Gray Area: Provocations on the Future of Preservation is comprised of a moderated panel discussion, plus a limited-edition catalog of case studies and commissioned works intended to provoke fresh thinking about historic preservation. Using the Philadelphia region as a point of departure – but encouraging regional, national and global perspectives – Gray Area considers preservation in light of new economic realities, demographic shifts, technological changes, environmental pressures and myriad fast-changing factors.
--Among the most iconic of structures that litter Philadelphia, the Divine Lorraine sat at a precarious intersection of progressive and conservative ideologies. Once a beacon for de-segregation , its shell now sits stripped of its purpose, its meaning.
Adopted by so many as an empty canvas of possibility, the shell has seen squatters, photographers, drug addicts, developers, prostitutes, students, amateur journalists and curious urban explorers traverse its degrading halls. Each discovering that this unique building wants to be part of a conversation again. The tone of this conversation was at one point a controversial one, aligning the building’s use with the ideology of a Pastor that believed racial equality was a God given right... as long as you followed some very conservative and archaic rules. As such, the Divine Lorraine’s purpose was an expression of civil liberties. This part of its history is but a footnote in today’s context and serves as a foundation for this proposal. While we have our opinions on the current methods of historical preservation, it is clear to us that these policies are mostly focused on particular exterior conditions and often ignore the inner workings of a building’s contribution to history. In the case of the Divine Lorraine, it is this particular sociological history that merits preservation. Perhaps even more so than its facade or any aesthetic contributions it may have had. The idea that a building shell can be reactivated while preserving its historical programmatic use seems particularly appropriate for a building that has struggled to find its purpose within the narrow approach of historical preservation policy.
Our concept for the Divine Lorraine is one that references its previous voice as a place of cultural acceptance and mixes it with its current cult following. The concept aims to challenge current limits of what can be done with a shell of this historical value. Our provocation calls for an unapologetically contemporary addition to the structure that houses educational and living program for modern expressions of art. Below, an empty shell that organically heals itself as part of work/live space of analog artists willing to spark a conversation about contemporary social issues. Earning your way into the empty canvas of the shell is part rite of passage and part a welcoming to the dialogue. The outcome of this mix of artistic expression come together in the grand hall once atop the Divine Lorraine. Gallery space open for dialogue fills the old rooftop at the intersection of old and new structure while giving life to the existing core. Reaching upward, an addition at the cutting edge of art and technology, its foundation a shell slowly brought back to life as a canvas of possibility. Its belly and core, a place where old and young voices meet, where new and historical architecture converse.--