Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Interminable Musings on Historic Preservation and Classical Liberalism

 
The Historic Charleston (SC) Foundation, whose store’s proceeds go to historic preservation in the city. / Shutterstock.com

I am a preservationist. I am also, I’d like to think, a classical liberal. By any conventional logic, this makes me a walking, talking contradiction.

Any right-leaning lover of luscious latticework — any Hayek-hawking historian of handsome hoodmolds — faces a conundrum. He studies a very particular sort of thing. The supply of this thing is forever dwindling. It’s in his interest, naturally, to prevent the supply from dwindling quickly. But doing so demands that he betray his philosophical and political convictions. How, then, ought he to proceed? Work at a breakneck pace, I suppose. Wring his hands in frustration. Snap a heap of photos.


For years, the preservation movement’s political makeup — and the political makeup of its detractors — baffled me. Sure, understanding the libertarian objection to zoning laws and building codes is easy enough; such legislation distorts the housing market and tramples property rights. But, taken as a whole, historic preservation — at the state and national levels, at least — involves rather little trampling. The National Register, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t protect listed properties from demolition or alteration, and state preservation offices (SHPOs) spend most of their time surveying, negotiating tax breaks, channeling information to national entities, and funneling funds to local organizations — not sending armed brigades to forcibly prevent John Doe from lopping off his home’s porch. Of course, it’s an open question whether or not such endeavors are worth funding, but they’re no more inherently offensive than are, say, libraries. In some ways, the National Register is akin to a local library’s genealogy section, albeit on a massive, more specialized scale.

At times, I’m tempted to think in binary terms — that conservatives wish to preserve institutions (and not things) and that liberals wish to preserve things (and not institutions). This is certainly wrong, as are most binary propositions. Still, political opinions among professional historians and preservationists skew to the left,* and the phenomenon is a perplexing one. Why would a group so optimistic about the future, and simultaneously so hostile to the cultural edifices of the past, cling, with such stubbornness, to that past’s physical manifestations?

After a bit of Googling, I believe I found the answer in a First Principles article published in 2012:

The designation of places like the Battery, Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia (1946), and the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. (1950) resulted from the architectural standard they set. But it also reflected a new and unprecedented motive for preservation: a loss of confidence in American civilization’s capacity to build as well as it had in times past. Though advocates of the steady broadening of preservation’s purview see it as an indication of the nation’s increasing cultural maturity, one could just as easily regard it as a symptom of cultural decadence…. The [National Historic Preservation Act’s] passage is a matter of almost macabre irony in that the federal government’s proverbial right arm used it in an attempt to limit the damage it was inflicting, through urban renewal, with its left.

What Leigh writes rings true. “Historic preservation” is a postwar coinage. For the first century-and-a-half of the country’s existence, the notion that age alone made a building worthy of note was almost nonexistent. People simply built. When a structure fell into disrepair, it was replaced. The word “historic” described only the haunts and homes of great Americans — the places where Jefferson drafted his Declaration, where Revere plotted, and where Washington (supposedly) slept. As late as the 1930s, when Ihna Thayer Frary published his Early Homes of Ohio, America’s few historians of architecture thought not in terms of “historic versus non-historic” or “old versus new,” but rather “classical versus non-classical.” The distinction between “good” and “bad” buildings was a stylistic, and not a chronological, one.

The very moment this old way of thinking disappeared was the very moment Americans lost their ability to build beautifully. The birth of preservation marked the death of the sort of architecture it sought to preserve. The country’s building stock ceased to be a living thing — a thing replenished and enlivened by periodic additions and alterations. After all, nobody seeks to preserve a living, breathing human being. One preserves a corpse.

The sheer difference between the buildings of the 1950s and 1960s and those of prewar America inspired members of a certain cohort to classify both as different types of thing. Architecture buffs found themselves glancing, back and forth, between stark and functional modernist cubes and their graceful and exuberant classical and Romantic forebears. Critics intuited a great chasm within the architectural tradition — a break in the chain of artistic transmission. No course remained but cultural taxidermy. Once the West had crossed the architectural Rubicon, it felt the need to wall off its old territory.

How does this relate to political ideology, or to the right-left divide? Well, here’s my theory:

The conservative (of the Burkean variety, that is) understands himself as part of a venerable tradition — a tradition that extends into the past and reaches into the future. In general, conservatives tend to favor traditional architecture, and they regard this architecture in much the way they regard other cultural phenomena — as timeless, universal, and almost cyclical. Thus, they retain some hope that society will, in fact, return to its old ways. The ordinary buildings that dot America’s landscape are individual stitches in a massive tapestry; and, according to the conservative worldview, there’s no reason to doubt that — in spite of whatever hiatus modernity has brought — the tapestry will continue to grow.

