Thursday, February 26, 2009

Green Strategies for Historic Buildings: June 4 Workshop

We know that preservation is inherently green, but how do we put that into practice when working with historic buildings?

The Landmark Society is delighted to be working with our statewide colleagues at the Preservation League of New York State to bring an exciting new program on that very topic to Rochester. On June 4, 2009, the National Preservation Institute will present a daylong seminar, “Green Strategies for Historic Buildings,” at the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s Eisenhart Auditorium.

Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED AP, will present the practical applications of using green building strategies for historic structures, demonstrating how the environmental goal of “reduce, reuse, recycle” can enhance the capital cost competitiveness of preservation projects. Workshop participants will also review the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards used to assess building performance and focus on preservation challenges relating to energy efficiency, windows, lighting, indoor air quality, HVAC, and local and national codes and regulations.

This seminar is aimed at professionals who work with historic buildings: architects, engineers, facility managers, developers, etc.

We're really excited about this seminar. NPI is presenting 48 workshops this year throughout the country, but ours is the only one in New York State, and one of only two in the northeastern U.S.! Wouldn't it be great to demonstrate our region's support for preservation and sustainability with record-breaking turnout?

More information, including a registration form, can be found on our website.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Kid's Eye View of "Walk the Walk"

Cindy Boyer, Director of Museums and Education, compiled these wonderful comments from students who attended this year's performances of "Walk the Walk: Encounters with Rochester's African-American Ancestors" earlier this month:

Dear Mrs. Boyer and Mrs Jackson, Thank you for putting on a great story for everyone. Can you tell the actors they were good? – Jaquan, Grade 4

Captain Sunfish

He was telling about African-Americans and being funny at the same time – 5th grader

He was funny and you could learn something at the same time – 5th grader

He didn’t know about the changes (since his time) and was hoping for change – 6th grader

He was funny, and looked and acted like Will Smith – 6th grader

He had a sense of humor and was interactive – 6th grader

Captain Sunfish involved the crowd – 6th grader

Captain Sunfish told people to open up their hearts – 6th grader

Captain Sunfish was my favorite story because it tells you what happened back then when none of my classmates and me were born – 5th grader

My favorite part was when Captain Sunfish took off his feet – 5th grader

Austin Steward

I chose Austin Steward because it teaches about never giving up! – 5th grader

I learned do not listen to bullies. I liked the actors because they were telling the truth – 4th grader

Austin Steward taught me to never give up – Jonathan, 4th grader

Austin Steward never gave up on what he wanted and he learned that hard work pays off – 5th grader

This story taught me about self courage – Jontrase, 5th grader

He taught us never give up on what we want to do – Jimyra, 5th grader

Austin Steward was my favorite story because he was brave to tell the police that his sign got messed up by someone – Sunshine, 5th grader

I can relate to the part where he talked about bullies - Geronda, 5th grader

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass inspired me to never give up and have hope – Renaisha, Grade 4

The best part of the morning was getting up close with Frederick Douglass – 4th grader

Frederick Douglass came from a place where he wasn’t anything and he made himself something – 6th grader

Frederick Douglass taught us what an orator means – 5th grader

Frederick Douglass was an excellent actor, and I want to be a speaker – 5th grader

I didn’t know that John Brown tried to commit violence – Xavier, 6th grader

Frederick Douglass gave a lot of background, and he made it really clear and understandable – Jasmine, 6th grader

Anna Murray Douglass

I liked the Anna Murray Douglass story because it was life-like and deep – 4th grader

It was my favorite story because at first it was sad, but then when she reunited with Frederick Douglass, it was beautiful – Aeilil, 5th grader

Anna really made me feel like I was there at the same time and in the same situation – Tori, 6th grader

I chose Anna Murray Douglass story because to me it felt so realistic and yes it touched my heart – 6th grader

I learned the most from her; I did not know she could not bury her daughter - 6th grader

She was a great actor and had a very interesting story – 6th grader

I could see the pain she goes through – Justen, 5th grader

I chose this one because she reminded me of my family – Faith, 5th grader

Mary Jackson

The Dorsey home was my favorite because it was sad at first until Mr and Mrs. Dorsey took in Mary Jackson – 4th grader

The Dorsey story taught me to be nice to others – 6th grader

Mary Jackson taught me a lesson I will remember forever in my whole life – 6th grader

She taught me I should help someone that didn’t fit in – Venezia, 5th grader

I liked this story because it taught be about being black back in the day – Lakeisha, 5th grader

George Brown

I was so into George Brown’s speech about the civil war – 5th grader

I learned that George Brown was a soldier – 5th grader

The best part was when he said Hallolujia (SP) and broke his cane – 6th grader

George Brown taught me the most, because he talked about his life in slavery – 5th grader

I learned he was forced to fight for the South and when he became free he fought for the north – 6th grader

This was my favorite because he put a laugh in hist story – Carlee, 5th grader

I liked George Brown, he told a lot about how he escaped – 6th grader

General Comments – or would you recommend the program to other kids, and why?

