#PastForward Recap: Emerging Professionals

Days of good sessions and good conversations at the National Preservation Conference left me with too many thoughts and take-aways for one post. And, I’d like to continue conversations that we started at the conference. Rather than overwhelm all of us, I’ll take it one post and one conversation at a time. Interested? Read on, and join in for the comments, whether you attended the conference or not.

Leading the Emerging Professionals session. Photo from the NTHP.

Leading the Emerging Professionals session. Photo from the NTHP.

From the conference program.

On Wednesday November 4, I had the privilege of leading the Emerging Professionals session at the National Preservation Conference (known as #PastForward). The session was divided into three parts or three topics, in this format: short talk about the topic, room discussion of topics/questions, smaller group discussions, back together for larger points and then move on to the next topic. A packed room (standing room only!), everyone in attendance was engaged and chatty. We had a great time.

The three topics were: Engaging Millennials; Technology & Historic Preservation; & finding a career in Historic Preservation.

To sum up the main points of the discussions:

  • Emerging does not mean young; it means new in the field.
  • The discussion of a need (or not) for division of age in the field remains current.
  • Embrace social media – not necessarily all of it, but some platform because that’s where everyone is.
  • To find your career: volunteer, intern, expand your skillset beyond preservation, talk to others about how they got to where they are.

For further discussion: The topic that I would like to continue is along the lines of age division in historic preservation. As I’ve discussed on PiP previously (here and here), the term “young preservationist” seems unnecessary and like it’s creating more of a divide than should exist for the good of preservation.

Yet, that is my experience living and working in Vermont. People in other locales feel that the only way for the younger generation of preservationists to be heard is by creating a separate group of preservationists who want to tackle different issues than the older generation of preservationists.

That makes sense. A large population can sustain separate groups working towards the same overall goal (read: historic preservation) with various methods. However, what I cannot understand is the prevalent use of “young” in the names of groups. And the age requirements. Emerging professionals is more dynamic and flexible. Open for interpretation, it can be anyone new to the field. As we know, some people start historic preservation careers at any age.

So, I ask: if you are in favor of the use of “young preservationists” or “young professionals” with an age requirement (under 40, under 35 – whatever it might be), what happens you cross over the that age limit? Will you be kicked out on your 40th birthday? So much for happy birthday!

Or, will we all just naturally age out of the young preservationist group?

I’m curious, truly, since the use of “young” seems new in our field. And it seems to me, that “young” is creating more of a divide in a field that needs all of the love and unity that it can get! When is “young” appropriate? Should we rename our groups? Is it effective to use “young” in the title of a group? Or does it create more of a divide?

Tell me what you think! Are you part of a “young preservationist” group? Would you keep the name? Change the name?

Post Conference, Getting Back into the Swing of Things 

   
Conferencing is exhausting in the best way: inspiring, thought-provoking, social, dynamic, and on the go (which can be difficult in heels). Now that we’re all back at work, I’d like to hear what you learned and what you’re thinking about these days. I’ll be sharing my take-aways and conversation starters throughout this week. I hope you’ll join in the discussion. Catch up on twitter and instagram by searching #PastForward. 

Happy Monday! 

[Updated] Abandoned No More: Putney Schoolhouse 

Remember the “Abandoned Vermont: Putney Schoolhouse“?

The Putney Schoolhouse, as seen in 2013. The plywood on the left covers the original bank of windows, a defining characteristic of one room schoolhouses. Click for original post.

Originally posted in 2013 with a follow-up in 2014, readers have commented and kept me (and you) informed about the project. Last month, I was traveling through Putney and thought I’d drive by to check on the schoolhouse’s progress. To my surprise, the project is complete.

Take a look at these photos, and let me know what you think. I’ll let you look before I comment.

The Putney Schoolhouse, September 2015.

The Putney Schoolhouse, September 2015.

View from the north.

View from the north, Westminster West Road.

View from the south approach.

View from the south, Westminster West Road.

Side addition.

Side addition. The bank of windows is lost.

New fenestration.

New fenestration.

Hooray, right?! An old building rehabilitated. Right? Well, almost. The massing is appropriate and respectful of the original building. Even the small woodshed remains. The setting and feeling remain. BUT, what happened to the bank of windows? That is the most defining, most visible characteristic of a one-room schoolhouse. And now there are only two windows (see two photos above, and compare to the 2013 image).

What do you think? What would you do differently? Or is this a good compromise? Would you say it meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation?

And to my surprise, it’s an AirBnB rental! Check it out. While I’d like the bank of windows, I’ll admit, the inside looks beautiful.

Battling Poor Lighting Choices

Look up. What type of lights do you see? If you are sitting in an office, it’s most likely florescent bulbs. Florescent might as well be called the most annoying, least flattering light source out there, right? Unfortunately most office buildings and large commercial buildings have standard issue drop ceiling and florescent bulbs.

