After exploring Spain and Portugal by boat, bus, car, and foot this summer, I became impressed once again by the blending of historic preservation and reuse with leading design and technology.
I first gained insight into the value and beauty of preservation during a walking tour of a “blighted” section of San Diego in the early 1980s while serving as a wet-behind-the-ears redevelopment staffer. I saw neglected facades, broken or boarded windows, and barren streetscapes. I assumed that all would need to be demolished and built anew until the architect leading the tour interrupted my thought process. At that moment and later through the design process, he taught me a valuable lesson in reuse. A tawdry block could become a revitalized streetscape with some paint, façade work, refurbished hardscape, street furniture and trees.
Of course, Europeans got the preservation message long before we did. I recall a walking tour we took a few years ago through the Forum. Our guide instructed us about how Roman inhabitants over the centuries had chosen to build new communities over the tops of those that had been destroyed or decayed. As we strolled on gazing at the most current ruins, we came upon a crew of young archeologists going about the task of unearthing—some 20 feet below our path and about one hundred feet under current Rome—evidence of a home occupied nearly a thousand years ago.
I am struck most particularly by how Europeans have adapted modern convenience and systems within the context of living, working, and recreating in structures constructed as long as four hundred years ago. Though facades may reveal a building’s age, interiors reflect technology still not widely employed in the US.
We might be wise to take a few lessons from the “old country”—sooner rather than later.