News Updates

Preservation Alumni's blog is a convenient location to see what is happening with other Alumni as well as get news and updates on what is going on in the Preservation community. Please check back often!

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  • 02 Oct 2018 10:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Volunteers wanted: National Register survey of 306 post-war vernacular houses in Sag Harbor, NY on Columbus Day weekend, 2018.

    The neighborhoods of Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah (aka “SANS") together comprise a multi-generational African American summer beach community in Sag Harbor on the South Fork of Long Island. Created, like many other such communities, under conditions of segregation before the Civil Rights Era, these three post-war subdivisions are now some of the very last surviving examples of such communities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Sharply rising tear-down rates (fueled by the second-home real-estate market of the Hamptons), along with other issues, are threatening the SANS community’s social and architectural fabric. 

    In response, a group of neighborhood volunteers have been working on National Register listing (the area is not a part of Sag Harbor Village’s 19th-century historic district).  Based on a cultural resource survey completed earlier this year, the New York SHPO has declared the area NR eligible, primarily for cultural rather than architectural criteria. Now, to complete the NR nomination itself, SANS is looking for help completing formal building descriptions for the 306 mostly mid-20th-century single-family homes. With volunteers from NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) they’re planning a field survey push this Columbus Day weekend to get the descriptions written, and they welcome additional volunteers, especially those with experience with NR surveys and/or formal description of post-war vernacular residential architecture. This survey help would be 100% pro-bono, but community members have offered to provide room and board. (Sag Harbor is 95 miles east of NYC.  Hampton Jitney provides direct bus service between Manhattan and Sag Harbor.  The nearest train station is Bridgehampton on LIRR’s Montauk line.)

    We are looking for willing and experienced surveyors for this weekend, there may be other opportunities to contribute later on. If you are interested, please contact Chris Neville at
  • 16 Aug 2018 3:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submissions are now being accepted from current students for the 2018 Cleo and James Marston Fitch Prize. Named in honor of James Marston Fitch (1909-2000), the founder of the Columbia Historic Preservation program, this prize is awarded annually for the best paper or project completed during the first year of studies. Submissions may include projects completed by an individual or team of 2. 

    Through the generous contributions of PA members, in recent years the prize has carried a $500 award. For more information and a list of past recipients, see here.

    Send all submissions and any questions to by September 10th at 5:00 pm. The Fitch Prize will be awarded at the Fall Party on September 20th, so please remember to RSVP and attend!

  • 31 May 2018 9:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Preservation Alumni is seeking nominations for new board members to expand our leadership. Are you interested in joining the PA board to support our mission of enriching the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia? Send your resume and a brief note to Open to alumni of all class years!

  • 17 Mar 2018 10:42 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Many of our HP alum working at the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project nominated Earl Hall as the site of meetings and dances of the Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, for the National Register of Historic Places. It was just listed this week! See their news release for more information and browse their great website that maps historic LGBT sites all over the five boroughs!

  • 28 Jan 2018 9:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Getty Conservation Institute in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism is organizing a training course on the conservation of earthen architecture and archaeological sites. The course is targeted to mid-career professionals (architects, engineers, conservator-restorers, scientists, etc.) working with earthen heritage from the North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian regions. The course will be held in Al Ain, UAE and Nizwa, Oman from October 28th – November 22nd 2018.

    Please visit the Getty website for more information on the course including content, eligibility criteria, costs and application details.

  • 01 Oct 2017 11:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is hosting a private event on Monday, October 30th, and is seeking volunteer assistance (guest check-in, wine and beverage service, etc.). This is a terrific opportunity to meet individuals and organizations throughout NYC working on the preservation or architectural and social heritage connected with the LGBT community. In addition, volunteering is an opportunity to reconnect with fellow HP alums included Andrew S. Dolkart, Jay Shockley, Ken Lustbader, Amanda Davis and Cristiana Pena -- all working on the Project, all Columbia grads. For more details or to signup, contact Amanda at

  • 30 Sep 2017 12:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Preservation Alumni recently shared an interview with Jorge Otero-Pailos that provided information on the direction of Columbia University's Historic Preservation Program. PA received a variety of questions, feedback, and request for some clarification related to this interview. While the mission of PA is to support and enrich the program, act as an unbiased forum, and provide a connection between alumni and the university, we encourage people to reach out to the program directly if they have follow-up questions or concerns in response to information shared in interview. It is important to note, the questions were distributed via email for written response; the interview was not conducted in person or in a manner that might allow for a line of follow-up questions. Due to the normal university approval process for a written, published statement by an employee, the questions sent and the answers provided could not address all the questions about this new direction of the program. Ultimately, this interview is meant as a facilitator to conversation, and this conversation is ongoing.

