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8. Architecture, Interior Design, and Gardening
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8. Architecture, Interior Design, and Gardening

As a class, works of architecture undergo significant alterations at
the hands of their owners more often than any other works of art. The
changes go far beyond the repairs necessitated by aging and weathering;


Page 29
they often involve the construction of new rooms and wings, the recon-
figuration of existing rooms, and the attachment of decorative elements
and coverings to the exterior, perhaps totally transforming its appear-
ance. Because buildings are meant to be inhabited, they are like large-
scale utensils, which preserve the traces of daily use as well as conscious
alteration aimed at increasing utility. The architect's original intentions
are less important to many (probably most) owners than creating spaces
that they deem more convenient or attractive. The present text of every
house or office building is interesting (like the present state of all works
of art in physical media) as the momentary culmination of its interaction
with human beings. The textual history of a structure is often partly vis-
ible without any prodding beneath the surface, but a great many details
are always hidden from sight. Some of them can be learned in the course
of ordinary repairs, but uncovering others may require the destruction of
part of what is presently visible.

The decision as to whether such destruction is justifiable—whether
what is recovered is more desirable than what is lost—involves essentially
the same issues that arise with any other work of physical art, despite
the fact that buildings have a utilitarian function. There are increasing
numbers of owners of old houses who are eager not simply to preserve
what they possess but to restore it to what it was at a previous time, re-
gardless of whether the result will be more, or less, comfortable. Thus the
scholarly editing of buildings is not an uncommon activity, encouraged
by the historic preservation movement. Preservation at the most basic
level is of course the prevention of destruction, but it inevitably leads to
a second stage: since buildings require maintenance for survival, repairs
(textual emendations) must be made, and if they are to be made responsi-
bly, they must be directed toward a stated goal. As with all critical editing,
one must first decide what point in the textual history of the work is to
be the focus—the latest, the earliest, or some intermediate one. And after
the historical moment is settled on, one must determine what evidence
there is for recreating it—whether, indeed, there is enough to make the
attempt possible.

Among the factors that often affect the answer to the first of these
questions is the presence of alterations and additions made by a cele-
brated architect. The 1980s restoration of the main immigration building
on Ellis Island, for example, did not have as its goal the original 1900
state but rather that of 1918, when the Guastavino tile vaults were added.
(See Paul Goldberger's discussion, 14 August 1990.) Christopher Wren's
great addition to Hampton Court Palace in the 1690s destroyed a Tudor
courtyard, but no one would be likely to advocate returning the palace to
the form in which Henry VIII experienced it, since Wren's work would be
lost in the process. So when a serious fire in 1986 gutted the south wing


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of Wren's addition, any course of action other than restoration seemed
unthinkable. Surviving fragments (crystal, fabric, wood carving, and the
like) were pieced together with newly fabricated matching material. The
resulting mixture is not unlike what exists in the older parts of the palace
(or any other old building that has undergone repair). As Simon Thurley,
a curator at Hampton Court, said, "half of the 'Tudor' brick walls are
not really Tudor, and some are 19th-century" (quoted by Sherry Marker,
28 March 1993). The line between restoration and replica is not a distinct
one, for any emendation that involves new material can only produce an
approximation of the intended text, since the medium is physical and the
new material is a different physical object.

Determining the past time to be aimed for in a restoration is occa-
sionally taken out of the owner's hands if the building is located within a
designated historic district that has rules governing such matters. Gener-
ally the regulations insist on the preservation of the mix that existed at
the time the rules went into effect (with some alterations allowed by ad
permission); the focus, in other words, is on the social text—of each
house, as it has evolved, and of the neighborhood as a whole. The prob-
lems that can arise are epitomized by a case that occurred in the 1980s in
East Hampton, Long Island. The owners of an eighteenth-century house
in the historic center of the village removed a Victorian porch that had
been added, because they preferred the house to look as it had in 1790
and not to be an amalgam of the styles of two periods. They had unwit-
tingly failed to apply for a certificate of appropriateness, but it would not
have been granted in any case, for the Design Review Board argued that
the Victorian "Boardinghouse Era" was a distinctive part of the village's
history, and it ruled that the porch had to be built back.

This decision seems questionable—since the materials of which the
porch was constructed had been destroyed and since the porchless version
of the house does represent another period of East Hampton history—but
I am concerned less with the rightness of the decision than with what this
episode illustrates about the editing of buildings. Judgment is naturally
involved, as it is in all editing, and judgment is often affected by fashion,
by evaluations embedded in the cultural milieu. Thus Robert Hefner, a
preservationist employed by East Hampton, noted, "Thirty years ago a
restoration architect would say, 'Rip this porch off.' The philosophy was
to go back to the original form. Now preservation philosophy is more
refined and objective, taking into account historical periods" (quoted by
Michael Winerip, 20 July 1990). Although one might question "refined"
and "objective," there is no doubt about the main point: shifting scholarly
and intellectual predispositions influence editorial decisions. Preserving
the mixture of period styles that are the natural byproduct of a function-


Page 31
ing community may not be "objective," but it is certainly cautious, since
evidence of past living is not intentionally destroyed. One cannot help
but think of the contrast between East Hampton's firm (perhaps obstinate)
insistence on preserving the historical record and Colonial Williamsburg's
equally inflexible desire to erase the nineteenth century.

