train of thoughts

December 18, 2006 Interpretation, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 845

The train I ride to work each day is lined with the lots of a changing city – buildings being built, demolished; lots cleared and cluttered again, landscapers, industries, condominiums and playgrounds. The “transformation” of the CHA and restorartion of the great landscape parks.

You see plenty of new buildings being built along the “L”, which makes sense because homes there have the added bonus of potential car-free transportation, the kind that soothes rather than angers the soul. The kind that allows you to write this down rather than listen to what some provocateur has to say and be further enflamed. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The Visible Past

December 4, 2006 Global Heritage, Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments (0) 959

Another thought from my recent journey in the Ukraine. On my first night there, I took the subway (more crowded than Shanghai) to the center with Professor Piotr Krasny and wandered around St. Sophia cathedral. There I noticed that in portions of the walls of the church, the stucco or render was left off, revealing the stone and brick construction beneath. Krasny said it was something they did there. I saw it again on my last morning in Kyiv, at the Pechersk-Lavra monastery, on the recently rebuilt Church of the Dormition. It is like peeling back the layers of construction, or perhaps of time.

The revealed segments of Kyiv churches are a kind of interpretation that makes the past visible. These reveals tell us immediately that the building is not new, and they hint at its history. These subsurface reveals in Kyiv churches seemed to me like an inverse plaque that you put on the building to landmark it. Given that most of the signs are in Cyrillic, which I can’t read, I want to be able to understand these reveals in the same non-linguistic way one knows that the pebbles in the mortar at a Mayan or Hellenistic site signify anastylosis (that it where you put the crumbled bits of a ruin back together). Continue Reading

Continue Reading

If You Rebuild It, Will They Come?

November 24, 2006 Global Heritage, History, Interpretation Comments Off on If You Rebuild It, Will They Come? 1093

One of the most controversial issues in historic preservation is the rebuilding of vanished buildings. While this happened early on, notably in the 1920s and 1930s at Williamsburg, Virginia, it has generally been frowned upon in more recent years: the practice was officially discouraged by the Venice Charter in 1964, still the Magna Carta of preservation practice. But it happens. It happened in Warsaw after World War II, an unusual circumstance both due to the war and the happy coincidence that the Poles had documented the existing city more comprehensively than any other place in the world, so the restoration was not speculative.

I just spent a week in the Ukraine participating in a conference on preservation education. They have a tendency toward reconstruction in the Ukraine. This may be due to years of being ruled by others – Tsars, Soviets, what have you. The day I arrived I was treated to a series of architecture student projects of excellent quality – half of which involved the reconstruction of missing medieval gatehouses and other vanished structures. We learned about the Kyiv Arsenal project, which proposes the reconstruction of fortress ramparts, and the proposal to reconstruct the Desiatynna Church, destroyed by the Mongols 800 years ago. There are no images or descriptions of this church – only its foundations. At least at Williamsburg they had a picture. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Fallingwater and the Case of the House Museum

November 14, 2006 Economics, Interpretation Comments (0) 1100

Fallingwater – the iconic, death-and-decay-defying leap of Frank Lloyd Wright from one end of the 20th century to the other. A building that cannot be left out of architectural history. A building that almost too nakedly tries to say everything about the role of nature and artifice that everyone from Vitruvius and Alberti to Perrault and LeCorbusier tried to say.

Maybe I want to focus on Fallingwater because it has a built-in fire suppression system and Chicago is beset by idiots with blowtorches.

Beyond its iconic status, Fallingwater is also a house museum, which is a challenging thing to be. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

House Interventions

October 8, 2006 Chicago Buildings, House Museums, Interpretation Comments (0) 1135

Friday night I went to see Rebecca Keller’s installation at the Glessner House on Prairie Avenue. The H.H. Richardson masterpiece is considered the progenitor of the modern house, and the interior features furnishings and art – 80% of which the Glessner’s actually had in the house. This makes it a step above the average house museum, which has “period” furnishings and is sort of an artificial time capsule.

