Modern Architecture

September 11th and the Preservation of Memory

Posted on: September 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter


Today marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and while the National Trust for Historic Preservation works hard to preserve buildings, landscapes and neighborhoods, it is important to note that one of our fundamental goals is the preservation of memory through the use of these tangible remainders. Place and memory are concepts that oftentimes interact, with places acting as containers for the collective memories of a particular society or group. From these collective memories, a sense of identity can be derived. Without the buildings, objects, and places that preservationists are concerned with saving, we as a society run the risk of losing the physical pieces that help tie us to a collective identity--whether it be regional, national, or even global.

Two years ago—as we do every spring—the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One of these places was the World Trade Center’s Vesey Street Staircase. Known as the “Survivors’ Stairway,” due to the hundreds of people who used it to evacuate the towers during the attacks, the staircase was the last remaining above-ground feature of the World Trade Center, it was also in danger of being lost forever. Construction and development of a memorial site around the area where the Towers once stood threatened the stairs with demolition. This drew the attention of preservationists and everyday citizens alike to the question of how to most appropriately save this important reminder of the attacks and of those who were directly affected by them. Unquestionable for its historic value, the preservation of this 175 ton piece of concrete and steel is more important for the symbolic nature of what it represents. These were the stairs that people who survived the chaos of that morning used to exit the building, they were also used as the entrance for rescue workers to enter the building in order to help those still inside. In addition, the Survivors Stairway is a tangible piece of the September 11th attacks that itself survived, and holds the memory of all those who did not.

Saving the stairway took the efforts of numerous organizations combined with public support via letters to important decision-makers. Groups such as the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy all aided in the process and in March of this year, the stairway was moved out of the path of construction and to a temporary location. In July, the stairs were placed within the foundations of the Memorial where visitors will eventually be able to view them next to the functional staircase as they use them to descend into the museum and experience the site at bedrock level.

The memorial itself is estimated for completion in 2011, and is titled Reflecting Absence, a reference to its attempt to incite thinking on two buildings long-associated with the New York skyline which have been lost forever. In a September 16, 2001 New York Times article, Michael J. Lewis stated that:

"In their absence, the World Trade Center towers are more a monument than ever. The physical void they leave is itself a poignant memorial, an aching emptiness that is the architectural counterpart to human loss."

Besides rows of trees and two waterfall-fed pools representing the areas where the buildings once stood, the memorial will include the names of victims from both towers, the Pentagon and the four flights which crashed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. The Pentagon opened its memorial this morning, and one planned for the Pennsylvania crash site is due to be finished in 2011.

The addition of a tangible, lasting piece of the buildings that did make it through the attacks is interesting when compared to the overall World Trade Center memorial itself, which focuses upon absence, emptiness and the recollection of things that are missing. The inclusion of the appropriately titled Survivors Stairway reminds us that some things did survive the catastrophe—both those who made it out, along with the memories of those who did not—and that we are still here as a nation and global community, whether it be one year after the attack or seven.

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.

New Help for Teardowns

Posted on: August 18th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


As we all watch and wait to see how the slumping economy and struggling housing sector either rebounds or continues to fall, one has to question if teardowns – the demolition of houses for larger replacement homes, often referred to as McMansions -- are likely to continue or even make economic sense in the near future. While the demolition of perfectly good houses doesn’t meet our sustainability goals, the practice has developed a strong foothold in many communities around the country, and in Canada and Australia. As I’ve watched this trend grow into a profitable niche market and, most recently, have seen it slowdown in the last year, I’m not convinced teardowns are finished. If anything, teardowns are likely just on a hiatus and, in many places, continue full steam ahead despite the gloomy national economic outlook.

What this current economy does offer us though is a cooling off period to get a handle on this issue and be proactive before teardowns start up full force again. The ways in which communities are responding to teardowns are diverse in approach and overall effectiveness. So in places like Downers Grove, IL, the community is trying to balance the needs of newcomers while also addressing a reduction in affordable “starter” housing, storm water drainage impacts caused in part due to teardowns, and the overall loss of original community character. In Westport, CT, community leaders are responding to teardowns by increasing the period for a demolition delay from 90 to 180 days. Sometimes efforts are being done on a house-by-house basis, such as in Seattle, where a resident is currently making a last ditch effort to save an intact 1908 Craftsman-style home by moving it out of harms way. And in Raleigh, an organization called Community Scale has formed to advocate for approaches that guide infill construction while also preserving the integrity and diversity of the city’s older neighborhoods.

There’s no single tool out there to solve the problem but rather a combination of strategies works best. Recognizing that most people don’t know where to start or go for best practices, a new online tool has been developed called Teardown Tools on the Web. Created as part of the Teardowns Initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this tool is intended as an easy-to-share, user-friendly, one-stop-shop highlighting approximately 30 tools and more than 300 examples of best practices being used around the country. Check it out at

-Adrian Fine, Director Northeast Field Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

It’s Rally Cap Time for Tiger Stadium

Posted on: July 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter


Tiger StadiumWednesday marked a sad day for a two-time member of the National Trust’s List of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Although demolition began in June, the most significant damage to Detroit’s Tiger Stadium began this week to the park that legends like Ty Cobb, Willie Horton, and Hank Greenberg once called home field. The stadium opened in 1912 and owed its unique design to the corner location on Michigan Avenue and Trumball Boulevard. In addition to its corner design, Tiger Stadium featured a signature 125 foot tall flagpole to the left of center field and an upper deck that overhung right field by ten feet.

The Stadium has played host to some of the most fabled moments of America’s sport, such as Babe Ruth’s 700th home run in 1934, the voluntary end of Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive game streak, and what is considered to be the longest confirmed home run in the history of the game—a shot by Ruth that traveled close to 600 feet on the fly.

Is there any hope for the ballpark? Or will it meet the same demise as Ebbetts, Comiskey, and Forbes? The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, a Corktown based non-profit, is trying to prevent just that, and is raising money to help save part of the historic stadium for use as a banquet hall, museum and office space. Time is running out, but the efforts of the Conservancy and others are in the right direction, and need all the help they can get.

Read Preservation Magazine's February article on "Detroit's Field of Dreams."

Hearts Break as Tiger Stadium Falls [Detroit News]

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.

Detroit's Tiger Stadium May Be Partially Demolished this Spring

Posted on: February 15th, 2008 by Preservation magazine 2 Comments


Tiger StadiumIn the cult baseball movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is called upon to be a preservationist of a different sort. To rekindle the love of baseball, he's inspired to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field: "If you build it, they will come," a voice tells him. In the case of Detroit's Tiger Stadium, however, the baseball field already exists. This former major-league ballpark is 112 years old. The challenge, instead, involves sowing the seeds that will continually bring people to come see it. After all, the last major league ballgame was played here in 1999—and plans for its partial demolition have been slated for spring.

If making the claim that America's love affair with baseball is largely wrapped up in the places where it is played sounds like sensationalist dribble, ask any fan who grew up going to a local ballpark. They'll likely tell you of familiar smells: roasted peanuts, hot dogs, popcorn, freshly cut grass. They'll mention the vantage point from which clouds of orange dust can be seen when a player slides into home plate. They'll talk of the stacks of lights that illuminate an outdoor theater where outfielders dive for fly balls and fans from upper decks swear they saw the play better than the umpire. "Playing fields like Tiger Stadium are considered hallowed ground," says Francis Grunow, executive director of locally-based Preservation Wayne.... Read More →

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.