You need to know the truth about the past and where our ancestors came from and how thankful we should be to have come this far – 6th grader

It teaches a lot of history and helps you imagine what happened – 6th grader

The best part is when we got to say “WALK THE WALK AND TALK THE TALK” – 5th grader

This teaches you about the history of us African-Americans in a kid way – 5th grader

I learned that African-Americans can do anything if they put their mind to it – 5th grader

This program gave good info in a fun way that makes it stick in your mind – Jasmine, 6th grader

I learned a lot of info that I will keep forever and ever – Tori, 6th grader

People need to know why we have what we have today – Lataves, 5th grader

My favorite part of the morning was the actors telling their stories – I can picture it still in my mind – 5th grader

The performance rocked! – 6th grader


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rethinking demolition - Renaissance Square

The following letter was sent to the editor of the Democrat and Chronicle at the end of January.

Dear Editor,

The Landmark Society congratulates the County's commitment to downtown Rochester. Yet, along with other Renaissance Square programmatic concerns, we remain troubled about plans to demolish the buildings along Main Street east of the Granite Building.

The buildings at Clinton and Main Street are not individually noteworthy, yet when grouped, they form a continuous streetwall that defines traditional downtown character. Streets lined by buildings are lively, pedestrian-friendly, and urban in the best sense. The existing city zoning code reflects robust urban planning principles: zoning regulations for Main Street call for strong, fixed edges at the front lot line to "promote spatial definition along the streetscape." This project seems to abandon these important principles.

We strongly encourage project planners to rethink plans for "green space" in this location and look instead for alternatives that foster sound urban planning and vitality. We recommend the current buildings at the corner of Main and Clinton remain. The City and County should encourage developers to consider their adaptive reuse or, if demolition must occur, delay until more appropriate plans are in place.


Joanne Arany
Executive Director


Monday, February 9, 2009

Masdar - A Masterpiece or Masquerade

Being a preservationist, your default mode is to find value in historic properties and sometimes, you tend to condone the newer developments. Even for our very own city, we have had polarized views about the Renaissance Square project, but I feel it’s always healthy to look around and learn from your contemporaries. Recently the Masdar City project has been hyped by the local and international media to the hilt. It is an interesting approach to urban planning and I think it will be very useful for our city to look at these new approaches and apply it to our in-house projects.

Masdar City, meaning “the source” is a one of its kind project undertaken by the Abu Dhabi government. Designed by the British architecture firm Norman Foster & partners, a $22 billion project, 6 square kilometer township Masdar city is undoubtedly the most ambitious project of the contemporary global world. Masdar city is futuristic in its design intent which will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy resources with a sustainable, zero-carbon, car-free, zero-waste ecology.

In many ways, Masdar City is a very ironic reaction to the present state of affairs in UAE. According to the WWF ecological footprint report Our Living Planet, which covers 150 countries around the world, the UAE has the largest footprint in the world, i.e. the UAE population places the most stress per capita on the planet. Compared to the world average Total Ecological Footprint (TEF) of 1.8 global ha/person, the TEF for the UAE is 11.9 global ha/person. It indeed comes as a surprise that one of the most oil rich states is setting up the world’s first carbon neutral and zero waste community. The design of the Masdar City takes its cue from Arabic tradition of walled cities, where the stone-and-mud walls will be covered in photovoltaic panels capable of generating 130 megawatts. The placement and site planning of the buildings are such that on the northern edge, the walls are more permeable to let in breezes. Electricity will be generated from photovoltaic cells integrated into rooftops and a 20-megawatt wind farm. The water into the city will be fed from a solar-powered desalination plant.

The circulation layout of Masdar City will allow the individuals to live and work without the need for a personal vehicle. It will have narrow, shaded streets, more suitable for walking. Masdar will set up an integrated transportation system that will utilize Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and Material Rapid Transit (MRT) systems that, together with pedestrian and public transit methods, will safely move people, goods and emergency services in a multi-level, barrier free environment. At the same time, it will be the first city to operate without fossil fueled autos and trucks.

Many interesting questions are asked around the globe on the intent, success potential and long term sustainability of the project, some of which were addressed in a panel discussion conducted by TreeHugger - the leading media outlet for environmental issues. A summary and discussion is presented next.

