Progressive Preservation series features leading architectural preservationist

COLUMBUS, Ind. — A leading architectural preservationist said historic preservation needs at least four areas of key reform to have a proper influence in the future. Those include reimaging it, amplifying ideas around a cultural landscape, and embracing a circular economy and re-use of structures.

Randy Mason from the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design spoke Monday at CSA Lincoln Elementary School via Landmark Columbus Foundation’s continuing Progressive Preservation series. The event, which also included a post-talk discussion with Docomomo U.S. President Theodore Prudon, who also teaches preservation at Columbia University, unfolded in front of an estimated 55 people.

They ranged from preservation advocates such as Hutch Schumaker, a foundation board member who has long been one linked with the Crump Theatre locally, to those who have supported preservation-related efforts such as the Bartholomew County Historical Society’s Open Doors homes tours. Prudon is well known to local audiences, having spoken here in 2014, 2015, and 2018.

One of Mason’s main points is that the best preservation projects focus beyond a single solution to a problem or aging structure.

“I think of the best preservation like a Swiss Army knife,” he said of a multifaceted approach.

One idea he highlighted was the use of the once-architecturally grand and famous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, where events such as art exhibitions and other public gatherings are now held. Mason mentioned that the site serves both an archive of past events and agent of contemporary social change.

“The mission of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site Inc. is not just to preserve, but also to educate,” he said.

The same could be said of a local site with an international reputation the heralded Miller House and Garden.

Mason was on a team to create a conservation management plan for the local Miller House, which was completed with funding from the Getty Foundation. He and Prudon spent Monday visiting local sites that included the Miller House and Garden, historic Second Baptist Church, First Christian Church and North Christian Church, all impacted by current or just-completed preservation efforts.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Republic.