 1901.  Also one of the first preservation projects, restored in 1981.


Now that is what you call a Main Street.  Nice banded brick Italianates with killer cornices.



They have a lovely pedestrian area, pianos scattered around the town and not many vacancies – History Pays!


Also quite a number of ghost signs…


Architects note: that is how you take a corner.


The Northern Hotel, an awesome Art Deco anchoring a flatiron corner on the north side of the district.  Check out these details:





This is actually in a shop selling CSU stuff – they are the massive campus just south of Old Town.


For some reason it is easier to find a microbrewery than a coffee shop in this downtown.  That is not a complaint.

Finally, one of the more creative approaches to ductwork I have seen:


Oh, and some of the lovely residential district with streets as wide as a country mile…



Once more back downtown – forgot this Victorian Gothic treat!


Dali Dong village, Guizhou

October 28, 2014

DD GHF group pose

GHF Trustee Tony Wheeler, Pilar Luoro, GHF Chairman Dan Thorne, Vince Michael, Adrianne Iann, Jennifer Emerson and GHF China Director Han Li at Dali Dong village drum tower, 2014

Six months after I last visited, it was great to see the scaffolding erected to restore the heart and soul of Dali Dong village in Rongjiang county, Guizhou province, China.  This Global Heritage Fund project is one I am most proud of, because of the extensive collaboration that is leveraging our philanthropic dollars and insuring that the community will benefit from the conservation of their tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

DD above oct14

Dali Dong village from above

The project, as I have reported before, represents the collaboration of several organizations, including the Guizhou Cultural Ministry, UNESCO, Tongji and Peking Universities, and You Cheng, a Chinese NGO specializing in conserving intangible cultural heritage.  Not only do these multiple collaborations mean that contributions to Global Heritage Fund are leveraged several times over, they also mean that with more stakeholders, the project is more likely to be a success.

DD lanes

the village lanes

The project has been made possible in large part by the work over the last six years of Global Heritage Fund’s Han Li, who has built a network of relationships that make the multiple collaborations possible.  The other great virtue of the project is the community planning – it is real and I witness it when I visit.

DD river side

All Dong villages are set along rivers and streams.  Dali Dong village also has several natural springs that provide drinking water.

I have long said that preservation is a process, not a set of rules and regulations.  In a sense, there is one rule: follow the process.  The process is one in which a community determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into the future and how that should be done.  That sentence is a distillation of the international practice of heritage conservation enshrined in the Burra Charter and other accords.

DD grain lady3

Dali Dong woman threshing rice harvest as Han Li looks on.

The role of the preservation professional is not to determine what needs to be saved and how, but to facilitate a community discussion on the subject.  The Burra Charter was the first to acknowledge that cultural values must be integrated into the basic process of identifying, evaluating, and determining the treatment of historic assets.  WHAT is valued is not constant from place to place but bends with local culture, just as HOW it is treated is not constant.  What is constant is the process of identification and evaluation, and the integration of the community into that process.

DD roof tiles2

It was great to see the work starting in Dali Dong village.  The drum tower is the heart of the Dong community, and our work will help restore this monument, but we know that is only one piece of developing the community.  In our second decade, Global Heritage Fund is redoubling its efforts in community development, because we recognize that is the only true way to achieve sustainable heritage conservation that goes beyond the current generation.

DD roof views nice

In Dali Dong village, community development will include sustainable tourism in one or more converted buildings.  We will also undertake more restoration projects employing local people, including the covered “wind and rain” bridges that are emblematic of Dong villages.  The government will construct an ecomuseum that will help local farmers improve their practices and yields.  Our partner You Cheng will work to market and support local intangible heritage, including the production of indigo cloth.

zhaoxiang indigo cls

Indigo cloth drying in Zhaoxiang village, Guizhou

GHF focuses on World Heritage sites, and the Dong villages are indeed on the Tentative List for inscription.  Interestingly, the Dong minority songs and music are ALREADY listed as World Heritage.  The point of the project is thus much more than monuments – it is the people, their traditions, and their traditional cultural production.

DD bridge roof

Covered bridge in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

The project is also benefiting from a renewed focus on cultural heritage conservation by the Chinese government and a corresponding commitment of funds.  This again is the Global Heritage Fund model – to get involved and LEVERAGE local and governmental support to world heritage sites that benefit the local community.

I hope you will join us in that effort and support GHF!

DD tower constr

The Joy of Infrastructure

September 8, 2014

I have always loved infrastructure, which seems counterintuitive for an architectural historian,but isn’t really, especially one who grew up in the crucible of modernism, Chicago. Modernism in architecture can be defined as an attempt to combine the three pillars of architectural art, Utilitas, Firmitas, and Venustas or Utility, Commodity and Delight. The idea was that the engineering that underlay the “beauty part” of the architecture has radically evolved in the Industrial Age but we were still using old clothes to dress it up.
monad wallS
It is made of bricks and its expression is bricks

So I like infrastructure because it is the engineering of the place. And I guess I always have – I was still in high school when I first visited San Francisco and for some reason my strongest memories were of the transportation infrastructure. Now of course everyone knows about the cable cars, one of the few National Historic Landmarks that move.
cable CAR13s

But I was also struck on that first visit by the layers of transportation technology. There were streetcars from the 1930s in all of their Roger Rabbit streamlined splendor; brand new BART trains with their boxy 1970s futurism; Muni buses both gas and electric; and even a horrific double decked highway along the waterfront that even a teenager knew had to go. Not to mention the bridges.
SF green deco strtcarS

red streetcarS


embarcadero hwy plaq

GGB on to itS
When I first went to Paris, the first tour I took was L’Egouts de Paris, which is the Sewers of Paris. This was in 1982. I even bought postcards.


