Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast. The show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Services National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with members of the Student Preservation Association at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In this podcast SPA members talk about why they chose historic preservation as a career path.
Davis Allen: Hi I’m Davis, I am a senior undergraduate student, and I am from Atlanta, Georgia.
Derek Llamas: I’m Derek Llamas, I’m also a senior undergraduate student. I’m from Waynesboro, Georgia, I’m also the president of SPA.
Jaime Dail: I am Jaime, and I am a second year grad student, so I will be graduating with an MFA.
Maggie O’Neill: I’m Maggie, I am the SPA communications director, I am also a senior undergraduate in historic preservation, and I am from Montvale, New Jersey.
Eli Lurie: I’m Eli, I’m from Boston.
Jason Church: So you guys have all chosen to come here to SCAD to study historic preservation, why is it? What is it about historic preservation that interests you?
Derek Llamas: It’s sort of funny, whenever this question comes up. The original reason I got into preservation always seems so silly to me, a little juvenile, because honest to god, the original reason, I just thought that old houses were pretty. It sounds very simplistic, but that was the original reason. I originally came to SCAD and entered the interior design program. But I transferred into this department under the recommendation of a high school history teacher of mine, who told me to check out this department; history was a pet subject of my high school. I was already interested in beautiful architecture, and architectural interiors. Obviously my interior design degree that I was pursuing at the time, and so I thought this was a great way to get some history and some beauty and some architectural 101, and of course since I’ve been here I think now my reasons have expanded, certainly there is a community aspect that I enjoy, and I think it’s a good way to bring communities together, which is important I think as the world grows smaller from technology.
Maggie O’Neill: I kind of had a similar path, when I was, even now, I always really liked stories. Everyone who knows me that I will talk endlessly and will just tell stories constantly given the opportunity. But I started off on photography actually and worked my way through stories that way and worked my way through people that way. Like in high school you see a lot of people doing photo shoots in abandoned places, it was definitely my niche, so it was definitely where I liked to go. I liked to break into things and shoot there, but over time I drew less away from the physical photography aspect and more towards, “Okay why is this place abandoned? What was someone doing with it? Oh my god they’re gonna knock it down” which did not sit well with me.
And much like Derek, I ended up in this department through a recommendation of my AP art history teacher in high school, who recognized that I liked the art history side of it, but that I also really preferred the architectural history side of it, and even then I would end up coming in with stories about all the places we were studying in class. So she knew that I was looking at SCAD, and she said they had a great historic preservation program why don’t you check that out before you fully commit yourself to photography, which I’m glad that I did. I don’t know if that would have ended well for me.
Davis Allen: I grew up in Atlanta and it was pretty infamous for knocking down anything that was relatively historic. So I was always surrounded by that, and I’d get really passionate about saving historic buildings. From just when I was a young age, and I knew growing up that I wanted to do something related to architecture or design, but I wasn’t really passionate about new contemporary design, or polished glass and steel buildings. I thought they were just kind of there, and I was really drawn to historic buildings. So when I found out about this program, I thought it was definitely a good fit for me.
Jaime Dail: I guess for me it kind of started at a young age because I grew with a family farmhouse that we used to go visit, so it was built in 1855, and at the time I didn’t know anything about it other than it was this old building that my family had. So that actually started me into my path for undergrads, I did architecture so that I was really interested in the building environment. So I went through that and as I was doing my studies, I actually did a study abroad in Spain. So at the time we went and saw a whole bunch of, all these sort of buildings that a lot of things were going on with, and at the time I was really interested was the adaptive reuse part of it. So taking these historic structures that were no longer relevant for what they were originally built for and kind of seeing how people were using them for current times. So that they kind of got this new life instead of being torn down.
So I got offered a recommendation from one of my professors, they were like oh well if you are really interested in this, you should really think about preservation. And so at the time I didn’t really know what that was, and so I started looking into it and found out that the department was here at SCAD. So I was like oh that sounds really cool and so the further I’ve gone into it, the more that you see every building has a story to tell and not just the new architecture that’s being built. And why its built but then why they were built originally whenever they sustained so long.
