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Deconstruction as Preservation: How Tina McCarthy, MDS-HP ’18, Is Shaking Up Historic Preservation

Tina McCarthy, MDS-HP '18

When you think of historic preservation, you think of people doing restoration work to preserve and save old buildings with storied pasts. But what about buildings and structures that can't be saved through preservation? Tina McCarthy, MDS-HP '18, is a proponent of a radical idea in the preservation world: deconstruction as preservation.

But what is deconstruction? "Deconstruction is a process of disassembly that removes materials in the reverse order of construction, preserving as much integrity as possible in materials as they are removed," says Tina. It is this idea and Tina's thesis project on the subject that garnered her an invite to speak as a student scholar at the international Association for Preservation Technology conference.

Originally from Carver, MA, Tina's interest in historic preservation began after she moved to the rural hills of the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts. "I had been interested in furthering my design studies in architecture since I graduated from Hampshire College in 2004," says Tina. "My undergrad studies began in art and design at Massachusetts College of Art before I transferred to Hampshire. When I moved to Pioneer Valley, the vernacular architecture here inspired me to pursue my interest in sustainable design through historic preservation. The low-residence master's program at the BAC was ideal for me, since I did not want to relocate to attend school. The online format allowed me to stay in my rural community while furthering my education."

For her thesis project, Tina wanted to explore building deconstruction as a replacement to demolition in cases where preservation treatments are not possible. "My interest in connecting sustainability and historic preservation inspired this choice. I attended the 2017 Building Materials Reuse Conference as a starting point for my research, where I obtained leads on preservation related deconstruction projects, as well as insight into the policy realm of deconstruction. This topic was a synthesis of many different disciplines, from waste management to public policy and reuse retail - with very little research coming from the historic preservation community."

Currently in the heritage preservation community, deconstruction is not recognized as a solution when demolition is inevitable - once a demolition permit is issue, preservationists see their work as being complete. Tina wants to change this. "From situations that, via demolition, could produce only loss, deconstruction creates opportunities. For it to function as a preservation treatment, the process must serve heritage goals in its outcomes. There are opportunities for the treatment of building materials: reuse, repurpose, or careful cataloging and reassembly on a different site. There are also opportunities for preservationists to continue promoting memory and history even after a building's demise, through engagement with deconstruction and the materials reuse process."

Tina's research and work certainly intrigued and impressed her advisors. "It was exciting to serve as Tina McCarthy's Thesis Advisor this semester," says Curt Lamb, PhD, M.Arch. "Tina's thesis, Deconstructing the Culture of Demolition, addresses a critical topic - the paradigm and policy shifts involved in incorporating deconstruction into the pantheon of preservation practices. Tina's work is grounded in an extensive review of a growing body of philosophic analyses and case studies that address deconstruction from a preservation perspective. She untangles the many strands of the deconstruction debate, including social and environmental benefits of deconstruction, preservation values promoted by deconstruction, deconstruction policy options, and practical suggestions for public deconstruction policy. Tina's work is of the highest caliber. It is capable of framing the dialogue on this topic within the national preservation community for the foreseeable future."

"Deconstruction is a cutting edge in historic preservation theory," says Eleni Glekas, director of Historic Preservation at the BAC. "Tina's work on the topic is spectacular, I think her work could have an influence on the direction that the historic preservation field is headed." Based on her cutting edge approach to preservation, Eleni recommended that Tina apply to be a student scholar at the Association for Preservation Technology conference in Buffalo, NY, in September.

Since graduating from the BAC in May 2018, Tina has already completed a one-month internship in Missoula, Montana, where she documented the main barn at the Moon Randolph Homestead, which is made almost entirely of salvaged materials, mostly from rail road box cars. Tina then spent the summer interning with the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYS PRHP) where she has been surveying the barns of the Staatsburg State Historic Site (Mills Mansion), and creating accurate floor plans to assist in the process of finding appropriate reuse options for these buildings.

Looking ahead to September, Tina will be speaking at both the Association for Preservation Technology conference and the Building Materials Reuse Association's Decon & Reuse 2018 conference, and then in October, Tina will spend time on Martha's Vineyard doing window restoration before heading to Ottawa to speak at Carleton University's Symposium, Heritage in Reverse: Material Values, Waste and Deconstruction.

Ultimately, Tina wants to expand her business to include restoration, deconstruction, and materials reuse services. "I would also like to continue working to expand and articulate the place of deconstruction, salvage and reuse in the world of preservation, potentially in local government or teaching part time. Making a living in preservation is challenging in the rural area I live in, so if I can get by and continue living where I am I will consider my education a success!"

Moon Randolph Barn

Moon Randolph Barn in Missoula, MT

Moon Randolph Barn Winch Shed

Winch Shed, Moon Randolph Homestead, Missoula, MT - The roof tiles were salvaged from the deconstruction of the Missoula Mercantile (in 2017) and used to replace original tin tiles on this shed, which had been salvaged from a building that burnt down in Missoula around 1900. Tina highlighted this story of reuse in her thesis and got to see it in person during her internship.

Hardware Survey Drawing

A hardware survey drawing done by Tina for her internship at Moon Randolph Homestead Barn in Missoua, MT

Tina McCarthy at work

Tina takes notes while preservation architect Matt Morgan of A&E Architects measures at Moon Randolph Homestead Barn in Missoula, MT

All images courtesy of Tina McCarthy