The Early Preservation Documents and Theoretical Basis

In order to understand the present climate architectural additions are designed within, it is necessary to review the source documents written by those who established the earliest legislation of the preservation movement in the 1960s and to review the theories they, in turn, relied upon for guidance. The source of this discussion of ideas was in Williamsburg in 1963:

For three days in early September, 1963, a group of 160 persons active in the American preservation movement attended a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. The purposes of this Seminar on Preservation and Restoration were to review the history of American preservation (including its European background), to analyze its philosophical basis, examine its present effectiveness, and to discuss ideal ways to shape its future.(12)
All of these goals were achieved to a substantial extent. Considering and synthesizing the viewpoints expressed throughout the conference, a draft of recommendations and guidelines for preservation activity was written and approved by members of a post-conference committee. Many of the recommendations which emerged from the committee were incorporated into the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

But also at the conference, before any final recommendations were considered or produced, one goal was an attempt to link the contemporary preservation movement to a greater historical continuum of preservation activity. Thus, the historic and theoretical aspects of preservation were explored. Three papers were presented towards this goal, two of which are worthy of consideration here.(13) The first was given by Jaques Dupont entitled, "Viollet-le-Duc and Restoration in France." The second paper, entitled "Ruskin, Morris, and the ĎAnti-Scrape' Philosophy," was presented by Sir John Summerson. It is very significant that these methodologies of restoration were the only items presented at a conference which became a basis for preservation activity in the United States. This is especially true since the apparent contrast in approach between these two figures of nineteenth century restoration, Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc, are still viewed as the "grandfathers" of the preservation movement representing the two opposite poles of restoration practice. If a winner can be considered in the debate, Ruskin is certainly the more accepted in the preservation realm and has remained a strong reference throughout the history of the preservation movement.

In Dupont's essay on Viollet-le-Duc, his emerging career from youth and training to his later restorations, theories and writings on restoration and architecture are documented. Viollet-le-Duc began his career in restoration at the Basilique de Vézelay in 1840 as a member of the French government's Commission des Monuments Historiques. This commission was created in 1830 in an effort to halt vandalism and regulate the maintenance undertaken on the nation's monuments. The first two Inspecteur Generals of the commission, Ludovic Vitet and Prosper Mérimée, had little overall success in their efforts. Both men lacked the broad knowledge and codified working methods required for successful restoration work. These qualities are exactly what Viollet-le-Duc offered to the commission and the restoration field.(14)

Viollet-le-Duc devoted his life to effective restorations and to the creation of a doctrine for historical restoration through his many writings and as collected in the later publication of the Dictionnaire raisonneé. In the first step of his restoration process, it was essential to determine the exact age and character of each portion of the building and to create a report based upon historical documents as well as from notes, sketches, photography and observation of the existing building. Viollet-le-Duc recognized that buildings, especially those built over several centuries during the middle ages, would contain a variety of architectural styles and construction methods as evolved over the life span of the building. It was the duty of the architect to be able to recognize and understand the differences between these variations and make every effort to retain hidden clues which might lead to the discovery of the successive changes or evolution in the building. The building was viewed as a totality of evolution in both aesthetic and structural terms. He also realized the contributions that individuals made to the building. This included both the contributors of the past who had originally constructed the building and those of the present who were responsible for its restoration. Both groups included members such as artisans, craftsmen, engineers, architects and many others. The works of all men contributed to the spirit of the building as a whole. For Dupont, these general principles of the doctrine are wise, but it is in some of the corollaries where unease is found.(15)

Viollet-le-Duc had no fear of adding elements to a structure in order to sustain its existence:

Knowing that restoration inevitably unsettles old buildings, one must compensate for this curtailment of strength by giving power to the new parts, by perfecting the structure, by clamping walls, and by introducing greater resistances, for prolonging the life of the building is the true task of restoration.(16)
However, in his efforts towards restoration these insertions of new parts often modified and surpassed the original building's aesthetic. This approach taken by Viollet-le-Duc stems from his attitude towards decoration. Viollet-le-Duc was an advocate of the use of the newly available materials of industrial production, primarily iron and other structural metal products. He also believed in the unity of structure and ornament as a single architectural message. Thus by adding new materials to strengthen existing buildings, a new ornamentation was also added which placed new symbolic meanings upon the building. Unfortunately, these new meanings may possess an intention different than the original structure. This added an alternate layer to the building which may challenge the building's original intended meaning. This is the most likely source of conflict for Dupont.