Eli Lurie: I was accepted to SCAD for architecture and it was my first quarter here and I was going through architecture alone, and then I found out about the historic preservation department, which I had never thought would have been a career and a job and a future path for me. So I sort of talked to my parents about preservation and all the things it could offer for me, for the future, financially, that type of thing. My dad was just not for me going for this career path, there wasn’t a good money outlook for it, there wasn’t a good financial future for it. So that really worried him, so after that I decided that I was going to do a double major with architecture and historic preservation, and with that came a minor of architectural history.
So here I am with all three of those and hoping to do adaptive reuse one day with that. So that I can do both architectural plans for that and have a preservation outlook with that, that most architectural offices don’t keep with them. They don’t really keep with that preservation mindset that I feel like is very crucial whenever you are doing anything involving historic or older structure.
Jason Church: Well we can definitely hear there’s a passion in all of your stories, but you all came about it in a very different way. What do you hope, once you leave school and enter the job force hopefully, and start a career path, what do you all hope to do with your preservation degrees?
Davis Allen: Our program, I found, is pretty unique in regards to a lot of preservation programs in that they really stress adaptive rehab and adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and how you can accommodate modern needs into a historic building. So I myself, along with I know a lot of other people, would really like to go into that field, a lot of times through architectural firms. So that’s eventually something I would really enjoying doing.
Derek Llamas: Well, sort of riding-on-the back of Davis’s statement. I fall into that category. I find adaptive rehab to be the biggest draw in preservation to me. I’ve always enjoyed doing projects and taking something that other people might look at as being older or obsolete, maybe unusable … Taking it and transforming it into something amazing. I think I got some of that working with my grandmother. My grandmother works on vintage and sometimes antique furniture. Sometimes it’s refinishing, sometimes it’s re-purposing, but I’ve worked on that with her for a few years, and I enjoy doing that and I think that’s the draw to adaptive rehab for me. I like to see a project from beginning to end.
My family also questioned a little bit, much like Eli’s, the profitability aspect of it, but I think that preservation is going to be, especially adaptive rehab, is going to be a growing field. I think its going to be a trend really as more people are saying, empty-nesters as well as people from our generation are wanting to live in historic districts, in down towns. I have a positive outlook for it, and I’ve got a little bit of entrepreneurial aspirations, so I hope to have my own adaptive rehab business.
Maggie O’Neill: Going in a completely different direction from everyone else. I definitely really, really love the adaptive rehab aspect of preservation. However, as I have gone through this program, I’ve realized my draw tends to be more towards historic landscapes and advocacy in general. I’ve always been for, a vast majority of our projects, the one’s coming to mind is my preservation law class. We had to do an advocacy project, which is something I was excited about to being with because I love getting the word out about things, I like talking to people. I like communicating about preservation and getting the word out, raising awareness. However, with that class I became kind of infamous for promoting the preservation of landscapes in general, whether they’re natural landscapes or urban landscapes, or things like that, just anything that’s threatened because of the build of a mass building or development, general development.
I’ve become infamous for this. If I don’t bring up The Palisades in New York and New Jersey at least once a class per quarter, its been a very strange quarter for me. I will scream about it. Actually, while I was presenting about that project, broke a chair. I was so involved and getting so hyped up about it, but I tend to fall under just sustainability and environmentalism and really promoting the conservation of land and landscapes for both preservation purposes and also for preservation planning and climate change awareness and planning for that as well. I think preservation fits into that niche very well and it’s somewhere that we can definitely expand too, and promote the general sense of preservation with them.
Jaime Dail: I think mine, mine’s kind of similar to the two stories we’ve heard. Just from my previous experience being in the architecture field and then also coming into preservation, a lot of what I’ve seen is that you have the architects that do architecture and you have preservationist that do preservation and so there seems to be somewhat of a gap between the two. There is some that, you know you have preservation architects but they just don’t seem as prevalent as I feel like they should be. So I guess my goal is to help be that bridge between, even if it’s a small scale, just being able to do the architecture drawings but then also have the understanding of the preservation and how to address these buildings if it comes up in project or something else, to be able have the mind set of those so that they can both have equal parts instead of one being less than the other. So just being about to mix the two together.
