Protecting historic buildings from destructive additions
Defenders of traditional architecture are pressing for a new interpretation of troublesome Interior Department standards.
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The lessons of history have influenced nearly every aspect of new urbanist thought — from Kentlands to Katrina Cottages, from street design to form-based codes. Yet while New Urbanism has been influencing new development, historic buildings have been coming under assault.
Both in the US and overseas, buildings of historic significance have been disfigured by additions that overpower or clash with the original structures. These intrusions have diminished historic buildings and sometimes eroded the character of their urban settings.
The failure of new construction to complement the best of the past can be traced, in part, to preservation standards that came into being decades ago. The Department of the Interior, which is entrusted with safeguarding America’s landmarks, has long had a standard that says additions to historic buildings must bear a “contemporary stamp.”
In recent years, “contemporary stamp” has been interpreted by some state and local authorities to mean that additions should be distinctly Modern in design. For some architects, that has been an invitation to depart radically from the form and materials of buildings that are part of a community’s cultural inheritance.
After years of such clashes, defenders of traditional architecture have begun demanding a rethinking of preservation policy. Groups and individuals