Now consider a historic building, one that currently operates as a coffee shop or a small store. You are more likely to find softer bulbs and more aesthetically pleasing light fixtures. Smaller spaces are financially easier than massive office buildings and stores. What would these places look like if there were large rectangular (or square) florescent boxes of light clinging to the ceiling?

lighting1

Note the small fixtures in this historic store (Pierce’s Store in Shrewsbury, VT).

A beautiful medallion and historic light fixture that make a statement.

A beautiful medallion and historic light fixture that make a statement. The track lighting surrounding this could be more chosen more wisely but are small enough to not detract from the center light fixture, and can be controlled independently.

Many times I find myself in a historic building where the ceilings have been dropped and cheap (not necessarily meaning inexpensive) fixtures have been added. Not only does it change the scale of the room, but it detracts from my enjoyment of the setting.

All of this is to get you thinking about the impacts of lighting. Lighting is a critically important, often overlooked detail of buildings. The next time you enter a building, look around. What type of lighting is it? Do you feel at ease in this space? Or not? Perhaps the lights are too bright, too low, or do not match with the setting. 

And what about home, where you should feel the most comfortable because you control your lighting (unless you’re a renter and stuck with what the landlord gives you). What is your lighting in your house? Have you switched to CFL bulbs or LEDs? A confession: I cannot fully come around to CFLs because I do not like how they glow, unless I have the perfect lampshade to conceal the glare. Any suggestions?

Observe, look around, and let me know. Find some good example and bad examples, and let’s resume this conversation. 

Good lighting choices in Winooski, VT.

Good lighting choices in Winooski, VT.

Twenty Questions (Give or Take) About Home

~ HOME ~

Taking a nod from the conference conversation starters, I’d like to ask you these, in hopes of getting us to talk about where we live, why we ;ive where we do, and how we make someplace our home, along with decisions along the way. As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on home, family, friends and the good things in life. Places and homes matter, and it’s important to understand our own preferences and it is interesting to hear those of others. Please comment below, or send an email to preservationinpink@gmail.com if you would like to share or have additional thoughts on the matter.

  1. Where do you live?
    • City? Country? Suburbia? New urbanism? Neighborhood? Development? Village? Rural? Urban?
    • North, south, east, west? Coast? Plains? Mountains?
  2. How do you define live?
    • Play? Work? Sleep? Socialize? Eat? Exercise? Rest?
  3. In what type of residence do you live?
    • Single family house? Apartment building? House divided into apartments? Duplex? Rowhouse?
  4. What is the age of your house?
    • Is it historic? Is it just “old”? Is it new?
  5. Do you rent or own currently?
  6. Do you prefer to rent or own?
  7. What is the first thing you want to change about a residence?
    • Paint? Ceilings? Rugs? Appliances?
  8. What is your ideal place to live?
    • Do you expect “ideal” to change?
  9. Do you live where you thought you would live?

 

Preservation Solution? Reversible Exterior Window Shades?

What do you do in the dog days of summer? Hide from the sun, of course. Remember the end of the school year during review and finals when classrooms would be sweltering? Large pull down shades could help control the temperature and industrial size fans, but it was still hot.

Quite often when historic school buildings are renovated for modern use, the ceilings are dropped and windows altered in order to provide better climate control. So, what would you think if you saw this building?

Black River High School in Ludlow, VT

At first glance it looks like the upper sash of these windows have been blocked, presumably because ceilings are lowered. Black River High School in Ludlow, VT

Every window has the same alteration.

Every window has the same alteration.

Closer viewing.

Closer viewing.

Another angle for inspection.

Another angle for inspection.

Except, the material seems to just be pinned or screwed in from the outside. And in fact, that’s just what they are. After peering into a window, it was evident that the ceilings had not been dropped and the upper sashes remained.

Closer view.

Closer view.

Interesting, yes? The questions I’d ask is (1) Why on the outside, rather than the inside, as the facade is drastically altered still; (2) How long ago were these installed?; (3) How easy can they be removed?; (4) Is the purpose for climate control?

What do you think? Is this a good preservation solution? If it’s completely removable and reversible, does that change your mind? Does this have the same effect on the exterior that dropping the ceilings has on the interior?

And for more imagery fun, if you haven’t seen the new instagram account @preservationfail, check it out. Would you call this a preservation fail?

Preservation + Smart Growth + Environmentalism = Friends?

In the historic preservation line of work, we want to save old (i.e. historic) significant buildings. The environmentalism (green and sustainability) movement wants to maintain and improve existing buildings, because the buildings previously constructed automatically require fewer resources than new construction. Smart Growth involves new development that is on par with values such as walkability, economic and building ranges, mixed land use, open space, and predictable development, among others. Note, however, that Smart Growth is not opposed to demolition, as preservationists often are opposed. Thus, these three movements, or fields, concerning our built environment (preservation, sustainability, and Smart Growth) are similar, but different. Theoretically, these philosophies and practices overlap in many instances, yet in practice, not as much.

