APTI Annual Conference - Emerging Professional Sponsorship
An early morning school-bus ride to a nondescript steel clad building on the outskirts of Buffalo made for an inauspicious start to the 50th Annual APT Conference. The industrial shed’s quiet exterior belied the cacophony of masonry on the interior. All manner of stone, brick, concrete block, terra-cotta, and ceramic tile clad the walls and wrapped the columns; careful, and at time playful, remnants of years of local masons learning their trade in this Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers training center. This space served as the office for two days as I participated in the Terracotta Restoration Workshop, which included presentations on the history of terra-cotta, contemporary methods of production by two of today’s leading manufacturers, case studies, and best practices. This spread of lectures reminds on of some important challenges preservations face such as reconciling technologies that can span centuries, and navigating the complex logistics of projects where each and every element (whether blocks forming a heroic figure or the metal bars holding her up) must be carefully accounted for. Some of the most interesting and informative topics included discussions about how to properly detail terra-cotta assemblies so as to retain aesthetics while improving structural performance and the resilience of the system to water infiltration. The workshop then wrapped up with some hands-on exercises looking at patching, supplemental anchoring systems, glaze matching, and full-scale terra-cotta assemblies.
From the in-depth nature of the workshop, the conference transitioned into more of a buffet of preservation topics with the plenary and paper sessions. The plenary session that I attended focused on climate change and the intersection of preservation and climate resilience. As for the papers, I opted for a more diverse selection, sitting on various presentations that were organized along four tracks that discussed the impulse to tear down existing structures, materials, preservation of industrial and transportation infrastructure, and the new technologies taking over the field. Of particular interest to me, were discussions about how now-obsolete buildings can be given new life, and how technology can be mobilized to improve the efficiency and accuracy of preservation projects.
In light of these three areas that I was drawn to within the conference, the two keynote addresses were fortuitous. The first, the opening keynote was given by Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen Inc. and president of the Resilient Design Institute. Wilson’s headline was fairly straightforward: there are so many different ways that we can start to incorporate principles of resiliency into new and existing structures. We merely need to start thinking about potential threats, and begin building-in means of making our buildings less susceptible to them. The College of Fellows Keynote, by Randy Mason of the University of Pennsylvania, was also extremely interesting, presenting a lesson in knowing when and where to apply the technologies and expertise that we have. The project he presented was on the preservation of a Rwandan Genocide memorial that he and a team of American professionals consulted on. An important decision within the preservation of the site regarded the handling of fabric relics from the genocide. The Rwandans were adamant that these fabrics remain on the site, and accessible to the families of the victims, despite the entreaties of Mason and his team that these materials would eventually disappear. In this case, the intangible value of these materials to visitors far outweighed their tangible value.
For me, the workshop, paper and plenary sessions, and keynotes reminded me of the importance of change within our field; whether understanding changing building standards or technology, the changefulness of our environment, or an ever evolving understanding of what we value, we as professionals have to keep our minds and eyes open to these changes so that we can ensure our preservation of heritage is thoughtful, effective, and relevant.
Evan R. Schueckler