Posts tagged with "Conservation":

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Problems in Palmyra: How should we rebuild our ancient ruins?

"The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation," said SS chief Heinrich Himmler, referring to the Polish city of Warsaw in 1944. When Warsaw was systematically flattened by the Nazi party in World War II, an estimated 85-90 percent of buildings, including the 18th Century Old Town, were destroyed. Such was the state of decimation that post-war town planners had to refer to 18th century paintings of the city by Italian artists Marcello Bacciarelli and Bernardo Bellotto to aid its reconstruction. Despite infighting between planners, some of whom wanted to use the clean slate to radically modernize the city, and with minimal help from neighboring states, the citizens of Warsaw rebuilt the city. Now, the reconstructed Old Town of Warsaw is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but what does this say about the role of architectural preservation and authenticity? In light of ISIS's path of destruction, which has seen the loss of architectural treasures across the Middle East, many are already seeking ways to restore monuments that have been destroyed. And similar questions about authenticity are entering broad public discourse. The 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria is one of the latest ancient monuments to be toppled by ISIS. However, Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA), had other ideas about its fate. The team, spearheaded by director Roger Michel, has faithfully remade a facsimile of the arch.
Using marble donated from Egypt, 3D modeling tools, and photographs of the original Roman arch, the Arch of Triumph has been reconstructed in London's Trafalgar Square. Here it resided for only 3 days before touring the world, due in New York this September. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq4_-iBCqp8 The Arch's restoration, however, has sparked a debate on whether we should restore such monuments. "History would never forgive us" writes Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, who says that ISIS's destruction should remain as a reminder of the horror they inflicted on the city and the Middle East. The Arch has also been hailed as "unethical" and a "reconstruction of 'Disneyland' archaeology." Indeed, it is worth noting that few people were aware of Palmyra before ISIS stormed in and 'put it on the map' so to speak (albeit in the most sinister of fashion). Michel, on the other hand, argues "Monuments—as embodiments of history, religion, art, and science—are significant and complex repositories of cultural narratives. No one should consider for one second giving terrorists the power to delete such objects from our collective cultural record." He also adds: “No one would have seriously considered leaving London in ruins after the blitz." Jones, however, counters that "Palmyra was in ruins before ISIS occupied it and it is still in ruins today." Yet the Palmyra ruins, before ISIS came along, were already a World Heritage Site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Auxr7QozFxE With regards to Michel’s comment on the Blitz, the Marshall plan aided London and other major cities, however, the world didn’t donate to Brest, Dresden, Coventry, and Croydon when they were bombed. Admittedly, these cities all belonged to world powers, but historical buildings nonetheless were still lost. What’s interesting in Britain is how post-war architecture is now cherished, with many brutalist structures being nationally listed. The case of Coventry and its Cathedral is a poignant example. Such was the decimation of the city that Luftwaffe coined the phrased “to coventrate." As a result, the city’s 14th Century cathedral was blown out, but its successor, built by Basil Spence and Arup is now a Grade 1 Listed Building — the highest level of protection grantable. Here, a new history has been born. But should Palmyra be awarded the same respect? Or does the age of its ancient ruins nullify this?
Stefan Simon is the Inaugural Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) at Yale University, an organization dedicated to advancing the field of heritage science by improving the science and practice of conservation in a sustainable manner. Speaking to AN, Simon commented on how reconstruction is not a new phenomena. "It's not only about civil unrest, war, and man-made disaster'" he said. "It's also sometimes about natural disaster. The [Sungnyemun] City Gate of Seoul, national treasure number one of south Korea, burned down in 2008 and was reconstructed."
"If you go down to the conservation of archaeological sites in general, there has been for example the charter of Venice in 1964. Those charters and others speak to how to deal with ruins and processes like reconstruction, while respecting authenticity and integrity of a site. I would say while the Palmyran situation is unique in one sense, in the sense of restoration and conservation, it isn't so new."
A lesson on how not to rebuild history can be seen in Skopje, Macedonia. The baroque and neo-classical buildings, part of "Skopje 2014" (completed in 2015) constructed in the last six years create an altogether alienating experience. Seen by many as an attempt to rewrite history through architecture, the project tries to paint over the built monuments of its socialist and Yugoslavian past and has consequently been cloaked in controversy. Here the existing architectural dialogue has been lost among the myriad of misplaced nostalgia. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's taste for baroque neo-classical facadism and obsession with classical history has resulted in seemingly satirical postmodern architecture, typified by a "laughable" statue of Alexander the Great. Suffice to say, Skopje is not a world heritage site. As for Palmyra though, the scale of restoration is another point of discussion, as is who's duty it is to rebuild it. If the stamp of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site is any barometer to abide by, then Warsaw sets a precedent in that reconstruction does little to alter authenticity. As to who should undertake the restoration, however, remains open. Simon Jenkins, chairman of England Wales and Northern Ireland's National Trust asks "How much of what has gone should be restored? By what means, and by whom? And where does Palmyra belong, to Syria or the world?" In a globalized era, does the status of being a piece "world" heritage signify global ownership and responsibility? Politics has also plagued the issue: former London Mayor Boris Johnson has backed Michel and demanded that “British archaeologists be in the forefront of the project,” especially considering how “ineffective” Britain was in safeguarding the site originally. And so leading the way, for now at least, is Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology. However, they aren't the only conservation group to go digital. Taking a different approach, yet still using technology, are a group of three under the name “project_agama." The team, led by Lauren Connell, an architect at BIG, are touring parts of the Middle East to translate the intricate patterns on ancient tiling into code. Aided by Baris Yuksel, an engineer at Google and Alexis Burson, an associate at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, they aim to “make sure that our common heritage is digitized, but not to be saved, instead to find new life in the new buildings.” To achieve this, the code transcriptions of pattern-work are made accessible through an open source Grasshopper plug-in that makes for “easy panelization of tessellated tile patterns.”