    As with any major change, there are exciting new opportunities and directions that might cause concern. PA will share information as it is provided and we would encourage our members to seek answers or share concerns on their own as well.

    Here at Preservation Alumni, we have heard about changes to the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University. Looking beyond the departure of Dr. Wheeler, we wanted to get a better sense of how the program is restructuring as well as raise some questions we’ve received from other Alumni. We approached program director Jorge Otero-Pailos with the hope of learning about the new direction of the program.

    Preservation Alumni (PA): In your recent email to the Columbia HP community, you mentioned breaking down the old silos of planning, design, conservation, and history/theory. If the program is eliminating the sectors, how will the curriculum be structured? Will students still have the ability to focus on the aspects of preservation that interest them most?

    Jorge Otero-Pailos (JO):
    The preservation profession has evolved dramatically since our current curriculum was set in place in 1978, and the development of a new integrated curriculum is a strategic imperative in order for us to be able to ready our graduates for the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s job market. We are not eliminating any sectors, we are integrating them. The faculty recognized that an overhaul was necessary to better prepare students for the reality of practice today. So as faculty we are currently developing a new integrated curriculum which we believe will be a model for preservation education in the 21st century, and will help Columbia retain its pre-eminence. We plan to have the new curriculum go into effect next academic year.

    We have noticed that our graduates tend to make a major shift in their career path around 5 years out of school. Someone starting work as a staffer at a Landmarks Commission might find themselves writing material conservation treatment specifications in a large architectural firm. They are still working in preservation, but the knowledge that they must draw upon is different in each job. The notion of someone doing the same specialized preservation job for 20-30 years is over. Private companies and governmental bodies like the NPS now plan to retain employees for 3-5 years. Our observations were echoed in a recent LinkedIn report that found today’s graduates across all fields change jobs an average of 4 times in their first 10 years of employment. Therefore, the new model of preservation education needs to be both deep and broad; it needs to teach students how to pursue their interests while making lateral connections, and to be creative and versatile in this new environment.

    We need to get back to our roots: to Fitch’s idea of preservation education. He always fought for integration, and he would have been opposed to a curriculum that isolates students into separate silos. The sectored curriculum arrived at a critical point when we only had a couple students per year in the architectural conservation sector, which was unsustainable and isolated those students from the rest of the program. One of the reasons for coming to Columbia is to learn in the company of a cohort. The other is to kick off a successful career. We are very focused on that – the future of our students is our priority.

    Most alumni we have heard from are concerned with how the elimination of the conservation focus will affect the program. Many are concerned that this will make Columbia less competitive as compared to rival institutions. How do you think this and other program changes will affect aspiring preservationists’ interest in Columbia?

    JO: Our alumni can rest assured that we are not eliminating conservation. Quite the contrary, we are working to enhance the importance of conservation across the curriculum. We are changing how we teach in order to better prepare our graduates for how architectural conservation, and indeed preservation as a whole, is practiced in the 21st century. If you look at the most successful architectural conservators today, you notice that they are already operating within an integrated model of preservation practice. They are successful because they are able to work laterally as well as vertically, to deal with the big picture as well as drill down into the details. They can work within a laboratory and take charge of projects, designing preservation interventions, working with clients directly, leading teams, supervising building contractors, and managing the complexities of fieldwork. They are doing many of the things architects used to do. They collaborate with architects and engineers in new and more prominent roles.

    With this in mind, the new integrated curriculum will be studio-centric because we found the studio format to be the best way to realistically teach the practice of preservation. In addition to continuing to teach architectural conservation in laboratory courses, we now have a very robust three-semester studio sequence that allows us, for the first time, to also teach conservation in studio as an integral part of every preservation project.  

    The integrated curriculum also includes a series of courses for students to deepen knowledge and gain insight critical for future professional success. Especially relevant to conservation architects and architectural conservators, the new curriculum will connect conservation to urgent social questions of today such as environmental quality, climate change and social equity, and in turn make it part of the solutions to the problems that matter most to the new generation of students.

    PA: With the elimination of the conservation sector, what will happen to the conservation laboratory? Who will manage its equipment and supplies as well as guide students in its use?

    JO: We are not eliminating the study of conservation. We are changing how conservation is taught: within the framework of an integrated curriculum.

