We preserve things because it is responsible and sustainable, and because history lives in buildings and landscapes more than in books. Our built environment is central to sustaining our identity, our pride, and our economy. I am wary of restoration: I tell my students that 95% of historic preservation is adaptive re-use: bringing buildings into the present while retaining their embodied energy, their design wisdom and the messages they convey about our own past.
Preservation is about the future, not the past. It is a potent and democratic planning tool for all communities, and it is the heart and soul of sustainability.
I am also wary of nostalgia and heritage, which can be emotional distortions of history for personal and political purposes. At the same time, I support the efforts to rebrand "historic preservation" as "Heritage Conservation" because it reflects international terminology and also conveys a broader message that welcomes the diverse realms of cultural landscapes, architectural design, historic interpretation and the need to read and understand the complex interaction of geography and human placemaking.
Preservation/conservation is not a series of rules but a process whereby a community examines its history and determines what it must bring into the future. It is a process that treats every place as an individual, not a category. Conserving what matters to us preserves what is unique - what is inalienable - about each place.
I serve on boards and consult on preservation projects and I travel restlessly, convinced that the world, its peoples, histories and cultural productions are, like our DNA, 99% the same, and I marvel at the endless wonder and liberation that can be found in that 1% diversity.