“This process will both create a record of these works for future generations as well as allow them to be translated into something completely modern and malleable,” the team say on their website. Their approach is arguably much less intrusive than what is being exhibited in Palmyra, however, as a project in progress, its effectiveness remains to be seen.

Speaking specifically about the Palmyra Arch of Triumph replica erected at Trafalgar Square, Stefan Simon hinted at the emergence of a new industrial era. "This ties into a challenge we all are facing—the 4th industrial revolution, the new digital age, providing us with both opportunities and challenges," he said. "3D documentation will help us tremendously in conservation, but the discussion on 3D-recreations however, for me, this is interesting more as a process, not so much as a product. This is just a replica, has nothing to do with what shall happen at the site," Simon commented. "That is a very personal view. I understand it has tremendous potential, for sure, and there are many groups and consortia who are working to document cultural heritage, movable and immovable, in Syria and elsewhere. For example, together with ICOMOS and the California NGO CyArk, we collaborate at Yale IPCH with the Syrian DGAM in the Anqa Project on documenting architectural monuments and sites and providing open access to these data for scholars and global community." Further dilemmas though continue to be raised, which Simon addresses. "What do you do with this digitally-born data? How do you preserve that, make sure it doesn't disappear or the media become obsolete?" Simon asked. "We [conservation professionals], many of us material-focused people, we tend to largely underestimate the challenges linked to the 3D era. I see this virtual world, the 3D recording of sites positively , but we shouldn't mix that up with the conservation of a site. It isn't the same."
Simon also argues that the arch's reconstruction is "certainly a process that needs to be guided by UNESCO and the advisory bodies to the world heritage convention like ICCROM and ICOMOS. We first have to understand that there's a strong interest of the Syrian people to just see Palmyra rise again, if I may say that so simply."
Withdrawing pressure over the Palmyra site is another factor Simon stresses. "I understand the political pressures but as conservation professionals we need to comply first and foremost with professional standards," he said. "Pressure, in such circumstances, can lead to undesirable results. Sometimes more damage can result from a fast and quick approach of repairing and reconstructing, than by the actual disaster."
  "With the attention focusing on Palmyra," he continued, "let's not forget there's tremendous destruction at other World Heritage sites like Aleppo, where the front line passes through the center essentially since 2012, and many other cities. Recently, the commercial quarter of Asrouniyeh in the Old City of Damascus, dating back to the end of of the Ottoman period, was heavily damaged by a rampant fire. With all concerns on Palmyra, we must not forget the Syrian people, who are suffering terribly since years."

