An Interview with Russell V. Keune
by Antoinette J. Lee
(Courtesy of Russell V. Keune)
Russell V. Keune (RVK) served the historic preservation community from the 1960s through the 1990s in key positions at the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the United States Committee, International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS). His career also covered local preservation activities, including the Arlington County (Virginia) Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, as well as international work, through the International Relations Ofﬁce of The American Institute of Architects (AIA). Although he retired from the AIA in 1999, Keune continues to volunteer and travel for the AIA, most recently to Japan and Turkey. Keune received his B.Arch. and M.Arch. degrees from the University of Illinois in 1961 and 1965, respectively. In recognition of his national and international contributions to historic preservation, Keune is a fellow of The American Institute of Architects and US/ICOMOS. Antoinette J. Lee (AJL), CRM Journal Editor, interviewed Mr. Keune at his Arlington, Virginia, home on May 23, 2003.
AJL: Would you tell us about growing up in Chicago? When did you decide to become an architect?
RVK: I was born and raised in Chicago and attended Chicago's public schools. My neighborhood—Mount Clare—was just north of Oak Park. I frequently saw Frank Lloyd Wright's works, especially his home and studio. It is ironic that later in my career I would have a hand in securing it for the National Trust.
After World War II, my father loved to travel and we took many family car trips. That was my introduction to a good part of the United States. One place I remember in particular was an early visit to Greenﬁeld Village in Dearborn, Michigan. I spent a lot of time going to museums in Chicago—particularly the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, and the Chicago Historical Society.
I enjoyed drawing so my mother enrolled me in The Art Institute in Chicago for summer courses. I ﬁrst thought about becoming an architect during my senior year in high school, when I had an inﬂuential drafting teacher.
During the summers, I worked as a messenger for the Inland Press. One of our clients was near where Mies van der Rohe's 900 Esplanade complex was going up. Another was across the street from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Inland Steel Building, also under construction. Watching those buildings go up was really interesting, and that coupled with the drawing lessons led me to consider architecture as a career.
AJL: Tell us something about your education at the University of Illinois and inﬂuential professors who encouraged you to go into preservation.
RVK: The University of Illinois had a good architecture school. My undergraduate goal was not historic preservation; it was contemporary design. I was pretty good at it. I was an undergraduate student there from 1956 to 1961, a 5-year program in architecture. I was elected to the Gargoyle, the architectural honorary society, and graduated with high honors.
The most inﬂuential professor I had was Ernest Allen Connally. I had him the ﬁrst semester that he taught there in 1956-57. He was really inspirational as an architectural history professor. He made the subject come alive. He was the only professor I had who received a standing ovation at the end of the course from the students. I won the Ricker Medal in Architectural History for my paper on the architectural history of the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition.
The other major inﬂuence was a design studio taught by Edward Deam who had studied at the University of Pennsylvania with Louis Kahn. He was the ﬁrst professor I had who took a class on a ﬁeld trip to see completed contemporary architecture. We went to Detroit to the then-new Saarinen General Motors Technical Center, Yamasaki's McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University, and others. He taught us how to look at building details and observe how materials joined together and how important detailing was to the success of a building. He really taught students how to look at buildings and how to appreciate them.
The turning point occurred when Ernest Connally in the spring of 1958 announced that applications were being taken for something called the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). He invited students to see him if they were interested in this opportunity. I was in an art studio with a fellow classmate, Malcolm Smiley, who had been on a HABS team the summer before and his experience really sounded interesting. I did not have a job for the summer and it was time to get a job related to architecture, so I signed up.
Ernest Connally had been commissioned by Charles Peterson to conduct the inventory of Cape Cod architecture, particularly the residential buildings. This was when Cape Cod National Seashore was in its early stages. Connally wrote me a note giving me Charles Peterson's address in Philadelphia. I wrote to Peterson, got an application, applied, and was accepted. I ended up on the team that was assigned to the then Harpers Ferry National Monument.
