“In the Footsteps of Vitruvius: Durability Lessons Learned from In-Situ Diagnostic Studies of Original Construction Details”
In the course of my 14 years of practice in historic preservation, the work of the Roman architect/engineer/planner/master builder Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (Vitruvius), as set forth in his seminal text De Architectura ("The Ten Books of Architecture"), has provided me with a frequent touchstone for my own work. Now, with the National Endowment for the Arts Rome Prize in Historic Preservation and Conservation, I follow in the footsteps of Vitruvius, utilizing his methodology of direct observation of existing buildings (the details, materials, and methods of their construction, and their current condition) to derive the lessons they have to teach us regarding long-term durability and preservation.
For progress, check out my project blog: http://mbronskiblog.sgh.com
Some would say that my “background and training on historic buildings is broad and diverse,” but I’m far more inclined to simply say “I’m kind of a mutt.” I worked as a carpenter and house painter during summers while in college, I took took four years of studio art major in high school, my undergraduate degree is in civil engineering, and my two masters degrees are in architecture and historic preservation.
When I finished graduate school, I looked for a work opportunity that would allow me to synthesize these various skills and professions, rather than abandon one or more in favor of another. Thankfully, I found Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH), and I’ve been working there ever since. My work involves both a lot of field work (where I can still carry my toolbag and don my hardhat), and office work, and it often operates in the unfortunate contemporary rift between architecture and engineering. It allows me to investigate, diagnose and solve technical problems, and also design and sketch or draw solutions. Sketching, whether a beautiful building, or technical construction detail, is one of my great joys.
My practice at SGH focuses on investigating and diagnosing the causes and consequences of building envelope and structural problems in historic buildings (both traditional and modern), and designing sensitive and appropriate repairs and restorations/rehabilitations to solve those problems.
I’ve led SGH’s envelope investigation or restoration design efforts on many interesting and significant buildings, including traditional historic construction such as the tower of H.H. Richardson’s Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield, MA, and The Old State House in Boston, as well as modern icons like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Zimmerman House in Manchester,NH; Skidmore Owings and Merrill’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; Josep Lluis Sert’s Peabody Terrace Graduate Student Housing at Harvard University. I also use SGH’s in-house laboratory and collaborate with our lab and petrographic staff to analyze and test historic building materials, including mortar, stone, concrete, slate, clay roofing tile.
One thing I particularly enjoy is sharing what I’ve learned (and what I’m still learning) with others. Thus, I’ve written and lectured extensively on historic preservation, from technical issues pertaining to the inspection and condition assessment of historic building facades, to philosophical issues relating to international preservation standards and charters, to lessons learned from vernacular architecture and designing for winter climates.
I also enjoy making a difference in the communities where I’ve lived by helping to preserve their historic character for future generations. I served on the Lowell Historic Board when I lived in an old textile mill in downtown Lowell, MA , and served on the Winchester Historical Commission, in the small town north of Boston where I’ve lived for the past nine years.
I was part of an early grassroots group that fought, despite some very public ridicule in the Boston press, to save historic Fenway Park when its demolition seemed all but assured only a decade ago. More recently, I fought very hard to help save the historic Wright-Locke Farm, the last surviving farm in Winchester, and the closest essentially intact historic farm to downtown Boston.
To my wife’s chagrin, I also just can’t seem to leave my passion for historic preservation at the office – I’ve been working seemingly endlessly on the ongoing restoration of the 1914 craftsman bungalow that my wife and I and our baby daughter call home.