Maggie O’Neill: I think jumping off that, just I speak for everyone here, correct me if I’m wrong. We would all long term within preservation like to see it be promoted more as something that’s not a scary word. You see a lot of people won’t call themselves preservation architects because preservation can be seen as old ladies in tennis shoes or chaining themselves to a building they don’t want to be knocked down. Again, I speak for everyone, our department and everyone that we’ve encountered through conferences or just general meetings, is not like that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but our generation is much more making preservation more accessible to everyone. I think long term if we can make it accessible to everyone we will all be content and have achieved our goal.
Derek Llamas: Yeah, I would definitely say we’re maybe not the house museum generation. We’re looking into how we can make these historic places relevant to today by making them usable by people of all walks of life. There’s also a lot of talk about universal design. How can we make places compatible with ADA, special needs, all sorts of things, and I think that we’re the generation that’s very interested in that. And I think it’s a good point in time for that, because again I stress I think people are getting more interested in that rehab. People want buildings with character, and hopefully we can capitalize on that.
Jaime Dail: I think one of the big things is, preservation is typically seen as, you capitalize things. So you take it an older building and you stop it right whenever it, or landscape. Whenever it gets to that stage of significance in fifty years, when people don’t want to touch it anymore because, they go its frozen in time. I think something that’s an in opportunities that’s missed because then if you freeze it like yes you get to see all these great things, but then it may actually end up hurting it in the long run because it’s not longer relevant for the future generations that want to use it. So that way if you can find. I think that’s adaptive reuse is such a good thing and you can still keep the integrity of the building and the character of the building and put a new function inside of it. So just being able to use both of them without having to stay such hardcore into “You can’t touch anything.”
Derek Llamas: And as its often said by some of professors, the building that is already there is the “greenest” building. So it’s also environmental, it really is.
Eli Lurie: That’s one thing I found in the architectural program is that its just inconceivable for most people. Most people will be like “Yes, this is going to be very green building LEEDS Silver“, Net-Zero, that type of thing. What they don’t realize is if it’s on a property that’s already has a structure, tearing that structure down, all of the waste within that one building from building it, living in it, tearing it down, moving it offsite, putting it in a landfill, that’s a lot more harmful than their Net-Zero building that’s going to be there for probably thirty to forty years, which is the lifespan cycle of a current building that they are building in these days.
Derek Llamas: Think we have to plug that back in to the part. Cause some people do have trouble…
Jamie Dail: …understanding that.
Maggie O’Neill: Well I think from my end as the SPA communications director, you’ll hear a lot about people talking about social media and social medias role in things. I think because the next generation of preservationist is starting to move in, you’re seeing a lot more social media presence. You will see a lot more house museums, “like our house museum page”.
Now, okay that’s great but then a lot of social media campaigns to save things. Like the first one to pop into my head, unfortunately, is Glenridge Hall which was just completely demolished and I am still heart broken about. There was at least something to do. There was at least a protest managed and organized because of social media and you see a lot of things like that starting to pop up now that younger people are starting to moving in. It’s definitely something to take advantage of both as professional, well professional organization and as a professional, like young professional joining in because if we have a presence. Like SPA has a presence on social media and a lot of people follow us, and a lot of people have tweeted us and let us know about things, and that’s important because without having that outlet to speak no one is going to listen.
Derek Llamas: Yeah, I think we certainly have to take control of all of it, make use of all the tools that are available to us. I think maybe that that’s the area where we are definitely going to improve upon. Not just social media, one of the ideas that was presented more than once during this past year’s National Trust Conference was the idea that sometimes when preservationist are looking for allies, looking for people to back their projects you don’t go to other preservationists. Sometimes you go to people who have a different reason that they might help you save this building. They might not care that much that the building is historic or that it’s beautiful, that’s its got this perfect neoclassical facade, they might not care. Maybe a city needs a new health center and you can show them how this building is perfect for them.
I think making use of all those tools, all of the connections and sometimes that means going outside our comfort zone. You know, going to speak to people that we aren’t always so use to speaking with; real estate developers certainly come to mind. But I think its important that we start getting our place at the table that’s the thing. If you shut off communications with anyone you don’t have a place at the table and they are never going to get any of your input at all. I’d rather be at the table putting in my preservationist’s penny, you know where I can rather than not have any influence at all.
Jason Church: Well thank you for all of you and coming and talking to us today and we hope to hear from each of you in the future about projects your doing and as your careers develop and thank you again for talking with us.
Derek Llamas: Well thank you for speaking with us.
Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, good bye everybody.