Countdown to Spring: Five Awe-Inspiring Gardens

Back at the beginning of February, groundhogs everywhere saw their shadows and predicted six more weeks of winter. When it seems like winter will never end and the snow will never melt, there is nothing that sounds better than just being able to sit outside in the sun without freezing. In my opinion, at least.

Should you too be yearning for warmth and counting down the days until spring, here is a list of five heritage sites with fantastic gardensone for each week left until the spring equinox!

(Why gardens on a blog about historic preservation? The landscape surrounding a site is just as significant to a sense of place as the building itself!)

1. Jichang Garden in Wuxi City, China. A garden has been on the site of the Jichang Garden since the early 1500s. Designed in the 1600s, Jichang exemplifies the classical Chinese garden. Unlike most Western gardens, rock formations and water play just as important a role as plants and decorative buildings. Features include several ponds, rockeries, bridges, and a pavilion.

The Jichang Garden. Photo: Wikipedia

2. Schönbrunn Palace Gardens in Vienna, Austria. These Baroque gardens surround the Habsburg imperial summer palace in Vienna. The earliest designs for the gardens date from 1695, but were expanded in the following centuries. Today, a hedge maze, zoo, gloriette, orangerie, and Japanese garden are just some of the features of the palace grounds.

The Great Parterre at Schönbrunn. Photo: Hallie Borstel

The Great Parterre at Schönbrunn. Photo: Hallie Borstel

3. The Palacio de Generalife in Granada, Spain. As this 14th century summer palace was intended as a “palace of rest” for the Nasrid Emirs, it is no wonder that it contains a variety of gardens. Courtyard gardens, vegetable gardens, and tree-lined promenades complement the Moorish vernacular architecture.

A courtyard garden at the Generalife. Photo: Alhambra de Granada on Flickr

4. The Flower Garden at Kroměříž, Czech Republic. Dating from the 1670s, this garden was designed by architect Giovanni Pietro Tencalla, straddling the Italian Renaissance and French Baroque styles. The gardens contain labyrinthine hedges, a colonnade, greenhouses, and a central pavilion alongside highly decorative flower beds and sculptures.

The flower garden at Kroměříž. Photo: UNESCO

5. Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. Any historic preservationist will know the ups and downs of Portland cement, so we had to include these spectacular gardens designed by Jennie Butchart, wife of Portland cement’s first manufacturer. The grounds house a concert lawn and several distinctive gardens, including the Sunken Garden built on the site of the former limestone quarry.

The Sunken Garden in spring. Photo: Butchart Gardens

Still not warm? Check out National Geographic’s Top 10 list for gardens and do a little more daydreaming.

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A Shotgun House Primer

The folks at the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans have put together a concise guide to shotgun houses.

Shotgun house on Rampart Street in New Orleans' Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

Shotgun house on Rampart Street in New Orleans’ Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Wikicommons image.

The primer touches on the origins of the vernacular form and descibes the variations found in the region and in New Orleans in particular. Shotgun houses are the most common housing types in many of that city’s historic neighbourhoods.

If you’re a fan of shotgun houses, AiP has a shotgun house preservation project in the works in Shreveport, Louisiana. Let us know if you’d like project updates or to learn when volunteers will be needed to pitch in at this hands-on building conservation project.

Posted in Building Conservation, Cultural Heritage, Heritage Preservation, Historic Buildings, Historic Preservation, Vernacular Architecture | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Intro to Intangible Cultural Heritage

What do askiya (the Uzbek art of wit), the making of lavash bread, washi (the Japanese art of hand-making paper), and the tchopa sacrificial dance all have in common?

They were all added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.

How about the Isukuti dance of the Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya, the male-child cleansing ceremony of the Lango of central northern Uganda, and the Mapoyo oral tradition and its symbolic reference points within their ancestral territory?

If you said they were all added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2014, you’d be right.

If you didn’t know that, you might now be asking, “What exactly is intangible cultural heritage?”

