Alternately, consider the flows of materials that find their way through buildings over their lifespans. We might see these in terms of their unintended cultural significance or perhaps understand them through their ability to alter our perception of buildings’ continued authenticity; each a stimulating and productive viewpoint. Conversely, might we instead contend with the ethical and environmental appropriateness of such flows? Are they merely an inescapable condition of the physics of our world? Preservation offers a powerful lens through which to consider such questions as the field’s constitutional core insists that they cannot be understood as solely questions of form, space, and image but must bring the messiness of people, time, values, and place into the equation if any formulated answers are going to be valid.
The call for this issue of the Journal of Architectural Education cast a purposefully wide net with which to capture a range of approaches to and understandings of preservation, construed broadly. The issue’s invited content helps to stake out this intellectual landscape and begins to describe the diversity of concerns that fall under the field’s umbrella. While it is illuminating that, from a common starting point, preserve, the invited contributors have arrived at widely varied and sometimes conflicting stances, it is perhaps even more significant that they at times seem to be talking past each other, which may indicate areas of agreement and overlap that they themselves do not yet see.
The issue begins with an interview with Jorge Otero-Pailos in which he describes the motivations driving experimental preservation, its position in the academy, and its cultural curiosities. In it he makes the case that conflicts over the proper care of buildings and monuments are proxies for societal issues about which direct discussion is fraught and difficult. He sees the work of experimental preservation, in part, as developing better understandings of underlying and interconnected issues at play in these instances.
Randall Mason counters with an essay questioning experimental preservation’s ability, as currently focused, to move the field forward. Tracing preservation’s recent development and describing its dual focus on both objects and processes, he makes an impassioned case for a socially engaged, multi-faceted mode of preservation that purposefully intervenes in disciplinarily complex arenas. In this effort he sees experimental preservation as a potential, though not yet realized, ally.
Taking a contrarian view, Deborah Berke highlights the catalytic potential existing structures may lend to contemporary design. Drawing a distinction between the historic and the merely old, she decries what she sees as an overly broad cultural desire to protect and maintain undeserving structures. Arguing against nostalgic tendencies, she advocates for robust interventions in existing buildings.