Waist-high stacks of books and collections of buttons emblazoned with preservation slogans are strewn across the floor of Professor Andrew Dolkart’s airy, glass-paneled office in Avery Hall. “I promised myself I’d organize all of these today,” he said, glancing across the room.
A new office is only part of the transition Dolkart has undergone since being named director of the Historic Preservation Program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in July. Dolkart, who graduated from GSAPP in 1977 and has taught there for 10 years, steps into a position previously held by James Marston Fitch, one of the school’s founders, and Paul Byard, who died shortly after Dolkart took his place. While Dolkart aims to maintain the original caliber and character of the program developed by Fitch and Byard, he must also prepare the department for modern challenges.
Dolkart, renowned for his expertise on New York’s architectural history and his Manhattan walking tours, became interested in historical preservation in his first year as an art history Ph.D. student. “I was enjoying it but I was unhappy,” Dolkart said, “I wanted to do something that would have a real impact on people’s lives.”
While a student at GSAPP, Dolkart studied under Fitch. Now, as the preservation director, Dolkart aims to ensure the program remains grounded in the same ideals, including a curriculum incorporating multiple disciplines that it encompassed when he was a student. “The fundamentals are still the same,” he said.
Dolkart admitted that as the field of historical architecture changes, the program must adapt to “the challenges presented for the 21st century.” He cited efforts to incorporate traditional educational tools, like photography, with higher technology equipment, such as the Geographical Information System and lasers. The program will also make efforts to address environmental sustainability and the “global challenge of preservation,” Dolkart said.
Dolkart emphasized the need to strike a balance between the past and the future no matter the direction of the field of conservation. “We have to preserve what’s worthwhile and also foster new dialogue,” he said.
Narrowing in on the present, Dolkart explained the role of preservation during the current financial crunch. “Fitch always said that an economic downturn was good for preservation,” Dolkart said, “and he was only half-kidding.” Preservation and rehabilitation of buildings, Dolkart noted, is an easier investment than new development.
When asked about the University’s expansion into Manhattanville, Dolkart declined to comment.
As for Dolkart’s own future, he’s releasing a book entitled Rowhouse Reborn, which details the early 20th century renovations of rowhouses in New York City that led to the revitalization of many city neighborhoods.
It is this combination of history and city architecture that continues to drive both Dolkart and the Historic Preservation Program. “We use New York City as our study,” Dolkart said. “That’s our key.”