The case for conservation, it seems, will always be a source of debate. Though as architecture critic Jonathan Glancey notes in his book, aptly titled Lost Buildings, “Throughout history humankind has made something of a habit of losing buildings as if these were nothing more substantial than copper coin, a hairpin or set of car keys. Even with our greatest and most celebrated monuments we have been, to say the least, careless.”

Perhaps then, it is best we try our best not to add this growing list of deceased buildings. The Palmyra Arch of Triumph "MkII" will eventually make its way to the city after its globetrotting adventure. However, there it will reside only a stones throw away from its 'original' location. Whether it stands as part of a "new" history for Palmyra, or merely fades into its original past, only time will tell.

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Pictorial> Conservation work at New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral is finally (almost) complete

Shrouded in scaffolding for three years, renovations on St. Patrick's Cathedral are nearly complete. Initiated in 2006, renovations stalled due to the 2007 economic recession, but began again in earnest in 2012. Pope Francis' upcoming New York visit advanced the project timeline. The Archdiocese of New York commissioned Murphy Burnham & Buttrick to spearhead the renovation. Built in 1879, the original structure was designed by James Renwick, Jr., one of 19th century America's preeminent architects. Jeffery Murphy, the renovation's lead architect, stresses that St. Patrick's Cathedral is "conservation, not restoration." While restoration brings a building back to a specific time, conservation incorporates features from multiple time periods to display a full history of the space. Commenting on the renovations, Monsignor Robert Ritchie referenced Cardinal Dolan's opinion that "the conservation of St. Patrick's Cathedral is about spiritual renewal." During renovations, the church welcomed visitors and held its usual seven masses per day. The project is also a financial commitment: the Archdiocese estimates that interior and exterior renovations have cost $175 million so far. Over nine years, approximately 140 designers and consultants, along with a team of 20 engineers, oversaw more than 30,000 interior and exterior repairs and modifications. Raymond Pepi, founder and president of Building Conservation Associates, led the forensic analysis of the Cathedral. That analysis enabled the design team to make restoration and conservation decisions on the basis of the strength and integrity of the building's woodwork, plaster, stone, and glass. So far, around 150 masons, painters, carpenters, and other builders have labored on the project. At times, there were over 100 people working at once on the Cathedral. To coordinate the activity, architect Mary Burnham says the team used BIM 360 Field, an app that allows each team member to identify problems, flag repairs, suggest conservation methods, and allow the design team to follow up on the work as it's completed. Transparency is a salient feature of the new design. New programmatic elements include sliding glass doors at the main entrance on Fifth Avenue so that, even in cold weather, the 9,000 pound bronze doors to the cathedral are always open. The team blasted the facade with a mixture of glass and water to reveal any damage to the building. The original building, says Murphy, was supposed to look as if it was "poured into a mold and deposited on the sidewalk." Uneven aging of the stone and grout caused the exterior to appear more variegated than intended. The current, cleaned facade recaptures the 1879 look of the building. The interiors were curated to increase the space's comfort and reduce visual clutter. The design team worked with the clergy to eliminate plastic signage and statuary placed haphazardly in the interior. Signs and statuary were repositioned to harmonize with the space. Preservationists restored the glass and glazing on 3,200–3,300 stained glass panels in situ. Approximately 5 to 6 percent of panels were removed and restored by Ettore Christopher Botti of Botti Studios. Significantly, the Archdiocese of New York has invested in green energy, with ten geothermal wells planned for the site. The wells extend 2,200 feet underground and will provide 30 percent of energy for cathedral.    
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Los Angeles unleashes 96 million "Shade Balls" into its reservoirs to help conserve water

What appears to be an explosive invasion of tiny black orbs is actually one small part of the solution to Los Angeles' four-year drought. Colloquially called "shade balls," these 36 cent buoyant spheres are a part of a $34.5 million water quality protection project by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). The department deployed the last 20,000 of the approximately 96 million shade balls this past week. The simple technology helps prevent water contamination and evaporation. According to NPR, LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards applauded the innovative alternative to a dam and tarp solution, which would have cost a whopping $300 million. "This is a blend of how engineering really meets common sense," Edwards told NPR. "We saved a lot of money; we did all the right things." The 4-inch-diameter polyethylene balls, produced by California startup XavierC, help slow evaporation and are chemically coated to block ultraviolet rays that can potentially cause a chemical reaction that could produce the cancer-causing chemical bromate. The hollow, water filled plastic spheres are expected to save 300 million gallons of water annually, enough to quench the thirst of 8,100 individuals a year.
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Next up in a series of demolitions in the historic Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital campus: the Kirkbride