Glessner House is a real time capsule, but that is also problematic, as Keller’s installation shows. She specifically attacked the idea of domestic service that made large 19th century houses practical, and also the issues of immmigration and gender, since most of the house servants were “Bridgets” – young Irish women. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The Fallacy of Primacy

October 2, 2006 History, Interpretation Comments Off on The Fallacy of Primacy 980

Another in an ongoing series aimed at upsetting traditional notions of heritage – which is fake – in favor of history – which is less so.

This year in China, a collector found an 18th century maps purported to be an exact copy of a 15th century map that Admiral Hen We completed after his circumnavigation of the globe. It apparently influenced later European maps. This added another piece of evidence to the very justifiable claim that the Chinese explored most of the world in the early 15th century, 70 years before Christopher Columbus. Last year a guy called Gavin Menzies had a popular book called 1421 that detailed this voyage and tried to find artifactual evidence for Chinese landings in North and South America. He naturally trumpets the new discovery verifying his thesis.

So, is all of our history wrong? Do we have to rewrite it now? Of course not. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Hull House interpretation

May 10, 2006 Chicago Buildings, House Museums, Interpretation Comments Off on Hull House interpretation 1182

Hull House

This week I am participating in a meeting at Jane Addams’ Hull House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to determine how the site should be interpreted in the future.

In the 1960s, when they built the University, Hull House, founded by Addams in 1889, was to be another casualty of the clear-cut neighborhood, but then Senator Paul Douglas (the guy who saved the Indiana Dunes) pushed to save Hull House as a memorial to Addams’ pioneering social work. Douglas had been a Hull House resident. The House was saved, along with a Dining Hall, but the rest of the 13-building Hull House complex was demolished. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Now and Then

March 3, 2006 Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments Off on Now and Then 976

Preservation is a fundamentally conservative notion, that places more faith in the past than the future, or so it seems. So many historic preservation battles pit a glorious past against a cheapened, money-grubbing future or celebrate the accomplishments of long-dead forbears, implicitly denying the ability of current persons to reach such heights.

This thought came to me last week reading Thomas Friedman’s history of the 21st century “The World Is Flat.” He said we need a positive view to succeed in the future. I wondered – does that make all preservation a demi-nihilistic “things were better before and can never get better than they were” sort of enterprise? Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Modern preservation

February 28, 2006 Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments Off on Modern preservation 1000

Pilgrim Baptist Church’s walls are salvageable (yay!)

The restoration of Carson Pirie Scott Building is almost complete (yay!)

A developers proposal to demolish 17th Church of Christ Scientist (boo!) was leaked by Phil Krone.

Last week I read about the decay and demolition of hundreds of modernist landmarks in Moscow (boo!).

17th Church of Christ Scientist was built in 1968 by noted Chicago architect and preservationist Harry Weese. It is a flying saucer of High Modern delights, a washer and nut bolting down the bend in the river where Wacker Drive turns sharply toward the Michigan Avenue bridge. The quarter-round plan was innovative (although if I were a persnickety architectural historian I would point out a precedent published in Liturgical Arts in 1942) and the result was a building that is interesting in and of itself and also urbanistic, making its surroundings more interesting. So far the congregation have resisted the developer’s advances, but you never know – every church has its price. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Identity is Theft

December 28, 2005 Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments (0) 938

Felicity Rich and I collaborated on a piece that is currently in the Faculty Sabbatical Show at Betty Rymer Gallery through mid-February. The piece is largely a website (identityistheft.com) and we will be doing a gallery talk about it on Thursday, February 9 at noon. Briefly, it is about how we steal elements of our identity from the past, from foreign places and experiences; about how identity is a tricky bit of both belonging and separating. And of course it is about what this blog is about: How history gets denatured into heritage. Continue Reading

Continue Reading