Is Masdar City project a step towards genuine sustainable development in Gulf or a strategy to protect UAE from environmental criticism?

Believers: The integrated design and planning principles like use of narrow and shaded streets, site plan which allows least amount of direct sunlight striking the buildings during high temperature, high density built up area with no sprawl, use of renewable energy materials, locally sourced Arabian materials, collaborative efforts between sustainable transporation, waste management, water conservation, green construction, recycling, climate change – all these ingredients are ideal for genuine sustainable development.

Skeptics: Although the design and planning principles all point towards sustainability but skeptics are concerned about infrastructural issues. They want to quantify concerns like “If all the oil is gone from the earth, will Masdar City be able to support its population with all the renewable energy it will generate”? Does it have the infrastructural and construction support to continue with this project?

What is the success potential of Masdar City in terms of justifying the principles of sustainability, which so far have been identified as mixed use, high density development and incorporating mass-transit?

Believers: By virtue of its design principles, Masdar City confirms to even the very stringent requirements of sustainable development. Masdar University is planned to open in 2009 with the collaboration of Massachussets Institute of Technology. The university is aimed at being a center for elemnetary as well as advanced learning in sustainable development, one that will directly impact the way the city evolves.

Skeptics: Masdar City’s design has an over-reliance on the expensive personal rapid transport, which is in its infancy and if this system fails, the entire design scheme is doomed. As urban planner Christopher Choa puts it “the development also depends on a highly engineered infrastructure network, which makes it very difficult to collaborate with sub-developers and deliver the scheme in a way that responds flexibly to phasing, market demand, and developer capabilities. No single entity in the UAE has the development capacity to deliver this project, so having an inflexible development approach either dooms the project, or risks degrading the ideal nature of the scheme in order to bring it to market.”[1]

What is the success rate of long term sustainability of the project as it is always more sustainable to re-build existing cities than to build cities from scratch?

Believers: Juxtaposing the old and the new is far more complicated than starting from scratch. The success of a new city relies on a multitude of factors such as geographical, economic, political, social, technological and environmental. Masdar surely has the ingredients to be very successful, considering that the planners of the city have paid attention to the local culture, context and the relationship of the old and the new.

Skeptics : Extensive studies in the past have shown that re-building existing cities is far more sustainable than creating new ones. The city to be moulded would provide infrastructural support, skilled manpower, and ready access to resources, which is undoubtedly garnered only over several years of development.

The opinions on Masdar City and its potential impact are clearly polarised. On one hand the ambitiuos goals that the city sets itself raises many eyebrows. On the other hand, the enthusiasm brought forward by the promise of an environmentally aware and sustainable alternative in a fast resource depleting world is indeed infectious. Time will of course pass its verdict but till then Masdar City remains a fascinating dilemma.

For more information on the project you can go to


Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Berkshire Tour September, 2008

In September 2008, thirty nine lucky people traveled to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts with The Landmark Society to appreciate a remarkable concentration of architecture, designed landscapes and other forms of art nestled in the hills. The "hills" are actually ancient mountains that have been eroding for thousands of years.

As the horticulturist for The Landmark Society, I was fortunate to be one of the staff guides on the trip and, although I appreciate all forms of art, my passion of course is horticulture. Plants, gardening, natural and designed landscapes, history of horticulture, and art and science relating to these subjects all fascinate me. So if my descriptions lean towards the green side of a site, at least you know why.

Our first stop was in Stockbridge MA where we went directly to Naumkeag, the summer “cottage” of the Choate family. Joseph Hodges Choate(1832-1917) a prominent New York Attorney and Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England from 1899 to 1905, hired Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White(architects for the George Eastman House) to design his 44-room, Shingle-style house in 1885. All of the original furniture, ceramics and artwork collected by the family are as they were when family members still occupied the home. A guided tour of the interior is a must see.

