Note: This is a time sensitive post seeking responses now through April 2020.
I am currently developing my terminal project paper (similar to a thesis) for my M.S. in Historic Preservation degree. I have a background in architecture, and since I have taken preservation classes as a student of both fields, I have noticed something: there appears to be a disconnect between architects and preservationists in practice and in perception. For my paper, I am exploring the roots of this disconnect and how to combat it.
Below are some prompts to help you respond, but this is not a formal survey and I will not be including any of your personal data in my final submission. Instead, I hope to garner a consensus from practicing professionals and students alike that will either affirm or contradict my initial perception. I have avoided defining my interpretation of this disconnect so as not to influence anyone’s response.
I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences here. Whether you have been on a project team, acted as a consultant, or are currently a student, I am interested in your opinions. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond to this post! (It would be great if you could share it with others as well!) I hope to produce a paper that young practitioners of both fields will find useful, but I can’t do that without well-rounded input. I really appreciate any and all contributions! Thank you!
Below are some prompts to help you respond, but this is not a formal survey and I will not be including any of your personal data in my final submission. Instead, I hope to garner a consensus from practicing professionals and students alike that will either affirm or contradict my initial perception. I have avoided defining my interpretation of this disconnect so as not to influence anyone's response.
I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences here. Whether you have been on a project team, acted as a consultant, or are currently a student, I am interested in your opinions. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond to this post! (It would be great if you could share it with others as well!) I hope to produce a paper that young practitioners of both fields will find useful, but I can't do that without well-rounded input. I really appreciate any and all contributions! Thank you!
What is your position/profession/background? (for POV context)I am an architectural historian who has worked as a planner and professor of architectural history in various architectural programs. I have also been an active participant in the California Preservation Foundation's educational programs for the past three decades. CPF produces workshops, webinars and an annual conference that highlights statewide preservation topics. The programs focus on continuing education for preservation professionals, those who work with preservation projects and grassroot preservationists.Do you think there is a disconnect between architects and preservationists that impacts the efficacy and success of their interdisciplinary interactions in practice? Yes and no. I think architects who specialize in preservation are very aware of the intricacies of the issues, work well with community groups and are consummate problem solvers. Architects who approach historic material as if it were expendable and an impediment to new construction involve a steep learning curve.What do you think are the causes of this disconnect? Architectural training: studio work often treats assignments as if they were located in a vacuum rather than a real urban context under the assumption that this encourages creativity. Architectural history courses are treated as an afterthought that has no relevance in the real world and studios don't cross disciplines to include preservation and history into student projects. In fairness, architecture has become so complex that stuffing all the new academic requirements on sustainability, code updates, new materials and computer programs into a 4 or 5 year curriculum is increasingly difficult. Preservation takes a back seat in the classroom as it is perceived as not very important to future architectural careers. Personal outlook: if an architect is fundamentally uninterested in preservation and wishes to be the next Frank Gehry or Frank Lloyd Wright, there is little that can be done to redirect that focus.The need to make a living: unless they are independently wealthy, architects work for clients who have the money to build projects. Clients have needs that architects address on their behalf. If a client is disinterested in preservation, they are not going to hire an architect who is a preservationist. Cultural and legal support of private property rights: both architects and their clients who are not interested in preservation adhere to an American cultural belief that private property rights prevail over community values. This is a deeply held value despite decades of legal challenges and changes that have severely curtailed the absolute right to do whatever you want with your property. Zoning codes, building codes and environmental regulation have much more impact on property rights than preservation, but preservation always gets the bad press. Essentially, cultural values die hard.Local economic and regulatory climate: how strongly preservation is supported at the local level is reflected in a community's values, its political climate and economic situation. Architects and clients who are dis-intersted in preservation will either change their position or abandon their project if the local political climate supports preservation.What do you think can be done to attain more productive interdisciplinary communication between architects and preservationists as it relates to the practice of preservation?I have spent the past four decades trying to break down stereotypes and normalize preservation as the obvious way of doing business. The strategy has been to educate all the relevant professions (architects, preservationists, planners, engineers, landscape architects, elected officials, lawyers, realtors) about the cultural and economic value of preservation as well as the nuts and bolts of preservation: identification, evaluation, treatment and mitigation of historic properties.Implementing effective regulations at the local and state level to ensure preservation needs to be an integral part of the building and redevelopment process, with legal enforcement when it is not. Finally, community members need to monitor their elected officials, city employees and preservation projects to ensure all parts of the system are communicating and acting in good faith. Preservationists need to elect responsive officials; electeds need to hire competent staff and produce regulatory process that foster preservation. Preservationists need to develop good rapport with staff, attend hearings, participate in design charettes. They also need to consider lawsuits when negotiations fail. When preservation is expected, architects and their clients will comply to meet community standards or take their business elsewhere.IMHO, preservation is not a simple disconnect between architects and preservationists, but a cultural value that is reflected in wider community expectations and practices. The education occurs on a project by project basis, while institutional change occurs over decades as a result of successes and failures in the system. It usually takes the loss of one or two good buildings and a few spectacular lawsuits to catalyze public support for systemic change. When the market demands that developers and their architects save buildings and adaptively re-use them rather than raze them, they will comply.I have high hopes that younger generations now in school will continue to advocate for preservation as the general way of conducting business because of its sustainability and beneficial effects on climate change. Recycling our built environment makes much more sense than continually razing it and throwing it in the landfill. But, preservationists will also have to modify their expectations as to what constitutes preservation. There was a fascinating discussion thread on the Forum a few months ago about "Preservation 2.0". We have been using museum methodology on our built environment for the past 50 years. While that is appropriate for some buildings, it is overkill for others. We need to develop more relaxed approaches to preserving certain property types and adaptive re-use projects so properties retain their economic viability. Negotiating with architects and developers takes patience, understanding and an honest exchange of views. It also takes compromise and the willingness to accept mitigation for the loss of an important property. Not everything can be saved.Finally, when preservation is implemented at the plan level, it clarifies expectations at the project level. Conflict diminishes when realtors, property owners, developers and their architects understand what can and cannot be done with-- or to-- a property in advance of project design. In San Diego, we implemented a "45 year review" process that automatically checks properties pursuing discretionary permits for historic value. The process is quick and inexpensive. We've also collected data on how many properties undergoing this process are actually designated or treated as though they are designated. Very few. That has dispelled myths about how everything is historic and that the process is capricious, unpredictable and expensive. It has also dramatically reduced angst.Would more cross-disciplinary training at the undergraduate or graduate level help break down professional barriers? Yes. But, education is a lifelong pursuit. Attending conferences and workshops, reading professional materials and learning on the job also helps educate architects about preservation. When they have to learn preservation to earn a paycheck, motivation improves.
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