by: k. kennedy Whiters, AIA, and Adam Achrati, AIA
By k. kennedy Whiters, AIA, and Adam Achrati, AIA
For the first time in AIANY Civic Leadership Program history, the cohort discussed historic preservation. k. kennedy Whiters, AIA, of wrkSHap kiloWatt and Adam Achrati, AIA, of Calvert Wright Architecture co-facilitated a two-part session on Friday, August 4, 2023.
The New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market Library was a fitting setting for the topic. The library is a 1959 case study of community engagement to save a building, a former late-19th century courthouse in Greenwich Village, and the city’s response that met their needs.
Historic preservation—a global, age-old tradition—can pose a dilemma for architects. Preserving the craftsmanship of the past and adapting existing structures to meet the needs of present and future uses is part of being human. Across the US, architects who practice preservation sometimes face the moral dilemma of meeting the needs of their clients and protecting culture. At times, these needs compete at opposing ends of society’s spectrum of needs based on capitalism, economic development, and the protection of private property rights as seen in the AIA’s 2020 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct:
- representing the owner (Canon II-Obligations to the Client) and
- protecting culture (Canon I-General Obligations, E.S. 1.3 Natural and Cultural Heritage): “E.S. 1.3 Natural and Cultural Heritage: Members should respect and help conserve their natural and cultural heritage while striving to improve the environment and the quality of life within it.”
Part One featured a panel discussion about preservation in broad terms, its value, and the pros and cons of preservation from the perspective of an architect developer within the framework of the AIA Code of Ethics, urbanism, and capitalism. Part One’s panelists:
- Tiffani Simple, RA, Principal, Simple Design Studio, PC
- AJ Pires, AIA, LEED AP, President, Alloy Development
- Bill Millard, Editor, Musician, Writer; Contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper’s reporting on the Penn Station Redevelopment
Whiters and Achrati opened the conversation with an introduction to historic preservation, from the local to national scale, that covered the known early, national history of Mt. Vernon’s Women’s Association and the not-so-known preservation activity of Black women who saved Frederick Douglass’ house in Cedar Hills, DC.
Simple, a registered architect, spoke to the finer points of research, assessment, and documentation of historic buildings, as well as her office’s analysis of NYC’s preservation policies and their intended and unintended consequences. Pires, a developer, reflected on his firm’s development projects in historic districts, and their ability to work with preservation guidelines to complete projects and even protect landmark-eligible buildings while accomplishing their development goals. The conversation concluded with a primer about the afternoon’s preservation case study: the second redevelopment and eminent domain occurrence at the Penn Station site in Manhattan. Millard, a journalist, presented a dual narrative of the competing visions to redevelop Penn Station and the history and enduring trauma of the previous station’s demise.
The second part of the session featured a tour with Layla Law-Gisiko, Chair of the Landmarks and the Land Use Committees for Community Board 5 (CB5). The cohort visited Penn Station in CB5 and Law-Gisiko led an engaging tour of the Penn Station Redevelopment Area points of interest. During the tour, cohort members discussed the legal framework guiding proposed developments that would impact the existing historic buildings and cultural heritage.
The session provided opportunities for further research on community engagement with a topic that poses challenges and opportunities for the architect, the developer, the planner, the citizen, and their government at local and national levels.