The progressive, by contrast, sees himself as a particular agent of change. He orients his actions toward the future, and his philosophy obliges him to identify, in both the past and present, those ills and injustices which demand perfecting. He doesn’t ignore history, but he is, after all, a futurist, and he, therefore, intuits a difference between present and future. He is less inclined than the conservative, then, to assume that architecture will come full circle — that whatever quirks and practices marked the buildings of the past will make an appearance in the future. He doesn’t see architecture as timeless; instead, he periodizes it. His thinking resembles that of the preservation movement, writ large. For reasons of personal preference, or nostalgia, or perhaps a keen eye for aesthetics, he loves old buildings, but his ideology leaves him with a sense that the supply of such things is fixed (and will be forever fixed), that it is dwindling, and that he must do something about it!**

In short, ideology doesn’t determine whether or not someone takes an interest in historic buildings. But it might predict how that person responds to the preservation movement, or whether that person takes to the streets when the local school board decides to buy and level some mansard-roofed mansion . . . for a construction staging lot.

Of course, this is a very binary theory, and its binariness makes me uneasy. There could be a much simpler, more parsimonious explanation for preservationists’ political tendencies — the fact that academics, in general, tend to lean leftward; or the fact that conservative house-huggers tend not to make careers of their avocation. Still, I think that a philosophical explanation is worth entertaining, at the very least.


* On second thought, this might give bipartisans a modicum of hope.

** I suppose this makes me an architectural leftist. New Classicism notwithstanding, I have my doubts about the long-term survival of traditional architecture. Even if a few wealthy clients commission Palladio-pleasing mansions, the workaday homes and businesses of ordinary Americans will, in all likelihood, never again achieve the variety and texture of the prewar United States, when craftsmanship was cheap, minimalism was scarcely a twinkle in Mies‘s eye, and forms and proportions tended to follow long-established ethnic and regional precedents.

There are 29 comments.

  1. Misthiocracy ingeniously Member
    Misthiocracy ingeniously Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s not that much of a contradiction. A classical liberal simply prefers to persuade others to preserve great architecture, rather than using the power of the state to coerce people into doing it.

    • #1
    • April 2, 2018, at 12:33 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment): It’s not that much of a contradiction. A classical liberal simply prefers to persuade others to preserve great architecture, rather than using the power of the state to coerce people into doing it.

    Well, yes, but where’s the fun in taking that position?

    Jests aside, I do think that classical liberalism and historic preservation are in tension — not contradictory, but not natural bedfellows, either. The preservationist’s self-interest doesn’t always align with the classical liberal’s, and, try as he might to persuade someone otherwise, he’s bound to lose at least some arguments — and, by extension, some buildings.

    • #2
    • April 2, 2018, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Misthiocracy ingeniously Member
    Misthiocracy ingeniously Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment): It’s not that much of a contradiction. A classical liberal simply prefers to persuade others to preserve great architecture, rather than using the power of the state to coerce people into doing it.

    Well, yes, but where’s the fun in taking that position?

    Jests aside, I do think that classical liberalism and historic preservation are in tension — not contradictory, but not natural bedfellows, either. The preservationist’s self-interest doesn’t always align with the classical liberal’s, and, try as he might to persuade someone otherwise, he’s bound to lose at least some arguments — and, by extension, some buildings.

    Classical liberals can live with losing arguments from time to time. That’s kinda the whole thing that makes them different from totalitarians.

    • #3
    • April 2, 2018, at 1:08 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. I Walton Member

    The tension is between free markets and preservationism,(is that a word?) not classical liberals and preservationists. Burke was a classical liberal and our founders were conservatives in the Burke sense. The state is the problem always. Tradition and inherited values were important to them, freedom from coercion however is essential to human flourishing. Progressives (broadly defined to include any local politician and most developers) want to use the state to preserve things that they value or that benefit them personally, by force. It’ll always be a fight between the quick buck and long term value. The latter can only be real if it’s done by free individuals putting their money where their values are. Historical societies etc can designate, money can be raised and if we want to state and hence tax payers to be involved grants applied for. If it’s the government they’ll, as an example, condemn some buildings because Wall Mart wants to build a monument to bad taste. Or the city wants a pro team so they build a stadium. Let em, but they have to bid for the land and raise the money locally. People can sort things out if we don’t tilt incentives against them, or because we fail to civilize them. Hmm, I just destroyed my argument with that civilize them remark. 

