The American Grand Hotel

By Kate Killeen

Some of the greatest architectural treasures in American history were produced in the Gilded Age, including grand hotels, which would ultimately attract a certain social class and grand hotels are considered an American concept and invention. These grand hotels were built to accommodate America’s wealthy, and their construction coincides with America’s industrialism, and the expansion and growth of incredible wealth that was seen in the gilded age. These hotels were also meant to be efficient, well-managed machines that provided timely meals, clean rooms, and an attentive and inconspicuous hotel staff. These grand hotels were built to attract wealthy businessmen, socialites, political leaders, and even some unsavory characters.

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Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Built 1902

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For Preservationists, Every Day is Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Preserving built heritage is a good thing for many reasons, not least among them the environmental benefits of keeping a building in use. Doing so is not only in keeping with the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, but it also preserves the energy that went into its construction and keeps valuable materials out of landfills.

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As  Carl Elefante famously said, “The greenest building is one that’s already built”.

Adventures in Preservation has been using preservation as a powerful tool for protecting the planet since 2001. Why not join one of our hands-on building conservation projects this year and help keep the Earth a little greener?

Ottoman Architecture Deja Vu

On a recent visit to Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace I experienced the most extraordinary case of architectural deja vu.

Ottoman Architecture, Istanbul

Court of the Favorites, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Entering the final section of the Imperial Harem, the Courtyard of the Favorites, I immediately recognized the building, or thought I did. Turns out it wasn’t the building itself I recognized but the form of the building. I was face to face with an Ottoman doppelgänger!

Adventures in Preservation has been working in the city of Gjirokastra, Albania for many years and for the past two or three years I have been regularly seeing a photo of a particular section of the Skenduli House with an overhanging roof supported by large, angled timbers.

Skenduli House, Gjirokastra Albania

Skenduli House, Gjirokastra, Albania, in 2010

In Istanbul, a mere 450 miles away, I was seeing the dressed up version of that structure. It made me wonder what Gjirokastra looked like in its heyday, reflect on how much the city has lost, and appreciate that much more the ongoing preservation efforts to return that sort of elegance to the city’s tower houses.

For context, Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856, much of their 624-year reign. The Courtyard of the Favorites was built during an 18th century expansion of the Imperial Harem, one section of private apartments within the palace complex that in itself contains more than 400 rooms.

The majority of the existing buildings in Gjirokastra (sadly many have been lost) date from the 17th and 18th centuries, roughly the same time the Courtyard of the Favorites was built.

The question then becomes, which came first. Did the Balkan style influence the imperial architects, or were the people of the Balkans emulating the high style of the capital? I’ll leave that to the experts, but I’d love to learn more.

You can be part of restoration efforts in Gjirokastra. Support local preservation training efforts by making a donation via GlobalGiving or rolling up your sleeves and joining AiP’s hands-on preservation project at the Skenduli House in 2014.

Mad Men, Mad Buildings

Mad Men, a widely acclaimed TV drama based in 1960s New York, has garnered millions of viewers and inspired everything from wardrobe collections to cocktail menus. This week it’s back for its sixth season and the Internet is abuzz with anticipation. What better time to look at Mad Men from a different angle: historic preservation? Inland Steel Building, Chicago

While the “glass skyscraper” with the open floor plan is completely familiar and normal to us, it wasn’t necessarily so for the staff at Sterling Cooper advertising agency (a fictional company that occupies a building on Madison Avenue in New York City). The glass skyscraper is often credited to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German architect who immigrated to the United States on the eve of the Second World War (1939). Mies van der Rohe began his glass skyscraper work in Chicago in the 1940s; two of his most well-known works are the Dirksen Federal Building (1964) and the Lakeshore Apartments (1952).

And what about the open floor plans and the wide open walls that feature large Modern art pieces? Chicago’s Inland Steel Building (1957) by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Its construction with narrow steel columns around the perimeter enabled a revolutionary amount of clear floor space within. Its owners expressed preference to modern art; the architect on the job, Davis Allen, provided sleek modern furnishings as well. He designed lounge chairs of industrial-grade steel mesh, boardroom tables (known as “the surfboard”) accompanied by leather-upholstered chairs on thin, splayed steel legs… he even designed a sleek tin desk, the design of which became the trademark product of its manufacturer, Steelcase.

