"A measure of disorder. The inevitable tendency for all matter in the universe to evolve toward a state of steady deterioration."
By David Marshall
One of the few things that I still remember from my high school physics class is the principle known as "entropy." Stated unscientifically, entropy simply means "nothing lasts forever." At 16 years old, it was the first time that my mortality was put into proper scientific perspective.
Most people divide the world into two distinct categories: Temporary Things and Things That Will Last Forever. Everyone understands that eventually flowers wilt, window curtains fade, and the VCR will conk out, but few people face the fact that the big things in their lives are also temporary, like their jobs, their houses, and their heartbeats. In reality, even the Earth has an expiration date - hopefully far in the future (and due to natural causes).
I'm reminded of the never-ending maintenance of the beloved Golden Gate Bridge. I was disheartened to learn that once the painting crew finally completes their multi-year paint job, they must move the scaffolding back to the starting point and do it all over again. I'm sure that the bridge painters view entropy in a more positive light than I do, being that it provides them with a steady job.
About now, you may being saying to yourself, "Thanks Dave, now I'm depressed. How does this relate to preserving old buildings?" Well, for preservationists, the temporary nature of the world may be a hard pill for us to swallow. No matter how hard we try to preserve the past, in the end, we're just slowing down time. In the life span of a building, it takes only one insensitive owner or one natural disaster to erase history forever. Finally, even if a building survives all of that, the toll of time is the threat that never goes away.
As an architect who works with historic buildings on a daily basis, I've come to understand that the fight to save them is a never-ending struggle. It might take years to save a building that was crumbling into sawdust, but even the best restoration lasts only so long.
This little essay wasn't intended to alarm or depress the reader, it was simply meant to serve as a reminder to preservationists that the unwavering laws of nature mean that our work is never done. Don't let temporary setbacks cloud the big picture. Maybe we should all take a page from the bridge painters and look on the bright side - at least SOHO has a steady job.
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