The Issue of the Architectural Addition

The origin of the historic preservation movement in the United States can be traced to the earliest efforts to protect George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon in 1858. The desire was to protect the existing fabric from destruction and to maintain the property in its original condition for all of its present and latter-day visitors to observe, understand and enjoy its association with national history. In terms of architectural additions to historic structures, the earliest significant example in the United States is the completion of the Bell Tower of Independence Hall in 1828, a conscious decision on behalf of architect William Strickland to reconstruct in the spirit of the old rather than of the new.

But the true shaping of the movement as it is known and practiced today took place in the 1960s and was codified in 1966 as the National Historic Preservation Act.(1) Within this act, the basic framework for the practice of historic preservation is established. The act calls for significant actions including an expansion of the National Register of Historic Places and the creation of federal matching grants-in-aid to states for the pursuit of preservation projects. Also established is the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. The act takes great leaps towards the recognition and protection of historic properties in the United States. These actions are far more comprehensive than any previous national legislation such as the Antiquities Act of 1906, the Historic Sites and Buildings Act of 1935 or the establishment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Of primary importance is the creation of the infrastructure and agencies required to carry out the act's mission. These agencies and organizations primarily exist within the federal government, but many other groups are active at the state and local level, both public and private.(2) However, all of these agencies are organized in reference to and parallel with the goals set forth by the National Historic Preservation Act.

The act does not directly engage the issue of additions to historic structures, though it inspired talk and debate of the subject when introduced. Viewpoints on the methodology for appropriate additions surfaced from time to time in various journals, but none offered a substantial platform for an argument or a decision on appropriateness with any authority. Into the mid-1970s, no solid precedent for architectural additions had been established. During these years, it was extremely difficult to validate one method of appropriate addition or response versus another.

The need to resolve this dilemma began to peak with the introduction of the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Plan of 1975 which encouraged expanding federal agencies to fill empty space in historic structures. One year later, the Tax Reform Act of 1976 was passed. Within this second act, the benefits of preservation were expanded to the public realm. Adaptive use was promoted by allowing total depreciation for tax purposes of rehabilitated buildings. As a further preservation incentive, the destruction of historic structures brought financial penalties. The act also denied the advantage of accelerated depreciation to the builder of a new structure on the site of a demolished landmark. Preservation activity was encouraged further with the introduction of later legislation such as The Revenue Act of 1978 and the Tax Credit Bill of 1979.(3) Such action moved preservation beyond historic and societal benefits and the field of historic preservation quickly became a very lucrative financial endeavor to real-estate developers, builders, investors and many others across the country. However, in order for tax credits to be approved and granted, some kind of governmental standard had to be devised for the judgement of the appropriateness of additions and modifications made in pursuit of the various tax and economic benefits.

In an effort to solve this problem, the National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsored a symposium in 1977 entitled "Old & New Architecture: Design Relationship." For the first time, a national forum was provided for the discussion of the issue of additions and the old and new relationship. As stated in the preface of the later published proceedings, the symposium hoped to create national impact by giving direction to the controversial and difficult issue of the old and new relationship between buildings and to provide the stimulus for new legislation and regulatory change in favor of preservation.(4) The next year, the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historic Preservation Projects were released.(5) Combined with the 1979 Guidelines for Historic Preservation, these documents provide the basis for judging the appropriateness of additions to historic structures. The Standards serve as the guiding criteria for the judgement of historic preservation work and eligibility for tax credits or other government benefits. The Guidelines are not legally binding in any way but provide an interpretation of the Standards through a series of "recommended" and "not recommended" strategies for preservation activity. These recommendations range from specific technical conservation issues such as masonry cleaning techniques to suggestions for design solutions.

Most significant about these various governmental acts, incentives, guidelines and standards are the precedents which are created for historic preservation work. The tax credits create the desire for preservation work while the standards regulate how that work shall be undertaken and accomplished. With the increased interest in historic preservation, re-use and additions to historic structures becomes a profitable architectural market. Practicing architects search for pre-built examples to guide their own work both aesthetically, for government approval, and financially, in order to receive tax benefits. Shortly after the publication of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines, a number of privately funded and published books, surveys and other publications were created offering a wide array of recently completed examples of new uses for historic structures. The flood of these publications begins in the mid-1970s and extends into the mid-1980s. Recognition of responsive new designs in historic or pre-established contexts is widely documented in architectural periodicals due to the rise in work within historic contexts. As an example, the AIA honor awards jury created a special "extended use" category in 1976 to supplement its existing categories recognizing design excellence in new construction.(6) However, the great interest in the uses of historic structures diminishes quickly when the tax incentive is significantly revised in 1985. With this modification, the financial validation for work in the realm historic structures is reduced and the exploration of the issues of the architectural addition issue slows dramatically.(7) Despite this decline, the seed of interest had been planted.

The influence of these American documents and precedents should not be underestimated. Not only do they create the standards for preservation activity with in the United States, their influence can expand to the international level as well. The meeting of preservation advocates in 1963, The American Seminar on Historic Preservation and Restoration which was a pre-cursor to the National Historic Preservation Act, took place eight months before its international counterpart for guidelines on the treatment of historic properties, the Venice Charter, was codified and written.(8) For nomination to the World Heritage List, sites are tested for authenticity in several categories. The categories to determine international recognition are taken directly from the standards for integrity as recognized by the United States National Register of Historic Places.(9)

Aside from reviewing the documents and their potential influence, what is most curious is how the attitude of the appropriate addition is created. Throughout the published literature, little theoretical discussion takes place towards the conception of an appropriate method of architectural additions. In general, relatively simple aesthetic comparisons between buildings are used to create a judgement for appropriate additions. No discussion is given to the sources of the prevailing attitudes towards architectural additions after the "Old & New Architecture: Design Relationship" symposium and the creation of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines. Often, the ideas put forth are not questioned and are taken as givens in the old-new dialog. Even within the 1977 symposium, little questioning is given to determine the source of the prevailing attitudes. The ideas for appropriate additions have a history of their own, yet unexplored. In a comment made in 1963 at the Seminar on Historic Preservation at Colonial Williamsburg, George Mosse made a comment towards this end. Although it applied to the preservation movement as a whole, it is equally suited to the issues surrounding additions to historic structures:

...the problem before this meeting is whether the movement can rise beyond its origins. These papers have made it obvious to me that the preservation and restoration movement, concerned as it is with the past, has a past of its own to liquidate.(10)
By addressing and consciously acknowledging the methodologies (and possible shortcomings) of the techniques developed for relating additions to historic structures, a move forward might be made in the dialog addressing the addition to and re-use of historic structures.

Chapter 1

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