Finding the East out West

August 21, 2015

When I spoke to the National Tribal Preservation Conference two days ago, my host Bambi Kraus of the National Association of Tribal Preservation Officers introduced my talk by noting that the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers should “be themselves” and offer alternatives to the “Western” approach to historic preservation .

view from prow to mcdowell

This was a perfect introduction to my talk “The Future of the National Register: Addressing the Diversity Deficit” not only because many of the most significant heritage sites for American Indian tribes are natural features and routes (think Mount Taylor, which has made it onto the National Register) but also because much of my own work on this topic has been informed by a dozen years of work in the Far East, especially China.


Mount Taylor.  Photo by my dear friend Theresa Pasqual.

In the Western world we prize the fabric of the artifact – the piece of the True Cross to use a medieval Christian metaphor. In the East it is the skill, the craft, the performance of craft that is valued highest – the Passion Play to continue the medieval Christian metaphor. Our historic preservation practice, established in the 1960s, grew out of our object-based approach.

relic trucross

Don’t worry, there is plenty to go around

For the last 15 years, international heritage conservation practice has been informed by the Eastern approaches to both broaden its process to allow ALL cultures a voice in identifying, evaluating, registering and treating heritage sites, practices and traditions and specifically to look more closely at intangible heritage and natural sites that have cultural significance.

Duomo Museo gold book

We like our books too.  They are sooo tangible.

The challenge for tribes and others has been that much of their cultural and natural history was deliberately effaced. Intangibles – language, song, spiritual practice – are often all that is left after the destruction. Place can be compromised, or inaccessible or sold for short-term gain. It is essential that we take the examples of international practice so we can conserve what is most important, even if it doesn’t involve buildings.


Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.  No, Richard Dreyfus did not build it..

The other great takeaway is the idea of continuity, which was an insight I had between my July presentation in Washington DC and August presentation outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our National Register, and indeed 1960s preservation practice, assumed a gulf between the past and present. The Eastern approach, the American Indian approach, the Australian Aboriginal approach all stress continuity.

daia plead ganny

Heck, it’s even the Transylvanian approach

In the absence of continuity, we focus on the impossible concepts of integrity and period of significance, an idea of the past set at a far remove. This is not only insurmountable from an interpretive and design point of view, it is death to community engagement and economic support.

parthenon back pediment

Ah, the Parthenon, just as it was (kind of) in 1897.

As an undergraduate, I recall arguing with my roommate – also a history major – that things don’t begin or end on certain dates. We need dates and categories to begin to understand history, but as you progress in history, the antecedents and effects multiply. There are no neat beginnings and endings.


Acoma Pueblo.  A thousand years of habitation.  Windows are newer.

Bob Stanton, who spoke before me on Wednesday, recounted how he began his first National Park Service job in 1962 – before the Voting Rights Act – that began to give him and other African-Americans a fuller stake in the ongoing struggle of the American experience. He told me later that the great American historian John Hope Franklin was a great mentor and I shared my appreciation for that man who was my teacher, who also broke boundaries in the decades before African-Americans had equal protection under the law. And it is stunningly clear today that this history is not over. #BLM.

drakecayton map

My definition of history is something that began in the past and is not over yet. Culture is created and recreated each day and the expertise we wield as historians or technologists or folklorists or architects or landscape designers is not a luxury but a fundamental aspect of being human and living in time and space.

human dvelopmtS

Heritage is about continuity, and heritage conservation is a future-oriented activity.

That is what I have been writing about in this blog for over a decade.

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

World Heritage in Texas!

July 5, 2015

This is the time of year new World Heritage sites are inscribed by UNESCO.  The total number passed 1000 last year, after over 40 years of the program.  As I have noted before, the United States has not taken advantage of World Heritage status in many years, partly due to a political funding dispute.  Absurdly, the U.S. has refused to pay its UNESCO dues for many years, so even though we can arguably afford to take care of our sites, at World Heritage level, we are deadbeats.


The Alamo.  Remember?

