Preservation symposium
explores culture, form

Annual Historic Resources Imaging Lab
event held at Washington-on-the Brazos

Relationships between cultures and the places they inhabit were explored last spring at the Fourth Annual Historic Preservation Symposium sponsored by Texas A&M University's Historic Resources Imaging Laboratory. The event, held March 22 at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, about 40 miles from the College Station campus, featured presentations by renown preservation professionals on the theme "Cultures, Landscapes and Buildings: The Meaning and Use of Historic and Cultural Resources."

"The preservation movement in the United States recognizes that the meaning of 'place,' and even the meaning of 'history,' may vary between cultures. In fact, the phrase 'cultural landscape' has taken on a life of its own," explained David G. Woodcock, HRIL director and professor of architecture at Texas A&M. "The speakers at the 2002 HRIL symposium," he said, "offered both national and international perspectives extending beyond the boundaries of "discipline" and "site."

Michael Dennis, an architecture professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, kicked-off the daylong event introducing the symposium's theme in a presentation examining relationships between buildings, context and culture. Drawing from his experience with projects where culture and place are almost synonymous, he displayed design proposals for new public buildings within the historic context of American campuses such as Carnegie Melon and Emory University. Dennis has also worked on projects at the University of Virginia and is currently working on the Master Campus Plan for Texas A&M University with Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects of Austin.

The rest of the symposium included two sessions - "Places and Culture" and "Buildings and Culture" - capped by a panel discussion, facilitated by Woodcock, reflecting on the day's themes. Guests were also treated to lunch, a Texas-style barbecue dinner, a tour of the Barrington Living History Farm, and an evening reception at the new Star of the Republic Museum.

Ellen Beasely, a preservation consultant from Houston, began the first session with a presentation highlighting the research behind her book, "The Alleys and Back Buildings of Galveston." She said the historic backstreets and hidden places revealed a great deal about the island city's 19th century social and cultural patterns.

John Wyer, a landscape architect with London-based Bowles and Wyer, followed Beasely, presenting his work on the history and original culture of the 19th century Earls Terrace neighborhood in Kensington, London. A visiting scholar from the European Union, Wyer said history provides an excellent guide to residential rehabilitation.

Case studies of public buildings highlighted the second session, "Buildings and Culture," that began with a presentation on the iconic nature of Texas courthouses by Stan Graves, deputy chief historic preservation officer with the Texas Historical Commission. Graves showed highlights of the state-funded Texas Courthouse Preservation Program which is helping counties restore these historic treasures to their past glory.

Following Graves, David Preziosi, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, showed how old, often abandoned buildings in Natchez, Miss. have been resurrected and redesigned for municipal use.

During the lunch break, Cynthia Brandimarte, senior advisor for historic sites for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, discussed the nature of TPWD's work including the conservation of 35 designated historic sites.

The panel discussion topping the symposium's academic agenda featured the following professional preservationists and A&M faculty members:
  • Gordon Bingaman, AIA, Quinn Evans Architects of Washington, DC;
  • Donna Carter, AIA, president DCA Architects of Austin, Texas;
  • Tom Woodfin, ASLA, associate dean for international and off campus programs, associate professor of landscape architecture, and coordinator of Texas A&M University Master Plan; and
  • Dr. Tazim Jamal, assistant professor of recreation, parks, and tourism sciences at Texas A&M.
The group, facilitated by Woodcock, reflected on the day's theme and provided symposium participants an opportunity to interact and discuss the presented material. Conversations focused on issues of historic significance, the process of historic interpretation, and the identification of current cultural icons as candidates for preservation.

The setting for the HRIL's Fourth Historic Preservation Symposium, Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, is known as the "Birthplace of Texas." It was there, on March 2, 1836 that 59 delegates gathered to declare Texas' independence from Mexico. Today the site is home to the Star of the Republic Museum and the Barrington Living History Farm, which symposium goers got to tour at day's end.

"Holding the event at the birthplace of Texas ensured that we met in a place where cultures, landscapes and buildings have interacted for over 150 years," said Woodcock.

HRIL's next Historic Preservation Symposium, to focus on technical and engineering issues associated with historic preservation, is tentatively slated for March 2004. Additional information and registration forms will be posted on the HRIL Web site at as details become available. The HRIL can be reached by telephone at 979-845-0384.

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