legacy: blending the old with the new
by Matt Kelly
Murray Howard, curator and architect for the Academical Village.
By Matt Kelly
Murray Howard is moving on.
54, curator and architect
for the Academical Village, has spent
the last two decades caring for the Universitys historic
buildings, especially Thomas Jeffersons original Academical
Village. His duties have included a major restoration effort,
aimed at modernizing the structures while preserving Jeffersons
he plans to return to private practice to wrestle with a different,
but related, question: how to combine new and historic buildings.
reached my 20th year here, four times as long as I have spent
on any other part of my vocation, he said. When I
came here, I thought this restoration effort might not last more
than three or four years. Now I see that it needs a 50-year lifespan.
University now has a better understanding of how to care for buildings
as exceptional historical objects that also must be lived in,
Howard said. We should not worship them [the buildings],
but mustnt let them disappear.
President John T. Casteen III said of Howard, He has combined
scholarship and an informed love for architecture and built things
in his work. His restorations have been eloquent, intelligent,
and above all sympathetic with the minds and hands that made fine
buildings and all their details and also with the generations
who use and will use these artifacts.
restoration sought to expose or re-establish as much as plausibly
possible of the original structures, while reducing changes that
came later. In Pavilion VII, for example, workmen discovered and
restored double doors that had been closed into one of the walls
and re-created a triangular vestibule for several rooms on the
says he is thankful for the craftsmen and financial supporters
who were part of the restoration process, including students who
worked on the buildings as interns and experienced the critical
importance of physical work not just talk in preserving
has been compiling a restoration archive, including hand-drawn
sketches and written documents connected to the specific work
on the Lawn pavilions. And he is leaving a written narrative,
so that those in the future will understand not only what was
done, but why. With the latest entries, the archive is going electronic,
making it easier to use and more versatile.
is proud his fingerprints appear on so few things. He said changes
and additions should be subtle enough that nothing would stand
out as incongruous to a casual viewer, while a professional, upon
examination, would be able to tell the original from later additions.
should not confuse the old and the original, he said. But
they should be very sympathetic with each other.
avoids conjecture as much as possible. Comparing Jefferson to
the Bible, Murray said people take from him whatever they want
in order to support their own ideas. People think he was
so forward-looking that his thoughts would surely have corresponded
with that of today, he said. That can lead down a
lot of blind alleys.
Howard first came to the University, the plight of the original
buildings was not immediately obvious. The Academical Village
sits atop bedrock that keeps the buildings from settling, but
also prevents the soil from draining. The moisture causes the
more degradable parts to suffer, he said, and the wood in the
buildings wicks moisture up from the ground, which can cause trouble
in the brick and plaster walls. The structural skeletons, however,
are fundamentally sound, even overbuilt. Nearly everything can
be preserved and restored, he said, save for a few elements conceptually
flawed at the outset, such as the almost flat, wooden roofs over
the Lawns student rooms, which leaked badly.
are some things whose re-creation is unwise, he said.
the years, Jeffersons buildings have become progressively
more expensive to work on, as the work has become more intensive.
Though private money is often used in restoration projects, Howard
said the state can never fully walk away from its responsibility
for this World Heritage site. This place is absolutely unique
on the world stage, and it needs to be protected with a constant
infusion of major capital.
we have never used academic money for any of this work,
with an evolving entity such as the University has given Howard
a unique experience. Americans have never formulated a complete
answer to integrating new and old buildings, Howard said. The
choices are often polarized, with buildings either preserved as
frozen objects or torn down.
plans to live in Europe this year to see how builders there have
dealt with these problems over the centuries. Later, he hopes
to fill an architectural niche, advising American institutions
and corporations, and perhaps a few private property owners, on
merging periods of architecture. He does not plan to have the
University as a client at least not right away saying
he knows the place too well to be neutral, and his neutrality
is an asset he offers his customers.
I might be valuable to the University after a long pause,
he said. It is always wise to revisit ones opinions
when they can benefit from calm reflection.
Kenan-Lewis Fellow in Historic Architecture, Howard teaches preservation
of 19th-century buildings at the School of Architecture and hopes
to continue teaching after his European research is completed.