What is the purpose of historic preservation? This question is often asked by those who favor the constant forward lurch of progress in architectural design. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for striving to achieve architectural perfection, a goal which humanity has sought for millenia. But this quest towards perfection does not mean we should disregard the body of work that was erected before our generation. There are two compelling reasons why historic preservation is just as essential as architectural progress:
1. It is a record of our past – Every building built is an entry in the journal of humankind. Each structure basically says “Hey, this style was considered the height of architectural beauty in our generation. This style is what people used to express their concept of architectural splendor, to express themselves.” Preserving historic structures is a way to get inside the heads of our ancestors and understand what was important to them (at least in the architectural sense). Preservation is a testament to human progress, an homage to our forebears.
2. Adaptive Reuse – The environmental movement has gained steam over the last century. “Save the planet!” can be heard on just about every street corner. But did you know that one of the best ways to save our lovely Mother Earth is to restore and adaptively reuse buildings? Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than which it was built or designed for. Along with brownfield reclamation, adaptive reuse is seen by many as a key factor in land conservation and the reduction of urban sprawl. Also, when a building is saved, all of those construction materials (nails, wood, shingles, etc.) are kept out of the landfill.
Here in Ascension Parish, we have several outstanding examples of adaptive reuse. One of them is the Cajun Village Cottages. The Cajun Village Cottages include eight Acadian-style shotgun houses dating back to around 1900. They were found and saved from near the historic area of downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana known as Spanish Town and moved to their serene surroundings in Sorrento, Louisiana. Restored with original wooden floors and decorated with authentic antiques, each cottage has its own distinct furnishings and ambiance. Today, the Cottages operate as a bed and breakfast, a somewhat different use than their original intention, which was to provide shelter for poor Acadian farming families. A perfect example of adaptive reuse!
So if you are of the mind that historic preservation is a sham, a reason for people to say no, an inhibitor of almighty progress, think again. Preservation is essential to the understanding of humanity’s journey through the ages while ensuring that our planet is habitable for eons to come.
What are your thoughts on adaptive reuse?