Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Unitarian Church by Louis Kahn

Our trustee Jean France sends the following:

The First Unitarian Church of Rochester is sponsoring a program, "Our Louis Kahn Building", on November 8 at 8 p.m. It will be a panel discussion moderated by Sterling Weaver and featuring Duncan Buell, member of Kahn's firm during construction, Marlin Potter, contractor on the project for Robert Hylan and Sons, and Jean France, architectural historian and member of the architect selection committee.

Jean France is a professor emeritus at the University of Rochester and, as noted above, was personally involved in the congregation's decision to hire Louis Kahn as the architect. She has written a fascinating brochure about the church building.

The First Unitarian Church is located at 220 S. Winton Road, between Highland and East Avenue.


Modernist Architecture Meets Art World

Continuing to think about modernist architecture and its future, and discovering that the world or art has it in mind too. London anyone?

(Also, check out this great
web magazine and hit the art or architecture tabs for some very neat stuff!)

Lucy Williams exhibition
from Wallpaper* magazine, Sept. 5, 2007, available online here.

If the word collage brings to mind used up yoghurt pots, egg cartons, glitter and glue, then the work of Lucy Williams might come as quite a shock. The British artist specializes in low relief collages of mid-20th century Modernist architecture, and couldn't be further away from the sticky mess we've all created in yesteryears.

Modernist architecture in collage might seem an unlikely pairing of subject matter and medium but even the briefest glance at Williams' work shows how well the stark and hard-edged geometry lends itself to depiction in modular blocks of different material in a range of subtle textures and colors. The minute precision is extraordinary: each iron railing, brick and leaf is individually applied and the overall effect is mesmerizing.

Click here to view Lucy's work from 'Beneath a woolen sky'.

Williams' has her first solo show in London this month titled 'Beneath a Woolen Sky' at the Timothy Taylor Gallery and we caught up with artist to find out more...

Did you want to be an artist when you were younger?
No, not really, I didn't realize you could be such a thing until I had nearly left school, but I was always making things.

Where does you fascination with mid-century Modernism stem from?
There is something visually iconic about Modernist architecture, pared down, distilled to its essence, a blank canvas we imagine inhabiting. The era was about belief, ideas that we now no longer hold, of social cohesion through the design of a building, Utopian dreams long dissipated. Within the work those ideals are celebrated, but must also describe a time lost to us now.

Who, what, where and when are you greatest sources of inspiration?
The Constructivists; the concept of the Bauhaus and its output; the RIBA archive; Patrick Caulfield; municipal architecture; Mary Martin; new towns; Ben Nicholson; El Lissitzky's Abstract Cabinet in the Sprengel Museum in Hannover; swimming pools.

How long does each work take to produce and what does the process consist of?
Each work takes about a month, sometimes longer. Once I have found a photograph, I scale it up and make a very detailed and precise drawing. It is at this stage I have a pretty good idea whether it will work as a collage, and also at this stage I make my first decisions about what materials I will use. I work from back to front, usually deciding how the background will be made and slowly working forward. I plan a little but not very much, I like being surprised, and in this respect it is not unlike the process of painting.

How did you master the precision involved in your work?
Lots of practice! My work has evolved its complexity over time. There are things I cut now that I wouldn't have been able to do a few years ago.

There's a very powerful sense of absence and vacancy in your images, is this a conscious deployment?
I see them more as a world to be inhabited, but people do often see them as the way you describe. People project different narratives onto them.

Posted by Joanne Arany, executive director


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008 Political Poll Results

From our website:

Election time is upon us! As in previous years, The Landmark Society sent a brief questionnaire to key local candidates as part of our efforts to understand candidate positions on issues concerning historic preservation. This year we focused on all relevant legislative races in Monroe County at the federal, state, and local level: U.S. Congress, New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, County Legislature, and Henrietta, Penfield, and Riga Town Councils.

The results of these surveys can educate our members about how candidates might approach issues of historic preservation should they be elected. We believe this information is vital to our community.

The questionnaire and the responses may be viewed here. Candidates who failed to respond are also noted. Candidates' responses are published in their entirety; no changes or alterations were made.

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to view your candidates' responses. We believe this information will be of value as you choose your vote.


Joanne Arany, Executive Director
Jerry Ludwig, President


Sustainability, Recent Past, and More from Tulsa

Yesterday I posted a link to a description of an interesting session on climate change at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference in Tulsa. Here are a few more posts worth reading from Trust staffers who attended the conference.