    • #4
    • April 2, 2018, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor

    Christopher Riley: In short, ideology doesn’t determine whether or not someone takes an interest in historic buildings. But it might predict how that person responds to the preservation movement, or whether that person takes to the streets when the local school board decides to buy and level some mansard-roofed mansion . . . for a construction staging lot.

    That house looks like a deathtrap anyways… ;)

    • #5
    • April 2, 2018, at 2:55 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    Majestyk (View Comment): That house looks like a deathtrap anyways… ;)

    One man’s deathtrap is another man’s lifeblood.

    • #6
    • April 2, 2018, at 3:09 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment): Classical liberals can live with losing arguments from time to time. That’s kinda the whole thing that makes them different from totalitarians.

    Agreed. I think we’re talking past each other.

    My point is this — that the statist model of preservation is always more beneficial to the preservationist than is the classically liberal model. It might be wrong, but it’s wrong for reasons other than preservation.

    (Of course, totalitarianism tends to benefit the totalitarian, so I might be saying nothing.)

    • #7
    • April 2, 2018, at 3:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    I’ll defend my position in a different way:

    My field is an odd one. It’s wholly contingent upon what other people do with their property. An architectural historian doesn’t study abstractions, words, chemical reactions, or historical events; he studies things people own. If these people alter or destroy their property, his own ability to pursue his studies is compromised.

    So, until an advocate of urban renewal wrenches power from him, statism is in the preservationist’s interest. That doesn’t make statism a good thing, but it does make it a self-interested thing.

    • #8
    • April 2, 2018, at 3:33 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Profile Photo Member

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of coercive preservation, we are talking about the state and it is what they do, but I do have a problem with the idea of coercive preservation without compensation. It is a regulatory taking and ought to require full compensation. 

    • #9
    • April 2, 2018, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. The Reticulator Member

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment): It’s not that much of a contradiction. A classical liberal simply prefers to persuade others to preserve great architecture, rather than using the power of the state to coerce people into doing it.

    Well, yes, but where’s the fun in taking that position?

    Oh, that’s where the fun is. When I say this I’m not thinking just of the preservation of old buildings, but of old landscapes (farms and fields) as well. For over twenty years I’ve been telling people that rather than just complain about the loss of our countryside, I actually do something about it: I go out and enjoy it while it lasts. I do 99.5 percent of this by bicycle.

    A lot has disappeared in those 20-some years. I wish these places didn’t all get turned into suburban developments and modern school campuses.

    One of the prettiest valleys near me, as good as anything in Ireland, had a mix of old and new homes on big acreages along the upper reaches, and on the lower end widened into a flood plain just before the stream flowed into the Kalamazoo River. The end came when the nearby town decided that the flat delta-floodplain was where the new school should be built. The old school had been in town as part of the community, and the new one despoiled the countryside with sprawling buildings, athletic fields, and huge parking lots. And I’m sure students go there to learn that their parents are evil for destroying the environment. Housing developments soon followed.

    I don’t lobby to stop these things, but one of the things I hope to do when blogging and talking about these places is to give people a sense of the history of the buildings and landscape around them. I don’t care to get involved in preservation efforts, but maybe if more people learn about these places and care about them, they’ll think twice before tearing out the old and replacing it with something new. They won’t stop doing that, and actually shouldn’t stop it altogether, but maybe they can be more careful about it. 

    That’s the noble part of my excursions in the countryside. The selfish part is that it’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to go out on bicycle rides, and it’s fun to introduce people to their own backyards.

    And by the way, I’m one of those people who’d rather that a building get aluminum siding and a clunky addition on its original terrain than have it moved to a county park and undergo historic renovation. I seek out old country schools that are now township halls, for example. Sometimes, when the township grows to the point where the old school will no longer serve its needs, instead of demolishing the old school or building a new one next to it, it will sell the old school to a private owner who converts it into a residence and will select another site nearby for the new township hall. I think that’s great. But once in a while I come across a country school that’s been moved to town and made into a museum in the village park. I guess that’s OK if no other good options were available, but to me these schools serve more historic value by being in their original locations, where one can get a sense of how they related to their original communities, where kids walked to school, and parents came for the annual Christmas program, etc. 

