Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Preservation Matters: Keynote address by Robert Ivy

On January 31, 2009 the Tulane School of Architecture hosted the Preservation Matters symposium organized by Dean Kenneth Schwartz. In this introduction he outlines the two main purposes of the symposium.
"First, to focus on preservation education issues and the future of preservation in an open exploratory way, while inviting everyone interested in this topic... to focus on what this means to Tulane University as a national research university in this amazing city. . . . Second is to recognize the extraordinary contributions by Gene Cizek - the contributions he has made throughout his distinguished career at Tulane as Director of Preservation Studies." Dean Schawrtz also introduces the panel, Erica Avrami, Daniel Bluestone, Eugene Darwin Cizek, Ned Kaufman, Stanley Lowe, Jorge Rigau and the Keynote speaker, Robert Ivy.

The editor of Architectural Record since 1996, Robert Ivy holds a Masters in Architecture from Tulane University and is a former student of Gene Cizek. He provides an overview of Cizek's extensive accomplishments and legacy. Ivy looks forward to discuss challenges to preservation in China and London. He then looks back and frames the history of architectural preservation in the context of iconic buildings that focus on a significant person, event or place.

Ivy reminds us of the rich history of preservation in New Orleans. (In preservation we are progressive!) In 1925 New Orleans was the first city to pass an ordinance to create a historic district - the Vieux Carré. He also recalls the dedication of citizens like Elizabeth Werlein of New Orleans and the role of Tulane University in the growth of our local movement. He reviews the advances made by Tulane alumni in the field.
  • Richard Koch (1910) "the progenitor of the Historic American Building Survey in New Orleans"
  • Samuel Wilson (1931) "scholarly, authoritative, erudite and accurate"
  • A. Hays Town (1926) "headed HABS in Mississippi....and produced the first drawings that HABS produced"
  • Bernard Lemann (1926) "created an inventory of historic sites...part of the 1967 Community Renewal Program....mentor to generations of Tulanians"
In the Vieux Carré: A General Statement Lemann voiced the importance of recognizing the tout ensemble - the relationship of the part to the whole. This marks the evolution of an attitude of preserving individual buildings to one of preserving districts and a more comprehensive understanding of place.

Ivy reviews the history of legislation which enabled the growth of the movement. He discusses the National Trust's Main Street program as transformative - linking commercial revitalization to the preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods. He credits New Orleans as a model community for preservation activity due to the combination of the high number of National Register Districts, efforts of the Preservation Resource Center, the enabling legislation and the commitment of individuals. Ivy's "democratization of preservation" is then the expansion of the dialogue and activity to a larger audience, "achieving the maximum benefit for the greatest number of people." He poses the question of representation. "Who is in charge here? Who guards the legacy? Who tells the story?"

Modernism, as exemplified locally in the Phillis Wheatley School, generally presents a problem to preservation. After the Second World War there was tremendous need for new buildings now. Some were excellent, worthy of care and recognition, while "others merely filled space." They present technical challenges due to the degradation of the physical fabric. They are often overlooked due to an "architectural myopia" - a condition that disables us from appreciating that which is too close.

Regarding sustainability, Ivy notes that the embedded energy of buildings is the greatest contributor to carbon emissions in the world. The percentage ranges by study -33% to 48% - more than transportation! This is increased by the energy required for demolition, hauling rubble and storing it somewhere "as a problem for the next generation."

New Orleans' architecture is generally well suited to its climate, utilizing convection, understanding how to pull a cooling breeze across a room. Extended roof lines shield walls from intense sun and rain.
(see: Hoffman School) This responsiveness to site needs to be recognized and LEED needs to integrate its standards with preservation. Ivy suggests we are approaching a renewed Urbanism, an "Age of the City." He challenges the panel and audience to consider the following:
  • What does Preservation mean now and for the future?
  • Who is it for?
  • What is the role of archaeology, science, economy, sustainability?

Special thanks to Tulane Technology Services for editing the video and hosting it on the Tulane YouTube channel.