Mastering Historic Preservation

March 1, 1997

Mark Miester

Eugene Cizek, professor of architecture, has been waiting a long time for Tulane's new master's program in historic preservation. Twenty-six years, to be precise. "We've considered establishing this program for many years, but in the last four we've been working on it very hard," says Cizek, director of the program and a long-time champion of historic preservation in New Orleans.

"Part of its evolution has been through many people expressing interest in coming to Tulane to study historic preservation." Beginning this fall, and pending anticipated board of administrators approval, students will have the opportunity to do just that. Cizek expects to enroll approximately 10 students for the inaugural class of the Master of Preservation Studies program, an interdisciplinary track designed to train students to work in the field of historic preservation.

Approximately 30 preservation programs, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral, are offered at universities throughout the United States. None, however, can match Tulane's greatest attribute: the city of New Orleans. "New Orleans has been very lucky in that it hasn't lost a great deal of its significant historic architecture," explains Cizek. "Canal Street has changed a great deal in the last 100 years but it still is a major focus for shopping and living and is located between two very vital areas--the French Quarter and the Central Business District. We have some excellent agencies that we can get our students involved with, like the Vieux Carre Commission, the Preservation Resource Center and the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Committee."

The program is offered through the School of Architecture, but Cizek emphasizes that a degree in architecture is not required to enter the program. "It takes a wide range of people to do a successful project in historic preservation," he explains. "There are architects, of course, but you also have preservationists from all walks of life and all professions. There are issues related to taxation for historic structures, legislation for historic districts, and the administration that goes with that. People are beginning to specialize in these areas."

Cizek adds that a master's program is especially appropriate because many people develop an interest in preservation after working in other careers. "They become interested in the problems of preservation but don't necessarily think of it as a profession," he says. The one-year program requires 36 credits, including an introduction to historic preservation and courses on technology, preservation law, history of architecture and environmental conservation.

To cap off the program, students spend their summer completing a practicum developed according to their specific interests. "Instead of doing a thesis, they will actually go somewhere and work for a historic district, a planning agency, in community education or a variety of things," Cizek says. "They end up their academic studies by having a real life experience."

Plans are under way for architecture undergraduates and graduate students to have the option of earning a certificate in historic preservation. In addition to Cizek, faculty involved in the program includes professors of architecture Malcolm Heard, Karen Kingsley and Ellen Weiss, and adjunct professors Donald del Cid and E. Eean McNaughton. The program will also involve many Tulane graduates and other professionals, and will bring in international experts as well, says Cizek.

The initiation of the program is especially gratifying to Cizek, who has been teaching historic preservation in one form or another for 26 years. "We need things around to help us identify who we are, where we've been and where we're going," says Cizek, who earned an interdisciplinary PhD in the social psychology of design in 1978. "One of my criticisms of contemporary American society is that the setting we have for our world change so often. By the time we get older and go back to where we were born, there are very few landmarks left that can orient us to where we were from."

Another benefit of the program is that it continues the long tradition of preservation work at both Tulane and in New Orleans. New Orleans has the second oldest historic district law on its books--established to protect the French Quarter. In addition, many national laws relating to historic preservation resulted from situations in New Orleans.

The late French Quarter resident and attorney Jacob Morrison authored the first book on historic preservation law in the United States, and Tulane architecture graduates Richard Koch and Samuel Wilson each had long and distinguished careers as preservationists. And in 1896 the founder of the Tulane School of Architecture, William Woodward, made it his personal cause to save one of the city's dilapidated buildings, which he believed was valuable as an inspiration for new architecture and fine arts. The name of the building? The Cabildo. "From its very beginning," Cizek says, "the School of Architecture has been involved in historic preservation."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000