Saturday, April 24, 2010

Histo Presto: Aluminum Siding

Note: the following is an excerpt in draft from the book on estimation of histo presto that I have been working on. Inclusion here results from my friend Christopher Gray having posted an e-mail to BP [My next book: "How Aluminum Siding Saved Civilization."] re: an e-mail to him in which tfb17 shared his selection of photos that were inspired by Christopher's column on Vanderbilt Ave. in Brooklyn. "Two more gable-end houses of Gothic styling survive at 92 and 94 Vanderbilt. No. 92’s decay ventures beyond the charming into the alarming, with its falling-off siding and collapsing front stoop. Photographs from the 1940s indicate that it, too, had intricate verge-board trim, and show a delicate Gothic-style window at the top. It is a pity they are gone. At the same time, the asbestos-like shingle siding, perhaps from the 1940s, is a tour de force, vertical stripes in maroon, gray and other colors, like a weird 1950s blazer. It would be a tragedy to lose that, too." The photos take me home a bit as we lived in this very same community of aluminum siding for nearly eight years and our business offices were located in the heart of the Greenpoint community for close to 20 years.

"When I first became aware of this notion of metabolic rate connected with geographic location was on a visit from Brooklyn to a meeting in Washington DC at the National Trust offices where I was asked, as an aside and not directly relevant to the topic of the meeting, “What do you think of aluminum siding?”

At that time we lived in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Brooklyn in an Italian neighborhood where the aluminum siding salesmen had in the 60s and 70s gone bonkers and covered over all of the gingerbread and Victorian 19th c board-work of the three and four story building stock. What I saw around me was an aging aluminum siding that presented not only aluminum, but color selected by property owners with an expression of their own cultural aesthetic, and a community that had obviously bought into the expressed merits of aluminum siding. As a built environment in itself I found the exploration and detailing of what can be done with aluminum siding to be quite interesting. So, my initial reaction to the question was that I like aluminum siding.

Though I knew that there was something wrong with my answer I had not put the aluminum siding there on the facades, so I did not feel culpable for the existence of it, and I was curious and remain curious what will be decided in future to maintain or restore it. When the aluminum siding falls off there is often an asphalt faux brick/stone sheeting, and when that falls off there is wood clapboard siding, where it has not rotted. Occasionally a house can be found where aluminum siding was never applied and the original fabric of the wood clad structure is intact (most often unpainted), and quite often the original carpentry work is elegant in simple details. To make repairs to aluminum siding when it fails can present as many conundrums as needed to restore historic brickwork, just that nobody on the larger histo presto radar particularly cares about aluminum siding. And I agree that there are a whole lot of envelope and moisture related problems with aluminum siding, as well as with vinyl and that neither material is the zero-maintenance solution that many homeowners may have bought into.

The person who asked me was the executive director of an historic trades training program for the National Park Service, an architect by profession, and it was quickly apparent to me that they did not like aluminum siding.

I note that, and based on my subsequent years of experience,  that the National Park Service is not likely to initiate a program for restoration of aluminum siding, any more than they are going to be interested in restoration of historic house trailers, even if they have a few in their remote desert portfolio, but that if there is going to be a revival or development of the trade skills needed to restore and conserve aluminum siding it is likely to be driven by the local fix-it-upper folks in the urban communities of the likes of Brooklyn where aluminum siding is prevalent and concentrated. Skill sets develop and are maintained based on an employed need. We have only to look to the development of the Brownstone revival industry, where stone facades are often scraped back and replaced with a faux brownstone stucco, and colored-stucco is the trade practice that is learned, to wonder what the future preservation movement will look like around aluminum siding."

No comments:

Post a Comment