Many developing nations sought WH inscription to promote sites for tourism and development, but lacked the resources it takes to produce a verifiably management plan for each site, hence groups like Global Heritage Fund.

sacro bldg

Sacro Monte, Ossola valley, Italy

I had the honor of speaking on the subject of architecture and heritage at this World Heritage site in Italy on my birthday last week.  Italy has more WH sites inscribed than any other country, which is not surprising given the influence of its histories and designs on the rest of the world.  Still, it is good to finally see U.S. sites attaining this status and it is especially exciting for me that a site a few hundred yards from my birthplace now has been recognized for its outstanding universal value.  Plus, many of my dear friends, like Shanon Shea Miller, have worked on this project for several years, and many other friends, like Andrew Potts, were on hand in Bonn, Germany, for the inscription.

alamo diS

Now I guess the rest of the world has to remember the Alamo too…

The five Franciscan missions that include the Alamo were inscribed yesterday and they represent not only a very interesting period in world history, they also are an important chapter in the history of heritage conservation (historic preservation) in America.  After the fledgling preservationists of San Antonio were formed to fight a plan to pave the river downtown and insert a new street grid – hence creating the famous Riverwalk – they next turned their attention to saving the four missions that run in a line from the Alamo south.   The San Antonio Conservation Society remains one of the most important heritage groups in the country.

miss san jose bestS

Mission San Jose, built 1768

miss san jose9 roseS

And its famous rose window….

mission espada ch

Mission Espada

Five years ago I made a point of visiting each of the missions (and blogged about it) and was struck by the consistency of their conservation, style, and rich interpretation, which is key.  The California missions – mostly founded by another Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra – form a much longer chain along El Camino Real but their history is more diverse, and you certainly can’t visit them all in a day.

mission concepcion2S

Mission Concepcion

While the history of the Alamo has always focused more on its role as a bastion for Anglo Texan settlers against the Mexican Army in 1836, the other missions present the rich – and complicated – history of how these missions were founded to convert and economically exploit native populations.  They were not churches as much as Indian towns centered on churches that functioned like haciendas or plantations.

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Interpretive panels at Mission Concepcion

It is not a simple or moralizing history, and we might say the same for their initial preservation 90 years ago, when heritage sites tended toward the saccharine and idealized in their stories.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano

Several San Antonio dignitaries were on hand in Bonn to celebrate the inscription, including Mayor Ivy Collins.  They feel the inscription will bring as much as $100 million in new tourism and development investment to the city and area.  Certainly these are fascinating sites, both visually and historically, and they make a trip to this excellent city more valuable.

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Foundations of church at Mission Espada

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Church interior, Mission Espada

One of the interesting facts about the inscription is that many of the missions are still active churches, or have been reactivated, and thus present over 250 years of human use.  At several of them you can see remnants of the other buildings that made up these towns/plantations, and there has been an active and effective archaeological investigation at the sites for a long time,  They predate the California missions by a few years, and their ongoing conservation and interpretation (four are part of a National Historic Park created over 30 years ago) has been of high quality.

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Arch and ornamental entrance, Mission San Jose

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Stone entrance detail, Mission Concepcion

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Gate at Mission Espada

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Courtyard area with stove, Mission San Jose

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Mission Concepcion

So Remember not only the Alamo, but the five San Antonio missions that together describe centuries of history, settlement, belief and community in a unique North American cultural place!

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.


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.


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.

the bite

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

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

cornfield bus

Like here.

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

About Hydraulics

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

333 elev doors

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

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


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


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.

Hana haus courtyard

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.


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.

The Transylvanian Heritage Landscape

May 31, 2015

It was just as they said it would be.  Like walking into a fairy tale.  Quaint villages lined with brightly painted stucco houses with rust-colored tile roofs, fortified churches and watchtowers, an architecture at once Classic and Romantic.  Furrowed fields in a patchwork, horse-drawn carts, forests brimming with wolves and bears and a sense that not only have we left behind the 20th and 21st centuries but even the late 18th is seeming a bit too hectic for this cultural landscape.