    The lab is one of my top priorities and will continue to be a cornerstone of Columbia’s preservation program. It is important to acknowledge that after more than twenty years of use it is in desperate need of an overhaul. The laboratory will be brought up to 21st-century standards so that our expert faculty can make better use of it, and guide students in its use. It is thrilling to be embarking on this project with my colleagues, who are some of the world’s leading experts in architectural conservation.

    We also need to rethink the lab conceptually as a place that connects students more to conserving buildings, not just individual materials in isolation. The new integrated curriculum focuses on buildings as the lens through which to understand the materiality of systems, the systemic performance of materials, their historical significance, and their social role.

    The lab work extends to the field, and we start with the building as the first site of testing and probing. Further testing brings students into the lab with the purpose of informing what they will do in the field. This means that lab work begins and ends at the building site, conceptually extending the lab into the field. This is why we now train all students in scaffolding safety, we send them out into the field more, and from the field they return to the lab.

    By rethinking the lab we are ensuring that it remains a vital part of the future of preservation. Look at what has been happening with built heritage in Charlottesville and other cities. Architectural conservators cannot act as if they are separate from this, as if they can look only through a microscope and ignore social unrest, cultural tensions, environmental degradation, the government’s divestment from heritage, digital automation, and other forces acting on preservation and that preservation must in turn act upon. Architectural conservation can be a powerful vector in preservation’s efforts to change the world. We are all in this together.

    PA: We have heard that there is going to be a stronger emphasis on the thesis component of the program. Why do you think it is important to expand the project? What do you hope this will add to the student experience?

    JO: Columbia’s historic preservation program is known as a place where new ideas about preservation are forged. This happens because we have renowned faculty producing original research, and because we place a premium on educating students in conducting original research. The thesis is the culmination of the curriculum, an opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to make an original contribution to the discipline. Fitch instituted the thesis, and we continue to uphold this tradition.

    All of our alumni have written a thesis and they know it can be incredibly hard. Students require a lot of faculty support and supervision to succeed. Many universities that copied Columbia’s curriculum in the 1970s, couldn’t devote the necessary resources and eventually diminished the importance of the thesis or dropped it all together.

    We continue to believe in the importance of the thesis, and have strengthened it to run the full second year. A new thesis colloquium class better prepares students, and a very well-structured advising protocol ensures that everyone gets the support they need.

    Our faculty is fully committed to helping students do their best work, and it is incredibly rewarding as a teacher to see them accomplish it.

    While focusing on the thesis may enhance the academic rigor of the program, Alumni are worried that reducing the focus on structured conservation science will leave students less prepared for finding employment. How does the new direction of the program provide students with practical experience to prepare them for employment?

    The new integrated curriculum will better prepare all students for employment, and this includes choosing careers in architectural conservation. The thesis focus on original research is a complement to the practical experience in the studio sequence. Students graduate from our program with tremendous knowledge: in one hand they hold a portfolio of work drawn from their studio projects and internships, as evidence of their practical experience and professional abilities. In the other hand they have their thesis, their masterwork in the form of an original contribution to the discipline. The thesis indicates the graduate’s depth, passion and interests to the employer, and the portfolio demonstrates the graduate’s breadth and abilities. Together, these two books are the passport into successful professional careers.

    What other initiatives can we look forward to from the program?

    Building on the school’s global initiatives, we have secured funding for all students to travel internationally in their advanced studios, allowing them to do hands-on conservation work on major monuments around the world.

    Digital technology will have an ever increasing role in the future of preservation. We are launching a research initiative to study the impact of digital technologies on the future of preservation. We are bringing the best minds to think critically about what questions we should be asking, and how to engage these emerging opportunities so that we as preservationists – and especially our graduates from Columbia – can drive this change with purpose.

  • 17 Jul 2017 11:44 AM | Anonymous member

    The historic designation for the Harbour Bay Condominium in Bay Harbor Islands, Florida was upheld on appeal by the Miami-Dade County Commission during its meeting on June 22.  Historic designation was granted by a unanimous decision of the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board in November of 2016  Harbour Bay Condominium is the first property in Bay Harbor Islands to receive local historic designation that was successfully upheld on appeal. 

    Constructed in 1947 as the Nelson Villa Apartments, the complex is one of the earliest developments on the East Island of Bay Harbor Islands.  Bay Harbor Islands was incorporated in 1947, and the developer sought many prominent local architects to design buildings in the new town.  As a result, the East Island contained one of the largest concentrations of Miami Modern (MiMo) style architecture in the country.  The MiMo style is the unique interpretation of mid-century modern architecture adapted to the climate of South Florida.  Historic resources are under pressure by luxury waterfront condo redevelopment, and MiMO buildings are being demolished at a blistering pace. The East Island was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places in 2014.