One session whose description really resonated with me concerned sustainability issues relating to post-WWII buildings. Lately I've been giving two presentations, one on how historic preservation is the greenest form of development (recycling on a grand scale), and one on the importance of identifying and protecting our notable resources from the recent past. The two concepts are somewhat in conflict, as mid- to late-20th century buildings, on average, have much worse energy performance than buildings constructed before 1920 or after 2000 - so in one presentation I try to build people's appreciation for recent resources, while in the other I point out that they, not the older buildings more easily recognized as "historic," are a big problem from an energy perspective. The session on sustainability and modern buildings posed this dilemma as an opportunity, as described by Barbara Campagna:

...according to a 2003 Department of Energy report, 55% of America’s commercial building stock was built between 1945 and 1990. And the most inefficient buildings are those built during this same period. Given that almost 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the US come from the operations and construction of buildings, the only way we are going to make a demonstrable impact to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through the greening of our modern heritage – most of which are not stellar icons like those discussed in this session.

The session looked at the philosophical and practical issues associated with making these decidedly un-green buildings, constructed when energy was cheap (ever try to open a window in a 1960s office building?) more environmentally friendly.

While the session Barbara Campagna described focused on iconic buildings, another session looked at very ordinary buildings: 1950s and 1960s neighborhoods. This was another topic of particular interest to me, as I'm working on a project with the Village of Pittsford to develop some guidance for their Architectural and Preservation Review Board to use when reviewing applications to alter post-war houses in the village (the entire Village of Pittsford is a locally designated preservation district, meaning that any exterior alteration to any building, regardless of age, must be reviewed by the APRB). Adrian Scott Fine points out that in Tulsa, as in many communities, preservationists and others are just starting to come to grips with the implications of post-war neighborhoods as potential historic resources:

In an already rabid private property rights environment, it’s a tough sell to put in place local historic or conservation district designation anywhere these days, let alone to do it for a 1950s ranch house neighborhood. A big part of the problem is us and our need to get over ourselves. The idea of saving places which are from the period of our living memory is affected by a number of prejudices, where taste all too often trumps judgment. History didn’t stop in 1945 or in 1975. We cannot pick and choose arbitrarily which era of our past to deem more important.

Finally, another of Barbara Campagna's posts, this one a story about a tour of green rehabilitations in and around downtown Tulsa, resonated, for obvious reasons:

I learned that 60% of Tulsa’s downtown core is covered with parking lots and that the neighborhoods, communities and culture exist on the edge of downtown or the older “suburbs”. That encouraged me a bit, although I would like to understand sometime what happened to downtown Tulsa to devastate it to such an extent. There is no retail, few restaurants, no pharmacies, grocery stores, or dry cleaners anywhere in sight downtown. And while many downtowns around the country go dormant on the weekends, I have never seen a major city that is dormant during the week also...

...What I learned from this trip and from several other visits around the city over the weekend, was that there are islands of hope in the city. What’s missing right now is connection. Downtown has more holes than beauty and most of the innovation appears to be on the edge of downtown. But each of these projects represented the best in community activism and dedication to reviving place. Each of the people we met behind the tour and the projects are adaptive use warriors -– recognizing the importance of keeping what you can and looking for ways to bring culture and community to their city. I hope that the influx of 1,500+ preservationists will have some impact on the political will and that ten years from now the surface parking lots will be replaced with parks and green buildings, you will be able to find a pharmacy, grocery, restaurant, and store on every corner and the streets will be alive with activity during both the week and the weekend.

Sound familiar?

The National Trust conference will be in Buffalo in 2011 - we look forward to the opportunity to bring those 1,500 preservationists to Rochester while they're right next door.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, October 27, 2008

Preservation and Climate Change - A View from "Across the Pond"

Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation held its annual conference in Tulsa. I wasn't able to make the trip to Oklahoma but have been following along via the National Trust's blog, where Trust staffers have been describing the sessions, their impressions of Tulsa, and more. A post describing a session on climate change and historic preservation, featuring speakers from the United Kingdom, caught my eye. From the description posted by Barbara Campagna, it sounds like it was quite a far-reaching session, containing information on current and projected impacts of climate change on specific historic properties, discussion of how to truly measure values related to sustainability, and explanations of steps that British preservation organizations are taking to both adapt to climate-induced changes and to reduce the energy needs of historic buildings. Here's a particularly chilling passage from Barbara's description:

Decades of neglect and little investment leads to slum clearance and wholesale redevelopment, while whole life costing tied to embodied carbon modeling has been using carbon calculations (15-20 years) assigned by bankers and investors that are likely less than the true value of our material culture. In terms of ecological sustainability, models suggest that melting ice caps will cause a breach of the Thames and catastrophic flooding of London.
At the end of the post are some interesting links to British organizations that are pursuing this type of holistic view of climate change as it pertains to historic buildings - great stuff.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting Ready for Winter?

A recent article in the Boston Globe about "buttoning up" your house for the winter includes a neat interactive graphic (click on the image of the house to see the graphic) where you can see the payback period for various weatherization techniques. The shortest payback period? Window plastic wrap, that clear plastic you can install on the inside of your windows in the fall and remove in the spring. The longest? Replacement windows - at 33 years (according to this article, anyway - other studies have found much longer payback periods, well longer than the expected life of the windows).

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Preservation by relocation" or "harvesting?"

Our November newsletter arrived on my desk this morning, and should be in your mailboxes soon (not a member? Join here!). In the newsletter is an article I wrote about historic religious buildings in urban areas, focusing on the challenges they face as demographics shift, some of the innovative ways former religious buildings have been reused, and resources that can help congregations maintain their historic religious buildings.

A recent article in the Buffalo News presents an unusual approach to the problem: a congregation in Georgia wishes to purchase and dismantle a vacant Buffalo church, move it to Georgia, and reassemble it there as their new house of worship. Is this historic preservation? Normally a moved building is considered to have lost a significant component of its historic integrity, because it is no longer in its original setting. However, there are cases where moving a building is the only way to save it - if demolition is imminent, for example. In the case of this former church in Buffalo, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether the building might have the potential for reuse if it remains in its original location. Buffalo has a surplus of empty religious buildings, due to a large number of church closures, and while there have been notable reuses, many are sitting empty.

What would you think if a vacant building in your community was moved somewhere else - is it a great save, or a community loss? Would you rather see it mothballed in place in the hope that the future might bring new uses (much as there is now a strong demand in many cities for long-vacant industrial space for loft apartments), or know that another owner is taking care of it elsewhere?

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


A recent past loss in Palm Beach

Here's a story and a very sad video about the demolition of the Manus House in Palm Beach, an interesting modernist house by Browning Parker, a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was one of Parker's favorites of his 6,000 designs, so much so that he attempted, unsuccessfully, to salvage some of its components to reuse in his own house. The house was 48 years old, just shy of the 50-year mark when buildings usually are more easily recognized as "historic."

It's because of losses like this that we are working to identify our region's own gems from the recent past. If you know of a house, gas station, school, office building, or any other building, structure or landscape that evokes the 20th century particularly well, tell us what you know about it! Visit our Archipedia website, where we are teaming up with the AIA to collect information about our region's 20th-century resources. Fill in what you know, and enter "N/A" for what you don't - we'll fill in the blanks for you.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Former LSWNY Trustee Honored by Preservation League

Former Landmark Society trustee Trude Brown Fitelson received a prestigious Excellence in Preservation Award from the Preservation League of New York State this fall. The award honored Trude's achievements in promoting historic preservation in the beautiful Thousand Island Park, a historic Methodist campground that evolved into a popular resort area. She was instrumental in promoting the National Register listing for the park and has spearheaded many other planning efforts focused on sustaining the character of this unique community. Congratulations, Trude!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rochester's Underground

Last Saturday, October 11th, my wife, Carole and I recently had the opportunity to visit the fabled Rochester Underground beneath Broad Street. While this was on a large tour as part of the River Romance festivities and we only traveled from South Ave to the Blue Cross Arena, I couldn't help but be taken by this once great and bustling area. I felt I could almost see and hear the trains pass as workers came and went from their downtown jobs. I enjoyed listening to the city planners discuss their ideas for use and revitalization of the space. I think anything that can be done with this asset should be done, save 2 options: fill it in or leave it alone. If you haven't been down there, find an opportunity to go; perhaps the City will be offering these free tours again. Don't go alone or in a small group. There are many groups out there talking about the future of this underground world. One group that hosted the free tour on Saturday is the Canal Society of NYS. See their web site by clicking here. Hopefully it won't remain in its current state for very long.

By Mark Lombard, husband of our Finance Officer, Carole Lombard. Mark is a "volunteer" at the Landmark Society (like all of the spouses are)!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Politics and Preservation

Is anyone else out there both a preservationist and a political junkie? If so, during this last stretch of the election season, you might be wondering about the intersection of historic preservation and politics. Historic preservation doesn’t exactly rank high on most candidates’ lists of priorities, and in an election dominated by issues related to the economy, health care, foreign policy, and energy, I would be shocked to hear either of the presidential candidates utter the words “historic preservation.” Still, since preservation does tie into broader issues, particularly economic and energy issues, it’s certainly relevant to wonder what the impact of the races to be decided in just a few weeks will be on historic preservation.

