Historic Preservation

Posted October 12, 2018
  • John Moulton Homestead in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is one of several U.S. sites where The Center for Architectural Conservation is applying its expertise.

  • Mission San José de Tumacácori, south of Tucson, Arizona, is another site in the American southwest where the Center was recently engaged.

  • Square Tower, Mesa Verde National Park, was one of the sites targeted in a collaboration with the National Park Service to develop a technical preservation training curriculum.

  • The Center developed a conservation and management plan for George Nakashima’s Arts Building and Cloister, outside of New Hope, Pennsylvania.

New Chapter for Architectural Conservation at PennDesign

PennDesign’s distinguished center for training and research in the technical conservation of the built environment, The Center for Architectural Conservation, has a new home and a new name.

Founded in 1991 as The Architectural Conservation Laboratory and led by Frank G. Matero, professor of architecture and chair of the graduate program in historic preservation, the Center has relocated its base of operations to the former site of the Philadelphia Divinity School at 4201 Spruce Street, nearly tripling its space. The newly renovated 2,000 square-foot facility houses research staff and graduate students engaged in the many research opportunities Matero has generated through partnerships with federal agencies such as the National Park Service, NGOs, and private sponsors. Through grants and sponsored projects, the Center undertakes the documentation, recording, material analysis, condition assessment, and the development of new treatments and treatment evaluation for historic structures and sites.

The Center’s new facility will allow the organization to expand its current program of activities to include workshops and colloquia for the professional community on the most pressing technical issues facing practitioners and scholars of the conservation of the historic built environment. Following a sold-out symposium, Concrete Surface, last year that attracted professionals from around the world, the Center has identified several critical topics for future programming. Based on a three-year project with the National Park Service on climate change and its effects on cultural resources in the American Southwest, the Center will host a workshop on site vulnerabilities and the development of a framework for assessment.

The Center is also engaged in exploring new digital platforms for the coordination and integration of multiple data sets required for the documentation, analysis, and management of historic sites. Using approaches developed for mainstream digital humanities projects, The Center is producing groundbreaking conservation-based narratives, such as its recently launched website on the slate industry of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, The Slate Belt.

The Center has a full roster of projects for the 2018-2019 academic year and beyond. In the spring of 2019, Matero and his students will continue their work on the American stone industry using the archives and massive historic stone collection of the Vermont Marble Company, which was recently acquired by Penn. This work charts the rise of stone as a defining component in American architecture beginning in the early 19th century. Through a new agreement with The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, PennDesign students and faculty will engage in an integrated series of inquiries related to design history, technology, and the role of conservation as interpretation at Taliesin West, the National Historic Landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Center has completed work at some of the world’s most important cultural heritage sites, both across the United States and internationally, from George Nakashima’s Arts Building and Cloister in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum in New York to Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde in Colorado to the Phrygian capital of Gordion in Turkey. The Center’s partners have included the National Park Service; the Getty Conservation Institute; the Aga Khan Trust for Culture; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation; English Heritage; Middle Eastern Technical University; Cambridge University and the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico.

Learn about the Center’s past and present projects at www.conlab.org and its Flickr page.