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.

fh f riverS

This tree is no more

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

the bite

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

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

cornfield bus

Like here.

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

About Hydraulics

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

333 elev doors

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

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


Sorry I’m Amish.

Back to the Decision – and Owning It.

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

farnsworth11 grtS

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

farns living east1109p

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

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

farns bedroom1109s

You make your bed you sleep in it.

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

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

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.

DD end house fields view

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.

studebaker house

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.

IBM vw2sc

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.

3rd wd  red rom

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?

nr green11

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.

orly inside

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.

manek chowk

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.

grace donohoeS

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.

DIY bikes chgoS

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.

usafa chap int ceil2

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.

Firefox bldg Embacrp

Firefox building on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

Tech Bldg SFcrp

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.

man o war barn

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.

1946 estes08b

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.

village view viscri


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.

copsa mare green cruci

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.

tiles on drying hs

The drying shed, with reclaimed roof tiles.

horse and mixer

Mixing the clay with a one-horsepower engine.

tile making81

tile making101

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,

overall view fort

Fortress church at Viscri (Deutschen Weisskirche)

fort church arquita

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.

daia green and gate st2

Typical facade, Daia

daia barn behind corner

Auxiliary buildings left and barn behind, Daia

blacker in garden

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.

daia str2 beam2

Ceiling beam in a Daia house 1822

EVmusee artifacts dates

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.

daia blue 2 view

Facade restored in Daia, 2015.

daia blue house best

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

daia blue restor sign

daia blue sign restor

daia beige and wall

Another restored facade, Daia

daia roof repair

A roof repair we funded. 

daia corner yellow green

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!!)

EV round stone

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.

willy and cheese

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.

landscape hedge

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.

daia plead ganny

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.

daia street2 view from st

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.

horse ride panoramaL

horse ride town view bL

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

EVhaus detail

Marvelous architectural detail in Altina

daia fort church interior

View in to the fortified church in Daia

daia street2 green shutters

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

daia stone barn

Stone barn, Daia

blue house and gate

House and gate, Viscri

biertan vw to church

Town square and church in Biertan

copsa mare with festingkirche

green and brown house

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.

woodlawn bestS

Woodlawn plantation, where it all began…

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

Lyndhurst E besterS

Sorry, I don’t do windows..

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

dining room2

I swear someone moved that fork….

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

office PAS

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

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

money or culture

If only it were that simple…

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

Porter House Los AltosS

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

HDL 38 best

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

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

c-m overhang

Except when they don’t…

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

msi karyatids

or heads…

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

high stair vic

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

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

jaquard loom

And of course follow the thread if you wish

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

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

old loco

Aaaugh!! Progress!!!!

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

old techno

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

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


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Smells like teen spirit  Los Gatos, CA

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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.

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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.

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Architecture of its time, 1996.  Los Gatos, CA

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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

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: http://www.revistaanfibia.com/cronica/nepal-lo-sagrado-es-precario/#sthash.usSMr47f.dpuf

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.

Wisdom from the Past

April 17, 2015

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


The problem here was not water.

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



hedcarus lead pipe

lead pipes, Illinois c. 1874.

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

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

coast at bridgeS copy

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

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

ancient irrigationS

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

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

concrete construction5s

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

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Unity Temple under construction c. 1907.

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

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Collosseum, Rome.

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

chrome pltg

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

stone fit closeS

Peru.  I guess the drywall guys are late.

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

tp86 rubble

And like us, they sometimes forgot.

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.

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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.

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Mesilla, New Mexico

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Mosque, Tripoli

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Drop dead gorgeous?  Yes.  Convenient?  No.

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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.

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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.

Destruction of Heritage

March 7, 2015

When cultural heritage is targeted for destruction, everyone asks us what can be done?   Can’t we swoop in and save these priceless millennia-old artifacts?  I get asked this question a lot.

mosque hurt

I remember wishing someone would invade Afghanistan in February 2001 before the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas.  At the time it struck me that a murderous regime needs to keep its disaffected and indoctrinated youth busy smashing things or they will turn on their own.

KF killkidstree

Culture becomes a convenient rage outlet for murderous thugs, and one which has a similarly terrorizing effect on the population.  When I have been interviewed regarding destruction in Syria over the last two years I end up resorting to the same expressions of frustration and platitudes about the value of culture.  What can we do?

3rd kuruk scene fight

The first thing to remember is that there are real-life Monuments Men and Women who have been working to save these things inside war-torn regions.  These people exhibit tremendous courage trying to hide what they can and document what they can.  Second, Global Heritage Fund is working with other international organizations as well as technology experts to tackle this issue.  In a world where everyone has a cell phone and images can go worldwide in minutes, we have more tools than we used to.  Now we need to be creative about using them for documentation and mitigation.


In the last week we have seen ISIS/ISIL inflict its suicidal nihilism on Nimrud, Nineveh and artifacts in the Mosul Museum.  This  follows similar acts they have undertaken in the territories they have taken over in Syria and Iraq.  They actively promote and distribute this hate as mandated by their crypto-religious ideology, although how it plays out reveals more mundane and material needs.  It is yet another example of how very important heritage is to humanity and how those who would burn books or destroy cultural artifacts are identical to those who would murder and undertake genocide.


Terrorism is a state of mind and how convenient for reptilian ideologues that the mutilation and destruction of cultural artifacts can have a similar effect on a population as the mutilation and destruction of people.  My colleague Bob Stanton was quoted on Australian radio last Friday and appropriately noted how these actions erase deep layers of history and identity.  On purpose.  Rootless people are easier prey for demagogues.


