Monday, August 12, 2019

Sustaining a Career

Today is my birthday, and I took the day off from work. Naturally, I feel naked and confused without using a computer, so I started a birthday fundraiser on Facebook for the Cleveland Restoration Society, and then I had to jump online to write this post. Now with the salutations out of the way, I will jump forward to why I am writing to you.

Last week, someone posted on a historic preservation professionals group about what burns people out or any tips-or-tricks to staying motivated and engaged. My automatic response was, "focus on what I love--learning." Since posting my automatic reply, I have wondered why I led with that answer? I could have chosen to talk about what burns me out, but rather I focused on what gets me up and helps me stay focused when I sit at a computer researching and writing, sometimes more than 14 hours, every day. What I also started to think about something that I have wondered about in-depth for quite a while--how do you stay motived in a preservation career?

Sometimes when we start a career we are so focused on 'getting that job' that we lack perspective on how to keep, nurture, and grow ourselves. In no specific order, this is how I have shaped my career while also staying grounded over the last decade:

  • Think long term
    • Set goals for whatever job or volunteer opportunity you have both short and long term. You don't have to be the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to have value or participate in implementing preservation policy. In fact, you may actually be more impactful than such individuals. Give yourself at least five achievable goals each week and either mark them off or revise them for the next week.
  • Define you
    • Grow your own understanding of what you do want with your career and life. Journal or simply just think about it while sipping coffee. What do you like most about your days? What would you like to change? For example, I thought I wanted to be someone who worked in business development, but then I realized that I don't enjoy the required client face time that is necessary to succeed in that job. I really enjoy research and writing the most in solitude. This, of course, can change, but this is what makes me happy now.
  • Make allies
    • Networking is what they say, but so many people do it wrong. Don't approach someone who you think can give you something (i.e. their contacts, a job, etc.). Approaching someone with an intention to learn, engage, support, foster, help, or advocate is best. You can say, "I really learned a lot from that blog you posted," or, "I am interested to help  your volunteer group because I share your passion." There are so many people wanting important folks time that why would they give you something. The world doesn't owe you anything. Also, you are an important person, too. So, why come on a bended knee. Instead, focus on getting to know people--for real--and then step up when you are needed. An allied front is better than some quid-pro-quo exchange in the long term, and the long term is the game. 
  • Time and hard work is required
    • I've been on both sides of this argument; "Millennials expect to be the boss right out of college," or, "Since I have an advanced degree and work experience, I am qualified for leadership because I have the skills and character to do a great job." Look, let us look this in the eye, and face this straight on. If you are under 40, regardless of your qualifications, more saged professionals want you to ask them questions, and they want you to engage with their wisdom. Maybe you do have what it takes or the right answer, but you are going to have to come at it from a different angle. After all, they were already you in their careers. Again, think long term, define you, and make allies. 
  • You do you
    • Preservation is about improving consumption habits in humans that developed over centuries. That, one, passion project you, may have, had success on doesn't change the big picture. You also shouldn't be viewing your success against preservation globally. Ten years ago, I was a hot-headed, opinionated, utopianist. I had a now or never attitude, and if I continued with such fervor I would have burnt out. I backed up, went back to the drawing board, and focused on the most important part of the equation--my happiness. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be in  'a' career, but I am farther along in my career than I could have imagined a decade ago. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012



noun \ˈstü-ərd, ˈstyü-; ˈst(y)rd\

Definition of STEWARD

: one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts)
: a fiscal agent
a : an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers
b : one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution
: one who actively directs affairs : manager

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Whats war got to do, got to do with it?

Architecture is reaction and prediction.

Preservation is about documenting and explaining the architecture; thus, what the designer and client was reacting to, and what the designer was predicting.

Recently in preservation, there is an increased interest in mid-20th century, whereas twenty years ago the rising interest was vernacular urban neighborhoods. Furthermore, fifty plus years ago the interest was recreating Colonial America, and one hundred plus years ago, it was about saving the original colonial history.

We could speak globally about preservation or conservation trends, but we are just going to stick with the US, and particularly, Cleveland, Ohio.

2012 Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Now, yesterday I was able to attend the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Building with Nature Symposium. It was an eight hour lecture on sustainable, assumed to be sustainable, architecture. Why did the museum put on such a symposium you ask? Well, they are planning to build a new "statement" campus.

Great right? Construction in Cleveland means jobs and progress, right?

Well, not entirely so great for me, the preservationist.

As I sat in the audience, I looked around thinking, "Well, I guess all the literature I read about preservation being left out of the sustainability conservation is true," because there was no preservationist on the lecture panel. Not. A. One.

The audience was shocking thoughtful, many questioned the new green gizmo case studies with skepticism and hesitancy to adopt such a standard. Many questioned, why they weren't seeing indigenous materials?

My reaction to the presentations were--stop.

Stop and consider the building you have.

In sustainability, we talk about doing more with less.
Then doing more with less must include starting with what you have?

Yesterday and this morning, I took the task of researching popular opinion on the existing Cleveland Museum of Natural History, built between 1958-1961. Anyone over the age of forty-five winced their eyes and issues a death warrant for the building because of aesthetics. Anyone under forty-five had a less abrasive opinion on the building, they wanted to see it live. One of the unknowing test subjects, over the age of fifty, had no opinion, because the building didn't really every stand out in their memory.

The building, the architecture did what it meant to: react to a post-war, Cold War, nuclear period of time, where interior space was the purpose. The building, the brown brick veneer, blended into its environment so well, that many people didn't really notice it. The building, that houses a natural history collection, didn't obtrude between the interior happenings and the exterior world.

I don't know about you, but a building, built after nuclear fear for a natural history collection, probably shouldn't be the "statement".

2008 Fentress Architecture, Proposed Renovation & Expansion

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dealth of Possiblity

When I came across a glossy flyer for the proposed demolition and expansion of "urban" garden space at the Dunham Tavern, I was taken a back. My favorite potential re-use project was Photoshopped, however poorly, out of the image. Yes, the recently demolished reinforced concrete modernist industrial building on Euclid was my favorite reuse prospect in the city of Cleveland.

As I shared my discontent with colleagues in City Planning and Landmarks, I received some perplexed expressions and some shaking heads of agreement. Why was this architecturally uninteresting building of interest to a historic preservationist?

In preservation we argue to save context, but somehow, if the context isn't pretty enough or backed by financial gurus, we easily dismiss the resources and issue its death warrant.

Today, I found a local blogger, Daniel DeAngelo, who shared my frustration.

In his blog entry, DeAngelo shows examples of what the Dunham Tavern project is attempting to accomplish. But in his examples, he shows why the project is ultimately faulty.

The example of Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square made me giggle. Cleveland's Midtown is NOT Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. Now, we are not haters, we are realistic. In DeAngelo's article he states, the Rittenhouse Square location has been desirable since the 1800s. This is simply not true of MidTown.

Trying to use urban gardening and demolition of buildings as a solution to disinvestment has short-lived benefits and long-term devastating effects. Simply look at MidTown and the Hough neighborhood to find examples of why demolition spurs further demolition. Some of the late Councilwoman Fannie Lewis' mcmansion solutions sit abandoned and boarded next to vacant lot after vacant lot with random old buildings isolated in a sea of vacant lots.

So, the building has since been cleared, the vacant lot remains. The Dunham Tavern now stands alone in an artificially created historic environment.

Cleveland, what are you? Where you not an industrial giant? Do you not want to rebuild with new industry?
If so, then stop demolishing the buildings that will be home to this revolution.

The embodied energy of the 6611 Euclid Avenue building was equivalent of 607304 gallons of gas.
While the demolition alone cost 864000000 worth of gallons of gas.

For a firsthand look at the demolition and celebration, see:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Business of Heritage.

In June 2012, I participated in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Leadership Training held in Beaufort, SC. Part of the experience included me growing up, growing aware and believing in myself as a preservation leader.

