A Conditional Preservation for Ephemeral Sites

By McClure, Ursula Emery | Change Over Time, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

A Conditional Preservation for Ephemeral Sites


McClure, Ursula Emery, Change Over Time


Introduction

The ephemerality of the built environment exists through a multitude of lenses and questions the presumed need for traditional trajectories of preser vation and longevity. Established processes tend to focus on ephemerality in terms of growth and decay, responsiveness and interaction, or as visual or phenomenological qualities. The concept of ephemerality is directly confronted in the duality of two media decaying or evolving at varied rates within the environment and is particularly evident along the Louisiana Gulf Coast as land loss, settlement, and culture overlap in a continuous tête-à -tête between biotic processes and the built environment. New methodologies of representation, analysis, and preservation must be developed to address issues of ephemerality within sites of cultural heritage and/or ecological significance. This need is hastened as global climate change identifies coastal edges dramatically altering in the present and near future.

To investigate these methodologies, we selected a test site, Fort Proctor, a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) site at extreme environmental risk. Fort Proctor (Fig. 1) is one of several forts built along Lake Borgne in Southeaster n Louisiana following the War of 1812. The fort was designed and construction commenced in 1856, but was soon halted in 1859, due to a hurricane and events associated with the beginning of the American Civil War. Since then, Fort Proctor has remained an ephemeral landscape of dramatic change as a static marker or datum, recording major ecological changes within the dynamic coastal environment.

To commence, a multidisciplinary team assembled a rich historical context to understand For t Proctor's deterioration and degradation, as well as the changing Gulf of Mexico environment.1 From this complex array of disparate data sets (physical site and geographical condition surveys, material analyses, photogrammetric and photographic documentation, and GIS mapping), the researchers developed time-based animations that document the analysis of the test site Fort Proctor in four time-scales: one day, one year, two hundred years, and geologic time. The animations present perspectival visualizations that show the aesthetic and atmospheric qualities of the test site while overlaying analytical data and historical facts.2 The animations allow the viewer to digest the disparate data sets as single narratives, creating a composite temporal framework that serves as the documentary surrogate for the ephemeral built environment.

The research has generated an augmented procedural methodology for preservation of sites at extreme environmental risk and dramatic change. In the test site of Fort Proctor, both the building and site exist in a state of decay. To preserve the architecture requires the preservation of the natural environment, and that is not only cost-prohibitive but also disproportionately scalar. As the world's global climate continues to change, more and more preservation sites will face similar dilemmas. We argue that this does not preclude preser vation, however, but instead demands the existing methodologies improve and that the outcomes change. In museum conservation ethics, there exists a precedent for our proposed augmented methodology: reformatting unstable media. When a medium is unstable and/or threatens the existence of other media, the secondary form of preservation is reformatting. The goal is to capture the information from the original medium, but not to directly preserve it. Thus, in cultural heritage sites where physical preservation is prohibitive and loss is unavoidable, we propose the conditional preservation. The conditional preser vation is a digital surrogate composed of three-dimensional, data-embedded modeling of a built work's composite conditions, both physical and environmental (Fig. 2), and their subsequent changes over time. Beginning with the traditional Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) methodology, we have elaborated on that documentation procedure to create a more experiential, embedded, and holistic preservation method for at-risk ephemeral sites. …

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