The 1960s were a time when companies were growing at a ridiculous pace and establishing headquarters in all the major cities. The company’s building, then, became emblematic of the company. From Chicago’s Sears Tower, the design for which is rumored to be inspired by the architect shaking out a box of Lucky Strikes, to New York City’s Chrysler Building, you may be so familiar with these buildings that you’ve even forgotten what they’re advertising.

SFashion Emmy Nomineeso, as you turn to Mad Men’s Season 6, remember Mad Men’s unique place in history. Not only does it exist on the cusp of women leading in the workplace (thanks to women like Peggy), Mad Men exhibits the growing trend of huge companies and towering skyscrapers. Many of these leading skyscrapers are still an important piece of our skylines, a similar skyline to that seen by the Mad Men characters as they escaped the city by commuter trains for the more relaxed and growing suburbs.

 – Susie Trexler

A Journey Through Myanmar’s Architectural Heritage

A Guest Post by Jennifer Lang

In February during the Chinese New Year holiday, my family spent a week visiting Myanmar including Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay.  A cruise on the Ayeyarwady River (the lifeline and spine of the country) provided a perfect opportunity to experience this beautiful country.

Blooming tress

In advance of and during the trip, I read three historical fiction novels about Myanmar that I highly recommend: George Orwell’s Burmese Days originally published in 1934 in the USA after Orwell spent five years living in Burma serving with the Indian Imperial Police; F. Tennyson Jesse’s The Lacquer Lady, originally published in the 1930s in England about the true story of a love affair that precipitated the annexation of Mandalay and Northern Burma by the British; and The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason published in 2003.  All three novels helped to set the stage for understanding more of what I would see and experience during the trip.

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Life on and next to the Ayeyarwady River is busy – there are many boats (some loaded with teak logs, others with construction materials) and men women and children bathing and playing in the water, washing clothes, fishing, tending to crops growing in the fertile fields next to the river shore and there are simple small huts along the banks and shores of the river adjacent to the agricultural fields.  As you pass along the shores in a boat, everyone waves and smiles!

Typical vernacular residential buildings in rural Myanmar are simple wood frame structures, often raised up off the ground on stilts, featuring woven bamboo walls and rush/thatched/corrugated metals roofs.  The woven bamboo walls are often covered in a black-colored coating (possibly creosote) for protection.

The Htilomini Temple in Bagan

Bagan is a vast archaeological zone and historic region of the ancient and former capital of the first Burmese Kingdom.  Some 13,000 temples, pagodas, monasteries and other religious structures were originally built here in a 26 square mile area in the 11th to 13th centuries. Palaces, many monasteries and private dwellings were built from wood, and all temples and stupas were made of fired brick – and only these non-wood structures remain. Today there are about 2,000 extant monuments that cover the landscape. The temples were inspired by the rock-hewn caves of Buddhist India and were sometimes large multi-storied places of worship one could enter and can feature decorated frescoes and barrel vaults and pointed arches.

The pagodas or stupas are Buddhist temples that have a variety of forms including bell-shaped pyramid brick structures set on square or octagonal bases with knob-like domes with square caps. Shwezigon Pagoda They are constructed of brick, covered in stucco and adorned with fine carvings, or gold.

Mandalay was honestly a bit of a disappointment – today it seems like a typical dusty Asian city with many “modern” buildings; only the palace walls and moat and a number of religious monuments remain today to document the story behind the city’s history as the former Myanmar capital. The magic, mystery and intrigue found elsewhere in the country appears to be missing here and indeed there is ongoing trading and contact with nearby China (the overland trade route to China begins here and evidently has recently been active since the 1980s) that may partially account for Mandalay’s present appearance. We did visit some interesting religious sites. It was interesting to note that Mandalay, unlike Yangon, does not have any evidence of colonialism.

Kuthodaw Paya

Mandalay’s Kuthodaw Pagada was built in 1857 by King Mindon as a copy of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan.  This pagoda houses the “biggest book in the world” – 729 white marble mini stupas inscribed with the Tripitaka texts surround the main pagoda in grid neat lines.

The Mahamuni Paya is a site of pilgrimage where families groups bring their costumed children for “coming of age” celebrations. The interior of the Pahamuni Paya in Mandalay has a 2,000 year old 13-foot high seated Buddha image with applied gold leaf (a six-inch layer of pure gold) – only men are allowed to enter the Buddha area and apply the gold leaf to the statue!  This monument was originally built in 1784, destroyed by fire in 1884, and then rebuilt.