On the Greater Greater Washington blog, David Alpert, discusses these issues in his post, Preservation and Smart Growth can be friends, not rivals.  In this post, Alpert reflects on a blog post by the Director of the Smart Growth Program in Washington DC, Kaid Benfield. Benfield’s post, In sustainable communities, architecture, and preservation, does beauty matter? Should it? Both writers bring up too many discussion points for one post on Preservation in Pink, but I’ll start with an overview of their written thoughts, and then pose some discussion topics, which can be explored in upcoming posts.

Benfield begins with a discussion on the fact that many buildings are approaching the “historic” mark of 50 years old, which means that it can be evaluated for significance, for possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. And because this building, such as an ugly grocery store that the community does not like, is now 50 years old, possible demolition and replacement causes a stir. He asks, will we preserve Wal-Marts just because they are 50 years old?  Shouldn’t beauty and lovability of buildings be considered when determining what is worthy of preservation, what deserves our support? He touches on the idea that without standards other than “historic” at 50 years old, preservation can actually be a hindrance to sustainability practices.  In other words, sometimes, “historic” buildings without significance can actually hurt new, sustainable development because people are so afraid of what might go in its place (NIMBY).

Alpert, continues on this idea that there is not a designation between buildings worthy of preservation vs. those that should not be preserved.  If an entire community wants change, then preventing it is not helping the community. Thus, proponents of historic preservation and Smart Growth tend to be wary of one another, even though these fields go hand in hand. After all, historic communities are often the most walkable and illustrate the concepts of Smart Growth.  To this, Alpert adds that preservation is a political movement, as is environmentalism and one should not consider itself superior to the other. Everyone needs to work together.

As you can see, there are days of discussion topics here. Here are some questions to consider:

1. Does preservation, in fact, have methods of determining what is significant, i.e. worthy of preservation? It does. So, how are people abusing this? Are preservationists fooling those who are unaware? Do we sometimes forget about the National Register‘s standards for evaluating historic significance?

2. Will we ever get to the point of preserving Wal-Marts (and similar places)? How many of them? All of them or just examples?  What about suburban development tracts? Do we need to preserve every 1980s colonial revival house when they turn 50?

3. Does the 50 year mark need to change? Why was 50 chosen in the first place?

4. Why is there mistrust between preservation, Smart Growth, and environmentalism when they all speak of similar ideals? How can we create a friendlier discussion? What are the benefits and disadvantages of each of them? What would be an ideal situation for all three to work together and showcase their best efforts?

5. Aside from significance, is it ever okay, by preservation standards, to demolish a building for the construction of a new one? What about by environmental standards?

______

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is lively enough to spur some discussions and thoughts. If you find other topics worthy of discussion, please share. All opinions are welcome. To clarify, I don’t pretend to be any expert on any of these issues. First and foremost, I identify myself as a preservationist, but one who is interested and believes in preservation working with movements such as sustainability and Smart Growth. And now, I feel like I have given myself homework…

______

Thank you to Andrew Deci for sending the blog links and suggesting a discussion on PiP.

Discussion: Additions, Design, Significance … Opinions

When a historic house has been altered by an addition, how do we decide what to do with the addition? If the house is being restored to a certain time period, then a modern addition can be removed without regret (because it is not historic)? However, how do you approach a historic addition of a historic house, one that has altered the original image?

Take this house for example: An 1890s front gable house has a 1920s side addition, which altered the roof structure to pyramidal. Now the house looks like a wide four-square, the building lacks symmetry, and has terrible, unpleasing fenestration. The proposal: remove the addition and change the roof to front gable. The opponents say: the 1920s addition has gained significance and should not be removed. The supporters: remove the 1920s addition. Poor design should not be preserved because it is old.

Who would care to dissect this issue? I know everyone has an opinion on this.

Andrew Deci, PiP contributor and Spotsylvania, VA planner, shares his thoughts:

I’m troubled by an argument based on ‘poor design’, ‘ugliness’, or unattractiveness–how can we impose our contemporary values on a structure of the past?  Certainly, if there is significant research to back a restoration to a specific time period (and the addition does not stand on its own as significant), by all means, move forward.  But if that addition represents a change in values, planned design, or community philosophy, think again.

I think we do our field a disservice if we move back to a time of preserving that which is found important by the few or that which is ‘pretty’.  This conversation certainly harkens back to the recent work at Montpelier, where an old addition of GREAT design and significance WAS torn down.  My personal thoughts–a travesty.

More thoughts to be shared as they come in. Leave a comment or send an email.

[Thanks to Andrew for sharing this issue and your thoughts!]