Posts Tagged ‘Donovan Rypkema’

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

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Market at Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad

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

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.

millowners-faces

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.

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Heritage and the New Economy

December 23, 2011

“The success of preserving our global cultural patrimony is not merely a function of financial or economic investment, but requires implementation of a methodology encompassing several essential and inter-related factors that lays the foundation for long-term sustainability.”

“Over time, the challenge is not just the implementation of world-class conservation, but to invest in local conservation and economic capacity.”

The above quote from the Global Heritage Fund’s 2008 white paper “Sustainable World Heritage Preservation in Developing Economies” epitomizes the 21st century approach to heritage conservation (historic preservation) that combines earlier curatorial and architectural standards with an advanced understanding of political and social economy. This advanced understanding is one of the reasons I was pleased to accept the role as Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund this fall.

Yet there is a still a steep learning curve for many who see heritage conservation and economic development as separate or even oppositional realms. The stereotype of the preservationist standing in front of the bulldozer or trying to craft a museum out of the town’s oldest house dies hard for many. Preservationists are motivated by history and architecture and other ennobling attributes unrelated to how our economy works. They stand in the way of progress.

Of course, this has changed over the last fifty or sixty years. For 35 years we have had tax credits for preservation, which has won over much of the private development community. Indeed, the last 20 years those of us who want to save buildings have generally had more to fear from billion-dollar not-for-profit universities and hospitals. The big Chicago preservation issue – Prentice Hospital – for the last two years is a classic example: demolition is being pushed by one of the best capitalized entities in the state (a billion in cash!) on a site two blocks from the most expensive real estate between Manhattan and San Francisco that they DON’T PAY TAXES ON.

is that another vacant block in front? And another behind?
But see what I just did? I made an economic argument. I didn’t say a thing about architecture or history or beauty or character. I’m not an economist (although my 2008 blog on teardown economics was lauded by those in the know) but I study it and I consult with economists regularly on heritage conservation issues.

I don’t do this because I fell in love with old buildings and slowly but surely learned that I needed to make economic arguments. I did it from Day One, which I seem to recall was February 22, 1983 when I got my first job in “historic preservation” and that day the entire Illinois Congressional delegation introduced the first heritage area bill to the U.S. Congress, a bill which had NO REGULATION and defined its goals as a COMBINATION of preservation, economic development and natural area conservation. Saving buildings has been an economic enterprise and economic imperative ever since, so excuse me if I don’t “get” the people who don’t “get” that.

But it occurred to me recently in discussions with GHF economists and staff about metrics for our international heritage conservation projects, that the world has seen the evolution of a new mode of heritage and economy over the last thirty years. Donovan Rypkema has been one of the outstanding voices in this discussion for the same period of time.

With the advent of the National Trust’s Main Street program in the late 1970s and heritage areas in the early 1980s, a movement that HAD BEEN heavily inflected by curatorial ideas about history and architecture recognized the nature of the social economy and thus learned to balance – and enhance – their desire to save buildings with political and economic reality. Preservation was one-quarter of the Main Street formula, and a similar fraction of the heritage area formula.

For the purist, this seemed a retreat, but in fact it was a massive gain because it made heritage conservation a legitimate form of economic development. And so it has been for my ENTIRE CAREER. And it isn’t just tourism – heritage conservation brings real, local economic development: you can’t outsource construction and building maintenance jobs, for example. I’ve blogged endlessly about the incredible investment my community makes in rehabilitating historic buildings because it enhances property values and tax revenues. Sure we get tourism, but there is an economic rationale to preserving buildings that is not dependent on tourism – and it is a longer-lasting benefit than a strip mall or most corporate relocations.

But there is still cognitive dissonance out there, partly because it flouts traditional models studied by economists and business schools, not to mention architects and conservation professionals. The traditional not-for-profit model relies on philanthropy and membership. The traditional business model relies on capital and revenue streams, inventory, distribution and even research and development.

