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Preservation Technology Laboratory

The Preservation Technology Lab serves teaching and advanced research on the preservation of building materials through a constantly evolving myriad of analogue and digital technologies. As part of this mission, the lab encourages awareness of, and creative approaches to, preservation technology as a means to bring about meaningful cultural, social, political and ecological change in the built environment. We achieve this by facilitating interdisciplinary postdoctoral, doctoral and masters level research, hosting visiting scholars, and promoting dialogues between leading visual artists, architects, engineers, creative technologists, and scientists. The lab is the repository of an extensive collection of building materials and fragments of historic buildings that are used by GSAPP faculty and students in teaching and research. The collection is searchable online and available for research purposes to Columbia affiliates and Visiting Scholars.

We follow an experimental preservation approach that deploys technologies critically and creatively to call into question preconceived ideas of what constitutes a building material, and by extension allows us to interrogate architecture’s materiality. This inclusive approach allows us to consider all materials that contribute to making and preserving architecture, including smells, encrusted dusts, airborne particles, fossil fuels, soluble coatings, migrating salts, glues, paints plastics, papers, digital data, in addition to more tectonic materials such as stone, brick, terra-cotta, portland cement, lime, and metals, among others. Combining scientific testing, artistic hands-on experimental applications, and critical thinking, we explore various technologies that contribute to the preservation of architectural materials, and by extension to the material care of the entire built environment.

Because preservation and care inform the ethos of the lab, our engagement with technologies is critical. We are mindful of the need to weigh the benefits of using particular preservation technologies against the possible harm they may cause individuals, societies, and natural ecologies. Some of our research therefore tests the claims of materials manufacturers against their actual performance in the real world, which is broader than what is listed in materials specifications, and includes accounting for constitutive externalities, such as a material’s social and environmental benefits and costs over their entire life-cycle.

The lab supports engagement with ethical questions entangled in the preservation of building materials through research into technology that extends beyond questions of physical performance (i.e. strength of materials) to include other equally important related questions concerning the aesthetic, social, political, cultural, ecological, and intellectual performance of materials.

Following experimental preservation methods, we also bring science and art together to probe the relationship between materials, aesthetic expression, and meaning. We use technology to test the material limits of architecture in space and time (where does architecture end?), as well as in culture and society (why does architecture end?). We promote research that demands deep readings to understand where architectural materiality comes from (physically, culturally, and historically) and what motivates it (politically and financially) in order to make informed decisions about how we could, should (or should not) use technology to preserve it.

Who We Are

DIRECTOR

Jorge Otero-Pailos
Professor
Director, Historic Preservation Programs
413 Avery Hall

MANAGER

Mika Tal
655 Schermerhorn
mt3321@columbia.edu

PHD STUDENTS

Robert Louis Brandon Edwards
Anna Gasha
Shuyi Yin

AFFILIATED FACULTY

Daniel Allen, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Erica Avrami, James Marston Fitch Assistant Professor
Lola Ben-Alon, Assistant Professor
Heather Hartshorn, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Mary Jablonski, Adjunct Associate Professor
André Jauregui, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Bilge Kose, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Tim Michiels, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Kyle Normandin, Adjunct Associate Professor
Richard Pieper, Adjunct Associate Professor
Theodore Prudon, Adjunct Professor
Halley Ramos, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Amanda Trienens, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Anthony Vanky, Assistant Professor
Norman Weiss, Adjunct Professor

Resources

Search the catalog through the Material Order website to learn more about the laboratory’s extensive historic collections of brick, sand, terra cotta, wood, and mudbrick, as well as a unique set of building fragments dating from the ancient world to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and the recent past.
materials.gif
Equipment
The lab makes equipment available to students and faculty including a deionized water supply, glassware, chemical reagents, Philips x-ray diffractometer, Nikon and Zeiss polarizing light and stereo binocular microscopes with an Infinity 2 digital cameras, DJI Phantom 3 drone, multiple Onset T/RH indoor and outdoor dataloggers, and Accumet pH and conductivity meters and a TRACER 5iTM Handheld XRF analyzer which works on x-rays diffraction and helps analyzing the elements and component of a found object.
HPSTUDIO_Lowe_FA16_00_3D-scanning-the-Camel-at-The-Cloisters.jpg
Visit our playlist on YouTube to discover how faculty research and teach about building materials and historic fragments in the preservation technology lab.
The SketchFab platform contains over 22 3D captures.
The goal of this StoryMap is to document this building to understand and visualize the current state of the Weir Chamber of Old Croton Aqueduct at Van Cortland Park by using various documentation technologies and methods. Supervised by Adj. Asst. Pro Bilge Kose, MS HP StudentsBlanca Balbuena, Charlotte Boulanger, Di Zhu and Yaozhi Liu tell the story of Weir Chamber at Van Cortland Part as a part of Old Croton Aqueduct, a revolutionary work of modern engineering in people’s lives from its foundation to negligence; preservation story to current state.

Research

Visit the Columbia GSAPP PhD Student Directory to explore research undertaken by Ph.D. Students in the Historic Preservation Program: Robert Louis Brandon Edwards, Anna Gasha, and Shuyi Yin.
This selection of MSHP theses features research undertaken at the Preservation Technology Lab.
Natalia Irina Roman, an artist and PhD city researcher at the Bauhaus University, is a 2024 Fulbright Visiting Researcher at Columbia GSAPP. Her research, titled “The potential for arts of the railway infrastructure: Transforming former interlocking towers into art spaces for the train passengers”, delves into the intersection of art and the preservation of disused railway infrastructure.
This network seeks to challenge traditional education paradigms in the professions dedicated to the design, construction, and management of the built environment — namely architects, engineers, preservationists, conservators, attorneys, and urban planners – by advancing the interdisciplinary learning and community-engaged research needed to adapt and decarbonize existing buildings.

Workshops

Field Trips

Research Partners

The Lab benefits from partnerships with various organizations that not only provide access to field work opportunities but also engage with students and faculty in long-term research projects.
Jay Heritage Center is the non-profit guardian of the Jay Estate, a 23-acre park, home of peacemaker and anti-slavery advocate John Jay.
Jay Heritage Center
The Fondazione Giorgio Cini is a non-profit cultural institution and humanistic and educational resource located on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.
Fondazione Giorgio Cini
The mission of DFMA, the last farmhouse in Manhattan, is to support the preservation of the historic site, to be a catalyst for engaging, adventuresome programming and to be a good neighbor and a dynamic resource for the community.
dyckman-farmhouse-museum-alliance.png

News

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how to find us
CONTACT
Mika Tal
Manager - Preservation Technology Lab
mt3321@columbia.edu
(212) 854 8851
DIRECTIONS
The Preservation Technology Lab is located in Schermerhorn Hall Extension Room 655 on Columbia’s main Morningside Heights Campus in New York City. A campus map and directions are available on the Columbia University website.