Just north of the village of Stockbridge, the house is sited on a hill and surrounded by eight acres of terraced gardens, and designed landscapes. The estate also features forty acres of woodland, pasture and meadow with wide, inspiring views of the Housatonic River Valley. However, most interesting are the many garden rooms that our native son (Rochester and Pittsford, NY) Fletcher Steele designed for Joseph’s daughter Mabel Choate between 1926 and 1956. His famous Blue Steps incorporate small pools that are fed water by a brick-lined runnell (channel) that bisects part of the upper lawn. The white railings and blue shell-shaped enclosures above each pool and the steps climbing a steep hill are bordered by an allee’ of white birches. The Rose Garden is unlike any other, with small, oval beds of roses dotting what look like undulating pink gravel pathways carved into the lawn. Then there is the exotic Chinese Garden with its blue-roofed temple, ceramic treasures and Moon Gate. A whimsical stone table and chairs with round, stone cushions, resides under pine trees there. The Afternoon Garden with its boxwood parterre and reflecting pool is enclosed on one side by a grape arbor, and on three sides by a low fence. My favorite elements of the Afternoon Garden are the colorful painted wood gondola poles modeled after similar objects found along the canals of Venice. There is a Tree Peony Terrace, an Evergreen Garden, a Woodland Walk, and an apple orchard. The South Lawn, that leads to a convergence of pathways and a pagoda, was sculpted from many cubic yards of trucked-in soil to echo the shape of the surrounding mountains. A magnificent 300-plus-year old oak tree that inspired the Choates to buy the property still stands today as does a surprising Bigleaf Magnolia. If you plan to visit this property, you should spend at least as much time exploring the landscape as you do the house.

Another property of significant horticultural interest is The Mount, estate of late 19th and early 20th Century author Edith Wharton. She designed her gardens based on her extensive knowledge of European landscapes. Her niece, notable landscape architect Beatrix Farrand also contributed ideas to the landscape. The mansion, built in 1902 was inspired by Belton House a 17th Century English Palladian-style structure. The three acres of formal gardens surrounding the house include the expansive flower garden, planted with colorful perennials, annuals and shrubs, the rock garden with broad grass steps and flowering shrubs, the Italianate walled garden with a rock-pile fountain at its center, and a long allee of linden trees that line a wide gravel promenade parallel to the house. Views of the flower garden from Edith Wharton’s bedroom afford an aerial view of the space that is impressive from a distance as well as from within. There are evergreens such as boxwood and arborvitaes carefully sheared into cones, hedges and balls. Acres of natural woodland that surround the formal gardens and views of distant mountains and Laurel Lake complement the designed landscapes.

Considerable resources were expended to restore the house and gardens. Unfortunately this has put the continued operation of the site as a museum in jeopardy. It is threatened with foreclosure.

A visit to Arrowhead, home of Herman Melville from 1850-1863, afforded a view of Mt. Greylock far in the distance. The mountains which could be seen from the room where Melville wrote Moby Dick are said to have reminded him of the back of a great whale. He named the farm Arrowhead because of the Native American artifacts that his plow turned up when he was working his fields. It was inspiring to stand on Melville’s piazza(porch) and look across a hay field at the mountains knowing that the view was very close to what Melville saw when he lived there. Next to the barn there is an old Chinese chestnut tree. I wondered if it was there when Herman Melville lived on the farm.

On the one rainy day of the trip, we ventured to Hancock Shaker Village. Hancock Shaker Village, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit educational organization. The group preserves and enhances the site and offers programs to teach visitors about the lives of the Shakers who occupied the site until the remaining few moved to a site in Maine. It is accredited by the American Association of Museums and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

To wander the buildings and grounds is to be immersed in the environment that was the Shakers’ who once lived there. The orchards and gardens are overflowing with herbs, fruits, vegetables and plants used for fiber such as flax for linen and corn for brooms. Sheep, goats, pigs, fowl and cows still live in the barns and in the fields. The machine and woodworking shop still runs on an ingenious hydraulic system invented by the Shakers. Their great residence hall is replete with furniture, ceramics, wooden and metal containers and utensils, sleeping rooms, a healthcare facility, meeting rooms, dining rooms, and a room for preparation of herbal remedies and health potions. The Shakers were the first in the country to package seeds in small envelopes for sale. They also successfully marketed their healthcare products throughout the country. It was sad to learn that because of their adherence to the vow of celibacy, the only remaining Shaker community, located in Maine, has only four female members left. Fortunately for us, the Hancock Shaker Village is thriving as a museum and is still there to teach us about these remarkable people.

The other site that we visited on that rainy day was The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. The Clark was founded in1955 by Robert Sterling Clark and his wife Francine and the collection, built upon their personal acquisitions of European and American art, is a remarkable treasure. There is something for everyone from painting to sculpture, silver, porcelain, prints, drawings and photographs. While some of us spent part of our time at Williams College learning about the original US founding documents housed there, others opted to spend all of their time at The Clark. I could have spent all day gazing at the French Impressionist paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro and the sculptures by Degas. However I also appreciated the special exhibit, “Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly”.

Unfortunately because of the weather and time constraints, we did not see the surrounding grounds or the trails to the newest addition to the Institute, The Stone Hill Center. This new building, opened in June 2008, houses two new galleries and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. The WACC offers restoration services for many forms of art as well as furniture and antiques and is the largest center of its kind in the country.

