Transforming Policy: Rudolph’s Garage

Can preservation be transformative? This was the central question in Chris Novelli’s master’s thesis at the Boston Architectural College. With CUBE serving as Chris’ thesis advisor, he set out to examine the possibilities of existing buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes if relieved of the curated formal constraints imposed under the U.S. Department of Interior Standards for Preservation. He selected Paul Rudolph’s heroic parking garage in New Haven, Connecticut as a fitting laboratory for his experiments.

Novelli began by documenting the convoluted web of regulation, consultants, developers and tax credits surrounding preservation. This analysis is really quite eye opening. It reveals an expanding web of regulation through consultants, government policy, and tax incentives since the 1966 Historic Preservation Act. Like it or not, the preservation movement has become the industry of preservation. However, its operating model is prone to the pitfalls of willful tastes, nostalgia, financial gain, and moreover, inflexible standards that isolate buildings into singular curated moments.

These issues can produce diluted effects and false identities that lie counter to the core intentions of preservation. Novelli proposes to intervene upon existing history in a way that relieves it of formal curating constraints. He establishes methodological criteria for analyzing historic structures to determine their values and potentials. But it is in his execution that he proves there are other and sometimes better ways to not only preserve but understand our heritage – by actually engaging it rather than constantly putting it on a pedestal.

Novelli conducted a series of experiments on Rudolph’s garage to yield a new complex that is thoughtfully re-knitted into the fabric of the city. From a formal perspective, his experiments run the gamut from untouched building portions to demolished portions, from incisions to additions, all with details that are treated secondary to the original structure. But his proposal also solves the societal and economic divides that occur at the junction of this imposing structure in New Haven. Even renowned architects can create projects with the best of intentions that later produce detrimental effects. Our built environment is ever-changing with cultural advancement. It is constructed by people to serve people. It holds a record of human events and aspirations – but it should not hold us back.