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5 Minutes with Perspectus Architecture’s Historic Studio

May 23, 2020 // Insights, Historic

May is National Preservation Month! To celebrate, team members from our historic studio share their insights to questions like: What is the purpose of historic preservation? Why should developers prioritize the reuse of old buildings? What are the biggest challenges facing historic preservation today?

Continue reading to learn answers to those questions and more, including a paranormal experience.

Elizabeth Corbin Murphy, FAIA
Principal

What role does technology play in preservation?

Technology is essential to any current practice. The trick is to use the technological tools and not let the tools run the project. When we consider buildings constructed in another era, we must consider the technology of that time in order to best understand how the materials work and to understand the capacity of the structure itself.

It is not always wise to force a “new” system on the old one. However! We use all sorts of cool tools from simple devices like Rilem tubes to moisture meters, binocular microscopes, borescopes and ground penetrating radar. We can locate the reinforcing bars buried in concrete, test for rot, understand the failure rate of stone, and determine an exact match for historic mortar, plaster patches, and colors on decorative paint schemes that are hundreds of years old.

Software continues to improve and offers many easy options for stitching photographs, weaving HVAC through historic structural systems, and highlighting moisture problems through thermographic data.

Alice Sloan, Associate AIA
Historic Preservation Specialist

How did you end up specializing in historic preservation?
My parents instilled a love of history in me from a very young age. I grew up vacationing in the southern United States touring historic sites and battlefields and developed an appreciation of historic homes in particular.

What is your historic place to visit?
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is my favorite Akron historic landmark. I could live there as a servant a la Downton Abbey and be fulfilled in life. Their Children’s Garden is delightful, as are their special events, such as Ohio Mart, and their holiday decorations and lights event. Sometimes there are even performances in the ballroom!

What do you think is the purpose of historic preservation?
Historic preservation of significant buildings and places holds a tangible link to the past that allows us to see the work of our ancestors.

What can we learn from tragic burning of the Cathedral Notre Dame Paris?
Thorough documentation in the form of photographs and measured drawings is essential for our most significant buildings. 3-D laser scanning and photogrammetry should be utilized.

Brian Broadus, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Senior Project Director

How did you pick up the practice of architecture in historic preservation?
I grew up in a working-class city just beginning to commercially and culturally exploit the remnants of its grand patrician past.

What is the project you’re most proud of?
I restored an 1844 Greek Revival church (Thomas Ustick Walter, architect) after it burned. It came together well, with a construction crew that was careful and serious, and the building is in every respect better and more durable than it was before I got involved. It didn’t lose its authenticity along the way. And the building committee members became my friends.

What role does technology play in preservation?
Technology more and more accurately maps and measures historic resources. Much of architectural conservation is removing old repair materials that are incompatible with the original ones. Ready laboratory analysis makes that kind of restoration simpler.

Virtual reality helps us understand former building configurations. Communication makes it easier to dig up special expertise. Large data sets should improve preservation planning.

What’s the most interesting story you uncovered about a project that you worked on?
An infirmary from 1858 led me into scientific literature surrounding the miasma theory of disease and taught me about Florence Nightingale and the origins of professional nursing.

I also bumped into the last known photograph of Edgar Allen Poe and the man who took it.

What are the biggest challenges in preservation today?
Preservation establishes something as definitely past—conserving it would not otherwise be necessary. Preservation likewise exists to reveal a landmark’s continuing beauty, utility, and relevance. Architects need to practice it without chasing away the community that kept up once-unappreciated patrimony.

Sea levels will soon flood vulnerable buildings, cities, and landscapes. Preservation professionals must help government identify monuments and secure them. Climate change will generally stress existing, traditional materials, and building configurations, in unprecedented ways.

Dalton Kline
Interior Design, Preservation

How did you end up specializing in historic preservation?
History has always had a special place in my heart. From a very young age, my imagination was sparked by tangible interaction with history. Touch, sound, sight and smell allow you to experience the physicality of history.

When it comes down to it, I truly believe nothing compares to physically experiencing history. With this belief in my heart, I slowly started collecting things that felt like a gateway into the past. Model trains, coins, a camera, and a lemon juicer were some of my first finds.