    Some of the Harbour Bay Condominium owners watched the horizon clear around them, only to then stand in the shadow of high rise condos with none of the characteristic MiMo charm or historic significance. In 2016, they approached the county’s Historic Preservation Board seeking historic designation to help protect the building from the pressures of development.  To speed the process, the owners hired Heritage Architectural Associates, a preservation architecture firm with offices in Miami Beach, to prepare the designation report and present it before the Historic Preservation Board.  After the Board voted unanimously to designate the building, a group of opponents appealed the decision to the County Commission.

    Steven Avdakov (’94), an architect and principal of Heritage Architectural Associates, led the team of residents and historic preservation professionals that opposed revocation of the designation.  Also speaking in favor of the designation were architect Gordon Loader (’86) of Heritage, Teri d’Amico, of D’Amico Design Associates, a long-time resident of Bay Harbor Islands who coined the term “MiMo”, and Christine Rupp, Executive Director of Dade Heritage Trust.  Several of the Harbour Bay Condominium residents spoke passionately about their love of the building and their desire to have it historically designated.  Several preservation professionals submitted letters of support for the designation.  In addition, support was received from both local and national organizations, including the Dade Heritage Trust, the Miami Design Preservation League, the Florida Trust of Historic Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

    Mr. Avdakov stated “the preservation of Harbour Bay Condominium is critical, not only for its architectural and historic significance, but also to provide a precedent for future planning in Bay Harbor Islands. Development pressures are only increasing. We commend the Miami-Dade County Commission for upholding this designation.” 

  • 26 May 2017 2:16 PM | Anonymous member

    Dear Alumni of the Columbia Historic Preservation Program: 

    As many of you have now heard, the Director of Conservation position held by Professor George Wheeler has been eliminated. You can read the full statement from the Historic Preservation program here. Preservation Alumni board members have been hearing a growing number of concerns from fellow alumni about changes to the Historic Preservation program, including this most recent one. In an attempt to better understand this restructuring and to better address our members' concerns, Preservation Alumni has opened a conversation with Program Director Jorge Otero-Pailos. However, at the moment we know only what has been publicly announced so we urge alumni to direct their questions and concerns to the program and Jorge directly at In addition to being the best source of updated information, we feel that Jorge and others within the department should be made aware of specific issues and the number of alumni concerned by this development. 

    The board of Preservation Alumni realizes that this announcement comes as a shock and we, along with all of you, feel emotional about George's departure. George influenced each and every one of our lives in indelible ways, both personally and professionally. To many, he was the linchpin of the program and the reason we chose to attend Columbia. George both supported our intellectual endeavors and was the friendly face we all needed at one time or another as we were thrown into new lives in New York City. He would let us sleep off our all-nighters in the conservation lab and be ready with a cup of coffee in the morning. He made a point to actively know all the students, he shared his wisdom, and he even so generously shared his wine. Beyond making the lab feel like a home to many, he created a learning environment where scientists, planners, and budding preservationists alike were comfortable to ask questions, engage in dialogue, and understand even the most complex chemical analysis - he is truly a remarkable educator, mentor, and friend. We thank George from the bottom of our hearts for his many years of service to the program and invaluable contributions to so many of our career paths. 

    In speaking with George about all of the recent changes, he has asked that we share this short message: "I would hope that all alumni and concerned preservation professionals do all they can to help make the program as good as it can be moving forward." As such, Preservation Alumni's mission is to support and enrich the program and we will continue to work towards this mission in this time of change. Our main goal is to maintain a "place at the table" so that we can help the program in any way and communicate the sentiments of our membership. Be assured that Preservation Alumni is also devoted to ensuring that our alumni network is kept up-to-date on any news and ways that alumni can support our program. Thank you all for your continued commitment to the program and for fostering an active alumni network, without which none of our work would be possible. 

    - Board of Directors, Preservation Alumni

  • 06 Apr 2017 1:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    PA is collecting (gently) used Columbia graduation gowns for future graduates to use. Gowns should be clean and in good condition, and may be dropped off at Columbia at the following times/locations:

    1. HP Studio (301 Fayerweather Hall) after 1pm - ask for Mayssa

    2. Conservation Lab (655 Schermerhorn Ext.) between 6-8pm on Tuesday nights - ask for Jes 

    3. Or upcoming Preservation Lecture Series events on Thursday April 6 or April 13 at 114 Avery Hall - ask for Andrea

    Please contact for any questions about drop off, or for alternate options. 

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