To “read” a city such as Savannah, one must look to her ever-evolving architecture.  The “Reading the City” series presented by SCAD and the Society of Architectural Historians analyzed Savannah’s intricate architectural narrative at the series’s conclusion on Wednesday, May 11 with George Washington University Director of Historic Preservation and American Civilization professor Richard Longstreth’s lecture, “Savannah: Urban Identity and Threatened Heritage.”  

Students and fellow members of the Savannah community were given a closer look at how recent demolition of post-war modernist buildings and historical African American architecture highlight Savannah’s uneven preservation landscape.

A panel discussion followed the presentation, featuring Longstreth, Historic Savannah Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Carey, Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum curator Vaughnette Goode-Walker and SCAD historic preservation professor Justin Gunther.  

“Reading the City,” a public program series coupled with walking tours, is designed to support “Buildings of Savannah,” an April 2016 architectural guidebook authored by SCAD architectural history faculty members; Robin B. Williams is chair of the Department of Architectural History at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was assisted by professors David Gobel, Patrick Haughey, Daves Rossell and Karl Schuler.

The series ended following four weeks of lectures that began April 20.  The “Buildings of Savannah” book belongs to a larger series called “Buildings of the United States,” sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians. 

Dr. Richard W. Longstreth is an architectural historian and a professor at George Washington University where he directs the program in historic preservation. Longstreth’s career has focused in two areas: architectural history and historic preservation.  His first publication within his illustrious career was “Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide.”

“It’s a great pleasure to be here,” Longstreth said in his opening remarks.  “I’ve had the privilege of coming to Savannah now for close to fifty years and my early visits to Broughton Street, as you see it here, was a place seen as a troubled area in the middle of a city that was right for some of the most imaginative revitalization through historic preservation that occurred in the United States during the 1960’s and 70’s and into the 80’s, led by many extraordinary people here.  I personally consider Lee Adler to be one of the greats and Savannah was very fortunate to be the principal beneficiary of his en-massed energy and remarkable entrepreneurial expertise in the field.”

“So what about Broughton Street,” Longstreth said.  “Savannah’s like many cities that have a rich architectural heritage that has become widely appreciated.  I’m sure a number of you know around 1950 and even 1960, Savannah was like Providence, RI – it was not seen as a city that was rich in this regard.”

Longstreth primarily discussed the fact that, although Savannah has enjoyed a long and successful history of preserving buildings and monuments, those efforts focused mainly on the downtown area and on buildings erected prior to World War II.  Recent demolitions of both post-war modernist buildings and historic African-American architecture illuminate the irregular preservation landscape in Savannah.  

The issue also effects how expansion can coexist with an appreciation for the city’s diverse architectural and urban resources, Longstreth explained.  Most importantly, there’s the matter of shaping the city’s future preservation in addition to its identity.

“But with the really extraordinary buildings, the interest broadens…elevating to a point,” Longsstreth said, “where the public should be taking seriously all sorts of vernacular that broadened later on in the 1970’s in the Victorian District.”

Written by Emilie Kefalas.