These minor, seemingly insignificant things started to glow with the presence of those who used them before me. It was then that I realized the most minor thing could have significant meaning.

My childhood fantasies grew into a hunger for history that was never satisfied. I learned to appreciate what history we have by understanding how much history we have lost. My hope is that through specializing in historic preservation, I get to save our heritage while transforming our future.

What is your favorite historic place to visit?
It’s a tie between New Orleans and the basement of any historic building. I love New Orleans because it is a true blending of dissimilar and potent cultures.

I love basements because they are often the last thing altered in a historic building. So, that means that they are often the closest thing to original left in a building. Basements are dirty, cold, damp and dark. It’s the absolute best place to go.

Have you ever had a paranormal experience working on a project?
A Perspectus project? No. Thank goodness. However, I was on a ghost hunt in Americas’ oldest city when my husband captured something otherworldly.

We were in the St. Augustine historic jail when suddenly I found myself alone in what used to be a jail cell. I didn’t realize that my husband was just outside the doorway photographing me. I remember feeling an intense weight of sadness, like the air above me was 400lbs, and I stood there unable to move. Eventually I was able to unfreeze and left the room lacking the words to explain what happened. It was the day after, going through photos, we found this…

What do you think is the purpose of historic preservation?
To preserve history to ensure the survival and growth of our heritage.


What is your vision for the future of the historic preservation movement?

I envision that as a society, we learn to appreciate historic things as they are. This holds very true for our historic built environment. I hope that as we progress, people value the importance of our historic buildings, and become advocates to retain them in an appropriate way.

Historic buildings are not a sum of their parts, they cannot be dismantled, and pieces parts separated. Historic buildings have an identity, and just as people, these identities are holistic. Historic buildings can grow and change, but they must always stay true.


Why should developers prioritize reuse of old buildings?

Because age is an asset, not a hindrance. Viewing age as a hindrance makes for terrible design and a disappointing life.

What can we learn from tragic burning of the Cathedral Notre Dame Paris?
Regret only goes one way. Once something is destroyed, it cannot be re-obtained. The tower will never be the same. The major question circulating now is whether the tower be built as it was, or it becomes something new. It is most important to remember what piece of heritage this holds for the area. The new tower must correctly represent that heritage. The community feels as though a piece of its identity has been destroyed. We must restore that identity.

When we break something, the first thing we do is try to put it back together. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. But we always try to restore things, its human nature. Because we are grateful, we appreciate things after we realize how quickly they can be taken away. Does the new tower need to look identical? No. Perhaps they build the new as an iteration. That’s all history is, a slight iteration of what came before it.

We improve and we tweak while appreciating what was there before. When you get hurt, you often end up with a scar. The new regenerates as closely as it can to the old, forever being slightly different. You live and grow with the scar as a reminder.

Martha Ross, RA
Senior Project Director

What is your favorite historic place to visit?
Copenhagen as the city has maintained most of its historic fabric by re-purposing the interiors and by doing so has maintained the character of the city from the past but promoted the usefulness of the city for the present.

What is something new you learned this week?
A Johnson Glass House + a Wright Overhang + a 1960’s Fleischman school entrance does not = a compatible addition to a 1889-1922 building!

Why should developers prioritize the reuse of old buildings?
Coming from a ‘new-build’ architectural background, the reuse of old buildings provides two main positive objectives. The first is a maintenance of a sense of place – the comfort of time past in a present functional location allows a level of well-being and understanding for current and future inhabitants.

The second is a reduction of materials needed and used for construction, which can lower the carbon footprint, promote sustainability, and provide better Life Cycle Costs to clients.

What can we learn from the tragic burning of the Cathedral Notre Dame Paris?
As sad as it was to watch the Cathedral tower and roof burn, the opportunity for today’s designers to now revisit this cathedral’s aesthetics, structure and form will lead to a better understanding of historical structures across the architectural community.

Additionally, the opportunity to ‘re-think’ the building, allowing all of the design community to provide ideas and thoughts as to its future restructuring and restoration may well provide a fresh look at how this historic building can continue to give a sense of place, an understanding of location, and maintain a cultural heritage for our current and future our society.