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Preservation Preservation Education

PRESERVATION EDUCATION: 5 Reasons to save and preserve old buildings instead of knocking them down

April 8, 2018

Generally speaking, we all love historic buildings. That is what brought you here. But why save a historic building? Why preserve its character? People often have a nostalgia for the past, but there is something deeper that draws us to the tangible connection to our past.

Simply put, once a building is destroyed, it is lost forever. Whatever it could have taught us in the present or those in the future, that connection to the past and invaluable history is gone.

1. It has a story
Anything with age and history has a story. Think of it as sitting on the porch (ideally a grand historic porch) with your grandfather and hearing about his stories growing up and all of the changes that he experienced. Buildings, in their very nature, are not time capsules and have often changed over time through their periods of use and various occupants. Architecture is a direct and substantial representation of history and place, and by preserving historic structures, we are able to share the very spaces and environments in which the generations before us lived.

2. It brings in a new generation
As stated in the previous article, the purpose of historic preservation is to encourage the general public to integrate the past with the present and the future with a sort of conservation of cultural identity. Historic preservation does not halt growth or change but instead emphasizes the totality of human experience as expressed through the built environment. Thoughtful development and planning can incorporate new design within the context of the historic landscape that one day too can be considered historically valuable many years down the road.

3. It saves money and material
We often hear new home builders claim that they can build the exact same house (referring to a historic house) for a lot cheaper and have it look the same. They are missing the point entirely. Buildings built before 1940 tend to be built with higher quality materials than those built today. The old growth forests that provided the wood for structures for hundreds of years no longer exist, and, once the materials are lost with the house, are irreplaceable. This also equates to less material being deposited into the landfills and replaced with cheaper materials that will not stand the test of time like their predecessors.

4. It had character and attracts visitors or customers
Adaptive reuse of historic structures has offered many businesses to use spaces that are authentically pleasing compared to the modern-day boxes which many businesses occupy. This, in turn, attracts customers to the business, who prefer the character and charm of a reused historic structure. It can even instill a sense of civic pride. Maybe it is the exposed brick with varying patterns or the beautiful heart pine floors and glazed windows with wavy original glass panes. Historic buildings often reveal the human side of building construction, with each imperfection and design detail evident throughout. While museums and historic sites have their place, a building that is used and cared for is the first building block for its preservation. Not everyone expects a historic building to be used for its original purpose, but instead that it is being used.

5. It educates people
History is most often something that was read in a high school textbook for much of the general public. The built environment brings that history alive and weaves it into their lives as a tangible connection to previous generations. Being able to walk through the same doors that others did 100 or 200 years ago gives an appreciation for where we are as a society today. Historic preservation provides an identity for a city. Some particular cities immediately come to mind when discussing historic preservation – Charleston, New Orleans and Savannah. These cities thrive on heritage and cultural tourism, and studies have also demonstrated a positive effect on tourism and business growth. Maintaining these structures gives a community a sense of permanency, identity, and heritage that it can pass onto the next generation.

 

In the end, historic preservation provides for a community the fostering and strengthening of civic pride and a strong economic development strategy. Historic resources are the non-renewable, visible remains of the past. Once lost, they can never be replaced. Preservation contributes to sustainability and the present emphasis on the green technology movement. After all, “the greenest building is an existing building.”

For me, historic preservation is not just a job, but a passion. Almost anyone in this line of work will tell you the exact same thing, which makes this field truly rare and unique. The legacy we leave behind is the legacy left behind for us, so that we can carry the torch and hand it off to the next generation.