Historic Preservation at Columbia

HP students share their summer internship experiences.

Ariane Prache: Jan Hird Pokorny Associates

I’ve spent my summer at Jan Hird Porkorny Associates working on their myriad of architecture and preservation projects.  As the office has over 40 projects (in various stages of completion) at a time, each person is constantly going back and forth between several projects on any given day. It’s lead to a variety of work, and I’ve learned enormously about all sorts of problems faced on preservation sites, how to create conditions reports, coordinate with sub-contractors, and the importance of selecting the right chocolate babka for the office.

For example, I helped create a DD set for the Leonard Library, in Brooklyn, for the Department of Design and Construction, where our focus was primarily waterproofing – requiring some careful reading about slate installation and kemperol specifications in order to create new details for the set.  On the other hand I also helped to complete a DD set for the Tin Building, where the overriding concern was the careful disassembly and storage of the original tin panels and details that still remain.  It’s been very eye-opening to see how the firm balances the desires of the client (at Leonard the City, while at the Tin building a developer) with the needs of a historic building.

Currently I’ve been working on layouts for the reuse of a barn on the Olana Historic Site property for four-season use. We went up and surveyed for a full day (it was nowhere enough time to get all the information we needed – lesson #551 always take more photos than you think is necessary), and I have now been working on how to install new means of egress, bathrooms, and other amenities needed to make this space usable.  It’s a particularly complex project primarily because of the conflicting desires of several different groups – namely the difficulties in reconciling the Parks Service’s idea to keep the building intact with the board’s desire to make it usable year-round (which means adding insulation to a fragile wood building).  It’s been very instructive to learn how to come up with the various layouts and present them in order to reach some kind of happy medium.  I’ve also learned enormously about setting up construction and design documents – creating sets that are useful on one hand to show the client, but also ultimately useful for the contractor as well.

I’ve been to visit most of the other sites the firm has been working on – from the Knickerbocker Club where we are working on its centennial restoration, to the Battery Lewis bunker in New Jersey, and a wide variety of apartment buildings and townhouses – including the Chelsea Hotel and 1780 Broadway.  I’m very grateful to have been able to work here this summer, as I’ve learned so much (especially about babka), and have been able to visit so many amazing sites.

The Main Barn at the Olana Historic Site

Valentina Angelucci: The Presidio Trust, San Francisco

The first time I visited the Presidio of San Francisco was during spring break. It was love at first sight and I knew immediately that was where I wanted to spend my summer internship. I remember QiZhang and I were standing on a concrete military battery appropriated by skateboarders, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. With the warm sun shining, I was charmed! After that, it didn’t take long for me to hear the great news that my application was accepted. And now here I am, with 2 weeks left of a great summer internship, still charmed (albeit for the cold San Francisco weather that I was not prepared for) and having learned so much more about the field of preservation.

The Presidio is a former military base converted to a national park, run by the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust, a federal agency set up to manage the park and its properties. The site is located on the tip of San Francisco, at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, and is one of the landing points of the Golden Gate Bridge. The site was chosen as a military base in 1776 because of its strategic location. It has flown under the flags of three different nations – Spain (1776), Mexico (1822), and finally the USA (1846).

What makes the Presidio so valuable in military and national history is that this site provides built documentation of over 200 years of military development and activities – from structures and landscaping, to the man-made but natural-looking forests, to objects and artifacts. The Presidio was added to the National Register in 1966. It goes without saying that preservation and maintenance of such an important place is a challenging task, and I am in awe of the people that have made it happen.

So as an intern in the Historic Compliance office of the Presidio Trust I am working under two Columbia HP alums, and have been tasked with compiling design guidelines for the future adaptive reuse of a group of buildings. The area is known as the Halleck Street District, a sub district of the Main Post, and is made up of a group of buildings formerly run by the post’s quartermaster. These buildings include 2 bakery buildings, two storage warehouses, and two specialty storage buildings (one for flammable storage, and the other a root house). My task has been to research and analyze the history of these buildings and from there, determine individual treatment recommendations and formulate design guidelines for the district as a whole.

This has been a challenging and rewarding task, and it’s good to know that my work will be put to use at a later stage. My experience here has been very informative and enjoyable. I have had the opportunity to see just how much it takes to run and maintain a site of this magnitude. I have also had the pleasure of seeing other historic sites including Hamilton Airfield Base, Fort Baker, the Marin County Civic Centre designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alcatraz. All in all, it’s been an enriching and rewarding experience.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Battery Boutelle in The Presidio

Laura Weinstein: Bakas Pilipinas, City of Miami and Studio X: Lalibela

The summer has been an enriching mixture of visiting the Philippines for Bakas Pilipinas, working with the City of Miami on a research project, and finally traveling to Ethiopia for Columbia University’s Studio X project in Lalibela.

After meeting Roz Li through Meisha Hunter, Senior Preservationist at Li/Saltzman Architects, I became involved with Bakas Pilipinas, a New York-based organization to promote the preservation of architectural heritage in the Philippines. Recently, they have been working on the documentation and seismic retrofitting of three “Orphan Churches” on the island of Bohol.

During my trip I was able to visit the three churches with special thanks to Father Milan Ted D. Torralba. Through documentary photography, I reported on the progress and current status of the three churches when I met with Roz Li back in New York City. These photographs will inform their projects and goals and I will continue to be involved with the organization’s future efforts.

Visiting Antequerra Church on the island of Bohol

As soon as I returned to Miami in June, I began working with the City of Miami, under the supervision of Trisha Logan, former assistant director of the GSAPP HP/UP programs and current Historic Preservation Planner. We researched and analyzed the current TDR program, initiated in 2009, and are looking for future solutions to improve the program. This particular preservation tool was vital to the economic feasibility of multiple projects in the MiMo/Biscyane corridor and could have future impacts on large-scale adaptive reuse projects slated for forthcoming completion.

Through this experience I was able to meet with a variety of policy makers, developers, academics, architects, and heritage professionals to gain new viewpoints of several stakeholders within the Miami community.

I was also able to attend several Historic Preservation events while in Miami. These included a “This Place Matters” event sponsored by Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables where I got to hear legendary historian Arva Moore Parks and significant developer/preservationist Avra Jain speak about the importance of heritage in Miami. I also got to attend the July session of the City of Miami HEPB meeting where the exceptionalism of a less than 50-year-old building, the Bayblon Apartments designed by Arquitectonica, was saved from demolition by neglect.

Both were uplifting events to witness the cumulative passion of the dedicated city officials, preservation non-profits, and concerned citizens in fostering a relatively new appreciation in Miami for architectural, cultural, and historical preservation.

Finally, I recently returned from an adventure in Lalibela, Ethiopia with Columbia University. Professors Erica Avrami and Will Raynolds led a week-long Studio X to study the impacts of architectural and living heritage tourism on development in Lalibela. Partnering with students from Addis Ababa University, it was a thrill to gain a new perspective in person of the outcomes preservation has on developing economies. The studio in the fall will be enlightening and I am grateful that I got to be a part of the initial study and report to inform the next semester.

Rock-hewn churches, Bete-Giyorgis, Lalibela

All three projects are still in progress and will continue to be worked on in the coming months, and hopefully years, to implement the strengths of preservation as an important tool for community development.


Andrea Sforza: Beyer, Blinder, Belle Architects & Planners, LLP

My time at Beyer Blinder Belle this summer has been spent working on design development for the adaptive reuse of the TWA Terminal Flight Center at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York. This project addresses a key aspect of preservation – redevelopment of historic buildings. How does an architect design an addition to a historic building? How does one retain the integrity of an iconic architectural landmark while reinventing the building’s use and altering its context? These were some questions I was included in addressing and thoughtfully considering this summer.

One of the great aspects of working on the project has been learning the history and importance of the TWA Terminal. The concept began in the late 1950’s when Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen was commissioned to design a ground breaking structure to capture the “spirit of flight.” The flight center was completed in 1962. With its sweeping symmetric concrete “wings” that bring to mind a bird in flight, it was instantly a New York City landmark. Although major changes to the scale of flight travel proceeded the construction which rendered the building almost impossible to use for its intended purpose, the building still remained iconic.

In 2012 BBB completed a nearly decade’s long effort to stabilize and restore key portions of the flight center. This included removing some later additions to the building, repairing concrete, restoring the historic entryway, and refurbishing the main public areas. Now, just a few years later, the next phase of reviving TWA is occurring. The flight center is being transformed into a lobby space for the new hotel buildings that will be built to the rear of the center. The hotel consists of two semi circular glazed towers that will be accessible through the existing concrete tubes. Key elements of the TWA terminal, such as the ticket lobby halls and sunken lounge, will remain, to be reused as food halls, hotel check-in areas, and public bars and restaurants. Underground spaces will be adapted for the needs of the hotel’s service staff and will connect underground to the two hotel towers by new tunnels. A large conference center will lie below ground, between the two hotel wings with design inspiration being taken from Saarinen’s flight center. Although the new hotel buildings might seem intrusive, their simple profiles with slender vertical mullions will provide a backdrop for the flight center, allowing the concrete and glass structure to remain center stage.

This internship has been a unique experience as I have been involved in conversations on both new building (both above and below ground) and how to successfully alter the existing structure. Working mainly with Revit, I have been aiding the DD process by developing the 3D model. I have been part of a team that is further developing design schemes that were established during the schematic phase earlier in the year. We have been using Saarinen’s original drawings, along with documentation from other additions that had taken place to the building over time, to inform what is possible to reconfigure with existing structure. The documents have also revealed elements that may have been removed over time and that we now have the option to incorporate in the redesign.

The innovative engineering and architecture that went into the TWA Flight Center has made this an intriguing project to work on. It has been exciting knowing that this endeavor ensures the preservation of a modern architectural masterpiece. Creative reuse and carefully placed additions to the TWA Flight Center will make this structure soar once again in the 21st century.

TWA Flight Center, 1962 photograph by Ezra Stoller [Yossi Milo Gallery]

Allison Semrad – Silman

This summer, I have an internship with Silman, a structural engineering firm that specializes in existing and historic structures. Within the firm, I work with a subset of engineers who deal primarily with historic buildings. The office is a supportive place for interns and the internship and has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about working as a preservation engineer. This summer, I have been able to plug into a wide variety of projects, and I have gained exposure to many facets of engineering.

As an intern, I support the office’s structural design projects – through analysis tasks, checking shop drawings from contractors, creating structural models, and supporting site visits. One of my takeaways from this summer has been the importance of an emphasis on understanding how an existing building is working (or sometimes how it is failing). I am learning that it’s helpful to study exactly how much load a structure sees, and how that load travels through a building. For instance, I was able to work on alterations at the Wyoming State Capitol, a grand Renaissance revival building from the 1880s. In support of this project, I helped analyze how the floor structures were performing. This included wood joists, metal arch floors, and concrete slabs – largely antiquated structural systems. I was also tasked with attempting to understand how the building was originally designed by using structural manuals from the 1890s. When the engineer could understand how these systems are performing, they could make smarter decisions about how to remove or replace pieces of the structure, while still protecting historic finishes and maintaining original pieces of the building.

I was also able to work on a few projects involving cathedrals in the city. Silman is involved with many ongoing alterations at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine complex and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I was able to attend coordination meetings and gain insight on how architects and engineers collaborate. Often, there was a lot of discussion about details – how to connect to existing structures, or how to shed water away from connections. Through these projects, I learned how to design stone anchors to support masonry and how to design lintels to make openings in existing walls. I am very appreciated of the opportunity to jump into these small design tasks – to learn how the modern building code can interact with historic buildings.

Overall, what I like most about this internship is that I am learning how to work as an engineer through the lens of preservation. Preservation engineering calls for a specific skillset, including familiarity with historic building methods and antiquated systems. The engineers at Silman know how to study historic buildings, assess their structure, and adequately and sensitively intervene. I am grateful to have an internship that provides exposure to this type of work, not to mention an understanding of a number of beautiful buildings!

Lintel study
Lintel study at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Jessica Betz: Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute

This summer, I am living in Washington D.C. and working at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI). During the first half of my internship, I worked on the First Aid for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAC) course. For the past five years, the course, initiated by ICCROM has been held in various locations around the world; for the last two in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. This year, the course was held in Washington D.C. and included 21 professionals from 17 different countries.

The purpose of the FAC course is to provide participants with a five week immersive training that focuses on teaching a framework for minimizing damage to cultural heritage during complex emergencies through a combination of classroom workshops and live action emergency simulations. Experts from around the world came to teach the participants methods and tools for assessing damage, documenting and stabilizing structures and materials, salvaging and evacuating collections, and emergency conservation techniques.

Much of the course revolved around live action simulations in which the participants were required to work on a variety of sites and materials in the wake of a “disaster.” These simulations included a week of documenting and stabilizing mausoleums and monuments in Congressional Cemetery following an “earthquake,” packing and evacuating a museum collection from the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building during an “impending riot,” and salvaging collections and culturally sensitive objects following “major flooding.”

The final simulation was held at the Washington D.C. Fire and EMS training ground. For this simulation, participants were asked to salvage a museum collection that had been placed in storage following a recent “bombing.” In order to be successful, the participants had to negotiate access to the site with the military. Upon reaching the site, they found emergency responders and injured museum professionals. Once the wounded were rescued and evacuated from the site, the participants began to survey and formulate a plan that required collaboration with the military, negotiations with hostile indigenous community groups, and securing the site from the media and potential looters. In addition to the surveying and documentation, participants were required to repel into shipping containers, crawl on top of flipped cars, and dig through piles of building rubble in order to access the objects and artifacts.

Final simulation at the Washington DC Fire and EMS Training Academy

For the second half of my internship, I am working with many of the conservators at the
Museum Conservation Institute. These projects are ongoing and include: assisting Senior Objects Conservator Carol Grissom with marble consolidation on the Smithsonian American Art Museum using various stone conservation techniques including barium hydroxide and nanoline; mounting textiles with Senior Textiles Conservator Mary Ballard for the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; cleaning and consolidating two mid-17 th century colonial skeletons from the Avery’s rest site in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; using visible and UV light photography to document invertebrate collections for the upcoming Objects of Wonder exhibition at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History with Preventive Conservator Becky Kaczkowski; creating and editing information to be used in heritage conservation programs at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq with Jessie Johnson, Head of Conservation.


