Alumni

Preston Hull

MSHP'16

What kind of work are you doing?
I work for an architectural conservation firm (Building Conservation Associates) here in Philadelphia. We work on preservation and restoration projects for historic buildings locally and nationwide, particularly in DC, the Midwest, and Southeast. Our involvement ranges from performing paint studies (where we determine a building’s finishes from a particular era), to designing roofing systems, to writing Historic Structure Reports (which document the complete “life” of a building).

What led you to your current position?
My firm posted its job opening to the Historic Preservation program at Penn while I was finishing up my final semester. I was fortunate to be hired (and to begin working) while I was still wrapping up my thesis and remaining courses!

What attracted you to the firm or position?
I was attracted to the consulting field because of the opportunity to work on a wide variety of buildings in a wide variety of locations. My firm is involved in high-profile projects of true national historical significance. Whether I continue to do the same work in 20 years or whether I use the knowledge I acquire to preserve buildings of more local significance, I have a tremendous opportunity to learn from the best right now.

How did your studies at PennDesign prepare you for your work there?
The Historic Preservation program at PennDesign is totally responsible for preparing me for this job. The content of the Architectural Conservation classes directly inform my day-to-day work, but I also took as many Preservation Planning classes as I could, which provided invaluable context and motivation for the work I do. Penn helped me channel my formerly nebulous interests in history, the “built environment,” and science into something useful and fulfilling.

What courses, studios or instructors had the greatest influence on your work or thinking?
I am addicted to problem solving, so Michael Henry’s courses in Building Pathology and Diagnostics really helped me to apply that impulse to materials and the building envelope. And every time I sit in front of a computer, I have to grudgingly admit how useful John Hinchman’s Digital Media class was. The Preservation faculty is small, and I can say with total sincerity that the professors perfectly complement one another. Because I took all of the materials science classes, I learned an enormous amount from Frank Matero and the instructors of the materials seminars. But as I alluded to above, I can’t imagine my experience at Penn without the grounding in public-history-through-architecture provided by Aaron Wunsch, the “egg-headed” conversations fostered by Randy Mason, or the introduction to public policy (somehow delivered in humorous and digestible form) by David Hollenberg.

What was the best part of studying at PennDesign? In Philly?
I had been living in Philadelphia for a few years prior to starting at PennDesign. I was always the type to explore the city on my own, but Penn really encouraged a deeper level of research and engagement. You could live, work, and study in Philadelphia for a lifetime and never run out of interesting history to uncover and worthwhile work to do to preserve it. This city really is an ideal setting for the Historic Preservation program in particular.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I don’t tend to plan that far ahead—5 years ago, I hadn’t even heard of the field of Historic Preservation yet! But I am very happy with the work I did at Penn and in the months since, so maybe I’ll be right where I am now. Except hopefully I’ll have traded this apartment for a row house that I can provide with some TLC, as we preservation alumni are obligated to do.

Are you keeping in touch with classmates, students or faculty?
I hope I have made clear my fondness for the Preservation faculty. I still live in the neighborhood, so I won’t be a stranger. I was also extraordinarily lucky to have a tight-knit class. Out of almost 30 students, it wasn’t unusual to see 20 of us hanging out together on a regular basis. Although people have begun to spread out as they move for new jobs, so far everyone is doing a great job of staying in touch. And fortunately, a good-sized group is planning on staying in Philadelphia indefinitely. The preservation community is very small, and I consider myself fortunate to have so many good friends within it.

Any words of advice for prospective students?
I had a clear list of skills that I wanted to leave Penn with, which helped me to prioritize my schedule every year. In the two-year program, some electives are only offered once, so it’s important not to be too much of a dilettante. But more importantly, make sure you have a good motivation—a driving interest—for pursuing the education. The Preservation program is a ton of work, but for me it was do-able because I was continually fascinated with the subject matter. If you are unsure whether your interests fall within the purview of the program, have a frank chat with the faculty or alumni before committing.

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