The Harpers Ferry project was one among many HABS projects that beneﬁted from the National Park Service Mission 66 program. Mission 66 included not just new buildings, but preservation. We were producing "as is" drawings and recording historic buildings in Harpers Ferry that were going to be preserved. What was inspiring about Harpers Ferry was that is was the ﬁrst time that I worked at a national park and there was a huge number of historians, archeologists, architects, and rangers around. We had a team of six students and our supervisor was F. Blair Reeves. It was his ﬁrst summer as a supervisor and he was determined to produce a record number of drawings by a HABS team. He worked us very hard, but he was an inspired leader and became a lifelong friend.
While in Harpers Ferry, we stayed at the Hilltop Hotel. We met all the town characters and many National Park Service staff. Blair and his wife, Mary Nell, were absolutely fantastic in their devotion to the team. They took us on trips on the weekends to Baltimore, Washington, DC, Charlottesville, and all over. It was a thoroughly enjoyable summer. And we did produce a record number of drawings!
I went back to school after this experience without any further thoughts about pursuing historic preservation. But then Charles Peterson came after me because he said that I was one of the fastest and best draftsmen he had encountered on a HABS team. The next summer, I was offered a position in Deerﬁeld, Massachusetts, to participate in a big thematic survey of the Connecticut River Valley. We were in the lower Connecticut Valley. The team was housed at Dartmouth College in the upper Connecticut Valley. Harley McKee was supervisor of this project. One of my team members was George Wrenn. He was with the National Park Service in Philadelphia and later with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
While in Deerﬁeld, I had a chance to take a grand tour of New England: travel to Boston and down to Rhode Island, New York City, and New Haven. Blair Reeves was running a team in Baltimore and met us in New York. I remember that the Seagram Building was just being ﬁnished and he sneaked us in through the kitchen so we could see the interior. This was the kind of thing he was good at. That summer I met Cervin Robinson, the distinguished photographer, who was commissioned to photograph the buildings in Deerﬁeld. Again, the summer was a rewarding experience.
After I returned to school, Peterson asked me to return the following summer. In the summer of 1960, I ended up in the mid-coast Maine survey, again with Blair Reeves as supervisor, based at Rockland in the Farnsworth Museum. Our sponsor, the retired Chicago architect Ambrose Kramer, was happy to have three architectural students and Blair Reeves there all summer. He owned a boat and served as a gracious host, taking us on weekend sailing trips throughout Penobscot Bay. It was an enriching experience and I was pretty well hooked on a preservation career. Blair was also a great publicist for the program. A local newspaper did a story on the team, which prompted a local club to invite Blair to speak. He always included the students, which was a great opportunity to meet the businessmen and put up an exhibit of our work. The word on our work spread and we received many more invitations and had a huge exhibit at the Farnsworth Museum at the end of the summer.
AJL: When you graduated, did you go to work fulltime for HABS?
RVK: Charles Peterson offered me a job even before I graduated. He asked me to come to work as a restoration architect for the National Park Service. The Royal Academy of Danish Architecture was coming to the Virgin Islands to do a huge documentation study of Danish colonial architecture. He wanted me to serve as liaison between the academy and the National Park Service. At the last minute, the Royal Academy canceled or deferred its plans. Peterson sent me back to Harpers Ferry. It was different to go back there as an employee and in the winter.
The following summer, I ran my own HABS team to document the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. I was an employee of the then Eastern Office of Design and Construction based out of Philadelphia. Then came the Berlin crisis and I was called up to be drafted. I was found to be 4-F and thus exempt from the draft, which gave me a newfound freedom. I had been in correspondence with classmates who had gone West. It was time for me to try something else, so I decided to go West as well.
