Historic Preservation

Center for Research on Preservation and Society

PennDesign's Center for Research on Preservation and Society studies the relationships between historic preservation and contemporary social dynamics—particularly city planning, economic development, urban design and the interpretation of cultural values. The center’s goal is generating debate and disseminating knowledge about the functions, uses and impacts of preservation in contemporary society.

Broad societal understanding of historic preservation has traditionally been hampered by a lack of research on preservation and its connections to cultural, economic and other social issues. Such understanding can be advanced, in the first instance, by scholarly research. Lack academic infrastructure devoted to the questions linking preservation and contemporary society have limited progress. Rigorous, scholarly research—as opposed to research driven purely by advocacy—is needed to advance the state of practice, cultivate supporters, strengthen the education of preservation professionals, improve public policy, and strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of preservation institutions. The Center addresses these pressing needs by undertaking strategically chosen research activities and creating a platform for the collaboration of scholars from numerous social-science, humanities, design and professional fields on the issues linking preservation and society.

Current and past research initiatives include:

  • Research characterizing and analyzing the neighborhood-level impacts of federal rehabilitation tax credits in large American cities, with Professor Stephanie Ryberg (PhD ’10) of Cleveland State University; please see here and here.
  • Research associate Collette Kinane (MSHP '12) is leading a project to survey large areas of the city as part of the District Plans being undertaken as part of Philadelphia's 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Alumna Cara Bertron (MSHP '11) developed and piloted the survey methodology in 2011-12.
  • Presentations to World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank seminars (May 2011 and September 2010, respectively) on the integration of urban conservation in regeneration projects;
  • Preservation Plan for Philadelphia: For the Preservation Alliance’s initiative to stimulate citywide preservation planning, the Center carried out research and public engagement and authored “Historic Preservation in 2020: Strategic Vision and Strategic Initiatives”; this project also resulted in an article on preservation planning in large American cities published in the National Trust’s Forum;
  • Cultural Landscape Report for El Morro National Monument (a National Park Service site in western New Mexico): this project has been a collaboration with the Architectural Conservation Laboratory, integrating the work of several students and faculty on research to create new management guidance for this complex site with fantastic rock art, archaeological and ethnographic resources.
  • White paper on community engagement methods, researched and written by Lindsey Allen (MSHP 10), Cara Bertron (MSHP ’11) and Professor Mason (commissioned by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia);
  • Partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to convene a workshop on future stewardship and interpretation of Louis Kahn’s Fisher House (funded by Pew’s Heritage Philadelphia Program).
  • “History Hits the Front Page”: a series of seminars undertaken with support of the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Seminar Fund with colleagues from the Departments of History (Phoebe Kropp), Anthropology (Robert Preucel) and the Annenberg School for Communication (Barbie Zelizer).

Contact Prof. Randall Mason at rfmason@design.upenn.edu.