It’s a process.

February 12, 2021 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (0) 153

“Conservation means all of the processes of looking after a place so as to retain its cultural significance.”

Heshui village, Guizhou

“Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, its setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.”

Dali Dong village, Guizhou

This is from the document I consider the northstar of my field, the Burra Charter. While we call it historic preservation in the U.S., I have argued for a dozen years that it is in fact heritage conservation. It is not a set of rules or standards. It is a process.

The process whereby a community determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into its future. The community must determine what is significant, how significant it is, and how it should be conserved and treated in the future. Professionals can help the community do this, but they have to do it or it is worthless.

Heshui village, Guizhou

The quotations above from the Burra Charter illustrate that heritage conservation is a process, and that different types of resources follow different types of rules. The quotation also iterates a concept that we in the United States call integrity but elsewhere is authenticity.

Authenticity of use, San Antonio

That is because integrity tends to be a mechanistic and formalistic concept that reinforces the primacy of materiality. It doesn’t have to be so. Integrity’s seven aspects include feeling and association and I have been involved in the effort to redefine integrity in order to diversify heritage conservation and preserve the full range of our history.

Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man here. Are you going to make it invisible by arguing about architectural integrity?

I am currently Co-Chair of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice Working Group, part of a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Preservation Partners Network. Our field is still clogged with the remnants of a history that empowered white males to the exclusion of others, and integrity aided and abetted that exclusion.

North Kenwood-Oakland, Chicago. I used this in our Deep Dive Into Integrity discussion last year at the PastForward Conference.

How do you define the integrity of a building that housed decades of history for a marginalized community? Shouldn’t it in fact illustrate the fact that it survived on the margins of the power structure and economic hegemony? Doesn’t the fact that it lost its cornice or replaced stone with brick in fact define its cultural significance?

East Garfield Park, Chicago, in 1994.

Following years of work on this issue, I wrote a paper that became a book chapter published in 2018 that dove fairly deeply into the specific mechanics of integrity and diversity – the bottom line is that the preservation world has much to repair in its relation to the whole of history and the whole of the country. Recognizing the bias in the rules – and those who interpret them – is the first step.

The mural was destroyed, so preservationists proposed a whole district for Pilsen, including the murals. Problem was, they did not engage and empower the community.

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My Favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 3

June 24, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 1691

I live in a World Heritage site in a city in the U.S.A.  Here are the only other two World Heritage sites in U.S. cities and I have visited both – as you probably have as well.

It’s a woman.  Gift from France.

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Alamo Plaza: Design and Program

April 16, 2017 Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1624

The Alamo Plaza Reimagined team released a video with images of the proposed redesign of Alamo Plaza this week.  The reaction has been a mix of concerns, but most seem focused on the large, vacant plaza surrounded by glass walls.

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The Value of Heritage

February 4, 2017 Economics, Sustainability, Texas Comments (0) 1982

When a lover of history, architecture, or neighborhoods sees an historic building or district, they value it.  They want to save it, to preserve that value. Continue Reading

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Real Estate 2017

January 27, 2017 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts, Technology Comments (1) 1945

I attended a recent ULI event here in San Antonio that outlined emerging trends in  real estate.  I was struck by how much the factors they identified tracked with my own prognostications in November during my Partners speech in Houston at the National Trust conference.

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Conservation Forensics

December 18, 2016 Blog, Chicago Buildings, Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (3) 2648

Heritage conservation is forensic – that doesn’t just mean “crime scene,” it means an argument based on evidence. Continue Reading

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Latest news on Alamo Plaza

December 3, 2016 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas Comments (0) 1962

The big news this week is the long-awaited release of the Alamo Master plan, following a process that took most of the year.  Actually, the real master plan won’t be done for another six months, but the summary that was released to City Council and civic groups finally takes some clear positions on what the Alamo area will look like in the future. Continue Reading

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The Future of Heritage Conservation

November 20, 2016 Blog, Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 1765

Project Row Houses by Rick Lowe – I finally saw it 20 years after I met the man.

Well, it finally started to happen, and in Houston of all places.  PastForward, the National Preservation Conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, witnessed the emergence of the next generation of “preservation” practitioners and highlighted the future of the movement.  Featuring inner-city artists who save places like Houston native Rick Lowe and Chicagoan Theaster Gates, it felt to many of us like the movement had finally turned the corner and embraced the future. Continue Reading

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Authenticity, Technology and more places in the heart

September 1, 2016 History, Interpretation, Technology Comments (0) 1497

Old school.  Not enough room on the sign for the whole story, so you have to turn it over…

Last month I wrote about Colin Ellard’s work, the neuroscience of why historic buildings and good design are better for your physical and mental health than the frequent monolithic stretches of our contemporary streetscape.  You can read it here.

At that time, I promised a follow-up blog about how technology – including the kind that allowed Ellard to do his studies – also offers new possibilities for interpretation.  I taught historic interpretation classes for more than a decade, and I have always been fascinated by every kind of historic interpretation, from big bronze signs and statues, to performances and interactive displays. Continue Reading

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A Reconstruction Avoided: Tustan

August 7, 2016 Global Heritage, Interpretation, Technology Comments (0) 1560

Ten years ago this November.  My blog covered the event.

That is Vasyl Rozhko at the end of the table with me to his right.  I was in the Ukraine at the invitation of Myron Stachkiw (pointing at left) and other heritage experts, including Henry and Chris Cleere and Taissa Bushnell.  Rozhko’s father had spent his life documenting over 4000 post holes carved into 55-million year old rock outcroppings along a river in the Carpathian mountains. Continue Reading

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