Peterson invited me to Philadelphia for Tom Vint's retirement party. Vint had been the long-time head of design and construction in the National Park Service. Peterson called me into his office and asked me what I was going to do out West. I said I was going out there and look around. Peterson said that he needed someone in a week to go to San Juan because the U.S. Army was surplusing the San Juan fortifications and turning them over to the Department of the Interior. It was happening very fast and he wanted someone to watch as the Army moved out. I had not been in that part of the world before and agreed to undertake this project. I got there and my stay was extended several times. The National Park Service needed drawings done, offices installed, and the electrical systems upgraded. This was my first solo assignment that involved onsite historic preservation work. On the weekends, I traveled to nearby islands to see the colonial architecture and the culture.
After completing that assignment, Charles Peterson offered me work at Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts. The park was new and needed an architect to document the buildings that were being acquired. I ran a HABS team there the following summer. I also worked at Salem Maritime National Historic Site and did a little work on the Adams National Historic Site.
In 1963, I decided to get a master's degree in architectural history. At the time, there were virtually no graduate programs in historic preservation. I wrote to Ernest Connally and Alan Laing at the University of Illinois. They encouraged me, and with Herman Pundt, let me structure a master's program in architecture that focused on my interest in restoration architecture and historic preservation. I was also able to get a teaching assistantship that covered my tuition.
Through National Trust publications, I saw an announcement for something called the Seminar for Historical Agency Administrators in Williamsburg, Virginia. I didn't have any specific summer plans for 1964. This program interested me because it related to what I was pursuing. I applied and became the first architect ever accepted. I went to Williamsburg for 6 weeks and got to know William J. Murtagh, the seminar's director. The seminar was a transforming experience. The seminar introduced me to the broader world of historic preservation and the leaders in the field. I knew that I could not go back to being a draftsman or a purely technical person. There was a larger world out there. Later in my career, while at the National Trust, I would direct the seminar.
Another major event of my graduate school days was the Plym Fellowship in Architecture, founded and endowed by an alumnus. The Plym is based on the Beaux-Arts tradition of the Grand Tour of Europe. Each year, two candidates were selected competitively based on their academic record as an undergraduate and professional record since graduation. I entered the competition with the encouragement of Alan Laing and with historic preservation/restoration as the focus of my entry. No one had ever entered the competition on that basis before. I was stunned when I won. I went to Europe for 6 months. I left in February of 1965 and returned in August. I outlined a course of interest to be pursued, developed an itinerary, and submitted monthly reports and another one at the end that described what I had seen. I went all over Europe and focused on historic preservation. I bought a car and had introductions to professionals at Unesco, monuments, and restoration services, and to leading figures in many countries. The Marais project in Paris was just in the formative stages at that point. I looked at adaptive use and integrating new design into older areas. The fellowship was another transforming experience.
I came back from Europe invigorated. The National Park Service offered me a job at Minute Man. That did not interest me. I was aware that there was an opening in the National Capital Region for an architect. I decided to see what the National Park Service was like in Washington. I applied, was accepted, and arrived in October 1965. After one year, I was approached about applying for the position of executive director of the Virginia Landmarks Commission, which was brand new. Virginia had enacted broad preservation legislation creating a statewide agency. I was interviewed, offered the job, and decided to sign on the dotted line and accept the position.
Coincidentally, I received a phone call asking me to come to the office of the director of the National Park Service for a meeting. It was the first time I had been in the director's office and the first time I had met Director George B. Hartzog Jr. The meeting was on the formulation of legislation new to me—the National Historic Preservation Act. I was a very junior person at the meeting.