    • #10
    • April 3, 2018, at 9:34 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    By the way, this is the best post of the month so far, among some good competition. I don’t know why it doesn’t have already 50 likes and why it wasn’t promoted to the main feed before it got a tenth of the way to 50.

    • #11
    • April 3, 2018, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    The Reticulator (View Comment): By the way, this is the best post of the month so far, among some good competition. I don’t know why it doesn’t have already 50 likes and why it wasn’t promoted to the main feed before it got a tenth of the way to 50.

    Aw, shucks. Thanks! Of course, we’re both inclined to enjoy this sort of discussion . . .

    I agree about the importance and interestingness of landscapes. It never ceases to amaze me that, within scarcely two centuries, our states’ countrysides transformed from an almost unbroken succession of mature trees to the sort of varied patchwork we gaze at daily. In fact, I’d venture to guess that almost everything we see — even “natural” objects, like trees and bushes — is, in some way, the byproduct of human activity.

    By the way, I never properly thanked you for recommending Looking for Old Ontario. It is, by far, the best-written work of cultural geography I’ve ever read, and I’d like to think that it inspired the way I approach the subject.

    • #12
    • April 3, 2018, at 1:54 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. MarciN Member

    A wonderful post. Thank you.

    I live in Massachusetts, which has its share of old buildings. I never paid much attention to them until my husband and I bought our first house, made of wood. I suddenly realized why so few houses have survived three hundred years: termites! (and house fires too).

    I think it is a natural fit for conservatives to value old buildings because we are thrifty people. We also place a value on things that represent hard work. And we hate waste.

    And people who have studied in the old liberal arts appreciate those beautiful buildings as works of art. The Communists built monstrosities because they hate any luxury of any kind–or they say they do. They spend nothing on what the public has to look at while spending lavishly on their own surroundings.

    I read a wonderful and beautifully illustrated book years ago by the architect William Shopsin: Preserving American Mansions and Estates. It is an engaging book–Shopsin is a good storyteller. It looks at the wealth aspect of these grand estates that were built with such hope and excitement. A lot of estates were built by very wealthy people who did not leave enough money to ensure the longevity of the property as it was first designed. The inheritors of these estates have been very creative in finding ways to keep them maintained for the future.

    Martha Stewart has done a fantastic job preserving the Edsel estate Skylands near Bar Harbor, Maine, too. I love the pictures of the estate that she posts on her blog.

    • #13
    • April 3, 2018, at 2:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. The Reticulator Member

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    Aw, shucks. Thanks! Of course, we’re both inclined to enjoy this sort of discussion . . .

    I agree about the importance and interestingness of landscapes. It never ceases to amaze me that, within scarcely two centuries, our states’ countrysides transformed from an almost unbroken succession of mature trees to the sort of varied patchwork we gaze at daily. In fact, I’d venture to guess that almost everything we see — even “natural” objects, like trees and bushes — is, in some way, the byproduct of human activity.

    Yeah, I think environmental historians have come a long way in helping us understand the many ways in which North America was not a trackless wilderness when Europeans came, and also in seeing urban ecology as a worthy field of study.

    By the way, I never properly thanked you for recommending Looking for Old Ontario. It is, by far, the best-written work of cultural geography I’ve ever read, and I’d like to think that it inspired the way I approach the subject.

    I forgot that I had recommended it, though the book did come to mind while I was reading your post. I think it was somebody on a bicycle touring e-mail list who recommended it to me long ago. I’m glad to hear of your evaluation after what I presume is a more through survey of the field than I’ll ever know about. 

    • #14
    • April 3, 2018, at 2:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    MarciN (View Comment):
    A lot of estates were built by very wealthy people who did not leave enough money to ensure the longevity of the property as it was first designed.

    I wonder if it is possible to leave enough money in the long run; how could they predict blight, retro-fitting laws, tax increases, and freeways? 

    • #15
    • April 4, 2018, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. MarciN Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    A lot of estates were built by very wealthy people who did not leave enough money to ensure the longevity of the property as it was first designed.

    I wonder if it is possible to leave enough money in the long run; how could they predict blight, retro-fitting laws, tax increases, and freeways?

    It can’t be done with any certainty. 