Of course, today many not-for-profits have massive revenue streams, whether they are museum gift shops, tuition, Medicare payments or sponsored events. But the fundamental model has never been adjusted despite the fact that for three decades, all over the world, we have a newly emergent model that is neither pure philanthropy nor pure business. It is heritage-focused and it is perhaps an inextricable aspect of the post-industrial consumer economy.

Heritage conservation preserves unique aspects of place and in the process can monetize those characteristics for a consumer economy both as an attraction for visitors and also – more importantly – as an impulse for ongoing, place-based investment of human energy and capital. Traditional metrics have become more sophisticated in terms of tourism, and we can quantify the spin-offs of significant investments in local infrastructure, including buildings. For over 15 years I have shown students the work that David Listokin did at Rutgers where he demonstrated how preservation kept DOLLARS local, especially in contrast to projects like highway construction. Main Street economists have been showing the same thing for decades: heritage conservation investment penetrates local jobs, income and tax revenues deeper and longer than franchise development that effectively “keeps” a bigger piece of each capital investment away from the local economy.

Despite political rhetoric, there is a governmental aspect as well, since government has always been inextricable from economics. There would be no University of Phoenix or other for-profit schools without government student loans. There would be no strip mall investment without government roads. Heritage conservation is similar, and part of it is regulatory.

Consumer economies are middle-class economies, driven by people who think they know what they want and deserve. Most obviously this social economy is manifest in simple acquisition: iPads, automobiles, deodorants and shoes. But the physical environment itself is a consumer product as well. Again, we have the obvious impacts, like big kitchens and stainless appliances and granite countertops. But we also have ones that require regulation, like clean air and tolerable amounts of mercury in our food. Middle class people expect to be able to choose those things as well. And they often choose historic buildings. I live in Oak Park, which doesn’t allow you to demolish historic buildings. The result of that regulation? One of the most popular neighborhoods to live in in the United States, as shown here. Despite February.

Any industry that can beat Chicago February is a viable industry. So the regulation works as an investment in the consumer economy. Most diatribes against regulation are actually diatribes against “new” regulation because the key to any successful capitalist endeavor is limiting uncertainty. Long ago industry got used to figuring out how to get coal out of mile-deep seams WITHOUT ten-year olds. It just requires an updated business model and sense of certainty about costs and revenues. Which is the same calculation the Oak Park homebuyer is making.

Heritage conservation offers a kind of 21st century consumer-based economy that is more certain and predictable than those dependent either on the revenue of novelty that so often drives the private sector or the revenue of charity that so often drives the philanthropic center. Here is how it works: a seed charitable grant starts up a conservation project, which injects a sense of certainty and purpose into the local economy and environment. The investment attracts other investment, and the character of the investment – long-term; identity-defining; culturally significant – works to limit the kind of short-term investments that can short-circuit long-term development goals by playing pop and fizzle.

Heritage conservation allows a community to identify key significant aspects of its character and invest in those aspects for the long term and it does so through a combination of governmental, for-profit and not-for-profit entities. Many not-for-profits today – and for the last thirty years – are effectively spurs to redevelopment. We are familiar with neighborhood development organizations (where I started my job search in 1983) and chambers of commerce and tourism boards that serve this function. In fact, heritage conservation organizations are increasingly occupying this essential economic and community development role, because their model for development is inherently more sustainable at both the micro (nothin’ greener than the building already there) and macro (development in line with local character last longer than development in contrast to local character) levels.

More importantly – and this takes us back the GHF quote at the beginning – heritage conservation effects a kind of local economic restructuring that is more sustainable. Analagous to the “economic restructuring” pillar of Main Street, investments in conservation develop local skills. We had a great example of this when I met with the community in Las Cruces four weeks ago: they proposed creating a center of local adobe expertise – they have one of the international experts – and training, meaning that the effort to preserve local heritage creates doesn’t just create jobs and investment. It creates capacity and knowledge – the true foundations of 21st century economy.

