Based upon current readings, the telescope might be replacing the microscope as the preferred instrument to guide new site designs in historic landscapes. Emerging philosophies of site conservation that consider the passage of time and the subjectivity of place are considered alongside the more traditional objective strategies of preservation. Captivating designs create sufficient space for personal (the designer’s and the visitor’s) interpretation and exploration while maintaining connections to traditional site values and functions.
My capstone project will attempt to utilize the evolving notions of historic site interpretation and the particular cultural histories of a particular place to create an informed, sensitive, and compelling modern space. The design itself should acknowledge the complexities of the site, increase the legibility of the landscape, and provide for personal exploration and interpretation.
Interesting treatments of site design in established cultural landscapes are those that allow for the creative interpretation of space with the following guiding principles:
- Engage the visitor by taking time continuums into account, rather than cataloguing the static monument of stationary moments in time and space;
- Acknowledge that site can be interpreted in multivariate ways and that one’s own cultural background will influence one’s reading of a place;
- Reflect upon and react to the myriad ‘time-stains’ that obscure, erase, or embellish a particular site’s legibility;
- Endeavor to understand the connections to, modifications upon, and interpretations of the landscape;
- Question the normative modes of so-called objective viewpoints of history.
These goals are becoming increasingly important in historic preservation, which is moving from purely technical and protectionist strategies to those that promote transformative, design-oriented approaches. My theoretical methodology is informed by textual analysis that deemphasizes authoritative interpretation and by readings of current authors and artists on the subject who encourage subjective analysis.
How does this focus transfer from theory to design? Answering this question is one of the major problems that this capstone will attempt to solve. Precedents will be informative. However, because each historic site is unique, my framework will require site-specific design. To accomplish this, I will organize the project in a deeply analytical fashion that includes extensive research of the cultural development of the site and continued reinterpretations of place. The design that follows should reflect the layers of culturally-specific notions of placemaking, should be sensitive to both the spiritual and the secular, and should make space for both traditional and new uses.
Given the inherent constraints of a capstone project—limited scope and time to cope with multifaceted problems—it will be necessary to confidently make informed design decisions that both acknowledge and simplify the complexities of site interpretation. Because the subject of historic preservation and interpretation is rich with debate, it is important that I approach the capstone as a designer rather than as an anthropologist or historian. To accomplish this, I might use existing site-specific symbols as design guides, might organize the capstone around principles of local cultural ecology, or might consider ways to provide new spaces for traditional practices.
Preservation is a creative action that utilizes the ‘raw material of circumstance’ as its starting—but not ending—point. The analogy (above) that promotes the telescope in historic site design references the concept that one should prefer long-range perceptions of time and space and the shifting depth of field on a pivoting tripod compared to the static, fine-grained, and unmovable analytical tool of the microscope. This approach to my area of interest will help me design a capstone that examines a traditional site with a contemporary sensitivity.
 Murtagh, William. Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America. 2005.