The former Yangon Currency Department

Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial and diplomatic capital is a large, busy city that displays a combination of significant substantial western buildings left from the days of colonial rule by the British (1852-1937) when it was engaged in significant trading activities in the port, along with Buddhist temples and other traditional Burmese structures.  Yangon is a fascinating city today because it has one of the most intact collections of 19th and 20th century colonial buildings in Asia, composed of administrative government and state buildings as well as buildings from significant commercial enterprises.

The former Sofaer’s Building – built by a Baghdadi Jewish trader in 1906. This is where you could buy fine liqueurs and commodities such as Egyptian cigarettes, Munich beer, and English candles (Jennifer Lang).

In 2005 when the government moved the capital of Myanmar from Yangon to a nearby suburb – Naypyitaw – most of these state-owned buildings were abandoned and remain empty today with no care or maintenance.  Yangon, like the rest of Myanmar, has yet to be introduced to the many western chain stores that one sees all over the world today, such as McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and Starbucks – and this is a welcome reprieve!

With the backdrop of many substantial yet partially derelict buildings, the sidewalks of Yangon are filled with locals working, patronizing and socializing at the markets and eating spots the cover the sidewalks and spill out into the roads.  The colorful fresh fruit, vegetables and street food looked fresh and delicious!

The Sule Pagoda in central Yangon is the city center, with an 1850s grid plan of wide tree-lined boulevards around the pagoda created by Scottish engineer Alexander Fraser.  The earlier buildings constructed just after the British arrived in 1852 are more Victorian or eclectic in style.

Yangon City Hall

Later in the early 1900s, professionally trained architects from England and Scotland (such as James Ransome and John Berg) were hired to design key government buildings and to inspect plans prepared for all buildings. Yangon City Hall, constructed in 1925-1945 by McClumph, Brey and Bermese U Tin architects in the British Myanmar style with three-tired pyatthat roofing and traditional Myanmar iconography of peacocks and serpents.

Jennifer Field Lang is an architectural historian and building conservationist who has worked and studied in the field for over 25 years, primarily in North America. She has been living in Asia for the past three years.

In the fall of 2012 Jennifer assisted in the planning and teaching of a Common Core Curriculum class to undergraduates at HKU entitled World Heritage and Us. Jennifer obtained a BA degree from New York University, an MS in historic preservation from Columbia University, and an MS in conservation from Hong Kong University. Currently Jennifer is beginning her studies as a PhD candidate at HKU focusing on the Taikoo Sugar Refinery and its role as an example of a company town in Hong Kong.

local woman at U Bein teak bridgeAll photos copyright Jennifer Lang. Read the original post

The Connection Between Communities and Preservation – and You

Buildings may stand alone physically, but they are endlessly connected with communities. Buildings are accompanied through time by the comings and goings of people… No matter their purpose, all buildings are lived in: feet move across their floors, hands open and close their doors, eyes look along their balconies and through their windows. It is buildings, then, that are some of the best witnesses to history and some of the most integral parts of communities.

Photo courtesy Alexey Sergeev

Shotgun house Photo courtesy Alexey Sergee

Buildings aren’t only used by communities, they represent communities. Building types and styles developed in direct response to their communities’ needs, desires and resources. The shotgun house, for example, is the handprint of history for parts of Louisiana (and now spanning upward into Illinois), whereas brownstones are almost synonymous with Brooklyn. 

What about today? Communities need their history and their identity… and they need other things. Like affordable housing. Community gathering spaces. Old theaters and Mom & Pop shops. This is where you – and preservation – come in. The greenest building is the one that is already built. The building already built also has an irreplaceable tie to the community around it.

All this and you (yes, you!) can be the one to dig your hands in? Help preserve history and help communities at the same time! You can take action on a small scale by supporting adaptive reuse projects in your town, or you can look beyond: Adventures in Preservation has several preservation projects coming up that aim to help communities while preserving their historic structures. For example, restoration work at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in The Bronx supports a major community resource.  AiP is also helping out abroad in places like Nepal and Albania, bringing volunteers to do hands-on conservation work.