Cameron Robertson: AKRF, Inc.

This summer I am interning at AKRF, Inc. AKRF is a leading consulting firm in New York City, specializing in environmental, planning and engineering. So far this summer, I have been assisting with historic research for the State Historic Preservation Office. I have been writing historic contexts for waterfront neighborhoods that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Later this summer, I will be helping my coworkers with field work, looking for buildings of architectural or historical significance throughout each neighborhood.

I have also been assisting with cultural resource work, helping to take photos for a number of projects as part of the NYC government ‘City Environmental Quality Review’ (CEQR) Historic and Cultural Resources Chapters’. It has been such a great learning experience working at AKRF and look forward to the remainder of my summer here!

Robertson_Field Visit
Field visit: former Free Public Baths of the City of New York on Allen Street

Stacy Tomczyk: LGBT Historic Sites Project

Helping with the LGBT Historic Sites Project’s for my summer internship has so far been an unparalleled and personally gratifying experience for me. It has allowed me to explore a path that employs preservation, social justice and architecture. The LGBT Historic Sites Project is unique in that it allows these fields to overlap in extremely meaningful ways.

The fight and history of the LGBT community in New York is an inspiring story of hope and progress. This story is protected and reinforced by ensuring that this narrative is anchored in the real through these historic sites and that the public has access to it through the soon to be released online map. Seeing where this fight happened roots the stories of LGBT people, their communities and allies to a physical place. I am witnessing how these places’ material fabric acts has the potential to act as a catalyst of hope for those discouraged, respect for those learning, inspiration to those who continue to fight, and community space for the support of the LGBT community.

So far my internship tasks have included compiling a database for significant sites found in early guidebooks, various archives- such as The LGBT Community Center Archives and the Lesbian Herstory Archives- and finding out whether old sites are extant and promising candidates for the online map. I have been collecting information and images on specific sites and organizations. I have also been able to contribute to the web design and map-making process, and have begun photographing sites and events for the project. My first week with the project included placing rainbow flags on deceased LGBT people’s graves in Woodlawn and Greenwood Cemeteries to honor deceased LGBT people buried there. This was a wonderful introduction to what was to become a very rewarding summer.

I am so excited to continue to spend my summer uncovering these hidden and underappreciated histories. It is so rewarding to know that in helping spread awareness of these sites that link us to the past, I am able to contribute a even small part to securing a foothold in the future of LGBT rights.

LGBT Greenwood
Waving rainbow flags from a Green-wood Cemetery trolley

Qi Zhang: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This summer I’m working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a design intern. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is not only a museum, but a cultural institution. The Met is a museum for the public, a library for scholars and also an education center for citizens. Actually I hadn’t realized how valuable it is until I started my training at the Museum Seminar Series (MuSe). The MuSe Internship program is a ten-week internship program for undergraduate and graduate students. The first two weeks of the Muse Internship Program were structured as a workshop,  focused on informing the interns about the Met’s philosophy and training us to give gallery talks. As a result, each of us will give tours that we designed ourselves 3 times this summer. Apart from that, every Friday we get together again to listen to lectures and talks that cover every aspects of the museum: not only 17 different curatorial departments but also other crucial supporting departments, like the Design Department, the Conservation Department, etc.

On most weekdays, I work at the Design Department helping with exhibition design. For me, it is such a privilege to work in a landmark building and help curate the rooms inside this masterpiece of architects like Calvert Vaux and Mckim Mead & White. I help with different designers and work on several projects at the same time. They range from the costume institute’s show for this fall to a modern contemporary show that will happen in 2018. By preparing physical and digital models and laying out gallery plans, I learned a lot about how to manipulate physical spaces and formal vocabularies to express the value of art and curatorship. Being able to work on a lot of shows, I also learned directly from a lot of curators. This got me thinking about Historic Preservation, as the two fields are comparable in a lot of ways. They both have to recognize the value of cultural objects and present them to the public; they both assume the responsibility of carrying the past into the contemporary and maybe extending it to the future; they both have to connect dots and create coherent narratives. Last but not least, they both shoulder the technological part of fixing and preserving. In fact, being trained as a gallery guide also made me think the curated works of art. In order to engage visitors, I have to know all the background information for the artworks and, at the same time, find a common theme among them to connect the dots. It is a valuable experience and it has given me the chance to become a good public speaker. Now I have only 3 and a half weeks left, and I want to make every day count by learning and myself.

Qi Photo
Preservation work at the Met in preparation  for exhibition installation

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