These actions are also evidence of the economic underpinnings of this pseudo-state, which are much more important than the ideological stage dressing.  Stage One:  They loot and traffic antiquities to fund themselves.  This happened for two years.  What is happening now is different and the videos they have been distributing make this plainly clear:  Everything they have been destroying in Nimrud and Nineveh and Mosul is basically too BIG to sell on the black market.  They are less movable and thus less convertible to cash.

That means we are in Stage Two:  Immobile artifacts are commodified as part of ISISISIL viral marketing.  They become assets in their strategy to appeal to the reptilian and anti-establishment impulses common to young men especially, which is why they are less a local product than an international one.

Who wants the uncertainty of critical thought when you can have unyielding truth and certain death?

What can be done?  Step One is to shut down the markets, through whatever mechanisms are available.  Step Two is to somehow disrupt the marketing ISILISIS.  You may recoil in horror when you see the destruction, but those raised on Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto see something enticing.

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Lamassu in Oriental Institute, Chicago

A corollary ripple effect in the world of cultural heritage is that the Mosul destruction – following many other such acts and simultaneously publicized with defacement of the Nineveh gate, has highlighted museums, primarily in the West, who collected artifacts from places like Iraq and Syria (and Egypt and Greece, etc.).  The Elgin Marbles notwithstanding, we are in an era when repatriation of artifacts to those places where they came from has become more common.  It was a growing phenomenon that called into question the encyclopedic museum.

OI egypt

But with the destruction in Nineveh and Mosul and Nimrud – and the recent burning of libraries in Mosul, Cairo and Timbuktu – as well as the ongoing ruin of nearly every heritage site in Syria –  many are arguing for the encyclopedic museum.  In the wake of these events, they appear as safe harbors.  You can still see pieces of ancient Iraq and Syria in London and Chicago and elsewhere.  The discussion has now shifted to what extraordinary methods to help evacuate heritage when danger approaches.  Repatriation just got further away.


Sometimes evacuation is the solution. Global Heritage Fund  was involved with the Prince Claus Fund in the effort to save ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu when they were threatened in 2012 by Islamist militants.  The sad fact of that situation and so many others is that the most frequent targets of supposedly “Islamic” militants are in fact elements of Islamic heritage.

brit mus ancient

British Museum, London

Beyond providing safe harbor, museums can help police and heritage professionals as they attempt to document sites, identify artifacts and disrupt the trade.  There are also new technological tools that could conceivably be deployed.  Archaeology has been revolutionized over the last decade with LIDAR, GPR, GIS, drones and a variety of other imaging and documentation tools.  Big Data can help as we look to antiquities markets and try to enforce the existing heritage conventions.

To deal with Stage Two, the thing that needs disruption is the marketing collateral of ISIS/ISIL.  For every historian who weeps when they see hooligans sledgehammering treasures, there are two Eastenders who think it is cool and want to do it too.  Someone needs to disrupt this market: right now they are feeding the beast.

Sumerian egg MetS

Assyrian at the Met

Focusing on ideology or even culture in this case crafts a misleading analysis.  These thugs are not the Other, and the current marketing campaign is aimed less at the so-called “Arab Street” than the banlieue.   This is not a regional enemy but an international magnet for alienation and hatred.

MA arch b


Heritage is a nonrenewable resource.  What is lost is lost forever.  We will only stop the destruction when we see past the ideological pretensions to how these actions function to underpin this violent entity.

Palm Springs Modernism Week Again!

February 25, 2015

I had the opportunity, thanks to the wonderful Mark Davis, to again speak at Palm Springs Modernism Week, which is the coolest, most colorful preservation event anywhere.  I reprised my 2011 talk on Preserving Modernism in Chicago with an update on those icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House (how do I flood thee?  Let me count the ways….), the sadly demolished Prentice Women’s Hospital (Philistines is too good a word – the Philistines were in fact civilized) and of course the soon to be geothermal Unity Temple.  So let’s get these pictures out of the way so we can move on to Palm Springs itself.


prentice 1009bS

unity temple best

So, here is the fabulous Menrad House – wowza!

Meanrad House2

And the famous Kaufman House by Neutra!

Kaufmann House39

And of course the great Bank of America (1961 office of Victor Gruen)

Bank America

And the stunning Chase Bank (E Stewart Williams 1960) with its working fountain!

Chase bank

Felicity took some great pictures of this.  But time for more houses!

butterfuly yell hs

gotta love those butterfly roofs!

WsWhite house40

Above: the Dr. Franz Alexander House, 1955 by Walter S. White

Las Palmas classic

Mountains and palms make the setting and screen walls tell the time!

Frey tramway front

Above:  Frey’s Tramway gas station, now the visitors center!


Invernada in the Movie Colony – there is a lot of Spanish Colonial but we mostly look at the Mid Century Modern

studebaker house

Helps to have a 53 Studebaker in front

Swiss Miss Palmas

These are called “swiss miss” and have whacking great front gables

Now, this was sad – here is the site of the Spa Hotel, which used to look like this:

spa hotel2

But now looks like this:

PS Spa ruins

Yes, even the site where lakhs of Modernist mavens descend for ten days a year, they can’t always preserve what draws these doyens in….still, I don’t want to end on a negative, so let’s be upbeat and celebrate the desert paradise where flat roofs and ceiling-height doors and exterior showers are de rigeur. 

alexndr steel hs10

This is one of the great Alexander Steel houses (7 were built) which I photographed in 2011.  I met the owner who got one listed on the National Register recently – kudos Brian!!

2200 Caliente

Nice one in Indian Canyons

Cody house

And a cool William Cody!!!


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