    That said, many of these wealthy families didn’t even come close to anticipating how hard it would be to sustain these great estates. Some did, but many did not. Of course, the colleges and universities and churches have profited from that shortsightedness. :-)

    • #16
    • April 4, 2018, at 9:38 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    It should be no surprise that “progressives” wish to preserve old buildings. Their politics is built around preserving antiquated notions that can’t survive into the future without a lot of maintenance. They try to keep collectivism going, despite its track-record of failure. They resist the technological achievements that would allow petite women to defend themselves from gangs of large men. They’re still trying to change the industrialized world of free labor and free association back into a feudal world of serfs, dependent on employers and government. One could go on.

    It is the “conservatives” and classical liberals that are trying to push us all into the future.

    • #17
    • April 4, 2018, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Bishop Wash Member

    Christopher Riley: What Leigh writes rings true. “Historic preservation” is a postwar coinage. For the first century-and-a-half of the country’s existence, the notion that age alone made a building worthy of note was almost nonexistent. People simply built. When a structure fell into disrepair, it was replaced.

    I read an interesting article many years ago that put forth the theory that some of Venice, Italy’s problems with sea level affecting buildings is preservation. In the past, people would tear down old buildings and build on the rubble, increasing the elevation. Now buildings are preserved and turnover has declined.

    • #18
    • April 4, 2018, at 12:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. ShellGamer Member
    ShellGamer Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I Walton (View Comment):

    People can sort things out if we don’t tilt incentives against them, or because we fail to civilize them. Hmm, I just destroyed my argument with that civilize them remark.

    Great post, but this remark reverberates will my initial though on reading. Acknowledging that it’s off topic, but was Isis’s destruction of monuments in Palmyra an act of barbarism? Just to clarify the issue, ignore the fact that they acquired control by conquest. Suppose they raised lots of money, bought the sites and blew them up. Would we regard the action as immoral, rather than merely an aesthetic difference? 

    • #19
    • April 4, 2018, at 12:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. The Reticulator Member

    TheSockMonkey (View Comment):
    Their politics is built around preserving antiquated notions that can’t survive into the future without a lot of maintenance.

    How do you explain the Progressive destruction of our “antiquated” school systems, then?

    • #20
    • April 4, 2018, at 1:02 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    ShellGamer (View Comment): Acknowledging that it’s off topic, but was Isis’s destruction of monuments in Palmyra an act of barbarism? Just to clarify the issue, ignore the fact that they acquired control by conquest. Suppose they raised lots of money, bought the sites and blew them up. Would we regard the action as immoral, rather than merely an aesthetic difference?

    I suspect we would — but only because Palmyra is a millennia-old archaeological site of tremendous, widely recognized historical and cultural significance. If it were something of merely local interest, I doubt anyone would shed a tear.

    Most arguments about the morality of ISIS’s demolition campaign focus on the archaeological and historical value of the sites in question. Aesthetics has less to do with it.

    • #21
    • April 4, 2018, at 3:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    TheSockMonkey (View Comment):
    Their politics is built around preserving antiquated notions that can’t survive into the future without a lot of maintenance.

    How do you explain the Progressive destruction of our “antiquated” school systems, then?

    How do I explain it? With utmost ease. Those antiquated schools were actually rather modern, and so they had to be destroyed.

    • #22
    • April 4, 2018, at 10:37 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. The Reticulator Member

     

    TheSockMonkey (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    TheSockMonkey (View Comment):
    Their politics is built around preserving antiquated notions that can’t survive into the future without a lot of maintenance.

    How do you explain the Progressive destruction of our “antiquated” school systems, then?

    How do I explain it? With utmost ease. Those antiquated schools were actually rather modern, and so they had to be destroyed.

     Well, that’s easy, all right. You’ve got me there. 

    • #23
    • April 4, 2018, at 10:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I share your internal contradictions, @christopherriley. My political philosophy leans libertarian. As lawyer and preservationist, I have been in many battles in my career to save old buildings. Sometimes it is persuasion. Sometimes educating about tax credits, sometimes in court (usually unsuccessful).

    As to the philosophy, one can readily see that in cities with preserved commercial districts, those districts tend to be hotbeds of retail and restaurant activity. Why? People love the enjoy the old buildings. The collection of preserved buildings attract crowds to the district. Of course, that is when some entrepreneur, seeing the crowds, wants to start tearing down a one-story building to construct a multi-story condo, because the entrepreneur believes folks will want to live in the popular area, thus beginning the destruction of what made the area popular in the first place. The first entrepreneur benefits. The area loses its popularity as the old building go away. That is why the historic zoning is needed. To prevent the destruction of property rights.