The idea of tangible cultural heritage is a pretty easy one to grasp—we can see things like buildings and handicrafts, and thus it is fairly easy to figure how to preserve them or to at least conceptualize their preservation. But things that can’t be touched, like a folk dance or a song…how do we preserve those?

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is traditional, contemporary, and living all at the same time; inclusive; representative; and community-based.

Things that qualify as ICH are usually passed on through oral tradition, but are becoming increasingly threatened by globalization. On the one hand, globalization breaks down cultural barriers and decreases cultural diversity. On the other hand, globalization and the spread of technology undermine the importance of oral tradition (though they can also be used to help preserve it).

UNESCO was not the first to recognize the need to pay more attention to the preservation of ICH—that award went to Japan in 1950. “Living National Treasures” or Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties are certified by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. There are sixteen categories at present, all falling into the broad categories of performing arts or crafts.

Bamboo basket woven by living treasure Fujinuma Noboru. Photo: Art Institute of Chicago

How does this relate to historic preservation? Not only traditional practices like spiritual rituals, dances, or crafts are at risk for being forgotten, so are traditional forms of building.

One current AiP project directly addresses this question: how do we preserve buildings when the traditional forms of building have been forgotten? In conjunction with Volunteer South America, AiP jammers are volunteering in Ecuador to document, preserve, and restore examples of vernacular architecture. By working with communities, AiP hope to reignite an interest in and an understanding of the importance of the built cultural heritage. Particularly in small towns in Ecuador, restoring traditional buildings could greatly increase economic development opportunities through tourism.

Interested in getting your hands on some forgotten intangible cultural heritage like traditional Ecuadorian building techniques? AiP will be in Ecuador in August 2015, so mark your calendars!

You can read more about the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage convention on their website or in this brochure.

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Monastery Makeovers

One challenge historic preservationists and architects face is that of adaptive reuse–taking a structure built for one specific purpose and giving it a new use. This process is an important part of historic preservation and of green building, but sometimes the original structure presents more of a problem because of the way the original purpose and function dictated the built environment. While it’s relatively common practice to convert unused school buildings into apartments, what do you do with, say, an empty monastery?

Monasteries dominated many aspects of life in other parts of the world for centuries. While monasteries have no widespread uniform appearance, there are trends depending on region and religion.

Imagine you are on a train heading through the scenic Traunviertel in Upper Austria. As you pass gentle mountains and picturesque villages, a large group of Baroque buildings comes into view. Context clues suggest some sort of church complex…but then you see the barbed wire fence and lots of security cameras.

Garsten Prison. Photo:

Don’t let the Baroque architectural features and colorful buildings throw you–you’ve just passed the Justizanstalt Garsten, or the Garsten Prison, a former Benedictine monastery. The 17th-century building complex was in use as a monastery until 1787, and was converted into a prison in 1851. Now that is thinking outside the box.

Or what about the Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht, the Netherlands? The 14th century Gothic building complex was once a monastery for the Catholic order of the Brethren of the Cross, and is now a designer hotel.

Kruisherenhotel. Photo:

Of course, not all monasteries that fall out of use go through radical changes. Monasteries were often production centers for wine and beer. Some are now secular wineries and breweries, like Domaine Weinbach in France, or the Romanesque Kloster Eberbach in Germany, which has been at different times a monastery, lunatic asylum, prison, and winery.

Aerial view, Kloster Eberbach. Photo:

Monasteries can certainly be restored without being converted, as well. Because of their important role in world history, a monastery preserved or restored simply as that can be an extremely meaningful structure. While monasteries can be striking examples of Romanesque, Gothic, or Baroque architecture, they can also be testaments to local heritage and vernacular architecture!

In 2015, AiP is partnering with Volunteer South America to do repairs on traditional stone buildings in the village of San Andrés, Ecuador, including a 17th-century Franciscan convent. You can read more about the project and register to participate here!

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The White Mill Rural Heritage Centre

Thomas Stanley. The name might call to mind many things for British history buffsstepfather of King Henry VII, accessory to the murder of Edward V and Prince Richard, 1st Earl of Derby. But if you know your history of milling in Kent, England, it might call to mind another Thomas Stanley.

