43rd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, May 14, Turning Philosophy into Practice: Documenting Process Through White Papers, by Benjamin Haavik

Through many years of preservation practice, Historic New England has developed traditions of care to achieve structural and aesthetic standards in its historical properties. Examples include methods of repairing joints; labeling repair materials; setting varied target dates for the appearance of structures; and larger concepts like “replace in kind.” Benjamin Haavik discussed his efforts as the Team Leader for Property Care to standardize these treatment practices and ethics by creating white papers.
With varying amounts of detail, white papers can standardize practice for both internal work and contracting. Haavik proposes that 75% of any project can be standardized into defined, basic steps. The remaining 25% is the most difficult part of project development. This 25% might include project details (what materials and how much to replace?), organizational philosophy (which of several column styles should be matched?), and practitioner’s experience (how can we best determine methodology in the field?) Time and cost are the limiting factors in standardizing this last 25%, since highly-detailed white papers may address issues that are more effectively determined on a case-by-case basis.
While Haavik’s talk examined management processes, surprising corollaries existed with John Hogan’s and Carol Snow’s “Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings: Conservation of an Ephemeral Art Practice.” Hogan echoed Haavik’s observations about the challenges of realizing the most interpretive portions of a project: here, Sol LeWitt’s instruction-based Wall Drawings. Whether in preservation management or art conservation, codified standards require careful interpretation in order to create successful work.