Modern and Ancient, my Whirled in Views

February 7, 2013 Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics, Global Heritage Comments (5) 178

As the Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund I deal with many ancient sites, including one of the most ancient, the religious complex being excavated by the Deutsche Archaeologische Institut at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, where stone columns carved with animals form intriguing ringed structures that predate Stonehenge by 6,000 years. This is not only ancient, it is more ancient than almost any other site people are preserving. I am honored to be involved in this.

But as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Board Member of Landmarks Illinois, I am dealing with lots of modern artifacts, including the justifiably famous Prentice Women’s Hospital, a 1975 landmark that marked the first deployment of computer-aided design and crafted concrete cantilevers known for their beauty as well as their ability to hold a 45-foot projection. Bertrand Goldberg – whom I met – designed the building in his famous ‘flower petal’ mode and I have blogged about it many times before. Here. And here. And here. And way back here over two years ago. Which just goes to show you that preservationists are not always slow on the draw. We had the drop on the bumbling owner (Northwestern University) by, like EIGHT YEARS. Their clout might well prevail, but they definitely showed up late and unprepared.

The denouement, a court-ordered second hearing on landmark status and denial, will be held today, February 7, 2013.

prentice 1009s

Okay, time for ancient again. One of our cool sites here at Global Heritage Fund (you can JOIN here.) is El Mirador, a 2,500 year old pre-Classic Mayan site in Guatemala. Led by Dr. Richard Hansen, the conservation of this site includes one of the world’s largest pyramids and a massive frieze uncovered by Hansen’s team. The project also preserves a unique and rich biosphere that surrounds the site, enveloping it in dense jungle.

MiradorPolpolvu_Frontal

el-mirador

And now back to modern. I was just reading about the people who bought the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Arizona and wanted to demolish it because it sits on two lots and they could make a lot of money developing the land. Their attitude was that the building is a lovely landmark, but they need their money. Which is in my view a dramatic misunderstanding of capitalism. Capitalism is not a system that guarantees a profit: it is a system that may reward risk with profit; may reward investment with return; and may reward hard work with leisure. But it doesn’t guarantee that. That would be socialism or something. I used to have a hard time explaining to my students that real estate values didn’t always go up – because they had lived in a time when real estate values always went up. This gave them a skewed vision of history, which 2007 quickly corrected. Also, the owners whined and whinged that landmarking affected their property value negatively, without noting the irony that zoning into two lots had artificially inflated their property value. Both are government actions that affect the marketplace.

waller 98 2844s

Here is a Frank Lloyd Wright Building I bought for $1 twenty years ago. I paid at least $40,000 too much. But I didn’t whine about it. Maybe I should have. The Arizona housenappers got paid.

CM allen hs 1863s

This house cost $10,000 to build in 1863. It sold for less than $4,000 40 years later. That’s how history and economy work.

The challenge for all of historic preservation/heritage conservation is the challenge of adaptive re-use: How do you make a cultural artifact viable for the present and future social economy of a place? Every use is an adaptive re-use: the most primitive is the museum (even though museums as a concept are less than 300 years old). We think that this is preserving a house or an archaeological site just as it was but in fact it is repurposing it: it is making it into a museum.

glessner-views

Dear old Glessner House, Chicago

hanyangling-19

Dear old Hanyangling archaeological site, Shaanxi

Museums are not a great business model, so at GHF we are always looking for more economic variety and vitality in our projects. Ways to rekindle economic engines. Sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, that approach to re-use seems to me more possible than ever. I live in an economy of ideas and technology, where fortunes are made not by the crude manipulation of matter into universal type-needs, but by the creative manipulation of concepts into new types of action and interaction that redefine not simply how we live but what we live and why we live.

virtuous real estateS

And unlike Arizona, our real estate is virtuous.

The internet (where you are right now) means people can live in many places, and while the value of face-to-face easily trumps online, we are finally living in the world that Morse promised over 150 years ago, where place becomes more of a choice for a significant portion of the population. And thus PLACE becomes not only the most valuable consumer item, but a key economic generator. And historic artifacts are a key – often the dominant one – to the iconography and desirability and thus the price – of PLACE.

from front doorS

Nice weather helps.

But isn’t ancient more important than modern? It is older, after all, right?

n-gate-best

The top picture depicts a site that is newer and younger than the lower picture.

bund-e

burling-st-mcmansion

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And here.

History is not arithmetic. 3000 years old is not three times as good as 1000 years old, and for that matter, 100 year old is not twice as good as 50 years old. Of course “age” figures into it, but so does “significance.” There are sites that have had massive impact on millions of people that are relatively modern, and there are corresponding ancient sites that have affected only a small number. More intriguingly for some of our GHF sites, we do NOT YET KNOW the impact of some of these places until we research them further. Marcahuamachuco in Peru is one example I mentioned last fall.

monjas-b-or-c

this place, remember?

In addition to age value, we art value and historical value, which apply to some of the architectural landmarks pictured above. These values, handed down to us most notably by Alois Riegl (who wrote in 1903, making him twice as important as Hosmer who wrote 50 years later – JK!) have been at the center of heritage conservation discourse for a while. Riegl distinguished between a small number of historic monuments preserved essentially as museums, and the more common practice of adaptive re-use for the cultural landscape as a whole. He also recognized “newness value,” which is sort of the “next shiny thing” value because it describes our species obsession with novelty.

south-st-colorful3

old is new again

Each of these values can contribute – in different amounts – to the value of a PLACE, and I think ultimately that is the goal of our science, our mission. At Global Heritage Fund we recognize that conservation of heritage is about engaging and improving the lives of those who live around that heritage. We recognize that how heritage is preserved is part conservation science and part economic development. And we also know that when things are conserved in this way, they last.

5 Responses to :
Modern and Ancient, my Whirled in Views

  1. shelleygorson says:

    Hi Vince,

    I enjoy your posts. What is your current email address? I just signed up as a member of GHF.

    We are gathering our forces for our fundraising for the L Landmarks celebration. Any chance of a donation or attendance? anything you can do is appreciated!

    Hope all is well. Sounds like things are going just great! Very happy for you!

    All best, Shelley

  2. Johnny Earl says:

    Thanks for the Commentary.

  3. Are you suggesting that too many houses are becoming museums?

  4. Pingback: du lich nha trang

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