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Technical Preservation in France
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My Hunt Fellowship in 2005 focused on the technical side of architecture. How do French architects design the restorations, what do the details look like, and how are they implemented in the field. My professional experience was already focused on Chicago's historic skyscrapers prior to my six months in France, such as the restoration of the facades of Burnham and Root's Rookery Building (1888), and Louis Sullivan with Holabird & Roche's Gage Building (1898, 1906), and one of Chicago's art deco skyscrapers, the One North LaSalle building by Vitzhume & Burns (1930).

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and what I experienced far exceeded my wildest dreams.


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Limestone facade at the Chateau de Versailles undergoing restoration.
PHOTO: MARY BRUSH .

Where a visiting architect to Chicago might meet with me for a meal or two and get a site visit or office tour, a Hunt fellow gets to really experience the practice. To use the word "shadow" is insufficient, because the fellowship means being a part of the office for weeks; going on numerous site visits; sitting in progress meetings, council meetings, community hearings; and seeing the evolution and challenges of the project. And then you move on to the next office experience.

A one-day visit with the Architecte en chef for the Chateau de Versailles, Frederick Didier, resulted in a simple yet memorable exchange. We were on the scaffolding of the palace on the primary garden elevation. The centuries-old limestone facade needed repairs due to cracks, fissures, and corroding metal anchorage. I recognized similar failures in limestone from my Chicago work, and also recognized the replacement anchorage and repair techniques. Their limestone might be on centuries-old buildings, and "my" limestone might be 40-story towers from the 1920s, but the behavior of the materials over time is similar. My conversations with the architects and stonemasons reinforced shared connections and reminded me that we are ultimately all architects, and observe, diagnose, and design through similar methodology.

I was honored to be a month-long guest in the offices of Didier Repellin, the Architecte en chef for Lyon, Provence, and for the French-owned properties in Italy. I travelled with him to Rome where he was restoring the Villa Medici and the Trinità dei Monti high above the Piazza di Spagna. Over the course of several visits I was able to observe the application of structural anchoring and mortar injection. One outcome of these visits was a co-written publication between Repellin and myself in the Association for Preservation Technology Bulletin journal as well as presentations at conferences. I have since used variations of this technique for two Chicago projects.


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Restoration of St. Mayol in Ternay, France.
PHOTO: MARY BRUSH .

Another highlight of my month with Didier Repellin was the opportunity to be on site for the first day of cleaning the murals within the Avignon popes' private chapel, dating from 1309 to 1378. The conservator's last name was Botticelli—truly!

The social lessons of the Hunt fellowship were innumerable. One that stands out is the conveyance of pride in craftsmanship. Repellin was involved with the restoration of St. Mayol in Ternay, France. We arrived without warning to inspect the masonry work on the bell tower. The conversation about the restoration was polite yet tense as the quality of craftsmanship was not to the architect's standards. We were all in the bell tower for the initial conversations, then walked down the scaffolding and over to the village square. We re-examined the masonry work from a distance. The mason was reminded that not only was this an important project, but that it was his work on display, and on display to his peers. Wouldn't he like to be able to tell his children and grandchildren that this was his work? Soon the mason was picking out flaws and remarkably offering to make the repairs. Everyone saved face, the project was back on track, and all shook hands at the end of the meeting.

Preservation visioning is an open and ongoing dialogue. Social pressures for wider streets and big-box convenience stores along with development...



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