Gjirokastra Tower HouseIn Gjirokastra, Albania, preserving the building fabric of the local tower houses will also preserve the fabric of the community. Albania is rich in culture – and tourism potential – but is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Adventures in Preservation’s trip to Gjirokastra to work on the Skenduli house will raise awareness, create jobs for maintenance and preservation, and support training of local youth in traditional trades. The next group of AiP volunteers heads over in 2014 – just around the corner!  Visit the trip page to find out more.

 

– Susie Trexler

Preserving Costa Rica’s Heritage

IMG_7613We recently returned from Costa Rica, where one of the highlights was a trek through Corcovado National Park. It was there that I saw one of the few historic sites we encountered in our seventeen-day trip, but it had no sign, no marker, and in fact, were I not attuned to such things, we probably would have walked right by it without comment.

However, being an avid history fan and having surveyed a plethora of historic sites in national parks, I couldn’t help but ask our guide about the site. There clearly had been something there and I was curious. There was a fence, a slight clearing, a small collection of weathered lumber and a door leaning against the fence. “Oh that”, he said. It was the remains of the ranger station that had been built when Corcovado National Park was first established in 1975. The ranger station at Los Patos, where we had stopped earlier that morning to sign the trail register, was built in 2008 by the Corcovado Foundation to replace this one, which was then torn down.

Historical? It certainly didn’t meet the 50-year age “standard”. Site integrity? Not sure disassembling a building leaves much integrity, though the pieces were still there at the site. But significant? You bet. The building very clearly represents the moment when the people of Costa Rica chose conservation over development, preservation over plunder.

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Image courtesy Jason George

Worthy of being restored as a monument? Nope, not when the purpose of the park is so clearly the preservation of undisturbed animal habitat.

Seeing tapirs, puma, crocodiles, tiger necked herons, giant silk cotton trees and dozens of other, now-protected species? Well worth the loss of the ranger station.

Note: Costa Rica also has a rich cultural history. We just didn’t see much of it because the focus of our trip was natural history. Next time!

Learn More
The Corcovado Foundation

Preserving Costa Rica’s Heritage

IMG_7613We recently returned from Costa Rica, where one of the highlights was a trek through Corcovado National Park. It was there that I saw one of the few historic sites we encountered in our seventeen-day trip, but it had no sign, no marker, and in fact, were I not attuned to such things, we probably would have walked right by it without comment.

However, being an avid history fan and having surveyed a plethora of historic sites in national parks, I couldn’t help but ask our guide about the site. There clearly had been something there and I was curious. There was a fence, a slight clearing, a small collection of weathered lumber and a door leaning against the fence. “Oh that”, he said. It was the remains of the ranger station that had been built when Corcovado National Park was first established in 1975. The ranger station at Los Patos, where we had stopped earlier that morning to sign the trail register, was built in 2008 by the Corcovado Foundation to replace this one, which was then torn down.

Historical? It certainly didn’t meet the 50-year age “standard”. Site integrity? Not sure disassembling a building leaves much integrity, though the pieces were still there at the site. But significant? You bet. The building very clearly represents the moment when the people of Costa Rica chose conservation over development, preservation over plunder.

Iguana

courtesy Jason George

Worthy of being restored as a monument? Nope, not when the purpose of the park is so clearly the preservation of undisturbed animal habitat.

Seeing tapirs, puma, crocodiles, tiger necked herons, giant silk cotton trees and dozens of other, now-protected species? Well worth the loss of the ranger station.

Note: Costa Rica also has a rich cultural history. We just didn’t see much of it because the focus of our trip was natural history. Next time!

Learn More
The Corcovado Foundation

What Buildings Are On Your Bucket List?

I love architecture, both old and new, though I have an obvious bias for older buildings.  When travelling I really enjoy seeing buildings that I have, until then, only heard or read about, or seen photos of. There’s just something different about seeing a building in person, because no matter how good technology and virtual reality get, they just can’t replicate the tingly feeling of actually, finally, seeing and experiencing a site for real.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia: You really need to be there to fully understand Gaudi's design and intent

Sometimes, a space just needs to be experienced in order to truly appreciate it. This was certainly the case with La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece of a cathedral in Barcelona. Photos just can’t convey the feeling you get standing beneath the leaf-vaulted ceiling and seeing how the light comes through. It was truly an “Aha!” moment in recent travels.

