Future of Preservation Manifesto

How can preservation maintain relevance to future generations?

All places are dynamic and living things. Our built environment is both witness and proof to history. The act of preservation is a necessity in maintaining the memory and authenticity of this record. The idea of preservation began in the late 18th century to preserve 2,000 year-old monuments. Through the last century, the preservation movement has expanded its reach significantly: from monument to building to streetscape to landscape to urban sectors to government policy to tax incentives; everything is now potentially susceptible to preservation. With this environmental and cultural expansion comes exponential complexity and great responsibility, yet its curatorial principles remain overly simplistic. Concurrently with this expansion, the movement has embraced an increasing number of value propositions to rationalize its aims, yet its accepted outcomes remain singular in encapsulating our past. But all places and buildings have a continuing history; they are used, damaged, repaired, and bear the markings of actions and events throughout time. As modern culture moves forward, our environment expands, is re-inhabited, and is altered with invention. The 20th century in America yielded a great expansion in our built environment, much of it now coming due for renovation.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 17% (52 billion square feet) of our current building stock will face the prospect of demolition over the next 30 years, and half will be renovated. Today, America’s built environment faces a new challenge of ecological sustainability. This leaves the idea of preservation in a precarious state. To continuously encapsulate our built environment through the act of preservation is counter-productive; we face increasing risk of endangering invention and even forgetting the intentions of history. If we are to live with our history while embracing our future, we must rethink the very idea and standards of preservation. Ultimately, the act of preserving a thing in its original condition isn’t always the best solution nor is its full erasure from our memory. There are unexplored degrees of preservation between its ever-present all-or-nothing proposition. As preservation has embraced multiple value rationales, it must too embrace multiple outcomes. Preservation is often viewed antagonistically by developers in their efforts to modify properties, but it has the potential to become the catalyst for shaping vibrant and healthier communities.

For preservation to maintain relevance through future generations it must:

  • Embrace outcomes beyond the curatorial.
  • Embrace overlapping histories beyond the physical artifact in its regulations.
  • Embrace technology and the human needs of the day.
  • Embrace new architecture with the authenticity of artifact.
  • Define varied levels of significance with varied standards.


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