Architectural Conservation Laboratory: Preserving the Past for the Future

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Media Contact:Russell C. Campbell | | 215-898-7798March 11, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- What do the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, medieval Cairo, the Second Bank of the United States and the Creole cemeteries of New Orleans all have in common? The answer is Frank Matero, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts.

Matero directs Penn's Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and its Architectural Conservation Laboratory and Research Center. The program, recently cited as the most distinguished of its type in the country, draws more than 50 students and research fellows each year from around the world to prepare for careers in preservation.

"During the past decade, aspects of heritage have become important issues in the discourse on place, cultural identity and ownership of the past," Matero said. "Conservation is concerned first and foremost with the protection of cultural works from deterioration and loss."

Matero's most recent pursuit has been with New Orleans' historic Creole cemeteries. He and Dana Tomlin, professor of landscape architecture, have applied the newest digital technology using GIS mapping to survey and plan for the preservation for its tombs.

At Mesa Verde National Park and Bandelier National Monument, Penn and the National Park Service, together with local Native American pueblo partners, have inaugurated an innovative research and training program focused on the preservation and management of ancestral archaeological sites. This program represents a new direction in resource management by addressing the cultural and ecological conservation issues of these complex archaeological, recreational and sacred indigenous landscapes.

The Cairo project addresses many of the same social and architectural issues related to traditional societies and the preservation of place set against disruptive influences of globalization and tourism. By working with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Penn's program has collaborated to bring both conservation and appropriate technology to the problems of physical decay and loss of traditional building knowledge within the context of one of Cairo's poorest yet most vital and traditional neighborhoods.

Other research programs have included detailed technical studies on the masonry of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in Washington, D.C., and the exteriors of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Second Bank of the United States, part of the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.