There are folks out there who spend their time working to advance preservation-related public policies, and this seems like a great time to let you know what they're up to. As a graduate student, I was an intern at Preservation Action, the nation’s grassroots lobbying organization for historic preservation at the federal level. PA has an impressive track record of effective work on behalf of historic preservation, advocating on behalf of the federal preservation program, the federal rehabilitation tax credits, and national programs like Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America. They have been instrumental in building the Historic Preservation Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of Congresspeople who pledge to work in support of the “the preservation and thoughtful economic development of historic places.” Seven Congresspeople from New York State, including Louise Slaughter, are members of this caucus.

As a grassroots network, PA is based on the support and participation of preservation advocates working at the local level throughout the country. Our region is not well represented in their membership rolls (I may still be the only Rochester-area member!); I encourage you to join and support this great cause. While it may seem like federal-level legislation and policy has little impact on what we do at the local level, the truth is, decisions made in Washington do impact us every day. I know I don’t have time to be actively involved in federal issues day to day, but it’s nice to know that Preservation Action is there to fill that role on our behalf.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation also takes an increasingly active role in advocating for policies that promote historic preservation and sensible development. In addition to its own advocacy work, the Trust’s Public Policy Department offers resources that can help local advocates make the case for appropriate preservation policies in their own communities. Check out their website for a variety of useful tools.

At the state level, the Preservation League of New York State coordinates a statewide coalition of preservationists who seek to advance preservation policies, with a particular focus in recent years on creating a meaningful state tax incentive for historic preservation. The specific political framework in our state (not to mention the current fiscal situation) makes this a challenging undertaking, but the colleagues across the state continue to make our case that preservation is a sensible and necessary investment in the future of our communities.

At The Landmark Society, our advocacy work also includes educating our local candidates about preservation and educating our members and friends about those candidates’ positions. Each fall, our Advocacy Task Force prepares a questionnaire to ask candidates for local, state and federal office in Monroe County their views on historic preservation and related issues. We are now collecting replies from the candidates and will have those up on our website next week; watch this space for more! We see this project as a great opportunity to let our candidates know what issues are most important to us, and to give our members and friends information that will help them evaluate how the candidates would approach local issues pertaining to revitalization, sprawl, and sustainable development.

While we did not send our questionnaire, which focused on relevant state and local issues, to the presidential candidates, it is interesting to wonder where they stand on historic preservation. I came across a blog post recently that posed the question of how each candidate would affect the field of historic preservation. Nellie Longsworth, past president of Preservation Action, used to say that preservation was not a Democratic or a Republican issue; there are supporters on both sides of the aisle and there have been leaders from both sides who have advanced distinctly pro-preservation policies.

After all, historic preservation ties into issues that candidates on both sides hold dear: it’s about strengthening local economies and creating local jobs, revitalizing historic downtowns and neighborhoods, conserving a unique sense of place, protecting the environment, and protecting and promoting the places that have contributed to our national character over the generations. We won't hear the presidential candidates address historic preservation specifically, but perhaps as we listen to them talk about bigger economic and environmental issues, we can make some inferences as to what type of leadership they would provide on the issues that impact our communities and our historic resources.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Preservation Boards Mingle in Perinton

Last night the town of Perinton hosted the first annual Preservation Boards & Commissions Fall Networking Event, planned by the Landmark Society’s small but active Boards & Commissions committee.
We had a tremendous turnout of about 60 preservation board and commission members. After introductions and welcoming remarks from our executive director, Joanne Arany, Perinton town supervisor Jim Smith, and Perinton Historic Architecture Commission chair Ann Parks, we heard a whirlwind overview of architectural styles from Cynthia Howk, followed by a quick game of “stump the expert” in which we threw a few surprise images at Cynthia to see how she and the group did at identifying their style and date. Before and after the formal program, the room was full of energetic conversation as board and commission members mingled and shared experiences. From the feedback we’ve received so far, the event was a hit, leaving everyone eager for more training and more networking opportunities.