    • #24
    • April 5, 2018, at 6:53 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. EODmom Coolidge

    Whistle Pig (View Comment):

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of coercive preservation, we are talking about the state and it is what they do, but I do have a problem with the idea of coercive preservation without compensation. It is a regulatory taking and ought to require full compensation.

    Oh – and requiring that individuals preserve what the state wants in the way it wants at the property owner’s sole expense. Just so others living in the community/village/hamlet can enjoy looking at the property. While the owners just want to live safely in their (very old and very run down) antique farmhouse that’s charmingly visible from a country road in a popular vacation location that’s “quaint.” As my nearby neighbors found out when they tried to get a permit to renovate said farmhouse recently. Town determined it to be of “historic significance” based solely on age. Said neighbors aren’t entrepreneurs with pocketbooks and can’t afford to preserve for the benefit of summer visitors. End of rant. 

    • #25
    • April 5, 2018, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Unsk Member

    Christopher, I have a somewhat different take on the historic preservation versus politics issue.

    First, Classical Liberals tend to enshrine “Truth and Beauty”as an aesthetic sense.

    Progressive seek to destroy all notions of Truth and Beauty and replace them with something that helps destroy all our institutions, which is not to preserve much of anything.

    Preservation for the Progressive is a means to obstruct progress and to promote destruction, not to preserve the glories of the past.

    For what it’s worth, I am an architect. I have worked on a few historic buildings of note. Generally speaking if a building is registered at all, you will be asked to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s historical preservation guidelines. What those guidelines do is to look at those historic structures as somewhat of an archaeological site, which demands that any addition be clearly differentiated, preferably in a contemporary style, from anything historic on the property. What this usually does is to destroy any sense of the historic feel of a place. You usually end up with a mish mash of styles that form a incongruous ugly whole. That’s not my idea of preservation.

    • #26
    • April 5, 2018, at 12:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    Unsk (View Comment): Generally speaking if a building is registered at all, you will be asked to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s historical preservation guidelines. What those guidelines do is to look at those historic structures as somewhat of an archaeological site, which demands that any addition be clearly differentiated, preferably in a contemporary style, from anything historic on the property. What this usually does is to destroy any sense of the historic feel of a place. You usually end up with a mish mash of styles that form a incongruous ugly whole.

    Hmm. If this is how builders and architects interpret the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines, then the guidelines might well be a failure. Perhaps they should be rewritten. Here’s an excerpt (from the “Rehabilitation” section):

    New additions, exterior alterations or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.

    This, to me, isn’t a recipe for an incongruous mish-mash of old and new. As I read it, the “new work will be differentiated from the old” clause is merely a way of guaranteeing that additions don’t completely overtake older structures. Engulfing a vernacular Greek Revival cottage within a grand, sprawling pseudo-Italianate mansion isn’t quite the vision of preservation the guidelines have in mind.

    • #27
    • April 6, 2018, at 9:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Unsk Member

    Christopher,

    Not to be mean spirited, but obviously, you have never been before a design review committee. These days, such governmental edicts are not interpreted by the owner or by the architect but by our betters in government. They will explain to you how to interpret such edicts. They will not listen at all to your well thought out interpretations. They will likely completely ignore them. This is how our government works now. All these people running around talking about how the law is supposed to be interpreted this way or that don’t understand that bureaucrats after the Age of Obama believe they have the right to interpret statutes anyway they damn well please. End of Story. Trump be damned.

    If you bring up this or that about constitutional rights or some such, they will laugh at you. They know practically speaking, you have no recourse, unless the decision involves many millions of dollars and there is sufficient cause to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years in courts to try to win a case that will be stacked against you from the get go in all sorts of illegal ways by the powers that be. That is the way it is now.

    Been there, done that. Far too many painful times. Again just yesterday as a matter of fact.

    • #28
    • April 6, 2018, at 11:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos

    Unsk (View Comment): Not to be mean spirited, but obviously, you have never been before a design review committee. These days, such governmental edicts are not interpreted by the owner or by the architect but by our betters in government. They will explain to you how to interpret such edicts. They will not listen at all to your well thought out interpretations. They will likely completely ignore them.

    No offense taken. Your deduction is right, of course — I’m a college student, so I’ve never actually owned a house, nor have I served in local government or on a design review committee.

    If such committees are indeed in the business of condemning designs for being too sensitive to historic fabric, they ought to be promptly dissolved, and their members given a good drubbing. Regulatory capture is one thing; cynical abdication of duty is another.

    • #29
    • April 6, 2018, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 3 likes