About the only things horticultural about Mass MoCA( Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art ) in North Adams MA were the trees growing upside-down in hanging pots at the entrance and a few of the exhibits. But Wow! What a place to see! Talk about challenging ideas and unusual images. This place surprised and delighted everyone from aficionados to skeptics. Almost everyone in our group left the site wanting to make a return visit. There were giant sculptures, beautiful optical tricks, photography that surprised us and terrariums suspended from the ceiling that we could view from the inside by stepping on stools to allow us to peer inside. One room the size of a football field was dark except for the light from huge thought-provoking words and phrases that continually moved from one end of the room to the other. You could view this from one of three giant bean bags on the floor, or not. This is a happening place with over 120,000 visitors per year. If you haven’t made the trip, it is worth the ride no matter how you get there.

Chesterwood, estate of sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) of Lincoln Memorial fame was the last site that we visited in the Berkshires. The mansion and separate studio building are sited on a hill with a view of the mountains. There are woodland trails, great lawns, mature trees and gardens. According to museum staff, Daniel French designed his own perennial gardens. He is responsible for the design of an Italian influenced garden with a marble fountain, a semicircular marble bench and allee of hydrangeas that extends out into the lawn. As I wandered the grounds, I came upon a standing sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. It was a smaller prototype for a larger-than-life sculpture created for the town of Lincoln Nebraska. As it stood on the edge of the woods, it held my attention and I understood why after I read what was written on the pedicel. His pose was solemn because it was meant to represent Lincoln’s mood just before he gave his Gettysburg address.

If you have never taken a tour with The Landmark Society of Western New York, you may want to consider enriching your life with one of these well-organized educational experiences.

Posted by Beverly Gibson, Landmark Society of WNY Horticulturist


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Making the Case for Preservation in Tough Economic Times

This is our 100th blog post on Confessions of a Preservationist! We all got a bit swamped in January catching up from the holidays and getting a few new staff members oriented, but now that February is here, we look forward to keeping up this blog more regularly.

Daniel Mackay, Director of Public Policy for the Preservation League of New York State, testified this week at a hearing of the New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees regarding economic development initiatives, making a strong case that an expanded tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic properties in distressed areas is a critical tool for stimulating the economy:

If New York is to be successful in preserving open space, working farmland and curbing sprawl, economic development must be directed back to existing municipal infrastructure, and that will require recognition and reuse of New York State’s extraordinary legacy of historic buildings in our commercial downtowns and residential neighborhoods across the Empire State.

Because New York State faces a severe budget challenge, now is the time to prioritize implementation of the tools and programs that target public and private reinvestment where it is most needed, in ways that most effectively leverage private and federal dollars for community renewal and economic reinvestment, and in ways that most aggressively and immediately meet economic stimulus benchmarks.

The program that meets these tests and serves these goals is an expanded New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Legislation will shortly be introduced by Senator David Valesky and Assemblymember Sam Hoyt which will effectively and appropriately expand this program, direct stimulus and rehabilitation activity to distressed areas, and contain costs for New York State…

The Preservation League, and a diverse and growing partnership of business leaders, municipal officials, economic development interests, and a wide array of environmental and preservation organizations [including the Landmark Society] are joining together in a campaign entitled “Reinvest New York” to promote inclusion of this program in the enacted 2009-2010 New York State Budget…

Implementation of an expanded New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit program represents a targeted investment in the downtowns and historic neighborhoods that form the core of municipalities across New York State, and represents exactly the type of investment that New York State should make in difficult economic and budgetary times: a targeted tool that leverages significant federal and private investment and delivers proven results and benefits to municipalities across New York State.

- Excerpts from the testimony of Daniel Mackay, Director of Public Policy, Preservation League of New York State, at the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees’ Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2009-2010 Executive Budget Regarding Economic Development Initiatives, Wednesday, February 3, 2009.

Daniel shared figures demonstrating that in Maryland, Missouri and Rhode Island, three states with effective tax credit programs similar to the one we are hoping to enact in New York State, the economic benefits far outweigh the expenditures on the program. For example, in Rhode Island, every $1 million in state tax credit investment leverages $5.35 million in total economic output. In other words, the program more than pays for itself – it generates income for the state and creates jobs while improving our communities.

In the face of a very challenging budget climate, we’ll continue to work with the Preservation League to make the case that focusing our limited resources on the revitalization of our existing downtowns and historic neighborhoods is a wise investment with a tremendous payoff in the financial and environmental health of our state.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services