Almost 30 municipalities in our region have local preservation ordinances, and in each of these there is an appointed group of community residents that may be called a preservation board, preservation commission, architectural review board, historic sites committee, or something similar. (This is not to be confused with a historical society or the town historian, although in some case the local historian is an ex officio member of or advisor to the board.) This is the group charged with identifying and designating local landmarks, reviewing proposed alterations to individual properties and properties in designated districts, and issuing Certificates of Appropriateness to verify that such alterations will be done in conformance with preservation standards.

Each municipality’s ordinance is slightly different, ranging from purely voluntary ordinances with no enforcement powers to stricter controls that seek to maintain the historic character of a property or district. The details of how each board or commission operates vary as well. Each individual board or commission has a different set of specific duties: some are at an early stage of identifying local landmarks and building support for designations, while others have long-established lists of designated landmarks and districts and spend most of their time on design review. Perinton was a great place to hold this event since town leaders have demonstrated strong support for preservation and a long track record of proactive, sophisticated work on behalf of historic resources. When we advise newer boards on how best to conduct themselves, we often recommend that they visit the Perinton board.

The members of these boards and commissions are volunteers who have some level of expertise in the subject of historic preservation. Most ordinances require that board membership include such categories as a Realtor, an architect, and a preservation district resident. They make their judgments on the basis of design guidelines, federal standards, and accepted preservation practice. In their makeup and role within municipal structure, the boards are similar to zoning and planning boards, and indeed all three boards function best when they are in regular contact with one another.

Last night’s event provided a taste of what we intend will be a regular series of opportunities for board/commission members to convene for training and networking. To continue the discussion between these events, we invite all preservation board and commission members in western New York to join our online discussion group where you can share your experiences, ask one another questions, and gain access to a variety of helpful information. Learn more and join the group at (If you don’t already have a Yahoo ID, you will be asked to create one, but you can participate in the group using your regular email address if you prefer. To ensure that its group members do not receive spam, Yahoo has stringent anti-spam measures, which you can read about here.) If you are a member of a preservation board or commission, or are just interested in the subject, please join the group - we need a few more members to get real conversations going!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, October 6, 2008

And now for something completely different? Not really!

Last week’s “Your Old House” workshop brought a devoted band of old-house enthusiasts to our Stone-Tolan House. Home-repair columnist and Landmark Society board president Jerry Ludwig took us on a walk around the house to demonstrate how homeowners should inspect their own houses. As the sun went down and the rain started to fall, we went inside the barn to hear architect and trustee Virginia Searl explain the most cost-effective ways homeowners can improve the energy efficiency of their houses. I learned a lot and came out of the session with a long to-do list for upcoming weekends!

When I saw the list of four topics to be covered in this fall’s workshops, the one that jumped out at me was this week’s topic: “Composting 101.” The relevance of this topic might not be immediately apparent, so I thought I’d share my own perspective on why this is part of the series. (I could have just asked Rebecca, who coordinates the series, or Beverly, who is doing the presentation, but instead I’ll just take a stab at it and they can let me know if I’m right!)

I suppose the most obvious answer is that our houses and gardens are closely intertwined, and often people with an interest in one have an interest in the other. On a more philosophical note, it’s about being stewards who live in the present but are aware of the past and the future. As the current owner of an old house, I see myself as part of a continuum that reaches back to previous owners and forward to the future generations who will someday love and care for my house as I do today. As my family adapts our 1920s house to our own needs and desires, we have a responsibility to treat what our predecessors have left us with respect and to think ahead to what we will leave to the next owners.

Whether we think about it consciously or not, we old-house owners are recyclers, choosing to re-use precious resources rather than to create something new. In my family’s case, and I suspect in many of yours, this is indeed a conscious decision and one that we are trying to extend to other aspects of our lives. Recognizing that we are temporary stewards of the environment just as we are temporary stewards of this house, we are making an effort to think more carefully about the environmental impacts of many things we do, from the food we eat to the household products we use; we're trying not to throw away things we could reuse and to recycle as much as possible. This year, we, like many other families, started a vegetable garden for the first time, inspired by a desire to eat as locally as possible. In our small, mostly shady, city lot, we grew peas, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers; not only did these taste better than any other veggies we’ve ever had, they were a great teaching tool for our kids, who got a kick out of watching those tiny seeds grow into plants and into food we could eat (or in their case, not eat).

Composting, of course, is part of that continuum. My family has a kitchen scrap pail and a tumbling compost bin, so even the clipped tomato branches and carrot peels are not wasted but are going right back to make next year’s garden even better.

I look forward to hearing Beverly’s tips Tuesday night and hope to see you there! To buy tickets in advance or to read about the rest of our series, check our website.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator