Architecture of Compromise: A History and Evaluation of Facadism in Washington, DC

Kerensa Sanford Wood

Architecture of Compromise: A History and Evaluation of Facadism in Washington, DC
Wood, Kerensa Sanford
Thesis Advisor(s):
Beauregard, Robert
M.S., Columbia University
Historic Preservation
Persistent URL:
The concern for the protection of a society's architectural and cultural heritage has long been a discussion among historians, architects, and state leaders; later, planners, preservationists, local neighborhood organizations, and municipal officials. The crux of these concerns is how to preserve the architectural and cultural legacy of a place while modernizing and accommodating growth. Most often, a building is preserved or a building is demolished. However, in some cases, there is a middle ground in which an attempt to satisfy the demands of all stakeholders is made. The physical manifestation of this is what preservationists call "facadism"—the action by which the faà§ade or facades of a building are retained and preserved while the rest of the building is demolished in order to construct a new, often larger building behind the retained facade. Facadism is inarguably a compromise between preservationists who seek to preserve the building in its entirety for future generations and developers who seek to maximize the rate of return on investment by maximizing rentable space and providing modern amenities to increase asking rents. The discussion becomes one of economics versus significance. When these discussions end in facadism, it results in the significant loss of integrity and context of a historic building. Many cities and towns have enacted historic preservation ordinances to protect historic resources against development pressures. If there are strong ordinances in place to protect local landmarks, why have historic and eligible landmarks faced, and continue to face, facadism? Using Washington, D.C. as a case study, this thesis is an exploration into the history of compromise between developer and preservationist in urban development that resulted in facadism. Drawing from lawsuits, projects, policies, and regulations, this thesis analyzes and explains the conditions under which this phenomenon emerged in DC. Further, the thesis provides a new typology and vocabulary that redefines the discussion of facadism and interventions into historic structures, as well as a new point-system method by which to assess the successes and failures of these projects. These new tools can be applied and used in other cities to assess the successes and failures of compromised architecture and expand the dialogue on how to best balance the goals of preservation and development in the future.
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Suggested Citation:
Kerensa Sanford Wood, , Architecture of Compromise: A History and Evaluation of Facadism in Washington, DC, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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