An open discussion about architectural preservation

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Palli Davis Holubar
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An open discussion about architectural preservation

Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

Prompted by concurrent posts, some older threads and recent thoughts with myself, I would like to introduce this working thread:
In my experience, there is a rule of thumb for visual art restoration that the object should be returned to the "appearance after it left the artist's purview, not just "leaving the artists' easel" but, in many cases, object installation. Objects sometimes radically changed with conservation. (Remember the schism in the art history world created by the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel: accepted facts (read dogma) about Michelangelo were challenged with clear new evidence and some people wouldn't/couldn't rethink.)
So thinking about architecture seems to be different.
First: do we agree that the rule of thumb for an architectural object is to determine a specific point in the lifetime of the structure?

If anyone comments on this premise and we can concur on a general rule for architecture, I have some additional discussion points.

pharding
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Post by pharding »

Professionally restored buildings are taken back to a designated year of significance.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

The Home & Studio in Oak Park was taken back to 1909, the last year FLW lived in the house. Although a few details, like a clerestory window in the south bedroom, added in 1911, were left. The furnishing of the living room, which overflowed in Wright's day (he was a knick knack lover), has been kept architecturally chaste. The whole house is beautiful, but not entirely accurate.

Barnsdall has been incredibly difficult for most (though not me) because over the past 83 years of Los Angeles City ownership, it has gone through Hell and back. Many of the alterations are not even up for discussion; the guest bedrooms and baths, for instance, will never be restored, because the gallery that replaced them is functional and was designed by Lloyd Wright. The gaping maw that connects the gallery to the pergola, and thereby ruins not only the pergola, but the garden court, is also useful, and will not be closed. Even though there is evidence that the skylight in the library was installed (a 1923 letter talked about the choice of fabric for a skylight curtain), since it cannot be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," it will not be rebuilt, even though the room is uncomfortably dark without it. I could go on, inch by inch, over the entire house, but suffice it to say, in some cases political forces, lack of money and people in charge with suspect credentials make true restoration difficult to impossible. (I have anger issues with Barnsdall!)

One issue came up with DD Martin: Should the second floor windows Isabel had moved out toward the eave to bring in extra light be left where they were, or should they be returned to where FLW meant them to be? I argued for the latter, and that view prevailed; Jack Quinan thought Isabel's alteration should be honored. My reasoning was that all who visit the Martin House, no matter how complete the docents' information was, would go away assuming that everything they saw was FLW's work. Most of FLW's clients are known today because they were his clients. It may sound harsh, but without FLW, no one would know the name Isabel Martin. When a house stops serving as a home, and becomes a house museum, it should be the architect's work that should take precedence.

Another bit of minor restoration concerning the Reisley House: There is a built-in shelf of modest dimensions and minor significance which had suffered some problems with the finish after decades of use. Ronny wanted to strip the wood and refinish it. Roland and their wood conservator, Tom Gentle, argued that the original finish should be left in place, and just touched up. Who should have won that argument, in your opinion?

Restoring a public building is hard enough, what with a panel of camels trying to give birth to a horse, but restoring a house that is lived in, considering that architecture is more than art, is nigh impossible. There will probably never be a restoration that is approved by everyone.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

It's hard to argue with anything Mr Grant says, there. It may be that no single "rule" will suffice for every situation. Yet the desire to find the "rule that bears no exception" will of course be sought -- understandably.

In my view, when the question of which is the factor of greater importance, the designer's intent or the material remains of the subject property, then decisions about what to do will become more self-evident -- including (in some if not in all cases) the choice of which moment in time to restore to. I would argue, all other things being equal (which they cannot be -- it's apples to oranges), that the designer's intent should carry the day. Those subject to sentiment rather than aesthetics (is that a legitimate distinction ?) may argue otherwise.

In the case of a Reisley shelf, preserving a damaged finish, one with no originally-intended effect (as in staining or tinting) on the color of the underlying wood, seems like overkill. Should we preserve dust that fell on the surface of the shelf over the years, too ? Damage is damage -- its inclusion in a list of "original fabric and condition" seems erroneous to me.

Stephen

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

The year of significance, a determined year of cultural/societal significance or architectural significance ...not always the same so it is a case by case decision. yes? by a panel of camels, Roderick's word, (camels are beasts of burdens.)

Some buildings are restored (caught in limbo at a significant past date) to a point that the defies the original materials, which may have been explorative but proved unsuccessful. The visual & tactile effect for the year of significance may, in fact, misrepresent the true material of the structure.