Heritage Conservation, not Historic Preservation

October 17, 2009

The final event at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville was a lunch featuring speaker Donovan Rypkema, a longtime preservation contributor whose specialty is the economics of historic preservation. Don always has numerous inspiring insights, and this presentation was no exception. His focus was preservation in 50 years, and it was a call to action that called for significant change. I agree with 99 percent of it, and here is why.

First, Don talked about the recent and virally successful “This Place Matters” photo contest which the National Trust held on its website (link on the right). The event was standard 21st century user interface: people print out “This Place Matters” signs from the Trust, and photograph them in front of places that mattered to them. Then people voted on their favorites. It was an exercise in the democracy of the built environment, and it was a revelation.

It was a revelation because, as Don pointed out, almost all of the finalists were NOT monumental buildings in the traditional sense of historic preservation. They weren’t outstanding architectural landmarks or the homes of famous people. The winner was a Humble Oil station in San Antonio, second place was a boathouse in Door County, Wisconsin and third place was a graveyard with a sailor holding the sign near a gravestone. But the effort was a huge success, because PEOPLE were deciding what PLACES mattered to them.

Don took this as a call for preservationists to reestablish the relationship between why something is important and how we preserve it. This is so true and so important. For too long, we have used curatorial procedures designed for fine art museums to determine how we treat elements of the built environment. Treating the Humble Oil station or the Door County boathouse like a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt is not necessary or even useful. There are physical elements of those properties that need to be maintained, but so does their relationship to their environment. In fact, their connection to PLACE is what is MOST IMPORTANT. It is similar to the philosophy of the historic district, where individual significance or individual artistry, elegance or craftsmanship are subservient to the whole thing. The whole thing is a PLACE, and it is what is most important.

I think we can do this, even without revising the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, although that needs to be done too. We must remember that preservation is a PROCESS, not a set of rules but a set of procedures. When we IDENTIFY something as significant, that identification should indicate WHAT about it needs to be saved. In our Chicago Landmarks Ordinance, for example, each designation report indicates WHAT the significant architectural and historic features are that need to be preserved in order to preserve the significance of the property. That list is different for every building, site or structure. As I have often said, preservation treats everything as an individual, not a category.

This is something that English Heritage in the UK already does, and indeed the English have always listed their buildings in categories based on significance. I did this 20 years ago when we surveyed historic churches in Chicago, so I understand the possibility, and I also understand the reticence preservationists had 40 years ago in doing such a ranking: because it would consign some buildings to demolition based on their low ranking.

But the point of going beyond the Rembrandt rule (treating every bit of historic fabric as if it were a Rembrandt) is to get beyond RULES and focus on PROCESS. Preserving a great design done in a short-lived material might mean re-creation, because the design is what is important, whereas for the Star-Spangled banner, the material artifact is primary. House museums need to go beyond the Rembrandt rule for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that some artifacts may be Rembrandts but others are not.

Rypkema talked about the need for more land-use tools beyond the historic district, which is true, and conservation districts and buffer districts and heritage areas (which involve no necessary regulation) are examples we can build on. We need these because preservation IS NOT ABOUT FIXING SOMETHING IN A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME. It is, instead, ABOUT MANAGING CHANGE OVER TIME.

The rest of the English-speaking world does not have historic preservation. They have building conservation, or more broadly and appropriately, HERITAGE CONSERVATION. Most of the National Preservation Honor Awards we gave out Thursday night were about heritage conservation, not historic preservation of buildings as museums. This is not a new direction, it is what we are already doing. But we may need to rename it.

To preserve means to fix at a point in time – in effect, to remove something from history. I began my preservation career nearly 27 years ago by helping create the first heritage area, and our goal then, and now, was managing change, not stopping change. Heritage conservation is about managing change – planning – based on the inherited culture and cultural artifacts of a place. It is about the individuality and uniqueness of place. What we do is follow a process that insures that change happens in concert with a place’s values and valuables. I am extremely privileged to be able to be a part of this.

images from nashville:

downtown pres fac
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EOA church office9
union stn int1
union stn extb
Frist detail4
plaque parking
Ryman
christ episcopal0
hermitage hot men's