Posts Tagged ‘SAIC’

Progress in Lima

January 12, 2012

We have been in Lima for a week now with 15 students from our Cultural Futures: Lima class and it has been very successful. We just completed presenting our ideas and designs that were developed during the class and during the last week of hard work in the Municipalidad, which is located right in the center of town on the lovely Plaza des Armas.

The main plaza from the roof of City Hall
With the aid of Gunther Merzthal, the city’s urban agriculture expert, we presented several projects to various agencies and officials. One project we developed during the last semester and revised based on feedback from the Department of the Environment, which is the primary contact in the city administration for our SAIC class. This was a green roof for the City Hall in Lima. They likely were aware of Chicago City Hall’s famed green roof and our students came up with a design that not only integrated social and educational functions but also remained within the sight lines required by the landmarks agency, ProLima, which oversees development in the Cercado, the center of Lima which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site some two decades ago.

Municipal Building – the idea is you can’t see the green roof from the street

Staircase in City Hall
We also presented two new concepts we had developed during the semester, one a “green neighborhood” in Barrios Altos that combined urban agricultural production, new residential units on upper stories, educational programming and potential conversion of behind-the-facade parking into productive green space. The highlight of the green neighborhood design, and the one that excited our hosts in Lima the most, was a redevelopment of this large Brutalist building that houses the municipal market with a large a diverse green roof “techo verde”

The highrise portion is just being used for storage by the merchants in this busy inner-city commercial area, but was once residential. This idea caught everyone’s attention right away and we spent a good portion of this week brainstorming a series of uses for the building from restaurants and food courts to thermal solar units and of course green roofs, made easier by the .5 meter square concrete beams that support the market section. We rendered a series of images of the complex and they want to apply it to other markets and buildings in Lima.

We also presented a huaca-inspired setback design for a building on a street called Ancash, also in Barrios Altos. Here the city had proposed saving a facade and adding a new 4-story building on the back of the site. We proposed a series of ziggurat-stepped gardens that would actually increase the amount of space for apartments without disturbing the historic sight lines of the original facade.

We also began work this week on several new projects. One is a garden of native Peruvian plants to be incorporated into a regional park, Huiracocha. Another is a green roof for a new housing project, Canete 100, not too far from downtown. A third is the design of iconic but functional market stalls for organic farmer’s markets, like this one we visited in Miraflores:

So I snapped this picture on Sunday and then on Tuesday we go tour the Agricultural University at La Molina and guess who is leading the tour – the same guy, Daniel!

We are also looking at the design of a nocturnal garden at the Teatro Blanca Varela in the beautiful 1929 Parque La Reserva, with its lighted fountain displays. The park includes some lovely original buildings, monuments and sculptures.

And then there is of course the dramatic coastal cliffs, replete with surfers and shopping centers…

Our group has been aided immeasurably by my Global Heritage Fund colleague, Alejandro Camino, D.C., who also maintains a plant museum in Cusco we hope to visit next week. Kudos to my colleagues Frances Whitehead and Douglas Pancoast and of course to the hardworking students in the class and on the trip: Michelle Yuan, Laura Crane, Cassie Rogg, Veronika Diaz, Brooke Ingram,Samantha Alaimo, Sia Khorrami, Danielle Potts, Emily Wallrath, DJ Catrow, Karin Kuroda,Duane Hagerty, Marie Socha,Julie Hess, Dina Khodorkovskaya and Sarah Tietje.


Pipal and the Peterson Prize

August 26, 2009

Charlie Pipal has taught our Physical Documentation class since the onset of the millenium, and during that time his students have won six Charles E. Peterson prizes in the NATIONAL competition for the best HABS measured drawings. Charlie never takes the credit and always gives it to the students. He is right, but HIS students have done this six times in eight tries, so I would suspect he has something to do with it.

Last year I wrote a blog calling Charlie the Michael Phelps of preservation because his students’ drawings took home not only the fourth Honorable Mention for a set of HABS drawings, but a Third Place!
But now they have really done it: Kudos to Carol Adams, Ginny Way, Mitch Brown, Frank Butterfield, Ceylan Celebiler, Tianyi Jiang, Pam Pietrowsky, Susannah Ribstein, Kathleen Shanley, Noel Weidner, Christine Whims and Teaching Asistant Emily Spreng of Charlie Pipal’s Physical Documentation class because they won FIRST PRIZE this year!
on leong drawingS
These are the drawings of the 1924 On Leong Merchants Association Building (now Pui Tak Center) in Chinatown, Chicago. Stunning work by all. I am so proud.

The prestigious Peterson Prize is awarded annually by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of the National
Park Service, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and The American Institute of Architects (AIA), and recognizes the best
sets of measured drawings prepared to HABS standards and donated to HABS by students. The drawings will be added to the permanent HABS collection at The Library of Congress.

This is the third Peterson Prize in two years awarded to projects from the SAIC Historic Preservation Program. The previous two were awarded in 2008: a Third Place for drawings of the Pullman Greenstone Church, Chicago; and an Honorable Mention for drawings of the Chicago Athletic Association Building. Drawings from the class also received Honorable Mentions in 2000 (Quinn Chapel), 2005 (Thalia Hall) and 2007 (First Congregational Church, Western Springs). Charlie Pipal taught all of the courses. Don’t tell me he doesn’t have it goin’ on.

Congrats to all!

More on Yunnan 2009

July 17, 2009

yunnan rice fields
The rice replanting was in full swing throughout Yunnan when we were there in May and June, and you could watch this millenia-old agricultural ritual as we traveled north from Weishan to visit Jianchuan, to see the famous grottos and also the restored temples in Shaxi town. The Swiss had been involved in the efforts to restore these temples, which have some very excellent early Ming duogong, something you rarely see. Anyway, here are the temples at Shaxi in Jianchuan, Yunnan
shaxi temple7
But you have to see the duogong – see, basically as the Ming became Qing the duogong became less functional and more decorative and they got smaller and more elaborate.
shaxi temple duogong
These are robust duogong, to be sure. One of the challenges in China is that each dynasty – except the Qing (17th-early 20th centuries) – destroyed most of the stuff from the previous dynasty. The Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s was sort of a modern version of the iconoclasm that cycles regularly throughout Chinese history. Thus Foguangsi on Wu Tai shan in Shanxi is one of the oldest temples left in the whole country, dating from the late 9th century and it was just named a World Heritage Site thanks to my friends at the Global Heritage Fund. But for Yunnan, the temples at Shaxi are pretty impressive, as is the restored theatre and central square, sideng.
shaxi stage bldg
The town also has a series of gate, picturesque narrow lanes and a lovely old stone bridge over the river.
shaxi gate
shaxi bridge3
shaxi streeterr
The only GHB in this cultural cocktail is the fact that the lovingly restored town square was so empty, much emptier than the picture of it John Stubbs included in his new world conservation book Time Honored (I especially recommend Chapter 2 to all aspiring preservationists). This is the nagging problem with so much cultural tourism – they decide that tourism is the answer so they throw out the other options. Sideng had maybe two or three open shops and less than four other tourists while we were there. It was more of a stage set than a place.
shaxi sideng view0
Which is too bad, because the temple interpretation was good, including models and detailed panels describing every level of conservation from the region down to the individual monuments. And the museum of the tea-horse route in the theater building was small but worthwhile. Our work in Weishan involves the same horse-tea route caravan, which through history brought tea up from its sweet spot in southern Yunnan to Tibet and points east and west. (I did the English labeling here so there is a possibility of error.)
tea horse routeBLs
In Weishan we saw the restored courtyard used by the planning department which was also a significant site on the tea-horse route.
Tea horse inst ctyd
And we had tea there, which is cool. We also had tea in Dong Lian Hua (East Lotus Village) one of two Muslim towns we visited in the Weishan valley, and one I had seen before in 2007 (in fact they still had a picture of me up on the wall) and which was recently named a landmark. The highlight are three tower houses from which merchants could survey the caravans along the route, stable a large number of horses, and conduct the trade that made the valley.
DLH ctyd2 upper
DLH grp tea2
Like Weishan, Dong Lian Hua is a place where conservation has preserved the best of the past as a service to the people who live there, not simply as a sop to tourists. This is the best way – the only sustainable way – to plan for the future. Because real planning relies not on knowing everything that can happen in the future – that was the great fallacy of modernism in planning and architecture – but on creating enough utility and flexibility that a place or a building will continue to serve people in their full range of motion and time.
incense overal
I said it in my ICOMOS paper two years ago and It bears repeating: Weishan is a model of developing historic resources for tourism without sacrificing the utility those resources have for the local population. Indeed, local use is primary, because tourism comes and goes. I do not promise that Weishan has avoided the temptations of catastrophic tourism, only that they have avoided them so far. The work we do at SAIC, at the Center for US-China Arts Exchange, in Yunnan is focused on this goal.
peach main rd v
Our role is to encourage making historic buildings as useful as they can be for those that live there and those that visit. And I think that describes all of my preservation practice over the last 26 years: we promote people’ better impulses toward their environment and discourage the baser ones, the ones that ignore the future for immediate gain.
Tea horse inst doors
(Above: traditional carved doors at the tea horse institute building, Weishan.)

