Historic Preservation

Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

by Don Friedman on February 16, 2018


If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass.

Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the American Revolution, and a bad loss for the colonists that was almost an army-destroying disaster. The loss of New York to the British forces was, at that point in the war, pretty much inevitable because of the British naval superiority; but only the emergency ferrying of the colonists’ army across the East River allowed the fight to continue. Battle Pass, one of the key locations of the fighting, is located within the boundaries of Prospect Park, which was built nearly 100 years after the fighting.

As Nadler and Mironova, the authors of the article, describe, the original subtle reminders have been added to and become more obvious over the years. That phenomenon has occurred at other sites of remembrance, most famously the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where traditional statues were added to the original wall of remembrance.

I’m trying very hard to keep a neutral tone here because I’m quite ambivalent about the process. As I’ve described before, preservation of a physical artifact without context qualifies as preservation but barely so. Preservation of the landscape of Battle Pass, including the old line of Flatbush Avenue as the East Drive of the park, is great, but I doubt one person in a thousand who passes by there could place that local chunk of landscape in its historical context. Two hundred and forty years is a very long time, and a losing battle at the beginning of the seven-year-long Revolutionary War is, perhaps, not the highest priority in memory.

Obviously (I hope), I do not recommend forgetting about the few physical remnants of the Battle of Long Island. I guess I’m not bothered by the change in forms of remembrance because I’m happy there are any at all.

The Hardest Thing In Preservation

February 2, 2018

Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building has been significantly altered despite the fact that it’s calendared to be reviewed for designation as a landmark. The designation being considered is, like most New York designations, for the exterior facade only; the current work has demolished a piece of the interior lobby. There is an interesting debate about preservation […]

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A New Publication

January 8, 2018

Gabriel Pardo Redondo of OSE and Berta de Miguel Alcalá of Vertical Access‘s – not coincidently, a married couple – have a new paper out in Loggia on preservation engineering in New York. Somehow my name ended up on it, even though Gabi and Berta did about 98 percent of the work. If you go to […]

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Doing The Wrong Thing Right

December 14, 2017

I’ve talked before about my ambivalence concerning the way in which the Dickey house on Greenwich Street is being preserved as part of the development of a new tower next door. Façadism does not have a good reputation in the preservation world. Since no one has asked my opinion, the work continues regardless of what […]

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A Long-Overdue Designation

December 12, 2017

The IRT Powerhouse has been designated as a New York City landmark. First, as the pictures may make clear, this is a huge building that is quite visible: it fills the block between 58th and 59th Streets, and between 11th and 12th Avenues. In other words, it’s 200 feet wide and about 600 feet long. […]

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What’s Been Lost

November 20, 2017

The green glass-walled building straight ahead is 2 Broadway. It’s as close to a generic circa-1960 office high-rise as you can get. There’s nothing about it that’s inherently bad…except….it was built on the site formerly occupied by the Produce Exchange. Here’s the Exchange, designed in the 1880s by George Post: In short, we lost a […]

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Something New

November 18, 2017

The idea of using LEGOs to provide temporary repairs to damaged masonry is either genius or moronic. I alternate between the two opinions.

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Missing One Thing

November 7, 2017

That’s a picture of demolition in progress at a 140-year-old house – a mansion, really – in Brooklyn. The bulk of the building will be demolished and/or altered into an apartment house that will look quite different. There is a need for more apartments in the city as construction of new units, particularly at the […]

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Three Myths About Brutalism

October 25, 2017

Neave Brown, the architect of the Alexandra Road housing estate in London (above, click to enlarge) as well as other brutalist housing projects, has recently been recognized for his work. In architectural terms, this is undiluted brutalism, with nearly all exterior surfaces as bare concrete or glass. The article at the second link above summarizes […]

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Road Trip: Adaptive Reuse Hotel

October 12, 2017

I’m currently at the APT conference in Ottawa, and that’s my hotel, the Metcalfe, above. It was built circa 1906 as a YMCA and has been converted to a nice boutique hotel. You can always repurpose a building if you want to.

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