An inherent conflict exists in the restorations of Viollet-le-Duc. He was a staunch supporter of documentary methods. These allowed for the careful study and understanding of a building to be achieved before work began. Appropriate restoration decisions were made based upon solid knowledge and research, avoiding the ambiguities or speculations leading to some of the difficulties and failures of restorations before Viollet-le-Duc's time. For this, Dupont applauds Viollet-le-Duc. But another difficulty arises in the use of new materials. Viollet-le-Duc's intention is to extend the life of the monument by providing materials and construction methods which were superior to those used in the past. To Viollet-le-Duc, it was illogical to repair or reconstruct a building with a method of known defaults and failures when more refined and better constructed methods were available:

There is another overriding condition that must always be kept in mind in restoration work. It is this: both the methods and the materials of construction employed by the restorer must always be of superior quality.(17)
But by replacing construction methods and materials with new methods and materials, the historical record of the building has been remarkably altered.

The concept of a unity of style is another aspect where Viollet-le-Duc's apparent restoration failure is rooted. The concept of completion evolved from the belief that it was the restorer's job not only to prolong the life of the building, but to renew it as well: "...because, before everything else, his (the architect's) task is to make the building live."(18) The life of the building came directly from the total relationship of all aspects of the building; it was perceived as a totality. If portions of the building were missing, the totality or completed design could not be experienced as intended by the constructors of the building. An incompletion or a ruin was not an alternative. The possibility of accepting a building in a state of decay as a ruin did not evolve until after the time of Viollet-le-Duc's work. Medieval builders did not construct ruins but produced (or intended to produce) completed buildings. Despite Viollet-le-Duc's emphasis on the understanding and respect required of the various methods of construction and design, his restorations did not always maintain these qualities. In an effort to create a completed monument, a unity of style became an unwritten premise for restoration. The building's life came from the unity of its parts, both structurally and aesthetically and incongruencies in aesthetics were not accepted but modified to present a coherent design intention. An appropriate time frame was determined and all subsequent work is related to that period. If an element was judged to be inappropriate to the desired aesthetic, it was removed and replaced with a new element sympathetic to the desired final result.

In Dupont's final analysis, Viollet-le-Duc's completed works are rejected but his methods are seen as pioneering in the work of restoration. Viollet-le-Duc did establish a rigorous methodology for building documentation in a time where no such rigor had existed before. In such circumstances, Viollet-le-Duc had little guidance aside from his own personal insight.(19)

On the opposite side of Viollet-le-Duc's restoration of completion are the theories of John Ruskin. Sir John Summerson begins his presentation on Ruskin, Morris and the Anti-Scrape stating the length of time that the Anti-Scrape philosophy dominated thought, from the time of Ruskin until the death of later architect W.R. Lethaby, totaling a span of approximately eighty years:

It was passionately upheld by these men and less passionately by a great number of their followers. I much doubt if any living person adheres to it now. I also much doubt if many living people have a very clear idea of what this philosophy was. In the context of present conditions and problems it may appear rather curious; but it still has power.(20)
If the writings of Ruskin and others were not well understood or under-represented in 1963, it is certainly not the case in the decades that have passed since. At the annual meeting of the the Association for Preservation Technology (APT) held in San Francisco in 1985, Scrape and Anti-Scrape was the thematic issue selected for presentation and discussion.(21) Even more recently, a collection of essays, Ruskin and Environment, was published by Lancaster University's Ruskin Programme applying Ruskin's writings and theories to current environmental discourse.(22) These are only two examples of the vast body of scholarship dedicated to the works of John Ruskin. If Summerson thought Ruskin was obscure, this is certainly no longer the case today.

Summerson begins his analysis of Ruskin with a passage from "The Lamp of Memory." It quite clearly describes Ruskin's beliefs:

For, indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in the walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. It is in their lasting witness against men, in their quiet contrast with the transitional character of all things, in the strength which, through the lapse of seasons and times, and the decline and birth of dynasties, and the changing face of the earth, and of the limits of the sea, maintains its sculptured shapeliness for a time insuperable, connects foreign and forgotten ages with each other, and half constitutes the identity, as it concentrates the sympathy, of nations: it is in that golden stain of time, that we are to look for the real light, and colour, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been encrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess, of language and life.(23)
This passage is not just a motion for the preservation of buildings and monuments, it is a statement about the design and construction of architecture in general. To Ruskin, architecture is the art of building ancient monuments, or more specifically, buildings which would be viewed as monuments by future generations after several centuries of weathering and exposure. A building had not matured until this time had passed. An emotional meaning was given to these buildings which was ennobling, beautifying and gave glory to the structure. This emotional meaning was given by age. Anything which would diminish the expression or qualities of the building's age was forbidden.

