State of Iowa partners with U.S. State Department for global historic preservation projects

Newswise – AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University has a unique partnership with the U.S. Department of State, in which ISU students work on historic preservation projects at diplomatic properties Americans around the world.

Tobin Tracey, Director of Cultural Heritage Office for the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations – and an ISU architecture alumnus – contacted the ISU College of Design in 2015 because he heard of plans underway to create a historic preservation certificate program.

“My mom saw an article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about the state of Iowa preparing to start a historic preservation program,” Tracey said.

From this, the U.S. Department of State’s ISU Cultural Heritage Documentation Project was formed. For six years, students traveled, studied, and documented U.S. embassies and ambassadorial residences around the world. So far, students and faculty have traveled to seven countries, with a class traveling abroad almost every semester – although the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed travel plans since 2020.

There are over 200 historic US diplomatic properties around the world. However, records on the history of these buildings are sparse, Tracey said, adding that the partnership between the State of Iowa and the State Department is a win for all.

The State Department obtains much-needed documentation of historical and culturally significant elements of its properties abroad; professors can share their expertise with students and develop their research; students learn the intricacies of historic preservation work with real sites; and the public can see inside U.S. embassies and ambassadors’ residences that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see.

“The aim is to get students thinking about how the past plays into the present and future of a city and how a building fits into the revitalization of a city,” said said Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, assistant professor of community and regional planning. “You have to reconcile this historic environment with new development. Many cities are trying to reconcile the needs of the past with the goals of the future.

Preservation is about communities

This summer, Grevstad-Nordbrock and Carlton Basmajian, an associate professor of community and regional planning, plan to take students to Rome as part of a State Department project on the US Embassy campus. It includes a 2,000-year-old Roman ruin and a covered walkway called a cryptoporticus, which was discovered while excavating the facility’s parking lot.

Grevstad-Nordbrock examines historic buildings in a broad context, considering not only the physical building, but also history, culture, planning issues, and relationships with the United States. He and his students also examine issues such as affordable cities, gentrification and the negative impacts of tourism.

“With preservation, people are thinking about adaptive reuse,” he said. “Preservation is really about communities and larger issues, not individual buildings.

“This project is important as an example of cultural diplomacy.

UIS design studios combine traditional historical preservation work – such as questionnaires, interviews and material cultural analysis – with digital technologies like LIDAR scanning, virtual reality and panoramic photography.

“This project demonstrates the potential for historic preservation. The public feels like it’s the wealthy buying up properties and evicting tenants, or nosy neighbors in Old Town neighborhoods complaining,” said Mickey Belding, PhD student in the story from Story City, who took part in the fall 2016 trip to London. “Too often, historic preservation smacks of self-interest and self-esteem. But that’s not what’s happening here. »

In his new position as architectural historian for the Office of Cultural Heritage, Andrew Fackler, an UIS alumnus in community and regional planning, political science and environmental studies Lake Zurich, Illinois – searches State Department diplomatic properties for historical significance. He had always been interested in history and geography, but a job with UIS Special Collections and University Archives and discovering the historic preservation program cemented his interest.

Between graduating from Iowa State and starting his current job, Fackler worked with Grevstad-Nordbrock and Tracey on a project detailing the history and cultural significance of the American Consulate in Scotland.

“I run with the mantra: if everything is historical, then nothing is historical,” Fackler said. “We can’t save everything, and I don’t think we should try. We must determine what is worth saving and devote our energy to it. You could have countless buildings that are old, but old doesn’t mean historic.

It also takes sustainability and design into consideration, adhering to historic preservation expert Carl Elefante’s phrase: “The greenest building is the one that’s already built. And over time, different architectural styles are under threat.

“I think a lot of students come to class thinking we’re going to be working with esoteric, musty ancient history,” Grevstad-Nordbrock said. “I try to disabuse them of that, by showing that the historic built environment is an integral part of our daily lives.”

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