Friday, October 09, 2009

Lancaster Building Conservancy

I haven't blogged about Lancaster yet because I haven't had a chance to plunge into the city's urban fabric. Lancaster has an astonishing collection of quality buildings, many of them well preserved. Gene Aleci, architect and preservasionist, explains it as the consequence of limited resources. I know this phenomenon from Charleston, South Carolina, where the situation is both older and more extreme. The Civil War put a damper on any future growth and nobody had the resources to rebuilt or alter the urban fabric. Charlestons was preserved by economic necessity. Lancaster boomed after the Civil War and declined in the mid-20th c. I'm in the process of organizing a class for next semester that will use Lancaster's beautiful ecclesiastical buildings as its subject matter. Lancaster: The Architecture of Faith will be a laboratory on methods -- documentation drawings, archival research, cartographic analysis, mapping, oral histories, HABS reports, etc. It will also give me a chance to apply what I know (medieval architecture) onto its American revival.

While getting to know Lancaster's resources, I was directed to a blog, the Lancaster Building Conservancy. It's a wonderful project, the brain child of preservetionist Ben Leech. I met Ben for lunch last week and got to know him a little. The Lancaster Building Conservancy and Ben's other blog Old Weird Lancaster constitute for me a new kind of historical activism or grass roots architectural history. Blogging and the web have provided a platform for exciting and innovative projects. In Ben's words, "The Lancaster Building Conservancy was founded as an online resource for those interested in the architectural perseverance of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We are not (yet) a membership organization, but rather a loose affiliation of “built environmentalists”– artists, photographers, architects, historians, preservationists, and citizen “buffs” of all stripes– whose appreciation for Lancaster’s built environment inspires us to document, explore, investigate, and celebrate the buildings and landscapes that surround us."

The LBC is also a Flickr communty, where anyone can share interesting images from the city (like the one posted above by Archivolt). But what I like best about the LBC is Ben's discipline in Building of the Week. Every week (or at least as frequently as work and life permits him) Ben produces a detailed drawing of a single building. Over lunch, Ben told me a little bit about his drawing process, which is pretty neat. Ben started sketching Lancaster scenes on manilla folders. Slowly this developed into a format. After completing the sketch, Ben cuts out the sky, providing excellent contrast and framing for the work. On this blog, I've occassionally been critical of photographic projects (like Flickr communities) because they lack documentational discipline. Ben's LBC is quite the opposite. The weekly drawing provides the foundation for a well-researched and articulate analysis. I hope Ben's images have a post-blog afterlife. I hope they turn into an exhibition or a book. As images, they play an interesting balancing act between web images and crafted artifacts. Finally, Ben is starting a new project, the Lancaster Kodachrome Campaign, read all about it here. I'm in Philadelphia this weekend, and I'll be hitting every camera shop for the last cache of historical film.

I thank Ben for openning a door for my own personal exploration of Lancaster. The Lancaster Building Conservancy is a noteworthy model, where blogging has broken out of its temporal looseness into a structure appropriate for the rigor historic preservation and architectural history.

1 comment:

Katie Rask said...

Wow, 'Lancaster: The Architecture of Faith' sounds amazing. Wish I could enroll!

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States