Preservation Round-Up: Contradict and Complement Edition

Posted on: June 13th, 2011 by David Garber 1 Comment

The Lumenhaus, now on display at the Farnsworth House outside Chicago. (Photo: Flickr user Bizjournal)

Sometimes it's important to step back, pause, and think about the reasons preservation matters. It's easy to get caught up in the movement, especially on a local level, without stopping to remember the purpose behind the passion.

This week's round-up begins with a story from the New York Times about the much-celebrated contemporary architect Rem Koolhaas' exhibition at the New Museum that calls into question the need for and importance of the preservation movement.

...Rem Koolhaas accused preservationists of aimlessly cherry-picking the past; of destroying people’s complex sense of urban evolution; and, most damningly, of bedding down with private developers to create gentrified urban theme parks.

Some of Mr. Koolhaas’s criticisms are on target — but his analysis is wildly off-base. It’s not preservation that’s at fault, but rather the weakness, and often absence, of other, complementary tools to manage urban development, like urban planning offices and professional, institutionalized design review boards, which advise planners on decisions about preservation and development.

What do you think? Should these other complementary tools be bolstered to help flesh out preservation policy and activism?

Down in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the most important section of the Fredericksburg Battlefield is finally being reclaimed. The Free Lance Star reported on Saturday that the Civil War Trust is in the process of purchasing an old GM auto plant on the southern edge of the battlefield.

The trust would raze the defunct, 300,000-square-foot GM plant--a victim of the automaker's decline and subsequent Chapter 11 reorganization--and restore the property to its appearance on Dec. 13, 1862, when the battle took place. Some original contours of that landscape survive, along with a historic road trace, the trust said.

Purchase of the 77-acre parcel and creation of a new national-destination park would help visitors appreciate that the southern end of the battlefield was the pivotal one, not the far better-known Sunken Road area to the north, the trust said.

Outside Chicago, the Farnsworth House is host to the Lumenhaus, a solar-powered home that won the 2010 Solar Decathlon competition in Madrid, Spain. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote about how the house complements the historic mid-century modern home.

The Lumenhaus sits in a cornfield by the visitors center and does, indeed, look like the modern-day spawn of the Farnsworth House. And if you love the Farnsworth, you’ll want to live in the Lumenhaus.

Equipped with smart-grid technology, geothermal heat and materials chosen for sustainability and beauty, the Lumenhaus also is surrounded by water gardens that repurpose gray water and rain water. A zero-energy home, it is completely powered by the sun.

Kinda makes me wonder: which low-impact "green" houses will be considered historic in forty or fifty years?

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He's kind of obsessed with the intersection of contemporary, green, and old/historic.

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.

General, Green, Modern Architecture, News Round-Ups

One Response

  1. Henriettahobsonrichardson

    June 14, 2011

    I think the additional article from the Times brings up an interesting point about bolstering supporting fields but I think Preservation needs to be taken more seriously in general. People don’t realize that there are professional Preservationists and that we are not all just volunteers. Preservation today is more than just a grassroots movement.