Friday, May 25, 2007

Tucson architectural historian speaks out against the use of historical reconstruction

[Source: R. Brooks Jeffery, Daily Star] -- I am against the reconstruction of the Convento (and the Presidio wall) because it is inauthentic. The exact location of the Convento is not known, the building materials and construction systems will not be authentic to the original 18th-century building, and the spatial experience of the building will be compromised due to contemporary accessibility standards, not to mention other code requirements, such as fire sprinklers and air conditioning. All that will be left is a full-scale model of the building — a Disneyland-esque icon representing the political and economic values of the 21st century more than the cultural and technological values of the 18th century. David Yubeta, the pre- eminent adobe restoration expert who works for the National Park Service's Tumac├ícori National Monument and who coined the term "designer ruin," was asked to work on these projects for the city of Tucson. He told me that he chose not to, because the projects were not incorporating authentic building materials, nor construction techniques appropriate for their historic period.

He's not the only person who feels this way. The National Park Service and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) have codified standards that dismiss reconstruction outright due primarily to issues of authenticity. If these internationally recognized agencies don't support the reconstruction of historic monuments, why should the city of Tucson? I am a dedicated preservationist and I do want to honor the Convento site in a way that is appropriate to interpret Tucson's pluralistic heritage. In this site's richly layered history, I'm also afraid that the story of the Convento's slow demise and ultimate demolition by a generation more concerned with city building than the preservation of our heritage will not be told, thus condemning future generations to repeat its action (e.g., Marist College and Tumamoc Hill). I don't believe you need to rebuild a full-scale model of a building to interpret and honor that history. In the same way that, thanks to the Vietnam Memorial, we don't need to build statuary monuments to honor the casualties of war. The architectural firm for the Convento project is more than capable of creating a contemporary landscape that honors, informs and interprets this complex site without reconstructing a building. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]