More than spatial experience, there is the sense of being among history when you see iconic buildings, whether it’s walking along the Great Wall of China or gazing up at a Greek temple. And of course there’s the “wow, cool!” factor that  comes from standing on the special spot and seeing the four rows of columns become one in Bernini’s great architectural illusion at Piazza San Pietro. You can’t try that at home!

Much as I have seen, there are many places I’ve missed and still want to see and experience. At the top of the list is Ravenna, and its Byzantine mosaics. Also on my list in Italy is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’ve been so close so many times I am confident I will get there soon. One of the benefits of seeing buildings in Italy, of course, is the food that accompanies them!

Flickr photo by Joan Vila

Round House in Hukengzen, Fujian Province (Flickr photo by Joan Vila)

Further away, but equally fascinating, are the round houses of Fujian.  Though I have helped arranged for people to go and see these magnificent structures, I have yet to see them myself. Someday soon I hope.

Those are the top three sites on my Building Bucket List. What buildings do you most want to see?

Exploring Lima’s Architectural Legacy

  A Guest Post by Roselle George

Our group of six just spent 17 days in Peru, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. I majored in Latin American Studies with extensive work in South American architecture and archaeology before going to graduate school to become an urban planner. Our group included two retired urban planners/designers, our husbands, and two friends from Mexico.

One of the few restored buildings, dated 1865, now a photographer's studio

I was put in touch with a Dutch architectural journalist, Ronald Elward, who moved to Lima several years ago and now leads architectural walking tours. In addition to studying Peruvian architecture, he is writing a series of articles for the Lima newspaper about the current lives of Incan royalty survivors. He is extremely knowledgeable and with him we saw a very different view of Lima than most tourists.

The first day we walked from 10 to 4 with just a short lunch break in old downtown Lima. During the 1980s the upper and middle classes fled the downtown, thus there are many beautiful old buildings in ruins with a few in reuse. Renovations are just beginning. Even the museums and government departments fled to the outskirts. The remaining population downtown is primarily poor; the greater Lima area has a population of 9 million! Next add in the strange climate – it hasn’t rained in Lima since 1973! But it is always misty and foggy and cool even though we are near the equator. This results in very dirty air, buildings, streets – no rain to clean it. Anything growing must be watered and they water it all daily – often from trucks. There are rivers so they have water. But it is a desert.

Nicely preserved Art Deco building in central Lima

Few buildings downtown have survived since Colonial times. A large earthquake in 1746 and a war with Chile destroyed much of central Lima. The Plaza de Armas was rebuilt and many of the most beautiful buildings date from the late 1800s. The balconies on the city buildings reflect the Moorish influence of the early buildings – a place where women could watch the street life but not be seen. The San Francisco Church and Monastery survived the earlier earthquakes but suffered severe damage in 1970. It is an excellent example of Spanish Baroque style. An economic boom coincided with the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles, reflected in a photographer’s studio from the early 1900s and a building now housing McDonald’s.

We walked for hours around beautiful decaying buildings in crowds of people – and horrible traffic. Then we returned to our nice hotel in a lovely part of town, Miraflores, that is very Spanish and walked to a restaurant with fabulous food, part of the Gaston Acuria group.

The next morning we fought traffic, demonstrations and confusion to go to la Mistura, a big food festival (with 600,000 people expected, we went early before it got too crazy). Then we went way out in the suburbs to the National Museum, built in the Brutalist style. In the evening we strolled to the beach and had seafood.

deserted mansion in Barancas

A deserted mansion in Baranco. The facade is pretty but the building is bad shape and there are no plans for reuse.

Friday we met our Dutchman for another walking tour this time through Baranco, built as a summer retreat in the 1800s for the wealthy, artists, and writers. Very few of the buildings have been restored or torn down so it was lovely and quaint. Since it still attracts artists, there was very interesting street art as well as creative paint jobs on the houses. Several lovely old mansions are deserted, waiting for restoration and reuse if possible. We then explored more of the city’s culinary heritage, taking a food tour back in the heart of Lima, sampling the fare at four local restaurants.

Miraflores also had a lot to offer; we spent quite a bit of time there strolling around looking at the buildings and beach.

Lima Central Square

Lima Central Square and Plaza de Armas

Roselle George recently retired after 20 years of urban planning for local governments in the Washington, DC area. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

More info:

Lima Walks