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sachiz square


landscape fallow

This is Transylvania, one of the rarest cultural landscapes in the world, where villages settled by “Saxons” (actually from Luxembourg, Westphalia and Mosel valley) from the 12th century have been preserved in the heart of Romania.  This became a project of Global Heritage Fund in late 2012 and in my final week as a GHF staffer I had the opportunity to enjoy this place and see how – like Guizhou – it is an opportunity to preserve not simply buildings, but a unique cultural landscape increasingly rare in our radically urbanized world.  This pastoral ideal is shared by civilizations East and West, North and South – to have a connection to the land, to dig one’s hands into the rich loam of a cultural inheritance, to measure the days by the evening greetings, the rising moon, cicada flutters, cock’s cries and the swirling racing of the sheperd’s dog.

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Copsa Mare

How do you save this?  The first Global Heritage Fund project was to help create a kiln, needed to make the traditional tiles that are increasingly thereatened by industrial tiles that lack their richness and depth.  We saw the kiln in action – or rather, the tile making and drying, for the kiln will fire some 14000 tiles in a week.  This is near the village of Apos.

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The drying shed, with reclaimed roof tiles.

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Mixing the clay with a one-horsepower engine.

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Making the tiles

There are nearly 170 Transylvanian Saxon towns, each centered on a fortified church and featuring a settlement pattern dating from the Mosel valley in the 12th century.  Rows of houses with gates into a courtyard that features auxiliary buildings and is backed by a large barn that is contiguous with neighboring barns.  Behind are individual fields.  The churches, originally Catholic, all became Evangelical Lutheran during the reformation, despite being surrounded by Catholic Hungarians, Greek Catholic and Orthodox Romanians and Roma.  The Saxons came at the invitation of the Hungarian king, who wanted to fortify this rich land (once Roman Dacia) against invading Tatars and Turks, hence the fortified churches,

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Fortress church at Viscri (Deutschen Weisskirche)

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Fortified church in Archita

The Saxons began to leave after World War II, and with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the rump German population of about 400,000 nearly all left for Germany.  Only about 35,000 remain, so part of the challenge is to save a landscape that has been inherited by Romanian and Roma populations.  Fortunately, there is hope, because this landscape was historically diverse and there is interest in keeping the houses, the churches, and small farm fields – more about those later.

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Typical facade, Daia

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Auxiliary buildings left and barn behind, Daia

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Fields behind barns, Daia

The Saxons were a blessing for historians because they put dates on EVERYTHING!  Beams in the houses, sheepskin coats,, treasure chests, you name it, they dated it.

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Ceiling beam in a Daia house 1822

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Artifacts in Eugen Vaida’s ethnography museum, Altina

Last year I worked with GHF Chair Dan Thorne to focus our scattered efforts in Transylvania on one village, where we could have a measurable impact and create a model that would ideally be imitated by others.  The village is Daia – once Denndorf – and the results are encouraging.  We focused first on emergency repair and stabilization, and also on restoring facades.  Our next steps will tackle more of the cultural landscape, but first a few views of the work so far in this village of about 280 houses and more than 600 milk cows.

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Facade restored in Daia, 2015.

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This restoration included reclaiming the original inscription in German in the center of the facade.

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daia blue sign restor

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Another restored facade, Daia

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A roof repair we funded. 

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And another successful project.

The work is led by Eugen Vaida, an architect and tireless advocate, who together with his wife and fellow architect Vera, has been saving houses throughout the Carpathian village of Transylvania under the mantle of his non-profit Monumentum.  He also works with William Blacker, famed author of Along the Enchanted Way who has worked to save these village landscapes for decades along with Prince Charles of England.  ARTTA – The Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture, is another key partner.  (If you have been paying attention to this blog you know it is ALL about the partnerships!!)

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Eugen Vaida at his home in Altina, where he maintains a museum of Transylvanian ethnicity

The next stage is to work on the cultural landscape.  Daia has a surfiet of cows, and Prince Charles did donate a milk storage container, but what if we upped the value of the milk by turning it into artisanal cheese?  We met with organic farmers Willy and Lavinia Shuster in the village of Mosna, and Lavinia has had success making cheese.

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Willy and cheese.