You see, preservation isn’t about the past at all. It is about the future and how you would like that future to be.


January 4, 2008

mich ave 1006S

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

What will 2008 bring for preservation? More nasty facade projects? Fewer teardowns thanks to the meltdown of the housing market? I welcome your input and will share with you the SAIC HPRES plans for 2008, which are shaping up:

First, I am off to India along with some of our other faculty for a preservation (building conservation) conference in Ahmedabad in two weeks – less than two weeks actually. I will give a keynote on Preservation in the U.S. and present case studies of green preservation (River Forest Women’s Club) and design issues (Milton Historical Society).

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance and a number of organizations are planning events, including the exciting new exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, curated by SAIC alum Kate Keleman called Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage? I am also moderating a panel of community preservationists in April on the subject, and we just started talking about a symposium in September on the history of preservation in Chicago. The City will kick off with some lectures this Spring, including a big name (pending) in May for Great Places and Spaces.

The Museum signed me up for a cool tour in March combining the Farnsworth House (1950) by Mies with the Ford House (1950) by Bruce Goff, which proves the lie of the zeitgeist and the Organization Man in one huge contrast between formal purity and anarchic romanticism.

Here at the grad program we are planning another trip to the Weishan Heritage Valley in Yunnan, China at the end of May as we continue our ongoing work on this 13th century town that seems to be in the only place in The Only Country That Matters that is committed to preservation.

I’ll be in New Orleans later this month with the National Trust, and then Denver in May, maybe, and then we have the Annual Conference in Bruce Goff’s hometown of Tulsa in late October, which I am looking forward to…

Our program is moving to larger quarters on the 10th floor of the Sharp Building (1902, Holabird & Roche) this spring, which means we will have a decent Resource Center for the students, a real office for the faculty and more generously windowed studios (sadly replacement windows with all of their problems – inoperability, jagged aluminum seams and short lifespans).

Tom is officially launching my “Preservation Nation” radio show in West Texas this week although I have been working on it for a year – I hope I don’t come off as too much of a curmudgeon, although I do get on the windows rant atimes. And the sustainability rant.

And Felicity and I are doing a house, which is already making me insane. Ah, the particularity of preservation – there are no first principles, just a million million points of difference as messy and unpredictable as all history and its head crushing parade of humanity…..

The problem and beauty of China

June 21, 2006


Originally uploaded by vincusses.

The problem and beauty of China is that nothing stays the same. This is why it is the middle kingdom, the sensibility and experience of all humanity.

We are just back from a 3-week preservation trip to China. We go to Weishan, one of the few communities there with a true commitment to preservation. It is in far southwest Yunnan province, in the Mekong Delta, and it shares many cultural groups with southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Laos and Burma. It is a beautiful place, but also very real and everyday. The food is better than anywhere. They have 50 kinds of mushrooms. We ate three meals a day and each meal was 10-12 dishes and it took the better part of a week before we saw a dish repeated. Nothing the same, but always good. We had enough clout to get two formal dinners with Mayor Zhang of Weishan, which consists of a lot of toasting with rice wine and gifts and the best food.

China changes and changes are challenges. Our first was money. Despite double-checking our budget in January, we still ran over and had to up the program fee. But there was still a gap. We limited faculty salaries and faculty Jingjing Gao worked the locals for every nickel. The trip still came in at 25% less than the other trip to China.

We had the challenge of overnight train rides to Dali, and the nonstop rain once we got to that scenic walled city, center of the Bai minority culture and a must-spot on the backpacker route. It is very nice, but compared to Weishan, quite touristy, with shops dedicated to the foreigners and Chinese who visit. We saw the Three Pagodas, millenia-old pagodas outside town and then, shockingly, a massive $2 billion rebuilt temple that must have included 25 buildings and a hundred gold statues.

