Publication Looks to Locals for a Sense of Place

Event: Book Talk — Place, Race, and Story: Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.09.10
Speakers: Ned Kaufman — Author, Principal, Kaufman Heritage Conservation, Director of Research and Training Programs, Rafael Viñoly Architects, & Adjunct Associate Professor of Historic Preservation, Pratt Institute
Organizers: AIANY Historic Buildings Committee

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Courtesy Routledge

One’s sense of place greatly varies depending on their role as either resident or visitor. In his new book, Place, Race and Story: Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation (Routledge, 2009), Ned Kaufman explores these distinctions as well as the architectural and urban elements with which each type of inhabitant identifies. In his professional work and research, Kaufman has come to the conclusion that the iconic places that resonate for residents differ from those identified by outsiders. For instance, a traveler may cite a central bell tower in a city as significant, whereas a resident may refer to a local coffee shop. Professional travelers or visiting historians are interested in evaluations, according to Kaufman, and residents are interested in the experience of their setting. As architects, it is crucial to understand the aspects of a location that may be overlooked or dismissed from an outsider’s perspective.

In his book, Kaufman delves into the traditional role of architects as historians, traveling to undocumented places in the 18th century, and returning with drawings of the urban environment, collections of native items, and stories of encounters. It is in the narratives, memories, and traditions of locals that a city’s true identity resides. Kaufman concludes that the key to capturing the spirit of a place is in intangible heritage and the concept of social value.

The “living history” of a community, as Kaufman calls it, is the story-scape that is crucial to absorb when making an analysis of a society. Harnessing the power of local tradition and knowledge will allow architects to produce inspired acts of documentation, preservation, and revitalization. “If we want to leave places better than how we found them,” Kaufman stated, “…we need to get beyond the traveler’s sense of place.”