Returning to Thom Gentle and Mr. Reisley's defense of the original finish - that was conservation not restoration: an honest representation of the craft, materials and techniques of the building. Wood requires care. SDR, Thom was probably simply saying preserve the French polish finish that must be renewed regularly and don't eradicate the stain patina of use. Doubtful it was damage.

DavidC
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Post by DavidC »

SDR wrote:I would argue, all other things being equal..... that the designer's intent should carry the day.

It's a shame that the folks over at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission didn't think the "designer's intent should carry the day" at the Guggenheim re the choice of exterior color. I think the Gugg would look great in Wright's chosen color (or today's closest approximation, that is).


David

SDR
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Post by SDR »

So do I -- case in point. That decision continues to baffle me. . .


The early parts of this article may have some bearing on the subject.

http://www.counterpunch.org/stclair0813.html


SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

pharding wrote:Professionally restored buildings are taken back to a designated year of significance.
Imagine a house is completed as drawn, and at a later date, the client makes some changes on his own which the architect approves of, and there is documentation to support this as fact. Other alterations are made at the same time, of which the architect voices disapproval.

Would there then be two (or more...) designated dates of significance, instead of one, to which point in time the structure should be restored? Shouldn't the approved changes be kept, and the alterations which met disapproval by the architect removed, and then restored to the condition at the original date of completion?

My point would be this: It seems simplistic (and possibly incorrect?) that in every case there is only one date which may be used as a point of reference for a restoration...

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I agree with the idea that there might be conflict in choosing a single "correct" date. In the case stated, however, to my mind the answer is clear and simple: the original design, not one "improved upon" by any subsequent changes -- approved by the architect or not -- is the one to emulate. To me, Wright does not have any better a record than most architects in second-guessing his own work. If I had my way, my Wright World would appear as it does in W A Storrer's book: each project seen as it appeared on the day it was handed over to the client. Rosenbaum, and any number of other houses, would stand without their (Wright-designed) additions. . .

Stephen

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Fireplaces which don't draw? Should they be restored so they don't draw?

Even a genius like Wright can make an occasional mistake...

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Hmm. Well, the house should function. On the other hand, would we want to see the Glass House with venetian blinds or tinted windows ? Maybe even function should take a back seat to "the artist's vision" -- especially for a house museum. That's one of the major divisions: working residence vs museum piece.

S

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I would distinguish between vital preservation, such as a water-tight roof, vs optional function like a fireplace or (lack of) air conditioning. . .

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Let's try this:

A flaw is corrected by a sensitive client during the lifetime of the architect. The appreciative architect puts his ego behind him, and the alteration is approved. Couldn't we easily justify the preservation of an intelligent idea from an owner/resident if the architect in question also does?

Wouldn't the nature of the relationship between architect and client also be of importance?

Another scenario: The owner is an important artist and paints a mural, or is a woodworker and builds a site specific piece of cabinetry. If the artist was a friend of the architect, wouldn't it be unthinkable to remove the piece, even if some would question whether it was the architect's original intention to have an artwork as part of the house?
Of course, it becomes even more complicated if the work is done after the death of the architect, or if it would be understood that the architect would not appreciate the artists work...
Last edited by peterm on Wed Sep 15, 2010 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Unbrook
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Architectural Preservation

Post by Unbrook »

Perhaps if the building can only be maintained as is, then the "alterations" can be the topic for further discussion. At the Weltzheimer house, I used to feel that the whole house would make a better presentation if everything that had been done to it, could and should be reversed. But I have come to accept that in its modified state, the opportunity to explain what Wright is about is greater. There are a set of French doors in the living room area that were taken from a bedroom in a 1960 remodeling. The continuos wall leading into the kitchen was cut out allowing for the glassed opening. This does provide the opportunity to explain that the board and batten walls are non structural, and further understand the structure of the building. If we were to store the kitchen to its Wright-self where do we find appropriate appliances?

I do agree with some restoration when possible. The settle by the fireplace in the Living Room at the Robie House which had been removed many years ago, is now or will be re-built. This missing piece will totally affect how you understand the space. The sequencing of enclosed area as you enter the room to the larger area of the living room is so important to Wright's interior achitecture. That is a neccessary part of the architectural preservation.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I agree whole-heartedly with that last, of course. And it's hard to argue with anything said above. One could say, however, that there is a good deal of sentiment attached to some of what Peter proposes -- and it might occur to some that the argument there is "the thin end of the wedge" (to use the currently popular construction). As someone who is apparently sentiment-challenged, I have no problem with cleaning the slate, as it were -- but of course if there's a Calder hanging in my Schaffer house living room when I take possession, I'm certainly not going to remove it -- immediately. . .!

(Just returned from watching "Infinite Space" -- the excellent Lautner film -- at my local library.)

S

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