This Thomas Stanley was by no means the first miller at the White Mill, the last surviving windmill in Sandwich, but he was the first of the Stanleys to run it. Stanley purchased the mill in 1878, and his family operated it until the 1950s. The mill had been built in 1760, with several outbuildings added later. The mill is no longer in use and is now part of the White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

Thomas Stanley. Photo:

Open to visitors are outbuildings such as the miller’s office and cottage, granary, engine house, forge, and workshops. And, of course, the windmill itself. The windmill is an octagonal four-sailed smock mill, so-called because the shape is thought to resemble that of a person wearing a smock. Inside, three millstones used to grind corn. Much of the machinery on display today is original.


The White Mill. Photo: The White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

The heritage center is run completely by volunteers. From acting as docents to running the gift shop to managing finances to marketing, every aspect of the operation relies on volunteer hours. Restoration work, too, relies on the efforts of volunteers. The windmill was restored between 1960 and 1981, the sails between 2012 and 2014, and the Engine House in 1995.

The White Mill is actively recruiting volunteers who are interested in helping with administrative tasks, collections management, restoration projects, and other tasks. Visit to learn more about the museum, or check them out on Twitter!

Volunteer John Hewett at work on the granary. Photo: White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

Volunteer John Hewett at work on the granary. Photo: White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.


The White Mill is one of many historic sites around the world managed and operated by volunteers. On the occasion of International Volunteer Day (December 5), Adventures in Preservation salutes, and thanks, all of them.

Posted in Community, Cultural Travel, Heritage Travel, Historic Buildings, Historic Sites, Industrial heritage, Volunteer Opportunities | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gravestone Conservation at the PAWV Conference

A few weeks ago, my alarm clock (and by that I mean cell phone) went off at 4:50 am. I turned it off, and reluctantly got up and with a travel mug of hot tea in hand, I was out the door in twenty-five minutes. It was foggy and chilly, but I had a three-hour drive ahead of me to attend the first day of events at the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia conference in Huntington, West Virginia. The things we do for historic preservation.

As a colleague and I drove through West Virginia’s Alleghany Mountains, it began to clear and we saw some pink streaks of the sunrise, though we were heading west and most of the action was happening behind us. We arrived in Huntington promptly—with enough time, we happily discovered, to find coffee before the session began.

As more and more people gathered outside the office of Spring Hill Cemetery, Huntington’s oldest and largest public cemetery, it began to warm up and the sun shone brightly, promising a perfect day for mucking about in a graveyard. I mean, learning about gravestone conservation.


We started off, a little behind schedule, by walking through a section of the cemetery as Jonathan Appell, our guide and teacher for the day, pointed out gravestones in need of some TLC. Many were covered in lichen, others were slipping off their bases, some had bases that had sunken unevenly, and there were some that were just plain broken. He talked to us about some of the historical practices behind gravestone carving and placement, including the differences between different types of stone. Then we set to work doing the most basic of tasks.

After a brief demonstration, we were set loose on a few 19th-century lichen-covered headstones with bottles of D2, spray bottles filled with water, and soft brushes. The process for cleaning is shockingly simple when all you need to do is get rid of a little biological growth: spray with D2 (a biocide that actually kills lichen rather than just removing it, and which is gentle enough to be used on most stone monuments), wait for the D2 to start working, then scrub in a circular motion or scrape while simultaneously spraying with clean water. Voila.

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Our next lesson was on adjusting a base that had sunk and gotten out of line. After carefully removing the pieces of the headstone (did you know that headstones are often at least two separate blocks?), he showed us how to pack a mixture of sand and gravel beneath the stone while propping the stone up with a long iron bar and some wooden wedges. Then we began to rebuild the headstone, which consisted of a base set with two rectangular stones of decreasing sizes (think layer cake) and a column which had broken near the top.