I guess that’s the difference between China and America: a country run by businessmen versus a country run by lawyers. We scream when the government offers to give money to a church. Atheist China builds a massive Buddhist temple because it will attract tourists.

Then we were on to Weishan and saw real temples – the old ones that dot Weibaoshan, Taoist masterpieces. Chang Cheun temple is restored but not too much (as is often the case in Asia). They left many of the old paintings alone, which is better than tarting them up like that behemoth in Dali. Mr. Xiao, the monk, again demonstrated flute and tai chi for us on the temple grounds. Thank god his cell phone didn’t ring until he finished the demonstration.

We then spent two days touring the best courtyard houses in Weishan, which is 1300 years old and while some of its temples go back to the Ming era 600 years ago, most of the courtyards were 80 or 90 years old. But they were great. We crawled through them – many occupied by four or more families. Beautiful dragon and phoenix-headed brackets, reflecting walls decorated with stunning paintings, and all of those features we learned to love as chi’h-wei, liang, qiuwen and tang wu. Some of the houses were lovingly restored, some were decrepit but stunning. We measured and drew and described and photographed them. It was hard work by all 13 students and the Weishan officials were impressed at the end.

The biggest challenge was typical China Changes. Our hosts asked us to photo document courtyard houses, so we got a field camera. One of our hosts – a real power broker – was preparing a book on Weishan’s courtyard houses and invited us to submit images. He insisted that the images be digital, so we bought three digital cameras. We decided to go ahead with the large format as well, for the learning experience.

Day 2 of the documentation of 16 buildings in Weishan: Our host calls and asks us what film we are shooting and we say digital and he says the digital isn’t good he wants medium format. Turns out he changed his mind in April. Nothing stays the same in China. We know medium format is better – that is what we wanted to use in the first place.

A week later he shows up with a bus for all of the students and buys us all breakfast in Kunming after an all-night train ride. It was wild – giant crocks of chicken soup at scalding temperature – you cook meat and veg and noodles by dropping them in. One of our students does not eat chicken but ate it, reckoning (correctly) that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

So then the faculty go to meet the power broker. We meet in his publisher’s office and see the book layout and the lovely medium format transparencies. Yes, we know that these are better, says Felicity. Always did. Would have done it that way if we weren’t told otherwise. She critiques the book for cramming too many pictures too close together. It was a slightly tense meeting, us feeling twisted for not hearing that the Boss changed his mind, him feeling a little defensive because we clouted him into promising us representation in the book. Felicity is also refusing to give full size images unless he is going to use them, trying to protect the artist/students. China is not Country Number One when it comes to copyright-protection. She later physically protected the students’ large format work as we tried to get it through airport security in Kunming and later in Shanghai.

Another challenge was the beta version of Adobe Lightroom. This software would allow us to organize the images by historic site for the Weishan officials and by category for the book publisher in Kunming. Lightroom ran perfectly in tests but started to chug and choke mid-week as the library expanded to 2000 images. The poor students on the later teams had to deal with an increasingly buggy beta software and an increasingly impatient faculty member (me.) We finally had to give up and spend a sleepless night on the train to Kunming reorganizing the student photos into the categories for the book publisher.

Shanghai marked the more relaxed coda to the trip, but even there nothing stays the same. I was doing my regular tour of the Bund only we couldn’t cross over into Huangpi Park because the government closed it for a meeting of leaders of Central Asian oil nations. Can you imagine? In Chicago we would never close a park for heads of state – only for Toyota executives. The meetings also closed museums and galleries, which was a bummer for many of the students.

Despite the changes, the trip was a success. We had a great Powerpoint (a little delayed by recalcitrant computers) for the Weishan officials and a video from student Ryan (Dong Geun) Oh. We celebrated birthdays, climbed the Great Wall, had Peking Duck and ate sticks and leaves and went to the dressmaker and tailor and perhaps even the bars and everyone had their turn with the gut rot but we saw things no one else does. We crawled over 13 courtyard houses, documenting and measuring and photographing them in the midst of people’s lives. We got to know the place a bit.

We were in Weishan 10 days before we saw a Westerner. Of course, the book and our work will help promote Weishan and perhaps it won’t be so unspoiled in the future. Or maybe they will do the best of both – a true heritage tourism that looks out for the locals first.

I miss Weishan and China, despite all of the twists and turns. Especially at mealtimes. I could kill for a bowl of beef noodles right now. With lots of chili. It isn’t breakfast otherwise.