I remember bringing my daughter to the Lincoln home in Springfield and her memory was not of the formal rooms full of period pieces. Those things live on. What amazed her was the outhouse, a three-holer. I don’t have a picture of it, but I have this even more multitudinous one from the Roman occupation of Sabratha, in Libya.


Things like sewage and subways are what make large civilizations and large cities possible. Carrying the night waste out to the fields is certainly sustainable, but only to a certain scale. You want to house a million people you need barays and aqueducts and the Holland Tunnel and Verrazano Narrows bridge.

aeri ny8 v-z

Besides a lot of cool modern buildings and the first skyscrapers, Chicago also had a vast number of moveable bridges, so I suppose there was a natural infrastructural love there.

south branch f wolf ptS

Not to mention the L train structure in the Loop – it actually caused the name The Loop – and is also on the National Register…
wabash to trump13s

And then there is the famous Plan of Chicago, which Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett authored in 1909, which everyone remembers for its beautiful Jules Guerin drawings that made the city look like Paris.

pln chgo ccS

But as I pointed out long ago, the Burnham Plan was not about Beaux-Arts style. It was not about the Venustas of Hausmann’s Paris. It was about the Commoditas of sewage and transportation and other elements necessary for efficient urbanism. The whole point of the Beaux-Arts Michigan Avenue Bridge was not its balustrades and pylons and sculpture but the fact that it was double-decked and commercial traffic could move more quickly below.
mich bridgeS

Amsterdam, which I also visited in 1982, had its amazing network of grachten or canals.

keizersgracht boatS

One of the reasons I have always loved Pingyao in Shaanxi, China is that it retains not only hundreds of original courtyard houses that fomented the first Asian draft banking system, but it is one of the only cities to retain its entire city wall, and infrastructural feature of almost every medieval Chinese city, one that is gone almost everywhere else.

PY walls 53s copy

And if you recall my post about Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu from 2012 what strikes me most about those monuments of Khmer and Inka civilizations is less their ornamented buildings than their amazing hydraulic systems that made those buildings possible. Chinese canals, Roman aqueducts, dams and railroads are all the vascular systems of civilizations, and in this way the most significant remnants of their might.

Great Wall 90 vwS
It’s a great wall, yes, but it is really more of a road

We tend to personalize everything. The old kind of history focused on battles and leaders, which is arguably less significant than supply chains. The United States entered World War I and helped the allies win why? Strategic brilliance? Raw numbers? No, the fact that they could not only transport a million men across the ocean but they could KEEP THEM SUPPLIED. Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. The Confederacy had plenty of courage and lots of good generals but once every port was blockaded, it was over.

But both history and heritage conservation have moved over the last half century toward the WHOLE story, not the personalized one. This is not to say great actors cannot affect history, but the bottom line is always going to have a canal or a highway or an oil refinery or a water main in it. My first job was working to help create the first heritage area in the United States, the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, which followed an 1848 canal 100 miles across the Illinois plain to Chicago.
vw to lock 8s

I remember some people spending an inordinate amount of time trying to prove that Abraham Lincoln had traveled on the Canal. He probably did, and he certainly knew of its significance, and of course five years ago they put a statue of him along the canal in Lockport. But why do we need to attach a celebrity to something to make it historic? Isn’t the second most successful canal in North American history good enough?
gaylr from linc ldg

When I visited Ciudad Perdida last year, I marveled at the stone platforms built by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of what is now Colombia. They were simple but as you traveled from platform to platform on stone staircases in a wet mountain jungle you suddenly realized that the Tayrona had done for their jungle what Daniel Burnham was trying to do for Chicago a century ago: make things move more efficiently.
CP 61 best

The Three Gorges Dam in China falls into an unbroken tradition of canals in the Middle Kingdom that dates back thousands of years. There is an architectural boldness to certain large empires, but it is always preceded by an infrastructural boldness of equal dimension. And boldness can become hubris.
3 gorge lock abvJPG

The stepwells of India I wrote about recently here are another example of infrastructure that has finally been recognized as World Heritage, thanks in no small part to their beauty, but also their engineering. My experience with the I & M Canal was prescient – I wrote two years ago here about how the hottest thing in urban design was repurposing old elevated rail lines into recreational attractions, most notably at New York City’s High Line.

pavement and plantsS

Even the national expressways are now historic, an expression of that same good old American know-how that ran a supply chain across the Atlantic nearly a century ago.

280 n beutyS
280 north of Palo Alto is the prettiest of them all

I remember watching the wonderful 1947 film noir Call Northside 777 which was filmed entirely on location in Chicago and Joliet prison and saw these huge cylindrical steel structures that held gas tanks, an infrastructural element that had vanished from the Chicago landscape but can still be found in other parts of the world. And then there are the grain elevators….

grain elevators trainsS

I spoke to Bob Bruegmann when he was writing his book on Harry Weese because he had come to the conclusion that Weese’s greatest work was not a building at all, but his design of the Metro in Washington, D.C. He was right. Like the Baths of Caracalla….

DC metroS

Giving and Getting: the Nature of Charity

December 30, 2013

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

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

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

ctyd 4doc-77

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

lock 8 houseS

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

old city merchant

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

Trail 12 peeps

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

Trail up i10 village

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

CP 39 terraces houses

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

CP 16 main axis best

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

heshui geese 3 copy

Megafauna, Megaliths and Megamalls

November 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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