Preservation Round-Up: Back to Basics Edition

Posted on: May 5th, 2011 by David Garber

There are a thousand reasons why we care about historic preservation: we like the stories, we like the idea and history of craftsmanship, we like the connection to the past, and probably most significantly, we like the look of older buildings. I'm not even going to enter the "but what about Brutalist architecture?" debate because, well, I'm the one writing this and I'm taking the more "clapboards and pastels" approach at the moment.

But in all seriousness, there are a lot of people out there (me and probably you included) that get really passionate about old neighborhoods and old structures. People think we're weird, yet we go on about cornice details and windowpanes and chain ourselves to causes that, let's face it, can inspire blank stares on the faces of even our closest friends. In this week's round-up, I'm highlighting a few stories and posts from around the interwebs that bring us back to the basics.

Charleston, South Carolina is a mecca for lovability, as indicated by it's record of immaculate building preservation. (Photo: David Garber)

First up is a post by author and designer Steve Mouzon that popped up on my twitter feed this morning. On his site "The Original Green" he talks about the concept of "lovability" as a requirement for buildings to actually be sustainable. I mean, even if a building is technically built to the highest green standards, if it isn't lovable how sustainable is it? There is an intrinsic sustainability to lovable places (think about your favorite districts, main streets, and houses), which is why people make efforts to preserve, restore, and reuse them.

Speaking of windowpanes (work with me here, I mentioned them in the second paragraph), they've been credited with turning around public perception of a restoration project in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. Historic Boston and North Bennet Street School are bringing the Anna Clapp Harris Smith house back to its 1804 roots after a slew of 20th century alterations. As this latest blog post mentions, not even all the Historic Boston board members thought the building was anything special. That is, until the original window style was brought back. Really? Something as basic as putting in the old-style windows makes that big of a difference? Absolutely yes.

In their Portland Preservation blog post "On Old Buildings, Demolition, Deconstruction, and Reuse," local partner Architectural Heritage Center makes the case for preservation over the popularized alternative of deconstruction:

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about our city less in terms of what we can construct that’s new, justifying such work through our admirable recycling and deconstruction efforts, and instead begin to move toward a truly more sustainable model in which we reuse what we already have – not just materials but places too.

When talking preservation, it doesn't get much more back to basics than than a good reminder of what it is and why we bother with it in the first place.

Wait a second, you're reading the round-up and want some actual news news? Fine.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He has an unhealthy obsession with old windows, as evidenced by their presence on just about every wall in his definitely-not-large-enough-for-the-amount-of-old-windows-he-owns apartment.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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