The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation

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Overview

A comprehensive and eloquent argument for “new traditional” architecture that preserves the style and character of historic buildings.
With contemporary design being redefined by architects and urbanists who are recovering the historic language associated with traditional architecture and the city, how might preservation change its focus or update its mission? Steven W. Semes makes a persuasive case that context matters and that new buildings and additions to old buildings should be harmonious with their neighbors.

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Editorial Reviews

Traditional Building
“The Decade’s Most Important Book on Urban Architecture….With the publication of this volume, Steven Semes has vaulted into the first rank of contemporary architectural critics and preservation theorists…. should be must reading for all preservationists and people serving on landmark commissions and design review boards.”
New Urban News
“Semes mounts the most thorough attack I’ve ever read on the anti-tradition stance of many architectural and historic preservation professionals. The need for this book is intense….Everyone, including general readers, will find this book’s many illustrations, with their pithy captions, illuminating. This book should help the confused 21st century to create and maintain places of lasting value.”
Planetizen.com
“[P]resents a persuasive case against the preservation ethic of oppositional styling; that is, the argument that new additions to historic buildings must be deliberately un-period so as not to be confused with the existing, ‘authentic’ section of the building. Semes illuminates the error of this way of thinking, and walks us through a history of architecture and preservation in the process.”
Civil Engineering
“[A] stirring and passionate call to get historic preservation right by respecting the past without making it sacrosanct.”
Book News
“Full of well illustrated examples, drawings, and photographs of the results of both approaches, this volume is likely to take up important space in future discussions.”
The Commercial Dispatch
“[B]eautifully illustrated….comprehensive….[N]eeds to be understood and followed by professional architects and preservationists; most of the lay public, which likes old buildings and neighborhoods, is already on Semes’ side.”
AASLH History News
“[A] clear and comprehensive argument….adds significantly to the discussion, one that should continue as an important topic within the historic preservation, urban planning, and architecture professions.”
Sacred Architecture
“[T]houghtful and thought-provoking….a must-read for those who care for and care about our architectural heritage.”
American Arts Quarterly
“[S]peaks in common-sense terms, it is didactic and approachable, and the laymen who are in the trenches…will find powerful ammunition in it.”
Kathleen Corbett - Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review
“With The Future of the Past, architect Steven W. Semes has planted his foot hard in the tense area between architectural innovation and historic preservation…[R]aises questions that everyone involved in historic preservation needs to think about. Semes thus deserves credit for tackling a complex issue that is playing out in myriad ways all over the world.”
Portland Book Review
“Mr. Semes makes a compelling argument; hopefully is does not fall on deaf ears.”
APT Bulletin: Journal of Preservation Technology
“Will we ever agree on the future of the past? Probably not. However, with this compelling and accessible study, Steven W. Semes has taken a major step forward towards that illusory goal. . . . [A] thought provoking book.”
Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review - Kathleen Corbett
“With The Future of the Past, architect Steven W. Semes has planted his foot hard in the tense area between architectural innovation and historic preservation…[R]aises questions that everyone involved in historic preservation needs to think about. Semes thus deserves credit for tackling a complex issue that is playing out in myriad ways all over the world.”
APT Bulletin: Journal of Preservation Technology
“Will we ever agree on the future of the past? Probably not. However, with this compelling and accessible study, Steven W. Semes has taken a major step forward towards that illusory goal. . . . [A] thought provoking book.”
Architecture Here and There
“Semes has written an indictment so complete and so damning, and yet expressed with such grace and diplomacy, that all thoughtful preservationists and even some modern architects will finally understand, if not admit, the error of their ways. . . . so clear, so strong and so compelling that professionals in the field may be judges by how they react to it. . . .I do not think I've ever come away from a book more impressed. Its erudition and its force in putting across a complex contrarian argument are incomparable. This book should be required reading for modern architects, who will start to whistle past the graveyard, and preservationists, who will see the error of their ways and, if they are honest, will admit it. . . . All I can say is read the review - or better yet, go out right now and get the book itself. It is my new bible.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393732443
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/19/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,241,031
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven W. Semes is Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture and Academic Director of its Rome Studies Program. A practicing architect for over thirty years, he has designed a wide variety of projects for preservation and new construction throughout the United States. He is also the author of The Architecture of the Classical Interior (Norton) and a contributor to The Elements of Classical Architecture (Norton). His essays and reviews have appeared in the National Trust Forum Journal, Traditional Building, Period Homes, and American Arts Quarterly. He is a Fellow Emeritus of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America.

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