Thanks for shedding light on the local battle to claim historic-preservation high ground in Chris Dovi's Street Talk, “City Guidelines Hurt Old Neighborhoods, Preservationists Say” (Nov. 11). At issue is how to guide new construction in Richmond's old and historic districts. Voices on both sides of the debate would agree that what is at stake is the character of Richmond's historic neighborhoods.
For an existing neighborhood or group of historic buildings to maintain its character, new construction should incorporate visually similar materials, scale, roof and porch forms, and setbacks. Architectural compatibility is first about the substance of the built environment, not about the trappings of style.
Some of the loudest voices in the current debate argue that traditional design should be mandated within the city's old and historic districts. This point of view is narrow and unnecessarily restrictive. The contrasting approach outlined in the secretary of the interior's standards for rehabilitation states that new construction should be differentiated and compatible with the existing historic environment. The standards celebrate the evolution and complexity of the built environment and the diverse populations that occupy these districts. Architectural review boards nationwide, including Richmond's Commission of Architectural Review, base their guidelines on these standards.
The principle of differentiation combined with compatibility is an argument for legibility. The observing public should be able to understand what is old and what is new. The goal of preservationists should be that additions to historic neighborhoods be of high-quality design, materials and construction that respect and perpetuate the historic context.
Mimi Sadler, Camden Whitehead
Sadler & Whitehead Architects