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!

  • 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. 

  • 13 Jun 2016 2:08 PM | Anonymous member

    Call for Nominations

    World Monuments Fund invites nominations for the 2016 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize. The prize is awarded biennially to an individual or firm in recognition of innovative design solutions that have preserved a modern building or a group of buildings. 

    Nominations for projects that have enhanced a site’s architectural, functional, economic, and environmental sustainability while also benefiting the community are encouraged.

    Established in 2008 with founding sponsor Knoll, the prize seeks to raise public awareness of the contribution that modernism makes to contemporary life, the important place that it holds in the architectural record, and the influential role that architects and designers play in preserving our modern heritage.

    Read more about the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize and submit a nomination here.

    Deadline: July 15, 2016

  • 09 Feb 2015 11:10 AM | Anonymous member

    Please join the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee for good food, good conversation and good cheer as it honors local historian, Jim Mackin, and the Historic Districts Council.

    When: Thursday, February 12th: 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
    Where: Janet & Martin Cohen: 603 West 111th Street, # 3E (between Broadway & Riverside Dr.)

    Suggested donation: $25

  • 02 Jul 2014 11:01 AM | Anonymous member

    What: Andrew Dolkart will lead a tour of select interiors of Teachers College and Union Theological Seminary

    Where: Broadway and West 120th Street, northeast corner

    When: July 8, 6:00 p.m.

    Suggested donation: $10

    Reservations required: Email

  • 25 Apr 2014 8:13 AM | Anonymous member
    Neighborhood historian Jim Mackin will talk about the evolution of Riverside Church, Union Theological & Jewish Theological Seminaries in Morningside Heights.

    When: Thursday, May 1, 7:00–8:30 pm
    Where: Riverside Church, Room 10T
    (91 Claremont Avenue at W. 120th Street)

    Suggested donation: $10.00
    Sponsored by the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee
  • 04 Mar 2014 12:33 PM | Anonymous member

    Dispatch from Detroit
    Emilie Evans
    March 3, 2014

    Detroit is an exciting place to live and work. There is energy on the ground here, fueled by passionate advocates, entrepreneurs, artists and others all working to move the city forward.

    I work as a preservation specialist for both the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation focusing on issues at the intersection of preservation and rightsizing (the readjustment of a city’s infrastructure and physical footprint to accommodate its current and projected population).

    Through my work and partnerships on the ground, I aim to bring preservation to the table as a proactive participant alongside other decision-making entities involved in city planning, neighborhood revitalization, and also demolition campaigns around the city in a way it hasn’t been in the city previously. To achieve this, I work at the macro level alongside citywide organizations like the Detroit Land Bank and Detroit Future City as well as at the neighborhood level through strategic workshops and education of property owners, developers, and CDCs about the tools available to do good preservation work. 

    Preservationists are taught, and our professional experiences reaffirm, that preservation and rehabilitation are critical neighborhood revitalization tools. But in a rightsizing context – with Detroit, and cities like it, being inundated with millions of dollars in demolition money – it’s challenging to have that message heard across the board. I recently wrapped up a two-week intensive survey of 18,000 historic properties in Detroit using smartphones and volunteers as part of a project to provide a preservation perspective to help inform demolition decisions. Detroit is a different landscape than we learn about in school and necessitates new ways of thinking about what preservation means. The threat of demolition of thousands of historic properties – some viable and some not – is ongoing and imminent.

    While I’m the only person from my organization in Detroit, I have colleagues across disciplines that help support and contribute to the work I do; the opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and projects here is invigorating and inspirational. The collaborative environment in Detroit is unparalleled.

    I love this city so much that I’ll be getting married here this May! In addition to the venue in Detroit, we’re supporting the community as much as possible through our Detroit- and Michigan-grown menu items, local musicians, and local beers and wines.

    In my spare time, I love to shop for produce at Eastern Market on Saturday mornings; ride my bike along the Dequindre Cut, a formerly defunct railroad passage; lounge on the beach at Belle Isle, weather permitting; and explore the architecture of the many neighborhoods of Detroit. This winter has provided many opportunities to become adept at snow-driving and windshield-scraping. And last spring I managed to squeeze in a couple of Tigers games too.

    At the end of the day, I hope to have helped change the conversation around preservation in Detroit, repositioning it as a proactive and positive force that contributes to neighborhood revitalization through the retention and celebration of Detroit’s historic built environment.   

Copyright © 2011-2019 Preservation Alumni, Inc.
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software