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Past Perfect

Forget the old anti-progress preservationists. Françoise Bollack’s new book highlights how the movement’s future lies with projects that deftly merge historic and new.

Architect, December 2013

A few weeks into my first year of college in St. Andrews, Scotland, I told a new acquaintance that I was studying history. He smiled archly and said: “Naturally you’ve come here to study history. America doesn’t have any history.”

This conversation happened yards from a ruined 12th-century cathedral, on a street where no building was less than 250 years old. Every stone seemed to lend silent authority to his point—which made it hard for me to argue, being 18, awkward, and foreign. Eventually I switched majors, but not before hearing the same pronouncement a few more times.

If America has a long history of anything, it’s of acute self-consciousness at our relative youth as a country (see the works of James, Henry). The result is a certain zealousness in our approach to historic preservation. Lacking an abundance of old, distinguished buildings, we cling to the few we have and try to consecrate them.

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Photograph courtesy Monacelli Press/interiorimages.ca