The New Jersey Treasury Department has levied the wrecking ball on the iconic Kirkbride building of the historic Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. Demolition began on April 6, with heavy-equipment operators from Northstar Contracting targeting 26 structures on the campus as part of a $34.4 million contract from the state of New Jersey. The latest to go is the 673,000-square-foot, 19th-century landmark which, like most of the buildings in the complex, had dangerously deteriorated. Greystone was built in 1876 as part of a national initiative to improve medical treatment for the mentally ill. At its peak, the hospital housed over 5000 patients. However, the neglected facility deteriorated over the last 50 years and was replaced with a new Greystone Hospital next door in 2007. USA Today reported that Randolph resident and drone pilot Jody Johnson has been documenting the demolition on her DJI Phantom 3 Pro drone. She posts the videos to YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to keep residents abreast of the otherwise fenced-in takedown. “Of course, it’s upsetting to see the footprint of the building slowly fading away,” she said. “[People] say it’s terrible to see it coming down. They are concerned about the environmental impact.” Nonprofit group Preserve Greystone has rallied doggedly for conservation of the 26 buildings and their connecting tunnels, the removal of which requires thorough extraction of toxic substances such as lead paint, asbestos, and mold. Once the demolition is over, the remaining 165 acres of Greystone will be bequeathed to Morris County in order to be preserved as open space. Although all tangible traces of the Kirkbride will be gone, the New Jersey Treasury Department is planning to document and preserve the history through a dedicated website, documentation and on-site interpretive signage. “All the markers and websites in the world won’t undo what they’ve done,” retorted John Huebner, president of Preserve Greystone. The Treasury is also working with the Morris County Park Commission to save physical mementos of Kirkbride, including two marble columns from the front of the building and two cast-iron light poles, according to USA Today.  
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Paul Gunther appointed executive director of Gracie Mansion Conservancy by New York Mayor De Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray have appointed Paul Gunther the executive director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. Gunther will ensure that "not only are the historic fabric and contents of the great 1799 landmark well preserved, but that it thrives in today’s modern society," according to a statement from the mayor's office. In addition to his role as a frequent contributor to AN, Mr. Gunther has served as Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Director of Development at The New York Historical Society, Director of Development and American Liaison at The American Center in Paris, and the Director of Development and Public Affairs at The Municipal Art Society, and President of the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture.
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Turkey Passes Legislation to Protect Istanbul's Historic Skyline Silhouette from Rapid Urbanization

For 1475 years, the colossal dome and four minarets of the Hagia Sofia have remained the focus of Istanbul’s historic silhouette. That is, until three hulking towers known as the OnaltiDokuz Residences interrupted the scene last summer, sparking another battle over development in the Turkish capital. In late May, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the city’s 4th Administrative Court ordered the demolition of the skyscrapers, claiming that their construction was illegal because it "negatively affected the world heritage site that the Turkish government was obliged to protect." To guard against future infractions, this Wednesday the Turkish Parliament passed legislation calling for additional safeguards nationwide to protect historic areas from rapid urbanization. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his distaste for high-rise development within the city in the past, and urged the towers’ owner, Mesut Toprak, to shorten his skyscrapers. The three towers, coming in at 37, 32, and 27 stories, are located in the Zeytinburnu district on the European side of Istanbul, and represent a recent surge in unplanned building and urbanization that is going on throughout the historic city. While the city’s economic upswing is welcomed, the non-contextual form it has taken is not. The public has reacted positively to the demolition ruling, but many worry that there is little hope in curbing the buildup at this point. “I side with a form of architecture that accords with our culture,” said Erdogan in an address to local lawmakers last month. “In Istanbul and Ankara, there are structures that have gone against the characters of both cities. I don’t approve of vertical structures; rather I favor horizontal ones. Four stories should be above the ground, while the other four should be built underground.” This comes in stark contrast to other cities like London and Washington, D.C. that are grappling with potentially raising height limits to allow for greater density and new development. Meanwhile, the towers’ owners plan to seek an appeal, claiming that they complied with zoning regulations and that their project is in no way illegal.
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Conservation Case Study on the Eames House

