Preserving the Modern Century: The Research and Activities of the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program

By: Morris (Marty) Hylton
 
On February 15, 2013, the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program and Student and Alumni Association sponsored a lecture by Christine Madrid French, President of Docomomo US/Florida and former Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Modernism + Recent Past program. The talk titled Preserving the Modern Century: The Next Fifty Years for Historic Preservation served as the keynote lecture for the second annual Preservation South conference and inspired the title of this article. This year’s Preservation South conference, organized by the Historic Preservation graduate students at the University of Florida (UF), focused on the theme of Southern Modern and explored the preservation of recent past and modern heritage. The topics for presentations and posters ranged from surveys of modern residences and buildings to documentation of modern landscape design to analysis of postwar tourist destinations.
 
The UF Historic Preservation Program is currently acting as the academic partner for the first national symposium of Docomomo US, which will be held in Sarasota, Florida in April 2013. Titled Modern Matters, the three-day symposium is bringing together speakers and attendees from across the country and Florida to share scholarship and information on advocacy and other efforts to record, interpret, and conserve twentieth century, modern resources. 
 
These two conferences – Southern Modern and Modern Matters – demonstrate the increased commitment of the UF Historic Preservation Program to undertake research that helps address the challenges of preserving modern heritage. As one of the first four American institutions of higher learning to offer coursework in historic preservation, University of Florida has an established reputation for documenting and researching places and sites associated with the recent past. However, over the last decade, the work of faculty and students has increasingly focused on issues impacting the preservation and interpretation of modern sites and places and has established UF as a leader in this area of heritage conservation. In the University of Florida is simultaneously working on a number of projects and collaborating with numerous partners to devise strategies for saving and sustaining modern heritage.
 
Planning
In fall 2008, the UF Historic Preservation program partnered with the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation to hold a state-wide workshop on preserving the recent past led by Jeanne Lambin, now an adjunct faculty member. For two days, stakeholders and representatives from across the Sunshine State gathered to participate in facilitated sessions that informed the development of a white paper with recommendations for next steps in surveying and assessing the myriad of twentieth century resources that help land Florida its sense of place. Since the completion of the white paper in 2009, UF has worked with a number of communities including Miami / Dade County, Sarasota, and Apalachicola on a series of initiatives to document and plan for the preservation of post-World War II sites. For example, in 2010, faculty and students from historic preservation and interior design explored potential adaptive uses for the 1920s Ford Assembly Plant building in Jacksonville, Florida by architect Albert Kahn.   
 
Technology
As part of the Envision Heritage initiative, the UF Historic Preservation Program is using its new 3D laser scanner to document modern landmarks. In March, a team will spend three days scanning and recording the Miami Marine Stadium. The products from the 3D scans will be used by the Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium to help inform technical solutions for saving the structure, which used to serve as a venue for boat races and open-air concerts, and will be displayed as part of an exhibition on the site that will be mounted in Coconut Grove, Florida this fall.
 
Community Engagement
Engaging stakeholders in the process of identifying and assessing the values and planning for the adaptation and preservation of modern sites is also a hallmark of the work of the UF model. Faculty and students are currently collaborating with organizations and individuals in the community of Apalachicola, Florida to document, research, and collectively identify a use and develop a proposal for the rehabilitation and reuse of the 1928 Art Deco style Chapman School. Plans are currently being developed for a community workshop.
 
Global Perspective
During summer 2012, the UF Historic Preservation Program launched the first Global Heritage Studio under the auspices of the Center for World Heritage Research and Stewardship. Seven students spent several weeks working with authorities and residents of the community of Sawhlunto - an early twentieth-century industrial mining town in Sumatra - documenting the modern heritage and exploring the possibility of a World Heritage nomination.
 
Advocacy
Research undertaken by faculty and students is also informing efforts to raise awareness of Florida's modern heritage. In 2012, the program collaborated with the Dade Heritage Trust to prepare a local landmark designation report for the 1963 Miami Herald building. The exhibition  The Building Itself Teaches: Sarasota, Florida's Public School Program (1954-1960) opens at the Sarasota Visitor Center this April. The exhibition presents the history and explores the achievements and significance of this progressive school construction program that transformed the learning environment of Sarasota. The exhibition is sponsored by the Sarasota County History Center and the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation.
 
Over the next few years, the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program intends to build upon this recent research, collaborations, and initiatives to further expand and institutionalize its efforts to research, document, preserve, and interpret the heritage of the modern century.  
 
Photo (right): UF Alumni visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York City
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