The question of what evidence there is for a restoration, when res-
toration (to whatever moment) is settled upon, involves recognizing that
surviving plans or other external documents cannot be accepted at face
value. A plan may of course indicate what an architect intended at the
time when it was drawn, but the building may have been built in a dif-
ferent way—because the builder did not follow the plan, or the architect
had second thoughts (possibly recorded on a now-missing plan), or the
client asked for alterations. Evidence of the inadequacy of plans turns up
all the time: to cite only one instance, when restoration of the ship Moni-
was being considered, it was found, as William J. Broad states, that
its "remains are often quite different from plans and period drawings"
(30 July 2002). Complex structures like buildings and ships, which in-
volve assembly from disparate parts, frequently contain within themselves
many indications of their own history; and sophisticated techniques are
now available to restoration architects for uncovering such evidence, as
when they determine the sequence and dates of multiple layers of paint.

When intrusive procedures (involving cutting, stripping, or even par-
tial demolition) are deemed necessary—whether the occasion is resto-
ration or remodeling—one is brought face to face with the actions of
human beings in the past with an immediacy not often matched by tex-
tual investigations into other arts. Whenever Paul Eisemann, a New York
carpenter, cuts into a wall, "he views it [according to John Freeman Gill]
as an opportunity to practice a kind of workingman's archaeology." Eise-
mann says that "buildings will talk to you if you listen"; for example, when
"you can see the original mortar on brickwork, sometimes you can tell
what group of immigrants did the work" (1 January 2006). As one undoes
past work—pulling out an old nail, for instance—one learns something
about the technique and attitude of the person who did the work in the
first place. When Verlyn Klinkenborg was taking apart the oldest room
of his house, he thought of the original carpenter and "how solidly he
did his job. He stinted nothing when it came to lumber and nails and,
especially, screws." Behind the walls "there is another house and another
set of lives." Klinkenborg, intrigued by the decisions of previous owners,
recognizes that future owners will equally marvel at his own decisions.
"The trouble," he says, "is that you can see only what remains—not what
has been erased. When I'm finished with my work, an era in the life of
this house will have vanished" (25 November 2005). This is the essence of


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textual alterations in physical media, but at least in the case of buildings
there still often remains enough evidence for detailed textual histories to
be recovered.

The wall decoration, furnishings, and arrangement of objects within
a house, or the landscaping and gardens that surround a house, may
or may not have been created by the same person who designed the
house. From the point of view of authorial intention, the extent to which
a house, its interior decoration, and its gardens can be approached as
a single work will vary with the circumstances; but from the social or
audience-response point of view, they are always inextricable, since they
are experienced together, and the ensemble affects one's response to each
element. One object that landscape architecture and interior design share
with other architecture is that of creating spaces to be lived in—they are
all "living rooms"—and thus gardens and room decorations, like houses,
often undergo textual alterations to accommodate their owners' changing
needs and tastes. Interior design, textually considered, involves the same
questions as installation art, for both create arrangements of objects to
be experienced within defined spaces—though interior design is more
frequently altered, since owners of houses usually regard it as a utilitarian
craft rather than a "fine" art.

The textual criticism of designed landscape must take into account
the primary fact that distinguishes it from the textual study of buildings
and room decoration: the predominant elements in such texts are living
plants that change continuously. The human-made inanimate objects in
gardens—like flagstones, sundials, and statuary—are no different textu-
ally from sculpture and craft. But whereas sculptors and architects of
buildings often take into account the effects that weather will have on the
materials they use, they do not have to think about variations that are
perceptible on a daily basis. The plan for a garden, whether on paper or
in the mind, provides a framework that subsumes the constantly changing
details of the stages of growth of the individual plants as well as the altera-
tions produced by necessary maintenance. Such changes are part of what
is intended (by the original designer or a later one who modifies the earlier
plan); the elements that are intended to be relatively more stable include
color, height, and massing, as well as the specific varieties of plants. Thus
the only editorial emendations that are at odds with what was intended
are those that change elements of this kind and their relationships. (That
the textual history of gardens has been flourishing is suggested by the
intense interest in the work of Gertrude Jekyll and Beatrix Farrand, by
programs of the National Trust in England and the Smithsonian Institu-
tion in America, and by the existence of the Thomas Jefferson Center for
Historic Plants at Monticello and Mac Griswold's Sylvester Manor Proj-
ect on Shelter Island.) Because plants are living and changing, they bring


Page 33
an element of the performing arts to the tangible-medium art of garden-
ing; for that reason, the relation of written plans or designs to gardens is
like that of scripts and scores to drama and music.