A Conservator’s Call-to-Arms: Material Selection in a World of Substitution.

Thu, Nov 1, 2018    6:30pm

There is a finite service life for many building materials. No one expects wooden roof shingles to last more than 40 years. Even roofs made of plated iron or steel seldom last a century. Zinc ornament on cornices generally begins to fatigue and fail in less time than that.

An architectural conservator’s job is often not just determining how to conserve historic fabric that is to remain, but to establish what elements on a building must be replaced, and how that should be done. Although great strides have been made in reawakening the trades that produced the building materials of the nineteenth century (witness the reemergence of architectural cast iron for restoration in the 1970’s, and the increased production of architectural terra cotta for restoration), more and more frequently historic building fabric is replaced with a substitute material. Sheet metal cornices are now commonly replaced with GFRP (glass fiber reinforced polymer, or “fiberglass”), terra cotta with GFRC, and natural stone with precast concrete. Where is this leading preservation? Is preservation of form all that is required of historic preservation? What about preservation of craft? Don’t materials contribute to a buildings soul and authenticity?

This talk will discuss the responsibilities of architectural conservators, and the quandaries they face in a world of increasing material substitution.

Richard Pieper is an architectural conservator specializing in the conservation of metals and masonry materials. As an Adjunct Associate Professor of Historic Preservation for the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Pieper has taught a course on the conservation of architectural metals since 1996.

From 1985 to 2018, Pieper served as Director of Preservation of Jan Hird Pokorny Associates. While at Pokorny, Mr. Pieper directed the exterior restoration of the 1908 cast iron and steel Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and the exterior restoration of Olana, Frederic Church’s historic homestead, for the New York State Division for Historic Preservation. From 1994 to 1997 he directed the restoration of the dome and rotunda of the New Jersey State House. In recent years, he has supervised the restoration of roofing and metal signage at the copper-clad Erie-Lackawanna Rail and Ferry Terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey; the restoration of the tile and ornamental copper roof of the Guardian Life Insurance Building; and the restoration of the terra cotta and marble facade of the Century Club.

Pieper published “A Checklist for the Restoration of Architectural Cast Iron in the US” in the APT Bulletin in 2013, and “The ‘White Metals’ of Early-Twentieth- Century American Architecture” in the Bulletin in 2015. “Aluminum’s Challenges for the Conservator” a paper presented at the ICOM conference “Aluminum: History, Technology, and Conservation” is slated for publication by the Smithsonian in 2018.

Pieper has a degree in Geochemistry from Cornell University, and studied Architectural Conservation at the International Center for the Conservation of Cultural Property in Rome.

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