At the meeting was Ronald F. Lee, regional director of the National Park Service's Northeast Region. I had gotten to know Ronnie Lee at the Eastern Office of Design and Construction. As he and I walked out of the Interior building, he turned to me and asked how things were going in Washington. I told him that I was about to leave to take the position in Richmond. He looked surprised. I took a cab back to my office. By the time I got there, I had a telephone call from him asking me to meet him at the Cosmos Club for drinks. I had never been to the Cosmos Club. When I arrived, Ronnie Lee was sitting on a big leather couch with drinks and who should join us but George Hartzog! Hartzog sat next to me and asked "What was this idiotic idea I hear about you wanting to leave the National Park Service?" I was stunned. The pressure was really on not to leave and I also learned that Ernest Connally was on the team—with Lee and Joe Brew of Harvard University—advising Hartzog how to organize the National Park Service response to the new preservation legislation. I learned that Connally was about to be recruited to head up a new entity to implement the legislation. Connally asked me not to leave because there was a role for me in all of this. The bill had not been passed yet.
Shortly afterwards, I was speaking at my first National Trust conference on the National Park Service and historic preservation. The new, about-to-be-signed National Historic Preservation Act was unveiled at this conference in Philadelphia. This was only days before it was signed. I was in the audience and more fully understood the scope of the legislation. It was very impressive, and I decided to stay at the National Park Service.
After the legislation was signed, I was immediately assigned to the task force created by Hartzog to implement the act. At the same time, Hartzog had already started creating a consolidated office with historians and architects from all around the country. He was shaking everything up and moving us into the Wheeler-Lynn Building in Rosslyn. (The building is still standing. It is the birthplace of the national historic preservation program.)
Bob Utley was in charge of the seven-member task force. I was the only architect. We did everything: we developed the National Register criteria and nomination form, we developed the grants-in-aid manual, we arrived at a system for implementation, we developed nearly everything from scratch. It was a fascinating and exciting period. We looked at related activities, including New York City's then relatively new landmarks preservation commission and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. There was a lot of money at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for statewide planning. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation operated its grant program through State plans and State Liaison Officers, a system well understood within the Interior Department. The State Liaison Officers formed the model for the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO).
There was a February 1967 deadline for preparing the draft documents as Gordon Gray, Carl Humelsine, and Carl Feiss were convening a meeting in Colonial Williamsburg of leaders in the historic preservation field. We were to present the recommended system for creating the new national historic preservation program. It was a challenge to produce everything in time. At the Williamsburg meeting, I learned that Bill Murtagh was being recruited to become keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Bob Garvey was to become first director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Both Murtagh and Garvey were from the National Trust, leading Gordon Gray to make the famous statement, "I regret that I have but one staff to give to my country." Connally would head the whole operation that became the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP).
Connally arrived ahead of Murtagh and Garvey to set up the new OAHP in Rosslyn. Shortly after that, we moved to another building in Washington, DC, at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. That is where things moved into high gear.
AJL: You were acting keeper of the National Register of Historic Places?
RVK: I was named acting keeper of the National Register in early 1967 and served until the arrival of Murtagh in the summer of 1967. When Bill Murtagh arrived, I became assistant keeper. Bob Utley became the chief historian and was consumed with supervising all of the historians who had been brought in from around the country.
AJL: Were the early years of the National Register program devoted to creating the SHPOs, which then made the actual nominations?
RVK: What happened is as follows: The SHPOs letter had gone out from the Secretary of the Interior before Murtagh arrived so the designations of SHPOs was largely completed. We had 50 to 55 designated people and a new law. Ernest and Bill decided that we had to talk with these people about the program and how we wanted to run it. It was in the era of LBJ's Great Society. There was a phrase in the Great Society called "creative federalism." We were under a mandate to be creative about how we were going to do these things. We organized seven regional conferences where we invited the newly-designated SHPOs to meet with us. We presented like we did in Williamsburg, how we intended to run the program, what our roles would be, how the funding would work, the criteria, the nomination process, everything. The first regional meeting was in Richmond, followed by meetings in Boston, Savannah, Monterey, Denver, Omaha, and San Juan. The first day was devoted to explaining things. The second day was their chance to critique it. That was really highly educational in terms of our work in Washington. A lot of the new SHPOs were experienced in State and local historic preservation work. At the end of the meetings, we sat down and revised the system again to make it reflect their best advice. During that period, there were no nominations coming in and we did not encourage any.
