Categories Are Your Frenemies

May 15, 2012 Blog, China Preservation, History, Vision and Style Comments (4) 1740

When I was a kid, there was a tween game where you sat in a circle and clapped and called out “Categories!  Names Of!” and then someone shouted a category and you had to keep on shouting out examples of that category or you lost the game.

The nature of thought requires us to divide things into categories.  This is good, because it facilitates learning.  We need categories to begin to understand the multivalence of our world.  To this extent, categories are our friends.  As our understanding progresses, we begin to see the limitations – the false boundaries – of categories.  As we grow, categories become our enemies.

Architectural history is a good example.  We begin by learning styles and periods.  Federal, Italianate, Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Beaux-Arts, Craftsman, Art Deco.  We study the defining characteristics of each of these styles and pretty soon we are able to survey buildings in the streetscape and categorize them.

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Weishan 2012 – Want to go to China?

April 4, 2012 China Preservation Comments (0) 947

For nine years I have been involved in the effort to preserve the Weishan Heritage Valley in Yunnan, China. This historic town and valley, which includes Weibaoshan “the quietest mountain in China” and home to 22 Taoist and Buddhist temples, is a still undiscovered treasure just a mountain pass away from Dali, which as been a bit of a tourist mecca for two decades. This summer will mark our fourth student study trip to Weishan, and we are upping the ante by working on the development of a permanent arts studio and arts center in the historic Dong Yue temple/Tai Bao and Shi Wang palace complex. Continue Reading

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Chicago Preservation Update February 2012

February 9, 2012 Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics, Sustainability Comments (0) 1221

Despite appearances to the contrary, I am in Chicago more often than not, and it has been a while since I updated this blog on the key preservation issues in the city and region. The reigning issue for the last two years has of course been Prentice Women’s Hospital, a breathtaking flower of the union of engineering and architecture designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1974-75 and slated by Northwestern University to become a vacant lot.

The National Trust made it one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Sites last June (I made the announcement) and now the trinity of preservation organizations, the Trust, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, are promoting both a series of CTA subway ads for Prentice and a contest to SHOW PRENTICE SOME LOVE for Valentine’s Day! My job is to wear my Save Prentice t-shirt at major sites across the globe and I got a good start at Macchu Pichu last month. Planning on Angkor Wat next month. Continue Reading

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Heritage and the New Economy

December 23, 2011 China Preservation, Economics, Historic Districts, Sustainability Comments (0) 1189

“The success of preserving our global cultural patrimony is not merely a function of financial or economic investment, but requires implementation of a methodology encompassing several essential and inter-related factors that lays the foundation for long-term sustainability.”

“Over time, the challenge is not just the implementation of world-class conservation, but to invest in local conservation and economic capacity.”

The above quote from the Global Heritage Fund’s 2008 white paper “Sustainable World Heritage Preservation in Developing Economies” epitomizes the 21st century approach to heritage conservation (historic preservation) that combines earlier curatorial and architectural standards with an advanced understanding of political and social economy. This advanced understanding is one of the reasons I was pleased to accept the role as Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund this fall. Continue Reading

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Community Planning in Heritage Conservation

October 17, 2011 China Preservation, Economics Comments (0) 1049

I recently became Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, an organization I have been involved with for almost four years. GHF has patented a Preservation by Design® approach to saving World Heritage in developing countries. The approach follows to some extent the disciplinary boundaries we regularly bridge in teaching historic preservation: Design, Planning, Conservation and History. For GHF’s Preservation by Design®, the four are Planning, Conservation, Community Development and Partnerships. The emphasis on Community Development and Partnerships is key to the modern practice of heritage conservation. Continue Reading

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Weishan 2011

August 22, 2011 China Preservation Comments (2) 1153

This is Dao, written on the side of a temple on Weibaoshan, the “quietest mountain in China” deep in Yunnan. Dao means the way, which can be as simple as a road or path or as complex as all of the doubts and triumphs within the human psyche. As one of the two 2,500 year old Chinese traditions, Daoism is the one that looks inward at the self, both in an attempt to follow right action (to borrow a Buddhist phrase) and to seek contemplative truths. Continue Reading

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Shanghai Art Deco

July 4, 2011 China Preservation, Interpretation Comments (1) 1584

So we are in Chengdu, scheduled to leave on an 11:30 flight to Shanghai. It is cancelled, stranding our group of 21. I have a lecture in the Peace Hotel in Shanghai at 7:45 PM, so China Advocates gets me on the 3:50 PM flight and then books a later flight (which will require at least two fight/negotiations by Huo Yujia (Nancy) our tour guide) for the other 20. I arrive in Shanghai at 6:25, get my bag at 6:35 and get in the waiting car, which delivers me to the Peace Hotel at 7:25. I check into the most FABULOUS 6-room suite I have ever seen, change my clothes and run up to the 11th floor Ninth Heaven room for the lecture.

My friends Professors Yang Li and Mei Qing, whom I met in Amherst at the ICOMOS conference in May, are already there, and the organizers are amazed at my composure, but this is hardly my first time for this sort of minor adventure. In the audience is Peter Hibbard, who literally wrote the book on the Bund and knows ten thousand things more about it than I do, and gives me a signed copy of his book.

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China 2011

June 26, 2011 China Preservation, Interpretation Comments (0) 996

Another beautiful day in Beijing – this much clear weather is rare…

“Tour packages to red tourism spots have become increasingly popular this year. The whole market has been stimulated by the enthusiasm to commemorate the Party’s birthday.”

Guo Yi, China Comfort Travel

“The promotion of red tourism will become more of a market role than a government role.”

Song Ziqian, senior policy researcher, China Tourism Academy

These are quotes from two articles in the China Daily this morning, part of the continuing coverage of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Community Party. They are striking in two ways: first, they conflate and confound the old distinction between communism and capitalism as the difference between a planned economy and a free market economy. Both quotes note how “red tourism” – tourists seeking out important sites in the 20th century history of the Communist Party – has become an important and growing segment of the free market economy. Continue Reading

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Pingyao 2011

June 23, 2011 China Preservation, Sustainability Comments (1) 1209

My Pingyao visit for Global Heritage Fund was excellent, thanks to the extremely talented Han Li, who runs the China program for GHF, Board member Firth Griffith (and family!) and consultant Will Shaw. There has been significant progress in our work in Pingyao, the most notable example of which is the restoration of 12 Mijia Xiang, a courtyard that is now home to GHF offices and a community auditorium. Continue Reading

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Yunnan Study Trip 2011

February 12, 2011 China Preservation Comments (0) 1099

We are preparing for our fourth Study Trip to the Weishan Heritage Valley in Yunnan, China, this summer. Each trip has focused on preserving the historic resources of this unique city, which dates to the founding of the Nanzhao Empire in the 7th century, and which includes numerous landmarks from the last several hundred years, including the stunning North Gate, the second largest gate in China after Tien An Men. And it is older. Here is Felicity Rich’s 2006 photo of this national landmark.

The trip begins in Beijing, with visits to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall at Mutianyu. Continue Reading

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