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Myths of Permanence and Transience in the Discourse on Historic Preservation in the United States

Mitchell Schwarzer
Journal of Architectural Education (1984-)
Vol. 48, No. 1 (Sep., 1994), pp. 2-11
DOI: 10.2307/1425305
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1425305
Page Count: 10
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Myths of Permanence and Transience in the Discourse on Historic Preservation in the United States
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Abstract

The definition of the past, and especially its presentation through the opposition of the myths of permanence and transience, is a crucial historiographic issue for the discipline of historic preservation. In this essay, I investigate how historic preservation extends beyond the protection of a single building or district ensemble. I argue that historic preservation plans symbolize the architecture of the past through myths of permanence. Read as a text--that is, a narrative act that identifies, coordinates, and evaluates built objects--the myths of permanence underlying historic preservation project an ideology of stability onto historic architecture. Counteracting the American fascination with mobility and novelty, preservation plans conflate the cultural variability inherent in architecture with images of homogeneous national community.

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