Another idea is to build a community kitchen where locals could make preserves and other products that add value to existing crops and what amounts to an agricultural subsistence economy.  We met with ADEPT, founded in 2002 and headquartered in Saschiz.  Their story is fascinating because it reminded me of how conservation organizations are now approaching the challenge of biodiversity.



ADEPT helps local farmers in a whole variety of ways, from a community kitchen where they can make jams and preserves, inexpensive fruit dryers, assistance in production, marketing and branding their products so that small-scale farms can survive.  But here is the kicker – ADEPT was not founded to save small farms.  It was founded to protect biodiversity – it is a conservation organization.  But, as I have written before, conservation organizations are rapidly abandoning the unworkable wilderness model for the more effective and sustainable indigenous managed landscape model.

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Cartesian dualism – what a joke!

It turns out that when 5000 families farm 85000 hectares of rolling landscape without fences and with a diversity of small agricultural plots – you get MORE species diversity than a wilderness area.  Yes, you heard right.  You get more species of wildflowers, of birds, of small mammals, of butterflies, of everything if you have a patchwork of agricultural uses.  It makes sense if you think about it.

lady in garden

ADEPT is already working with Daia on getting their milk to market.  Ideally we would love to get a community kitchen set up there, perhaps in this old kindergarten building with great windows?

daia school bldg

daia school window

Speaking of windows….

We have circulated a list of Do’s and Don’ts for Carpathian Village preservation and rehabilitation.  I saw several of these signs in many of the towns and it seems they are having a positive effect.

GHF dos and donts sign

copsa mare dos and donts

So there was a lot of hand-wringing about an incident last year where Eugen challenged a woman who had put in plastic replacement windows in her Daia house.  Heritage conservation gets a bad name by telling people they can’t do stuff, right?

daia replace windows

Except guess what.  You live with one of these plastic windows for a few months and pretty soon you are going to be longing for your original windows – which were 1.  repairable, 2.  double-glazed with a much more effective insulation gap between the panes, 3.  beautifully designed, and 4. fit the frame better, hence probably allowed LESS air infiltration.  SO there we are walking along and this lady comes out to volunteer that she is going to put the old windows BACK because they are better.

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You gotta think about the future – plastic windows only last half a generation at best!

This little vignette actually describes the key aspect of 21st century cultural heritage conservation – you need to get in early, before the non-sustainable industries show up, and you need to make the people a part of the process from the very beginning.  I have blogged about the community-based approach to heritage conservation explicit in the Burra Charter many times before (see here for a recent example) but this isn’t rhetoric.  I’ve seen it in Yunnan, in Guizhou, in the Ukrainian Carpathians and now in the Romanian Carpathians.  And I’ve seen it on the South Side of Chicago.

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Daia, not the South Side of Chicago

Many of these villages, like Daia, have basically a subsistence economy based on agriculture, supplemented by some residents who travel to nearby countries part of the year for seasonal work in construction and the like.  Not dissimilar to the “empty middle” households of Guizhou where working-age adults are often in the coastal cities, leaving the elderly and children behind in the traditional village.  This is why we are working with ADEPT in Transylvania and You Cheng in Guizhou – to find new markets and production mechanisms that will make this cultural landscape economically sustainable.

daia fort church

Outside the fortified church in Daia

Our last day we did a horse-drawn carriage ride and hike through the woods above the village of Archita, witnessing bear claw scratches on trees and bumping through fields and rolling forage until the neatest little fairy tale town you can imagine appeared, centered on a steeple, nestled in rustling green folds.

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horse ride town view bL

And now a few more views from the Carpathian Villages of Transylvania, a journey outside Time.

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Marvelous architectural detail in Altina

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View in to the fortified church in Daia

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I love this Daia facade – understated Classicism in a mantle of gemütlich Heimatstil

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Stone barn, Daia

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House and gate, Viscri

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Town square and church in Biertan

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Copsa Mare

high street house

daia sloper


Transforming Heritage Philanthropy

May 13, 2015

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

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President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington DC

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

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Woodlawn plantation, where it all began…

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

Lyndhurst E besterS

Sorry, I don’t do windows..

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

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I swear someone moved that fork….