According to Summerson, Ruskin's appreciation of age evolved from his observation and appreciation of the medieval buildings which surrounded him in England. In the mid-nineteenth century, these medieval buildings were not much more technically advanced than most buildings being constructed in Ruskin's time but their overall workmanship was often superior. This quality allowed medieval buildings the capability to stand for several centuries without serious failure. Even though they may have been disregarded, neglected or abused, the sound construction, ornament and materials withstood the test of time. Once the excellence of these structures was discovered, their association with age carried overwhelming emotional significance for Ruskin. The presence of the buildings through time demanded recognition and this continual presence was represented by the patina of age on the buildings themselves. The emotional regard and beauty of the buildings is directly associated with this display of age.(24)

Obviously, the demolition of any building was outright forbidden: is again no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings of past times or not. We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us.(25)
But even more detrimental than destruction was restoration. Through this process, as Summerson believes Ruskin would have known it in his time, the building was altered beyond recognition from its age-defined characteristics. Often, decayed stone was chiseled away in order to reach a new, smooth surface. Through this process, moldings, carvings and other details were distorted beyond recognition and lost. Additionally, the time-laden patina of age was completely removed from the building. All emotional references and aspects of beauty as defined by Ruskin were completely lost:
Restoration... It means the most total destruction which a building can suffer: a destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered: a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed. Do not let us deceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.(26)
To prevent this complete destruction, the only appropriate method is an attitude of minimal intervention, continual and proper maintenance are the the only ways to insure the health of the building:
Take proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to restore them. A few sheets of lead put in time upon a roof, a few dead leaves and sticks swept out of a water-course, will save both roof and walls from ruin. Watch an old building with anxious care; guard it as best you may, and at any cost, from every influence of dilapidation. Count its stones as you would jewels of a crown; set watches about it as if at the gates of a besieged city; bind it together with iron where it loosens; stay it with timber where it declines; do not care about the unsightliness of the aid: better a crutch than a lost limb; and do this tenderly, and reverently, and continually, and many a generation will still be born and pass away beneath its shadow. Its evil day must come at last; but let it come declaredly and openly, and let no dishonoring and false substitute deprive it of the funeral offices of memory.(27)
Twenty-eight years after the publication of the Seven Lamps of Architecture, William Morris extended Ruskin's writings into greater practice through the establishment of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in 1877. Like Ruskin, one of the goals of the organization was to stop the destructive activities of restoration. Primarily concerned with the protection of buildings of great age, the protection of their substance was paramount in addition to their strictly honest repair. Both Ruskin and Morris lacked much of the technical knowledge required for these protective treatments. This was the strong point of Philip Webb who made great practical interpretations from the theoretical work of Ruskin. A connection was established through honest, simple craftsmanship in the repair of old buildings and the design of new. The act of conservation became the art of conservation in the Ruskin-Morris-Webb philosophy.(28)

At the conclusion the essay, Summerson states that the art of conservation is strictly a philosophy belonging to the past:

As participants in and critics of the preservation movements of today we must, I think, regard this philosophy as something belonging irrecovably to the past. Even if, in part, we subscribe to the same principles we do so for different reasons. I think it must be said that we have not the same passionate, almost religious, reverence for the ancient; we have a much wider and more exact knowledge of the past and we study it as doctors rather than as lovers.(29)
Despite Summerson's closing disassociation, the power of Ruskin's writings and the Anti-Scrape movement have been far more reaching in the preservation field than might be suspected. Shortly after this United States seminar, the Venice Charter was established containing passages in its articles which are virtual quotes of Ruskin. The attitudes towards material conservation of careful study and protection are still prevalent in preservation practice today, especially in preservation education.(31)

But what is most important in Ruskin are the attitudes towards the design of new architecture. As written by Ruskin:

And if indeed there be any profit in our knowledge of the past, or any joy in the thought of being remembered hereafter, which can give strength to present exertion, or patience to present endurance, there are two duties respecting national architecture whose importance it is impossible to overrate: the first, to render the architecture of the day, historical; and, the second, to preserve, as the most precious of inheritances, that of past ages.(32)
In one statement, the preservation of buildings and the method for their addition is described. The buildings must be compatible with one another by being delineated as historical. This historical message was gained by using the materials which would age well and eventually gain the beauty of the patina of age. As stated by Summerson: "How very nearly one agrees with Ruskin that the next best thing to preserving ancient monuments is to build them!"(33)

For the issue of the architectural addition, Ruskin calls for an integration between past and present constructions. This assumes that "honest" construction methods will be employed, respecting and congruent to the existing fabric. But as seen in the work of Viollet-le-Duc, such compatibility is often difficult to achieve. The very idea of inserting new elements into an existing fabric instantly alters the meaning of the particular context no matter how well-intentioned the new elements may be. For this reason, the actual restorations undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc are rejected. The only way to guarantee the safety of meaning and symbolism in the environment is to follow the advice of Ruskin and the Anti-Scrape: only minimal interventions are appropriate and the building should be allowed to follow its own course of age towards increased beauty. "We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours." The isolation of the historic building from the greater context has begun, but luring beneath is a desire for integration.

Chapter 2

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