Monday, May 16, 2005

On How the National Trust for Historic Preservation Casts a Threat

James Traub wrote a piece for the Times Magazine that explores the ironic twist inherent in attempts to preserve examples of Modern architecture--the buildings enacting a philosophy that eschews the preservation of older buildings and their former ways of life. In a margin was a list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Places, as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Dedicated to protecting significant works of architecture from deterioration or destruction, the Trust's approach to framing these 11 projects bears examining. Look at how the Trust talks about one of them, the Historic Cook County Hospital:
Although the building suffers from the effects of deferred maintenance, its overall condition is good. The only true threat to the property is manmade: The administration of the Cook County Board of Commissioners is set to execute its plan to demolish the hospital, despite the fact that its plans have failed to take into account the architectural and historic value of the building, as well as the desires of the public.
Rather than casting the building as a building, the Trust describes the hospital in ecological terms that suggest a certain living quality to the place. Not a building, the "property" can now "suffer" and is cast is opposition to a "manmade" threat.

Strictly speaking, of course, the hospital is as manmade as its threat. But, through those words, the building becomes naturalized and any action "executed" on it through demolition can now be understood as an abhorrent desecration of nature. All the more threatening is the sense that the hospital's "suffering"* comes not from a recognizable man or woman--a natural human enemy--but, rather, a faceless "Board of Commissioners." How much more terrible things become when the perpetrator turns out to be that most un/inhuman of manmade creations: the bureaucracy. The very entity that drains and denies its parts the smallest drops of humanity in favor of mindless and soulless groupthink/speak that claims and acts in the names of Efficiency, Officiously, and Officially; the very entity that lives on when all of its members have been dead and replaced by others equally destined for death; the very entity that acts, naturally, in contravention of the "public's" desire and the building's spirit--two deeply vibrant notions.

*Shouldn't a hospital's suffering occur from within and not from without?


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