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Historic buildings are more than the sum of their parts

September 14, 2009

Reading a review of a new biography of British architectural historian, preservationist and diarist James Lees-Milne, we were reminded of his passion for the people and the stories associated with great architecture, and not just the buildings themselves.  During his many years of work for the British National Trust, he “saved” many a distinguished country house.  But he always understood that, however fine the design, detailing, furnishing, etc. of a house, it was as the reviewer describes “…an organism rooted in the society and economy around it, the product of the individual lives of the generations that created it.”  Lees-Milne always tried, whenever possible, for the families to remain living in houses acquired for preservation by the National Trust.  And he didn’t believe that every object should be “in perfect keeping or of the right date.”

Lees-Milne would perhaps argue, today, for fewer (and better/stronger) house museums and more living and lived-in or worked-in historic places that continue to tell the story of the people and the land.  That’s what the PNJ Heritage Partnership is working for. We hope the State of New Jersey will one day re-think it’s overly restrictive requirements that don’t encourage vital, economic uses of preserved cultural resources on conserved lands.

Meanwhile, we can’t wait to read the Lees-Milne biography!

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