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General And Specific

If you want the issues involved in engineering work for historic buildings explained clearly and succinctly, I strongly suggest watching Margaret Cooke‘s lecture from earlier this week, delivered as she received the Milne Medal from the IABSE British Group. I had the pleasure of meeting her not quite three years ago, and our discussion then led to me believe now that her lecture would be good. Few people have enjoyed two years of video calls, but at least that effect of Covid means that this lecture was recorded: here.

Cooke’s lecture is titled “Less is More” and – spoiler alert – she’s talking about engineering in preservation when she says that. She gives several solid examples of projects where performing more research and more analysis about the project meant performing less design work and making fewer overt changes to the buildings in question. I have jokingly referred to that process as “talking myself out if a job” but it occurred to me while watching the lecture that I need to stop using that joke: if the general conditions of a project suggest to me solutions that involve less construction and less intervention in the existing building, then I have done my job by pointing the client toward those solutions.

This brings us to the building seen above, the 1871 Dairy in Central Park. We recently finished working on the restoration of the building with the Central Park Conservancy, and the best thing I can say about our work is that it’s pretty much invisible. Shaquana spent a lot of time analyzing the not-entirely-rational roof framing of both the main building and the loggia, and designing the least interventions that could be used to address some long-term nagging problems. I know what the design is and I’d have a hard time picking out the work from within the building, which is, as Cooke suggests, evidence of a job well done.

Here are two versions of the same 1880s photo, with the different printing color intensity showing different details: