The concourse and steps leading down to the platforms at Pennnsylvania Station (New York City). The railing along the stairs are the only remainders from the original station that can still be seen today, though only on some platforms.
Pen Station New York City (demolished 1963)
Preservation and Conservation processes start with a perceived belief or an accepted truth, that the present condition of a built form is a historical fact, resulting from natural causes and human discriminations.
The natural influences and human machinations in a building are usually so interpolated, that it is almost impossible to separate them out. It is almost impossible to preserve or conserve any entity unless some of the changes are terminated, withdrawn, isolated or retracted. These exercises more often mean a move towards the original condition that is unknown or uncertain to begin with. Preservation and conservation as a result, turn out to be attempts in restorations. Buildings are preserved or conserved by the society, due to a fear, that any other action may cause irrevocable harm than any good.
In the 19th C. Europe, in the field of architectural rehabilitation of buildings, the creed ‘to conserve, but not rebuild’ prevailed, and by 1900 it had been enforced by legislation also. The national acquisition of buildings for conservation in Britain had been carried out chiefly under the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913, by which suitable unoccupied properties can be ‘taken into guardianship’. A much more rigorous application of the principle is possible in the United States, whereby the owners of whole groups of buildings held to be of sufficient distinction can in fact be legally dispossessed. These erstwhile owners may then be allowed to remain in residence on condition of the repair and rehabilitation of their buildings to a specified standard. In this way, whole areas of buildings, such as Society Hill in Philadelphia, have been taken over.
Urban conservation has often come to mean frontage restoration of old buildings in period styles. Criteria for conservation are not easy to define. ‘Architectural merit clearly must rank highly, especially in the case of any building that authentically exemplifies its period’. Historical associations, such as the birthplace of a famous person, are less easily rated. One pernicious effect of all selection is the way in which it is the most outstanding example of any period, rather than the truly typical, that in the end remains to represent it.