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What Lies Beneath: "Windows to the Past" in Preservation Design

Reggev, Kate

This thesis contributes to the understanding of the history of preservation design by examining one of its main modes of expression: the “window to the past.” Appearing in architectural publications beginning in the early 1980s and becoming emblematic of the aesthetics of preservation design by the 1990s and 2000s, this visual device represents the historic origins of the building through the peeling away of layers on a single surface to expose materiality, texture, craft, or color. The development of windows to the past was documented by examining three architectural journals from 1945 through 2013: The Architectural Review, Casabella, and Detail. Windows to the past were disseminated in architectural journals through photographic framing, creative layouts, journal editorship, and color photography and printing. Despite its ubiquity in projects that incorporated old buildings and new designs, the approach, through the framing of existing architecture and the use of contemporary architectural materials, is often opportunistic, exploiting the visual characteristics of historic architecture and diminishing the role of history as part of architectural discourse. However, when successfully employed, the technique can function as a device that moves beyond the nostalgic notion of age and into the realm of didacticism, where it can inform the audience not only of the building’s age, but also of its craft, construction techniques, and history. By evaluating one of the most significant and prevalent modes of expression in preservation design, architectural criticism and discourse can begin to better understand the relationship between the existing and the intervening.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 20, 2015
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