I was at Texas A & M University this weekend for a preservation symposium. Several of the Texas schools presented their projects, notably student study trips to Mexico and Elizabeth Louden’s amazing work with a 3D Laser scanner, which her graduate design studio used to model (and animate and fly-through etc. etc.) the main street in Troy, Texas. I am no technophile but this thing is pretty neat, and apparently you can get one for less than half what they cost a few years ago. A bargain at $100,000 ( I wonder if it is Mac compatible??)
I also did a presentation about my historic districts research, which is also the subject of a graduate seminar I am teaching this semester. The reaction was pretty good to my basic thesis, which is that community planning activists have infused the preservation movement with a broader set of goals and objectives and altered its nature. The students in the seminar have done a nice job digging through the past of districts in various cities – especially the early ones in places like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Next they are going to tackle various Chicago districts.
This is fun research because like all good fact-finding, it kicks the stuffing out of popular myths and preconceptions. I mean, we all know that historic district preservation was a reaction against urban renewal, right? Just ask anyone. But the historic record shows that great preservation neighborhoods like Old Town actually supported and organized urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s! Huh? Well, at the time, it seemed like a good way to save their neighborhoods. Once the bulldozers got going and the neighborhood started to lose both buildings and diversity, then the blush wore off the project and everyone started fighting it. Plus it was 1968 by then and fighting it was in the air. Of course, the flip side of this is that historic districts (see last blog) tend to knock up the value of property – at least over the last 60 years, which means they can weather cycles better than ARMs, so there is something essentially conservative and middle class about the whole enterprise too.
I have to give a shout out to Michael Tomlan, who opened the symposium with a fabulous thing on preservation and the trades. He noted how Judaeo-Christian our preservation practice is – very focused on the physical, material nature of things. We prize the thing that we call authentic and aren’t bothered if we use a nail gun to fix it or a $200,000 Leica LDS to model it, while the Shinto temples in Japan are demolished every twenty years and rebuilt with the same tools and techniques used a thousand years ago.
What are you trying to preserve?