There was a small OAHP staff, and things started to happen almost immediately and we had to react. For example, section 106 [of the National Historic Preservation Act] had not been applied yet, but pressure was mounting to do so. The first section 106 case that I can remember was Las Trampas, New Mexico. The State highway department was getting Federal dollars to replace a bridge in front of a church. The highway planners wanted to put in a standard issue bridge. Nathaniel Owings of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill lived nearby and was very concerned about the plans for the bridge. He asked Director Hartzog what could be done about it. The Las Trampos church was on the National Register and a National Historic Landmark. That was the first section 106 case and pressure was put on the Federal Highway Administration and the State highway department to modify the design and use natural materials. It worked.
It was crucial to establish our credibility quickly, but it took an enormous amount of time. As the Defense Department continued to surplus military properties, the Springfield, Massachusetts, armory, also on the National Register, became an enormous poster case for the disposal of historic military properties. Ernest Connally was flown in military airplanes to inspect the property. I remember being sent to Beale Street in Memphis, a classic urban renewal project where demolition had been going on and there was more to come. I remember flying down there with George Karras of HUD and being confrontational with the local urban renewal administration that was trying to change that part of Beale Street that was a National Historic Landmark. Activities like these took time from implementing the National Register.
Another challenge was presented by George Hartzog who wanted a printed edition of the National Register to take with him and show to Members of Congress. Suddenly we were all shifted to writing the first edition of the National Register—also known as the National Register Red Book—which was published in 1969. It included all the historic national parks and all National Historic Landmarks.
My early disappointment about the National Register was that we had talked about trying to computerize it from the start. Bob Garvey was enormously helpful because he was so creative. He did not let bureaucracy stand in his way. We hosted a big demonstration by IBM for the then-new Advisory Council about the advantages of having the National Register computerized and how it would help with the section 106 process. It was derailed by the then-nascent computer capacity of the National Park Service and it never went anywhere. Even though the National Register was eventually computerized, there was no reason why it could not have been at the beginning.
AJL: Back in the 1970s, some people said that the National Register would some day be completed. Did you imagine that the National Register would be a small list of historic properties, or did you envision the broad list that it is today?
RVK: Because of the 50-year rule, a small list was never my vision. There was discussion about how big it would get. The one thing I am proud of is that, now going on 35 to 40 years, the National Register criteria have not changed. When the National Register criteria were developed, we did the best we could at the time. The criteria considerations came largely from the seven regional meetings with the SHPOs and interactions with the professional groups that were involved.
The most significant element for me was the role of the National Register in incorporating State and local significance and in recognizing and encouraging the creation of urban and rural historic districts. In the mid-1990s, it was amazing to visit a city like Phoenix, Arizona, and find so many designated historic districts, mostly dating from the early to the mid-20th century.
AJL: Why did you leave the National Park Service so soon after the programs were set up?
RVK: I was pleased that my role and contributions were recognized by the presentation of two Department of the Interior's Superior Performance Awards. By the end of 1968, the basic systems for the National Register were in place.
By this time, the excitement and challenge of the 1966-68 period were beginning to wane for me. It had been an exciting period in my professional life. And then suddenly we were editing the National Register Red Book and there were no more conferences. By then, it was clear that Congress was not going to make significant appropriations to fund the new law. Also during this period, I passed the architectural registration examination, became engaged, got married, and had a son.
I did not go looking for it, but my next step came to me through Terry Morton. The word came that the National Trust was creating a new program called "field services" and would I be interested in the position of director. Terry invited me over to talk with Jimmy Biddle, the president of the National Trust. I was pleased and impressed. I signed on and left the National Register in December 1968. I was looking for a new challenge. I decided to try something else. I was glad that I did.
AJL: Your National Trust career covers January 1969 through April 1983. Rather than going through it chronologically, would you talk about the early concept of field services and then some of the major accomplishments during your 14 years there?
