Wisdom from the Past

April 17, 2015 Global Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 180

The problem here was not water.

We had a great panel discussion at the Legion of Honor last night and one moment that stood out to me was when I asked the four achaeologists to each describe a particular conservation challenge at their sites.  Dr. John Rick of Stanford, who works at Chavín de Huántar in Peru, talked about the challenge of water on the site.  Water is indeed one of the greatest challenges to preservation – the Chicago photographer/preservationist Richard Nickel famously said that old buildings have only two enemies:  water and stupid men. Continue Reading

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Resiliency and Climate Change

February 16, 2015 California, Chicago Buildings, Global Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 163

Last week in Colorado I showed two slides of the Farnsworth House, which I have been blogging about for a dozen years.  The first image came in the section of my talk about the Threats to our Heritage, such as Climate Change.  I had also showed images of it earlier in the week, when I participated in a Climate Change and Cultural Heritage conference in Pocantico, New York, with a whole variety of players, from colleagues at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Society for American Archaeology, World Monuments Fund, English Heritage and many other, collected together by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  So here is the first slide, which is Farnsworth House experiencing a “100-year” flood for the first of three times in the last eight years. Continue Reading

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The new urban commandments

January 4, 2015 Economics, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (0) 166

Amherst

Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design.  Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate. Continue Reading

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The How and Why of Preservation

November 11, 2014 Economics, History, Sustainability Comments (2) 139

San Antonio is a beautiful town

This is the title of a presentation I did for the Office of Historic Preservation, Centro San Antonio and over a hundred luncheon attendees in San Antonio last week.  I went through four thematic reasons WHY we save things:  Identity – Community – Economy – Education.

I then detailed the HOW, which includes National Register designation and local landmark status and so forth.  I focused on my mantra, which readers of this blog are familiar with:  Preservation Is Not A Set of Rules But A Process. Continue Reading

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Farnsworth House 2014

May 14, 2014 Chicago Buildings, House Museums, Interpretation, Sustainability Comments (6) 209

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou are more lovely and more tempered…

I have been involved with Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois for over a decade. I recall vividly the day (December 12, 2003) Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully bid on the house at Sotheby’s in New York, saving it from the possibility of being dismantled and moved to another place. Like all great architecture, the Farnsworth House was designed for its specific location along the Fox River, and this context is part of its significance. Continue Reading

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Conservation at El Mirador

March 19, 2014 History, Sustainability, Technology Comments (2) 213

I finally had the opportunity to visit El Mirador, the longest-running Global Heritage Fund project in Guatemala. The preClassic Maya site lies in the Peten region at the northern edge of the country, in the heart of a surviving rain forest. Howler monkeys greeted our arrival by helicopter.

This is the Kan (snake) kingdom of the Maya, a series of cities and ceremonial sites that represented the most advanced civilization in North America two thousand years ago. Today many of these sites are part of the Mayan Biosphere Preserve. We are conserving BOTH culture and nature here, which is important, because you see the deforestation in the area around the park and it is disheartening. Continue Reading

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Recycling Recycling: Symbols of empathy

January 18, 2014 California, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 136

My town is about to join a long list of local communities and counties that are banning plastic bags from stores. LA just became the largest city to do so. Because environment. Like most such actions, the benefits of the ban are primarily symbolic and inspirational, which is how we have approached recycling in the United States for well over seventy years.

Humans need symbols, and the most effective ones are visual. When I was in high school baby harp seals, over-the-top cute and cruelly clubbed, became extremely effective symbols for wildlife preservation. Of course, if the animals were less than cute (snail darter) they might become symbols for the opposition. Continue Reading

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Real Life Monuments Men and Women

January 3, 2014 China Preservation, Global Heritage, Sustainability Comments (0) 166

monument man

So, the movie with all of your favorite male actors (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, etc.) is finally coming out, kicked into 2014 and out of Oscar contention. It is the story of a World War II platoon dedicated to saving priceless cultural treasures from the Nazi scourge. I can’t wait to see it.

But then again, I see it everyday, because saving heritage is the job of the Global Heritage Fund, and we have men and women doing that throughout the developing world (although not in the midst of war, generally). Women as frequently as men, the various architects, archaeologists and anthropologists of Global Heritage Fund may not be risking life and limb, but there is a palpable sense of adventure and exoticism to what they do. Just check out my posts on Ciudad Perdida, Colombia, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia and Guizhou, China.

At GHF we may not be on the front lines of a war, but we are on the leading edge of heritage conservation in several ways. First, we often seek out sites that are newly accessible: Ciudad Perdida emerged from the paramilitary jungle within the last decade, which is when the landmines were cleared from sites like Banteay Chhmar. Roads have just reached the once-remote minority villages of Guizhou province, China and access to the Mayan sites of the Peten in Guatemala, such as El Mirador, is still by helicopter or lengthy jungle trek. Continue Reading

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GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013 Global Heritage, Sustainability Comments (1) 145

and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.

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the quantum mechanics of culture

July 18, 2013 Global Heritage, History, Sustainability, Technology Comments (2) 136

MEANING DOESN’T MATTER; ONLY MOVEMENT HAS MEANING
– written in magic marker across the top of my windscreen in 1984 –

When I studied history in college I reasoned that historical events were “overdetermined,” that is to say that they could not be explained by simple cause-and-effect. The causes of World War I, for example, are a big mushy stew of militarism, a rising capitalist industrialism, a Byzantine network of alliances and treaties, and a global economy still shedding the creaky structure of mercantilism. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was the “event” at a point in time and space which purportedly set these multiple causes into motion.

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