“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” L.P. Hartley
I have been involved in historic preservation since the 1970’s. Beginning as a designer on the Faneuil Hall Markets, my approach to preservation issues has evolved and deepened. The past is a foreign country, and its builders used languages we have largely forgotten. Working in historic preservation is a process of learning these languages and finding the fundamental grammars and vocabularies that have been lost or obscured by pallid imitation.
Preservation of a historic building involves taking it apart to understand how things were built and why. We rediscover the historic intent and materiality of the building. We gain a respect for the ingenuity of past builders and an understanding of the formal design languages they used. We look for ways in which modern materials can solve old failures without creating new issues. The kinks and oddities of individual buildings are essential to their authenticity, and we defend these against the urge to be “correct”. For the community, historic preservation matters because place is fundamental to a community’s sense of self, and historic environments anchor communal memory. There is a reality to preserved buildings and places that cannot be achieved with tidied up Disneylandish reproductions, and the human scale of a historic town center or village green offers a powerful alternative to our automobile dominated landscape.
There is a soul to these buildings and places that the automobile age rarely produces, and for that alone they should be fiercely defended. That is why this work matters.