Conservation of Older Buildings: Techniques and Technics

This course will teach how to understand existing building form and fabric and how to conserve these.  Where does one even start the evaluation process?  What is building pathology?  What are the significant properties of the various building materials and what are the causes of their deterioration?  How well do existing buildings perform and is enhanced performance always desirable?  How does one pursue the practice of conservation?  Is there a difference between conserving buildings from the recent past (say the last 75 years) compared to older buildings?  What about the economics and the social issues of historic preservation?  Sustainability?

At the GSD, as in most schools of architecture, students learn to design and understand new buildings.  Little mention is made of existing buildings per se, except as they create a context for the new building under consideration.  As our building stock ages and as sustainability becomes more important in the process of evaluation of a site, knowledge and practice of coping with existing buildings becomes more critical.  Indeed the reality of practice requires the contemporary architect to be facile in techniques of rehabilitation and adaptive reuse and in some cases principles of historic preservation.  

Assignments using the Materials Collection in the Loeb Library will be an integral part of the course so that students can observe classical building materials at close range.  However, this will not be a course that delves into the details of the minutia of the composition of materials and how they react to environmental forces, or building physics that charts dew points within the thickness of a masonry wall, or decorative arts that teaches how to analyze layers of paint and match original colors.  All of these have their places in a more specific historic preservation materials conservation curriculum.  We will discuss the more general techniques as well as the principles of the technics and practice strategies involved in conserving older buildings, both historic and non-historic.  By the end of the semester, students will be familiar with the technical issues of present day conservation theories and will broaden their exposure to the practice of conservation.  The course is open to students in all disciplines. Guest lecturers include a preservation advocacy leader (Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy) and a developer of historic buildings (Larry Curtis, President, WinnDevelopment).

Although the course will not be taught using case studies, references will be made to specific buildings such as the Amoco Building (Chicago); Finlandia Hall (Aalto in Helsinki); Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Guggenheim Museum  and Wingspread; traditional tenement housing; St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (Washington, DC); National Gallery of Art East Building (I.M. Pei); Trinity Church (Boston); Renzo Piano’s Harvard Art Museums) and Morgan Library; Farnsworth House (Mies van der Rohe in Illinois); Ellis Island.