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

office PAS

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

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

money or culture

If only it were that simple…

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

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

HDL 38 best

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

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

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Except when they don’t…

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

msi karyatids

or heads…

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

high stair vic

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

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

jaquard loom

And of course follow the thread if you wish

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

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

old loco

Aaaugh!! Progress!!!!

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

old techno

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

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


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

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

leed plaqueS

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

ballaghmore castle sng

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

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


But is there parking?

But What About International Heritage?

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

doshi and vm

Balkrishna Doshi and I, Ahmedabad, 2008

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

PearlLamAPt furnitur

This is not your mother’s china…

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

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

Transforming the Heritage Field

May 7, 2015

The first of two blogs on my plan to transform the statutory and philanthropic foundations of heritage conservation.  Today we deal with the statutory in the United States…

As I prepare to move on from Global Heritage Fund after three years, I am committed more than ever to the transformation of the field of heritage conservation.  In the distant past, heritage conservation was a curatorial activity that sanctioned and even encouraged the removal of physical – and intangible – artifacts from our economic everyday in order to conserve them as if under a bell jar.  But, as I demonstrated in my dissertation, that approach began to die as historic preservation (in the U.S.) and heritage conservation (everywhere else) were infused with community-based activism and organization in the 1960s.  I had the good fortune of coming into the field during the creation of the first heritage area in the U.S. 32 years ago.

state st lkptt

Lockport, Illinois, part of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor

This was the era of Reaganism and the public-private partnership.  Heritage areas not only married historic preservation to natural area conservation, they confirmed preservation as an economic development strategy, an idea which Mary Means started with Main Street a few years earlier.  Dozens of heritage areas, Main Streets, and tax credits later, heritage has become so successful that real estate developers now ape the types and styles of past architectures in order to insure their economic success.

LG new dev14

Brand new house, 100-year old style

I have had the great fortune to work internationally over the last 17 years, and that work has reinforced my conviction that heritage is a community and economic development strategy.  Even the other motivations we ascribe to wanting to save history – education, identity, community – have an economic component.  You can’t maintain property values without an educational system.  You can’t attract human and financial investment without identity.  You can’t sustain development beyond five years without community.  Rehabilitating old buildings gives you all three.


Fort Collins, Colorado – making downtown vibrant

The evolution over time has been thus:  early in the 20th century, heritage was a curatorial pursuit, and architects dominated especially after the creation of federal programs during the Great Depression.  Heritage was also focused largely on tourism, with places like Charleston and New Orleans and Natchez and Tombstone saving buildings to attract tourist dollars.

Balcs and Shutters Royal and Toulouse Corner

The Vieux Carré, with fully clothed tourists

That started to change in the 1950s in places like Georgetown and Beacon Hill and Brooklyn Heights, where highly organized communities became historic districts in order to preserve their property values and promote sensitive new development that would not destroy their community, their identity, and indeed their economic investment.

georg twnhss

Georgetown, Washington DC

The next four decades witnessed the increasing involvement of communities, and community organization and development, in the creation of historic districts and other forms of zoning that did what all zoning does: preserves investment.  The extent of community involvement meant that districts that may not have had the highest architectural INTEGRITY (bad word – will explain in a moment) were designated because the community had a strong identity and a strong investment in historic architecture and landscape.

By the onset of the 21st century, neighborhoods considered “slum and blighted” in the 1960s and 70s were now historic districts, exercising the great middle-class value shared by all:  a say in the disposition of your home environment.  Preservation (Heritage Conservation) had become a democratic tool.

148 conv sw2

148th and Convent, Hamilton Heights, New York City

But had it?  Many of the activist communities that sought local control through historic zoning ran up against architectural rules that seemed arcane and illogical.  The vast majority of designated landmarks and historic districts fell under the architectural category, and a whole set of architectural rules – the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards – had been created back in the 1970s, when the basic historic preservation textbook still had “curatorial” in its title.

44th berkeley

Not historic enough in 1991 – North Kenwood, Chicago

Several of my recent blogs have discussed the idea of revamping the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which haven’t had much update in a quarter-century.  Reading the Standards is a little like watching an old movie  or reading a 19th century novel.  There are many discussions about this topic going on right now, and my own contribution flows from my international experience and my lifelong understanding that heritage conservation (historic preservation) is above all a community development tool.