RVK: The field services program developed from a memo written by Carl Feiss to Gordon Gray, chairman of the National Trust. Feiss was a member of the group that went to Europe as it developed the With Heritage So Rich report and the writing of the National Historic Preservation Act. He was also a National Trust trustee. The memo outlined what the National Trust needed to do to respond to the new opportunities presented by the legislation. The work of the field services department was outlined and became my road map for the early days of the program. The major thrust was to get the National Trust out of Washington and get it into contact with its private sector constituency across the Nation. This was a professionalized outreach effort across the country. Feiss was a mentor to me for envisioning a lot of these objectives.
After arriving at the National Trust, I worked with the Board of Trustees and the Board of Advisors. Helen Abell of Louisville was a board member and chair of the Board of Advisors who wanted to gear up the field services operation and make it effective. Jimmy Biddle raised money to put on a big educational program for the Board of Advisors on the new national historic preservation program. With John Frisbee, I organized a whole road show modeled on the SHPOs meetings that we held for the National Register. Even though these programs were aimed at National Trust people, I invited the SHPOs, Federal agency representatives, and others in regions where the meetings were held.
An early principle of the field services program was that when the National Trust started getting Federal funds, it should help others. One of the first things was the Consultant Services Grant program (later folded into the Preservation Services Fund). It provided matching grants to organizations to hire consultants to achieve preservation objectives. Later, there also was the Preservation Education Fund and the National Preservation Revolving Fund. These were part of that outreach effort.
As the National Trust president, Jimmy Biddle was supportive of innovation. If you had a good idea, he got behind it and did not interfere with its implementation. He was always generous and helpful. The regional offices were born from a competition that Biddle ran among National Trust staff about how to use some private sector money he had raised. John Frisbee and I proposed establishing the Western regional office in San Francisco. Jimmy liked that idea and that is how regional offices were born.
As soon as it was up and running, a Trust-wide strategic plan called Goals and Programs was developed. Tom Richards and Sam Stokes were hired to staff it. Goals and Programs was supportive of the work of field services. That was an important endorsement by the board and became my ticket to keep on expanding. When I look back over my career, the period from 1970 to 1976 is perhaps, next to the National Register, the most glorious period because so much was happening so fast. We had Federal money, Jimmy Biddle was raising private money, and we had new opportunities everywhere we looked. An example of this expansive period was a whole series of focused conferences. These included conferences on preservation law, exploring how achitects and fine arts conservators could work together in historic preservation, building codes, and old/new design. I was successful in obtaining funds from Bob McNulty at the National Endowment for the Arts to do things like guidelines for delineating edges of historic districts. I got funds from HUD for the first assistance program for urban landmarks and historic district commissions. We hired the first lawyer and the first planner. Those were some of the highlights of that early period.
After the 1966 Act, and with funds beginning to flow to the National Trust, the constituencies were growing enormously. We had a number of training programs, including the Woodlawn Conference, the Community Preservation Workshop, and the craft training course. When I took over supervision of the historic properties program, I was proud when we got the first house museum—the Wilson House—accredited by the American Association of Museums.
Demonstration programs like the neighborhood conservation program, rural preservation, and Main Street, were also important programs. Completing the regional office system, the funding programs, the preservation revolving fund, and the preservation information sheet series were all significant and enduring achievements. Publishing was important and Terry Morton was key in making it happen.
AJL: Where did the Preservation: Toward an Ethic in the 1980s effort come from?
RVK: It came from a 1978 meeting that the board convened to think about the future. It had been 12 years since the National Historic Preservation Act and the Trust needed to re-look at the private sector. National Trust Chairman Humelsine liked the idea. He got a large grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to undertake this study and put Vice Chairman Robertson Collins in charge of it. It was envisioned as Humelsine's legacy. He wanted to move the Trust to another plateau in the 1980s. I was detailed as staff to head it up.