Through a Glass Darkly

May 22, 2006


Originally uploaded by vincusses.

What rant shall I leave you with as I head to China? How about the past and the future….

Twenty years ago, I spent the better part of a year backpacking around South Asia. My goal was India, and I had this idea that I could see the past – steam locomotives, teeming early Industrial metropoli, a populace caught between agrarianism and urbanism like Chicago in 1880.

Today, of course, we go to China to see the future, skyscrapers flashing bright video skins and a billion people taking capitalism to the next step.

I am going there on an historic preservation student study trip, so I guess we are looking to the past. We go to Weishan, an old Southern Silk Road town in Yunnan province 75 clicks south of Dali. Founding city of the T’ang era Nanzhao state some 1300 years ago. Weibaoshan (mountain) hosts 22 Tao and Buddhist temples. Almost no Westerners go there – it barely registers on Google. Weishan is also one of the few places in China practicing historic preservation – most of Beijing and Shanghai are developing so fast they make 1880s Chicago look like a backwater. Everything is new and everything old is being plowed under.

Chinese culture is so old and strong it doesn’t need tangible reminders of the past as desperately as we do in the West. You start looking back on Euro-American culture and before long you hit Crusaders, Vikings and Picts and the word “civilization” starts to catch in the throat. As cultural orphans we need more reassurance. We need to touch it. In China it is so deep that it can’t be erased by the actions of the physical world.

That’s point one. Point two is technology and capitalism, an interesting feedback loop if there ever was one. Capitalism makes all sorts of fabulous technology possible, like Microsoft Word 5.1. But it also requires the “churn” which gives us dreck, like every version of Microsoft Word since. The one I am using now is a ponderously ignorant nanny, unable to show me my footnotes, rigid in grammar, desperately urging me to make it easy for the slow ones.

Upgrades are the hay feeding the capitalist elephant. Technology must improve with each new car season, even if it doesn’t. Even if no advances are made, the marketing guys will convince us there have been improvements and we will buy them lest this house of cards we love collapse.

Replacement windows, which need to be replaced themselves every 10 to 15 years, are the same thing – trendy and temporary like the multi-million dollar McMansions made of formaldehyde and wood chips that sprawl across the country. The old planned obsolescence thing. Works a charm.

(BTW the thing about vinyl replacement windows is that in fires they give off this noxious smoke that will kill you way before the fire. But this is not the windows rant…)

We are going to China with three digital cameras and a field camera (made in China of course) which uses 4 x 5 inch film, which means we are caught between two technologies and heavily laden on our journey. CDs and film, film holders and flash drives, laptops and tripods. My previous four study trips were sans electronics, a beautiful thing.

This thing everyone forgets about technology is that it is basically additive. You got a microwave? Did you get rid of your stove? You got a vacuum cleaner? Did you get rid of your broom? Yes, your computer replaced your typewriter but don’t tell me there isn’t any pen and paper in your house. I suppose an Ipod and a dock could replace a sound system, and a flat screen could replace a tube telly, but hell TVs are getting so big nowadays you’d think it was 1948 when they were freaking armoires.

So, we are laden on our trip to far west Yunnan province, beyond even the hippie trail (which ends in Dali) A lot of stuff to carry, some 40 years after miniaturization. I guess miniaturization died with Hummers and home theaters…

I even got a cell phone for the trip. I know, every American has had one for five years, and every Italian got one in 1992, but I don’t really need it….

WHAT?! Send the marketing guys out! Beat this one down! Make him wear a large-character sign until he is re-educated! He thinks he doesn’t need a cell phone or replacement windows! Tell him he is endangering his wife and children even though he has never lost them on street corners and train stations from Midtown Manhattan to Tokyo to Kracow and Schonbrunn and even on mountain trails in the Cevennes and Tyrolean Alps without even a goddamn watch, much less a cell phone.

I like technology that actually makes my life better, like my 1979 soft contact lenses and this laptop which allows me to rant on the L without fear of having my train of thought interrupted by a ringing telephone, and the 14-year old version of Word designed for those who learned spelling and my 14-year old car that doesn’t need a computer to start the engine.

So we will take pictures of traditional courtyard houses in Weishan, many with marvelous details. We will capture them digitally so we can enjoy them and disseminate them in all of their richness.

We will also capture them on film, so that the next generation can see them too.

So I guess we are looking into the future.