I received mixed responses when I told people about applying for the training. As with most of my experiences, I was told, "who do you think you are to be applying for such a 'high level' training, you are just beginning your career," to, "I wouldn't have thought you would apply for something like that, because you aren't really an affiliate of the Trust," to, "I am surprised that you would want to pay money for that," and my most favorite, "you're not a preservationist." Well, I was accepted by the Trust, I was able to pay my way, and the training has been complete for over a month now. I even have the paper certificate to prove my successful completion, but what did I really gain?

Aside from gaining self confidence and belief in myself as a professional, I gained experience working with strangers in an unfamiliar city, and I gained experience being creative with numbers. I gained knowledge of the unfamiliar city, culture and people. I became more determined to remain open-minded and objective. I began to believe in the ability of true teamwork.

I would like to thank the members of the Purple Team for being true beings with purpose and dedication. For some, the trip to Beaufort would have just been a vacation, but for us... it was a trial and tribulation.

Believe in yourself, and you will find yourself surrounded by others who feel likewise.

Material, Material, Who is the Fairest of Them All?

Harriet Estel Berman blogged about the topic of documentation with reference to artistic works. She states:

"Photographic documentation (including video and film) can be especially important when working with alternative or unproven materials. While the temporal nature of the materials may be a critical characteristic that makes the work interesting, the documentation may be the only aspect that survives for posterity.  A photo clearly establishes exactly how the artist visualized the work, fresh - before it ages, degrades, or disappears."

When it comes to conserving the built world, preservationists have been combating the cycle of deterioration with photographic documentation for over a century. The WPA era brought about the HABS/HAER project, and numerous other film ventures. The City Poem emerged as a moving story of depression era Americana.

But, preservationists continue to fight the urge to document alone, despite the relative success of such endeavors.

Public history has hammered into the preservation psyche for several decades. Social history and the American vernacular remains a prevalent piece to contemporary preservation, as mounting environmental concerns continue to nag professionals. For some, the "preserve at all cost" mentality is wrought with elitism and a classicist mentality, which includes the preservation and focus of social, public history. As Americans clamber to produce revisionist histories, the environmental concern is pushed onto the back burner.

Now, this post is not arguing that social history has no place in preservation, but it is arguing that preservation is a material based discipline.Shouldn't preservation be focusing on the conservation of material rather than narrative?

The photo document is strong evidence. In some cases, a picture is worth a thousand words, or a thousand vernacular structures that have been severely altered. If preservationist accept that some buildings are meant to meet the bulldozer, document accordingly, then perhaps efforts can begin to focus on more substantial issues, like carbon footprint and the lagging job market.

The author of this post has surveyed and written over 400 histories of buildings across Cleveland, Ohio. Sometimes, the picture is the best story. Sometimes, the building is just a building. The real cost to community is focusing on revisionist histories.

Time rights past wrongs, but only through education and progress of the individual.

Human beings, tribal animals, truly can never be appeased by one history.

We can learn from photo documentation, and it costs far less than attempting to stabilize a sinking neighborhood. We can archive, preserve and make certain that these images are protected. We can't guarantee the same to failing neighborhoods, and a historic designation doesn't always save the most threatened unless effort is unleashed in numerous ways.

Environmental consciousness allows preservationists to promote their cause, inspire others, and conserve object. Social history is still important, but sinking precious financial resources into such endeavors most often does little. Photo documentation is a tool to be used cautiously. One can document "progress". One can argue the preservation of vital resources, and the integration of new techniques to further sustainability communities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Clyde Alexander Patterson

Today I had the opportunity to page through a box of paper collected by Clyde Alexander Patterson.

He taught at Kent State University in Architecture and Environmental Design.

He led numerous historic building surveys in Cleveland during the mid-late 1970s.

Now, a box of paper sits in the attic of City Hall, as well as, his personal briefcase.

I will be posting some of his publications on effort to promote work done before the advent of the internet that now can gain public access through digitization.