I usually attend the Providence Preservation Society’s annual meeting — I don’t always, but I usually. This year’s was pretty good, with a great speaker and some fun announcements. Here’s a recap of what I learned.
Nellie Gorbea, RI Secretary of State, is pretty great
I have not heard Ms. Gorbea speak before, but she’s a down to earth personality that makes it easy to instantly like her. She came to open the meeting and address the attendees. While there, she talked about the State Archives. I knew we had a pretty good archive — the City of Providence Deed from 1666! An original printing of the Declaration of Independence from 1777! — and I even knew that the State Archives currently resides in a building within a flood zone.
But I didn’t know that a major project of her next administration is to fund, locate, and design a new permanent Cultural Center for the State Archives. It makes perfect sense. RI has the same amount of history as Boston, but so often, school children go to Boston to learn about history. They could do it all right here if we had a better location for these resources. I look forward to some progress on this, it could be really great.
The Old Brick Schoolhouse is really old
Its the 250 year anniversary of the Old Brick Schoolhouse at 24 Meeting Street in 2019. PPS is going to program events around this landmark Providence building.
Thompson Mayes tries to define ”Why Old Places Matter”
Thompson Mayes is a historian for the National Trust and has written, among other things, a book entitled ”Why Old Places Matter”. He reviewed a few key points that he discovered when talking to people about old buildings. I took some notes on a few of the key terms that he introduced. Some are obvious, others, less so.
- Emotional and psychological continuity. Sense of stability among constant change. School, churches, government buildings, significant houses.
- Memory. Old buildings are like memories you can touch. They have a soul. People anchor their divergent memories in place. Significant places have a collective memory.
- Individual identity. Sense of self.
- Civic identity. Can be tougher because history favors the victor. People and groups are left out of the larger story sometimes.
- Beauty. Well designed and older places tend to be the most beautiful. New places take more time to age into beauty. Subjective. Elitist. But deeply positive in contributing to happiness and wellbeing. Notions of beauty change over time, and historic structures help show us that.
- Sacredness. Old churches, old sanctuaries, old temples. Places of historic battles. Sanctified spaces. Archeological sites. You feel as though you can touch history.
- Ancestry. Tangible places that are connected to the ideas of where am I from? my family? my culture? Documents about genealogy go only so far.
- History and Learning. Traditional reasons why old places matter. Again, different than learning by documentation. Full body immersion.
- Community. A place is shared. It has connections to different groups for different cultural reasons. People, place, and time intertwine to form community. Time is the key there.
- Sustainability. The greenest building is the one that is already built. It takes 80 years for a green building that is 30% more efficient to regain its waste of a building that was removed for it to be built (convoluted explanation, I know).
No conclusion, just thoughts
I like continuing to support PPS. They are a great organization and I hope they continue to do many great things. Their Annual Meeting is always a nice way to dive back into the community of architectural appreciationists. I saw a few people there that I’d hadn’t seen in quite some time, and that’s always a nice thing to. It was held at one of the large lecture halls at Brown — a place that I don’t spend much time in or have any history with, so it’s nice to have an excuse to crash the campus.