The original idea was to turn the National Trust annual meeting in Chicago into a forum to look at the private sector's future in the national historic preservation program. Instead, a series of presentations were made at the National Trust meeting on a broad range of topics. A smaller group was convened in Williamsburg to arrive at a blueprint for the 1980s. The proceedings were published. Soon after, Carl Humelsine retired as chairman and a new Trust administration team came in. The new team had other ideas and brought in its own consultants. By 1983, I was ready to move on.
AJL: When did you become active in the world of international preservation?
RVK: My work in the international sphere began when I worked at the National Trust. In 1974, I was asked by Ernest Connally to be the National Trust's representative on the first exchange with the Soviet Union. An environmental agreement was signed under the Nixon-Breshnev accords that included an urban preservation/conservation component. A team was sent to the Soviet Union to learn how it was doing urban preservation. That was an eye-opener and left a lasting impression on me. It was impressive how enormous their investment was and how far ahead of us they already were. They were preserving properties associated with the czars on an unimaginable scale compared with what we were doing with many of our most significant properties.
In 1976, Bob Garvey invited me to be part of the United States delegation to the Unesco conference in Warsaw, Poland, that drafted the Unesco Charter on Historic Towns. That was my first introduction to Unesco and international conferences. It impressed me how far the United States had come with the National Historic Preservation Act and how much we had learned about historic districts. By now, we were pretty big players. We had a major role in drafting the language of the charter. I met a lot of people who were helpful later in my international career.
In the late 1970s, the Pacific Area Travel Association created a heritage committee. The publisher of Sunset Magazine called the National Trust and Rob Collins was appointed to serve on the committee. I was the back-up. Through this connection, I was introduced to Asia and became involved in projects, such as a preservation plan for Macau, historic districts in Singapore, and a National Trust in the Philippines.
AJL: When did you become involved with US/ICOMOS?
RVK: I had been a member of US/ICOMOS since it was formed, but not very active. When Terry Morton left the National Trust and became the full-time president of US/ICOMOS, she started working on the ICOMOS General Assembly of 1987. I became program chairman for the General Assembly. As the process progressed, I was working for the architectural firm of Geier Brown Renfrow. Terry contacted me and said she had raised money and wanted to hire me at US/ICOMOS. I thought this would be another interesting opportunity and stayed until 1993. It was a terrific experience.
The General Assembly was a major accomplishment. It was the first one held in the United States and other things spun off from it. We published an overview of the United States preservation experience, The American Mosaic. We expanded our connection with the National Park Service on the World Heritage Convention. I spent a lot of time developing the concept of debt swaps for historic properties in Ecuador. Rob Collins was chairman of the ICOMOS Cultural Tourism Committee and through his efforts we published a site managers' handbook on managing cultural properties on the World Heritage List.
The United States Information Agency (USIA) helped with funding attendance at the General Assembly from developing countries, which led to our involvement in a series of television programs with USIA featuring the United States preservation experience. US/ICOMOS became involved in many international visitor programs that brought groups to the United States to see how we do preservation. We held several large regional conferences, including one in Hawaii for Asian countries and one in Cairo for countries in the Middle East. These were due to the contacts that were made in the General Assembly.
AJL: Can you provide a summary of your AIA career as it related to your earlier work?
RVK: I had been an AIA member since 1969. I was licensed [as an architect] and was active with the AIA Committee on Historic Resources. I was then invited to be a liaison with the AIA International Committee in my capacity at US/ICOMOS. I learned about the effort within the AIA to develop opportunities for international practice for United States architects. The AIA then hired a staff person. She left about 2 years later. I was afforded the opportunity to apply for the position. I started working there in December 1993 and retired in December 1999.
