Preservation Greensboro hosted Alfonso Narvaez November 13-15 as part of the National Preservation Institute’s Professional Seminars in Historic Preservation and Cultural Resource Management. The event was held at the Blandwood Carriage House, and included a diverse selection of professionals from places such as Fort Knox, Kentucky; Olympia, Washington; Mission Viejo, California; and Reynolda House, Biltmore Estate, and Blandwood Mansion here in North Carolina.
The focus of the seminar was managing and maintaining historic structures, and Alfonso is among the most respected professionals in historic building maintenance in the country. As head of the Preservation Technology Group at John Milner Associates, Inc. (JMA) office in Alexandria, Virginia, he has worked for a wide range of historic museum properties including the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, the Nantucket Historical Association, the Taft Museum of Art, Stratford Hall, Kenmore Plantation, and many others. JMA is a believer in the holistic approach to historic site management and has specialized in historic preservation since its founding in 1968.
Key to the session was the importance of understanding how a building functions, and how to steer a structure through change and time. All homeowners are (should be) building managers and must understand the importance of routine maintenance – be it cleaning gutters each fall, monitoring the roof for deterioration and leaks, or pruning vegetation away from the foundation. The challenge lies in the ability of each homeowner/manager to analyze their own structure and to formulate sustainable solutions to cope with issues that might arise.
For example, here at Blandwood Mansion, we have a continued challenge of plaster failure along a small section of a solid masonry wall in one of the parlors (image, upper right). A remedy could include sanding and repainting the plaster, but the failure is sure to return because the root of the problem was not solved. Our suspicion is that moisture is creeping into the wall either from a hairline crack outside, or rising from the subsoil via the foundation. Once we identify the source of the moisture, permanent repairs can be made. In fact, Alfonso gave us valuable free advice on how to identify the source of our mystery moisture!
Sustainable solutions to building management go beyond routine maintenance. Solutions also involve an understanding of materials, the deterioration process of materials (can bricks decay? Yes they can! Image, lower right), and understanding how the deterioration process be controlled or slowed. All of these points are important issues for owners of historic buildings where materials are crucial to the character and significance of the site.
For those of us who don’t know how to manage a building (and there are less of us trained to work with historic materials such as heart pine, copper cladding, slate roofs, and hand-made bricks every day), hope lies in a document called an Historic Structure Report (HSR). HSR’s are developed as a user’s manual for historic buildings to guide decisions, maintenance, and stewardship of a site through time. Popular in larger cities and other countries, HSR’s are just now creeping into the lexicon of building managers here in Greensboro. We are likely to see a rise in their use locally, and not a minute too soon.
If the mountain (aka Greensboro) won’t come to Mohammed (aka Alfonso Narvaez), Mohammed must go to the mountain. Thanks to the National Preservation Institute and Alfonso for coming to Greensboro and introducing professionals in our community to the merits of HSR’s and historic building stewardship. The next seminar held at the Blandwood Carriage House will be on April 10th, with the topic of “Green” and sustainable strategies for historic buildings. Nothing says “recycling” like saving an entire building from the landfill, but how can we extend conservation to include energy efficiency, materials, and smart design? The session will be led by Jean Carroon, a LEED certified architect at Boston-based architecture firm Goody Clancy.