HL and group clsst

Han Li in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Preservation is a Process, not a Set of Rules

For the last 15 years the best heritage conservation practice follows the Burra Charter, which does not preach community outreach but in fact requires community engagement and input into the entire PROCESS of IDENTIFY, EVALUATE, REGISTER, and TREAT.  This came out of the fact that many different cultures value different kinds of heritage and the context statement that is SUPPOSED to be at the beginning of every preservation survey and plan must be DEFINED in part by the local culture.  In China, the greatest art is calligraphy.  In the West, some believe it to be architecture.  Some tribal cultures find it in the landscape and some minority cultures find it in festival and performance.  The process of the Burra Charter deals with all of that.


After all architecture is just frozen music anyway

The Problem of Integrity

So why did Australia get this right before the U.S.?  Because their native populations had a particularly non-tangible approach to heritage?  I would argue it was also the Asian context, where heritage lies more in the performance and craft than in the artifact.  But we also have the problem of integrity, in that the U.S. is the only place that uses that word.  Everyone else uses authenticity, which by its nature is more accommodating to a broader range of significances.  Integrity refers almost exclusively to architecture and formal, visual concerns, although we do have verbiage about “feeling and association” in there, but let’s be honest, we didn’t commit to it.

LGHS awe

Smells like teen spirit  Los Gatos, CA

HH soup908b

Here is Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Dining Hall, which is an absolute travesty in terms of architectural integrity.  The building was moved off its foundation, rotated 90 degrees, moved 50 feet, and covered with a veneer of red bricks IT NEVER HAD in 1965.  But each week in the Dining Hall they engage in discussion of the social, political and environmental issues of the day, just as Jane Addams and the residents did a century earlier.  From a performative, intangible perspective, this building has more HISTORICAL integrity than almost any other in the land.

the forumS

The Forum on 43rd in Chicago.  Light on Integrity, Super heavy on history.  Preserve It!

The other problem is that we treat integrity as an on-off switch, which is, prima facie, cray cray.  I wrote about Ray Rast’s approach to this before here.  Integrity is no more a YES/NO question than history is a singular narrative. But, nearly 50 years of National Register practice in this country has reinforced the architectural legacy in our system.  In some ways, if we actually took the time and trouble to do proper context statements prior to every survey and every community plan, we would start to address the diversity deficit in our own landmarks, but we don’t.  We tend to rest on a set of standards and practices written at a time when new buildings were High Modern and old buildings were old-fashioned.  All of that has changed completely.

LG next to beckwith

Architecture of its time, 1996.  Los Gatos, CA

LG New missio dvmtS

Architecture of its time, 2014.  Los Gatos, CA

So, we swap authenticity for integrity, work to create a series of serious historic context statements with a special focus on minority history, intangible heritage, and non-design based conservation treatments.  We should revise the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to be in line with international practice and we should ACTUALLY FOLLOW the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Preservation Planning.  They should reference the Burra Charter and they should insist on stakeholder engagement in each step of IDENTIFY, EVALUATE, REGISTER and TREAT.  That would be a start.

skatebd park 31st

So we landmarked the Zephyr Skate Shop but that is a building??? Why not landmark the cultural performance and practice they invented there and in the empty pools of the 1970s California drought???

If we adopt this process, it will make more room for preserving HISTORY as well, where that history is not contained in neat or attractive buildings.  As my dear friend and hero Donna Graves says, ‘Interpretation is the fourth leg of preservation.”  To capture the diversity of American history we need to reclaim lost sites from oral traditions, from the depredations of disaster and urban renewal.  Donna pioneered this a quarter-century ago with a project that garnered my immediate attention even though I was at the other end of Route 66 and would not see it in person for over a decade.

biddy mason 1850

Interpretation is a part of preservation because it preserves intangible, lost and oftentimes deliberately buried history.  It activates the power of place, which is what LA’s Biddy Mason park was and is, and it can activate and sustain community.

Activating and sustaining community is the fundamental work of preservation.

Next time:  A new heritage practice for a new philanthropy


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