As director of international relations, my responsibilities did not deal with preservation. This position served as the chief staff person dealing with the International Union of Architects, the Pan American Federation of Architects, and related organizations. I dealt with all of the counterpart professional societies around the world. With an increasing awareness that globalization was the wave of the future, we were negotiating and signing accords with other professional societies to establish official relationships. The AIA was establishing foreign chapters. I just came back from Japan where a new chapter is coming into being. In 1999, the Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in the Practice of Architecture was adopted in Beijing. Under James Scheeler's leadership, the AIA led this 5-year effort. I have succeeded him as the co-director of the commission, continuing this work. A lot of what I learned in preservation was applicable to the international world of architecture.
AJL: What advice do you have for preservationists of the future? There are many people now working in the field who have never experienced what you did in terms of building programs and being there at the outset.
RVK: The first thing is that the world of employment opportunities is as different as night and day from when I started and the field's early years. It is hard to imagine how much it has changed. There are many opportunities that did not exist before, not only in sheer numbers but in types of positions.
There is also an enormous change in access to information. When I started, we were still dealing with books on library shelves. Now, you can sit down at a computer and surf the Internet. I remember walking into the city planning library at the University of Illinois in 1963 and finding a mimeographed annotated bibliography on the shelf that Barclay Jones and Stephen Jacobs had done on preservation when they were at Berkeley. It was like finding the Holy Grail. It was exciting to find this literature. Today, the amount of information available boggles the mind.
As I look back on education in preservation and how it has evolved, I am impressed that there are so many resources and so many specializations that did not exist when I started. I would assume the problem is now: what do you select to study, and why?
The challenge is to not become overly specialized because you never know what opportunities will come along. The broader your experience, the better position you will be in.
I suggest that students avail themselves of internship opportunities. Student projects should also be viewed as opportunities. This is important in terms of subject matter and the people you will meet while doing the work, the organizations you will come into contact with, and the networks you will start building. When you do these projects, do not do them under a rock. That is what Blair Reeves taught me. When you participate in these things, reach out. You never know who you will contact that can lead to a lot of new things.
Attending conferences and seminars is important. I remember as a graduate student spending my own money to go to a Society of Architectural Historians meeting Philadelphia. At that meeting, I heard an Englishman give a presentation about the Civic Trust and its small towns program. I remember that I later met him in my work at US/ICOMOS. Attend the social events, meet people, build your networks of contacts. Give papers and be a participant in conference programs.
Travel to experience all that is out there and gain insights from travel experiences. Create networks. That was one of the great things about the early days at the National Trust before we had the regional offices. We were everywhere in the country. That was just terrific. We learned so much from it.
Develop the ability to have a public presence. The public speaking course that I took in high school served me very well later on. If you are going to do this, you have to be comfortable and confident in public settings. Be able to listen, understand, and assess what is going on around you and to quickly and effectively respond. You have to be nimble on your feet, patient, and maintain self-control.
Aspire to be effective in a multitude of roles. Develop the skills to handle a press conference or serve as a witness before a congressional hearing or as a panelist in a public debate.
Develop your writing ability. I am often amazed at how poorly people write. A good letter is basic and it is still needed. The ability to order thoughts and positions in a logical and concise manner is the only way to get your points across.
When you become an administrator, recognize that the further up the chain you go, the less hands-on you will be. Be happy that you are influencing the big picture, but remember what you used to do and the fun you had doing it. That fun goes away and you have to count on others doing it for you. That is a big change.
Professional training and experience needs to be supplemented with an ability to develop policies and program goals and objectives. Fund raising in the public and private sectors is essential. Budget preparation and administration is a challenge.
Managing people is hard. It includes developing position descriptions and conducting interviews, making selections, saying no to people you know professionally, and evaluating the professional performance of others. These skills are not taught in preservation degree programs, but must be learned along the way.
Hold to your principles. At points in your career you will be tested and it can have large ramifications, both positive and negative.
When you are confident in your skills and experience and you see opportunities, be prepared to take risks and go for it. Most things that happened to me did so by accident. They were not planned. Things just happened, and they were great.