First we learned about mortars, which was nothing new to me after the 2013 Fairfield Foundation AiP project. Then we got to work spreading mortar to replace the stone that set directly on top of the base, which we then pointed after replacing the stone. For the next two components, we learned about modern compounds and techniques for erecting stone monuments, using monument putty, epoxy, and small lead spacers. We repaired the remainder of the headstone using the modern techniques, though we used a combination of epoxy and traditional lime mortar to fix the most visible break (the column) to attempt a bit more subtle and historically accurate repair.

As the afternoon went on, our final project was a culmination of everything we had learned that day with a bonus demonstration of how to move gravestones with a tripod. We removed all the components from a headstone whose pieces were seriously askew, using a tripod for the top pillar. Then we realigned the base stone, put everything back together using the monument compounds, and finally gave it a good scrub. We left the cemetery both cleaner and tidier than it had been before, with lots of new knowledge on hand.

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a cemetery.

All photos by Hallie Borstel.

Posted in Education, Historic Preservation, Historic Sites | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Up for Adventure in Albania

by Innes Borstel

“Adventures in Preservation”… I’ve always loved that word “adventure.” As a kid, my dad would pack up all of us and take us whitewater canoeing, spelunking, and mountain climbing. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we all survived, and that Mom allowed it all to happen! Anyway, when my daughter came back from her “Adventures in Preservation” jaunt last August, glowing with inspiration, I said to myself—I want an adventure, too!

It took a little while to choose an adventure, and longer to negotiate with my work three weeks off instead of two. But they were willing to work with HR to create a “mini-sabbatical” category of leave-time. Then my preparation began in earnest, for I had determined to get the maximum bang out of my adventure. I chose my adventure to be the 16th Restoration Camp with Cultural Heritage without Borders in Gjirokaster, Albania.

The center of Old Town, Gjirokastrar

The center of Old Town, Gjirokaster

If you are of my generation, your basic idea of Albania is of some vague notion of one of those small, poor European countries with a crazy dictator. It was certainly a place that no one went to or left from! One of my favorite summer-read novelists as a teenager was Mary Stewart. Her book This Rough Magic takes place in nearby Corfu and casts Albania in a cloak of mystery and danger (of course, I re-read it before this trip!) Although Albania as a travel destination has gotten good press recently, it is still very much under the radar of mainstream European tourists’ path.

So what did I do to prepare myself for a two-week restoration camp in Albania?

  1. Purchased a travel guide: there’s really only one to choose from, published by Bradt (very good!)
  2.  Took an audio course in Albanian by Pimsleur, and got a “teach yourself” Albanian book
  3.  Started reading about Ottoman and Balkan history and architecture (a huge tome too heavy to read in bed!)
  4. Started sketching—one pencil sketch each day
  5.  Got a pedometer and gave myself a 10,000 steps daily target
InnesBorstel Gjirokasta street

The famed cobblestone streets of Gjirokaster

Now, most of my friends (and certainly my husband) thought I was going overboard, but I say that I definitely got maximum value from my adventure because the adventure began, not with the airline boarding pass in hand, but with these daily changes in my routine: the language lessons, the reading, and the sketching. This skill building also built confidence as well as comfort into the anticipation of my upcoming adventure.

Innes and CHwB in Gjirokastra

Innes, on her great adventure in preservation

My friends were, of course, absolutely right that I was going way over the top—there was no need for me to do any of this in preparation for this adventure. All I really needed to do was make sure I had an excellent pair of sneakers for the cobblestone streets and paths of Gjirokaster Old Town! Everything else was icing on the cake—and a very fun-filled cake it all turned out to be!

Innes Borstel is currently working as a preschool teacher for Montclair State University’s Children’s Center.  Clearly the adventurous type, she has also worked as a craft potter, exploration geologist, and import/export support. She dapples in all kinds of crafts and art, and enjoys learning new languages and travelling to interesting places that have a strong sense of the past.


You can have your own adventure in preservation in Albania! Join AiP in May 2015 for continuing work on the World Heritage Skenduli House.

Posted in AiP Projects, Cultural Travel, Experiential Travel, Heritage Travel, Historic Buildings, Historic Preservation, Volunteer Vacations | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment