Infill’s in: Seeking a Balance for Oregon’s Historic Districts

Posted on: November 16th, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

Written by Brandon Spencer-Hartle

Compatible Infill Design can be downloaded for free by clicking on the link in the text or by visiting the HPLO website.

On October 13, the Historic Preservation League of Oregon (HPLO) unveiled a special report on Compatible Infill Design to a room full of the organization’s closest members and friends. After conducting nearly a year of research and stakeholder input, the HPLO’s 12-page report detailed seven principles for new construction in Oregon’s Historic Districts.

  • The District is the Resource, Not its Individual Parts
  • New Construction Will Reinforce the Historic Significance of the District
  • New Construction Will Complement and Support the District
  • Infill Will be Compatible Yet Distinct
  • The Exterior Envelope and Patterning of New Buildings Will Reflect District Characteristics
  • Contributing Buildings Will Not Be Demolished to Create Infill Opportunities
  • Archaeological Resources Will be Preserved in Place or Mitigated

Philosophically, the principles are a clear departure from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, an oft-cited justification for harsh differentiation. Based upon the input of stakeholders from across Oregon, the report and its principles refute the notion that all infill must be stylistically modernist regardless of its historic context. Ultimately, Compatible Infill Design calls on the National Park Service to revisit the intent of the existing Standards and to pursue standards and guidelines specific to new construction within historic contexts. The HPLO’s seven principles for new construction provide a starting point towards that end.

The principles and the supporting documentation found in Compatible Infill Design are the product of the Preservation Roundtable, an annual HPLO initiative that seeks to spur healthy discussion among diverse stakeholders about a challenging and topical preservation issue. Launched in 2010, the Roundtable focuses on moving Oregon’s historic preservation community upstream of prevailing issues, helping to reduce the perception that preservationists are merely the “purveyors of no.”

The inaugural 2010 Roundtable focused on “Healthy Historic Districts in a Changing World,” and brought together over 100 people to talk about the challenges and opportunities facing Oregon’s most historic areas. One of the nine recommendations presented in that year’s culminating special report, Healthy Historic Districts, was the “need for baseline standards for new construction.” Defining this baseline for historic district infill is what the HPLO set out to achieve with the 2011 Roundtable.

Participants in the Ashland Roundtable. (Photo: Historic Preservation League of Oregon)

The 2011 Roundtable held workshops in three cities - Ashland, Portland, and The Dalles - to gather the perspectives, experiences, and visions of diverse groups of Oregonians. Through the help of a volunteer taskforce and paid consultant team, the HPLO heard from over 200 Oregonians, including mayors, city councilors, planners, architects, developers, business owners, and landmark commissioners. Interestingly, while many of the participants were stakeholders within the same historic districts, the workshop sessions made evident that strategic conversation about new construction were long overdue. The Roundtable’s ability to bring stakeholders into a collaborative forum has provided not just a benefit for the HPLO’s Roundtable research goals, but has assisted communities in taking steps towards addressing critical local preservation issues.

In the month since releasing Compatible Infill Design, there has been plenty of feedback on the principles, their underlying assumptions, and the strategies for their implementation. At least five Oregon cities are already looking to implement some form of the principles into their standards and guidelines; Main Street managers are publically discussing how the principles could relate to downtown development goals; and - most importantly - diverse Oregonians are thinking collaboratively about how to chart a consistent approach to new construction in the state’s 123 National Register Historic Districts.

Compatible Infill Design and the conversations it has spurred are intended to bring a renewed interest in how Oregon protects and develops its Historic Districts, a group of places far more valuable than the sum of their individual parts. Both the 2010 and 2011 special reports are available free of charge on the HPLO website.

Brandon Spencer-Hartle is the Field Programs Manager at the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. He has asked that special thanks be given to project consultants Rick Michaelson, Karen Karlsson, and Jeff Joslin, 2011 Preservation Roundtable Taskforce members Paul Falsetto, Natalie Perrin, Ross Plambeck, Matthew Roman, and Patience Stuart, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its grant support of the program.

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One Response

  1. Shayne Ysbrand

    November 22, 2011

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