Charles and Ray Eames designed their Pacific Palisades home in 1949 as part of the Case Study Program, which was begun by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture Magazine. The program invited some of the best architects of the day to share their ideas for using new materials and methods to construct well-designed, mass-producible housing. The two-part, rectangular house was constructed of prefabricated materials and off-the-shelf products. Now, the  Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has made the mid-20th century modern architecture landmark a subject of its Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative. The Eames House Conservation Project, as it is called, is revealing challenges related to utilizing contemporary materials in a landmark structure, even one of modern vintage. GCI scientists are developing a long-term conservation plan in collaboration with the Eames Foundation and project architects Escher GuneWardena. However, inspections of the house have already produced results. GCI conservator Emily MacDonald-Korth's paint excavation revealed hand-mixed grays, likely created by Ray Eames. Conservator Arlen Heginbotham identified the wood on a living room wall as a species of eucalyptus similar to the large eucalyptus trees on the property. The foundation is also looking at the environment of the site. The house is situated in a meadow overlooking the ocean.
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Land Crisis Puts Pressure on Lutyens' Housing Quarter in New Delhi

Indian officials have proposed that high-rises be built on the site of Edwin Lutyens-designed bungalows dating from the 1920s and 1930s, threatening Delhi's colonial era architecture, according to the Guardian. Lutyens’ Delhi, a 3,000-acre zone containing the Mughal Garden at Rashtrapati Bhavan, has endured monsoons, riots, and acid rain, but now many of the area’s government buildings, parks, and homes have met a new menace: a scheme to loosen planning limitations to permit construction of high-rise structures. The early twentieth-century bungalows were built for civil servants who governed millions of Indians under the British Raj. The British relocated India’s capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the historic metropolis of the Mughal emperors, and worked with Indian architects under Edwin Landseer Lutyens to design 1,000 neo-classical bungalows surrounded by large gardens. A protected zone, expanded in 1988 and 2003, comprises some of the country’s most precious land. Conservationists assert that the zone is at risk and since it occupies less than two-percent of Delhi, the high-rises should go elsewhere. Adversaries suggest that preserving Lutyen’s Delhi would be erroneous when millions sleep in the city’s crowded slums. Writer and historian Sohail Hashmi point outs that imperialists planned the bungalows to emphasize authority. Hashmi’s solution is to preserve one street within Lutyens’ Delhi to demonstrate what it looked like and to build new homes on the remaining land. Hashmi also recognizes that the bungalows have become symbols of power. In fact, particular properties in Lutyens’ Delhi are worth astonishing amounts of money. One such edifice, the president's official residence that was built to accommodate 100 mid-ranking military officers, has a projected value of £600 million. Conservationists hope UNESCO will give the area world heritage site status, consequently making major alterations nearly impossible.
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President Obama to Nominate REI CEO to Lead Interior Department

President Obama is expected to nominate Sally Jewell, the President and Chief Executive Officer of national outdoor retailer REI, to succeed Secretary Ken Salazar as the head of the Interior Department. Jewell, a former engineer for Mobil Oil and commercial banker, has run the $1.8 billion company for over a decade and has established herself as a strong advocate for land conservation. The Washington Post reported reported that she is one of the founding board members of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association. The Department of the Interior manages and protects the country’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, along with relations with tribal nations. As extreme weather patterns put climate change front and center of the policy debates in Washington DC, the Secretary of the Interior will take on an increasingly critical role this term.
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Bogey at Pebble Beach: Another Neutra House in the Rough

While Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were busy fighting for supremacy at Pebble Beach last weekend, another important battle was taking place just down the street (unbeknownst to almost everyone). Richard Neutra's 4,124 square foot Connell House (1958) in Pebble Beach is being slated for demolition in favor of a 12,000 square foot behemoth mega-mansion. The new home was proposed in December, and still needs several permissions for approval. Author Barbara Lamprecht, author of Richard Neutra: Complete Works (Taschen), has written a letter to the Monterey County Planning Department urging it to save the "aesthetically compelling, spatially complex house," with its "careful asymmetric composition of volumes and opposing opaque (stucco) and transparent (glass) planes." She encourages others to contact the department as well. Think of it as a pro/am for architecture buffs.