This is my fortune from a recent trip to a downtown Houston Chinese restaurant. Normally I only think of these as fun or funny. This one struck me a little bit though, and I thought it would be a good thing to share as we start the new year. It got my attention because authenticity is both the basis for good historic preservation work and the part of preservation that appears to be least understood. Over the past year or so I have made a few presentations, mostly to other architects, on the fundamentals of historic preservation. In that presentation, I note that authenticity issues are so basic to preservation that we often assume everyone understands. However, if they do not, then the provisions of the Secretary of the Interiors Standards or those of a local landmark ordinance can be mystifying. Authenticity is really the "why" behind the modern approach to preservation. Nearly all the supporting documentation and energy is devoted to the "how". The value of authenticity is widely recognized in so many aspects of our society. A mere shard of Anasazi pottery warrants care in a modern museum, care that wouldn't even be considered for some replica of a complete vessel, no matter how well done or beautiful. Paintings by well-known artists are far more valuable than any copies that might be made. All because we value the original. Authenticity.
With architecture, it seems to be more complicated. The value of authenticity is perhaps obscured because of the incredible costs to build, own or maintain even the smallest building. To justify these costs, the building MUST serve a purpose; it must find a way to pay for itself and sometimes it may appear that these demands are in conflict. Considerations of authenticity and utility are not mutually exclusive, however. The purpose of modern historic preservation practice is specifically to discern those elements of a building or neighborhood that preserve historic authenticity, while integrating the desires and demands of modern usage. It can get tricky, but we should all take comfort in the knowledge that it's done successfully every day.
So let us celebrate the coming year while remembering the value of the past! A happy and prosperous New Year to you all!