Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 11
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It May Be Good For Your Health
A s preservationists, we have preserved
out of respect for individual ancestors
and ideas; we have restored for the sake of
aesthetic considerations; we have reconstructed
because it brings much-needed
tourist dollars into the Texas economy.
And now Dr. Michael McCarthy, Dean of
the College of Architecture at Texas A&M
University, shows us that historic preservation
may also be good for our health.
Many of us have felt that life would lose
much of its savor and meaning without our
visible links with the past, but we haven't
always known how to articulate or support
that belief. As a visionary leader, Dean
McCarthy has drawn from many disciplines
and broad experience to formulate
an idea which sheds new light on the
sometimes murky road that historic preservationists
Before coming to Texas A&M University,
Dr. McCarthy spent five years as The
Elisabeth Murdoch Endowed Professor of
Landscape Architecture in the School of
Environmental Planning at the University
of Melbourne, Australia. He and his wife
Marianna, a landscape architect with the
National Trust, Australia's preservation
agency, lived and worked in an historic
area of hill station and summer homes,
which was built in the late 1800s. These
houses were located near Melbourne, in
the cooler elevations of a small mountain
range. The National Trust had classified 40
of the historic homes and 40 gardens as
being unique and a resource.
Shortly before the McCarthy's arrival
in Australia, a major fire occurred in the
region, destroying millions of square miles
of land, including most of this historic
community. His consultation was sought
to help redevelop this area. Through his
experiences, McCarthy was able to place
the importance of historic preservation in
a more fundamental perspective.
"This town, which had many historic
elements, was much more than just a collection
of historic elements. It gave a sense
of place to that community. It finally
dawned on me when one man said, with
tears in his eyes, 'I am never going to own
any personal property again, because I've
lost everthing. I've lost the photographs of
my grandparents. I've lost the place where
Dr. Michael Martin McCarthy, Dean of the School
of Architecture, Texas A&M University.
I met my wife. And I lost where we first
walked up that mountain.' What that fire
did was to collapse time for everybody and
the disarray did not go away. The community
lost its identity."
He went on to say that a loss of identity
was manifested in a number of ways. "And
so this community, which existed since the
early 1800s, was totally changed by that
fire. But not in the way people thought. It
wasn't just the buildings, but the health
statistics which registered the loss."
Even though most of the physical aspects
of this area were restored within a
year or so, there were other indicators
which suggested that the community was
not coping successfully with these changes.
Over a five year period, undocumented
reports from local doctors and professionals
reflected an increase in incidences of
stress-related illnesses and family problems.
This disturbing information
prompted Dr. McCarthy's interest in establishing
stronger, documented links between
health and well-being, and aspects
of architectural design. He has looked to
disciplines outside of the traditional design
fields for clues to these relationships.
The theoretical foundation for
McCarthy's idea that preservation may be
good for your health comes from the work
of Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist
and author of two books on the subject:
Health, Stress and Coping (1979) and Unraveling
the Mystery of Health (1987).
Illness is not a rare deviance. Medical
data indicate that at any one time, one
third or more of the population of modem
society has some morbid, pathological
condition. A pathological orientation asks
why people get sick. Antonovsky has a
salutogenic orientation which focuses on
the origins of health and asks a radically
different question: "Why do people stay
well ?" Many people with high stressor loads
survive and even thrive. And many people
who are cured of one disease go home and
The Systems Administration Building is Greek
Revival in style. Designed by S.C.P. Vosper,
Raiford Stripling and Frederick Giesecke in the
MARK D. NUNN
HERITAGE * WINTER 1989 11
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/11/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.