Historic Preservationist Awarded Scully Prize

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It was work on a book about the Civil War that led Richard Moe, then a lawyer, to take an active interest in historic preservation. Yesterday, the National Building Museum recognized Moe's preservation work by announcing he is this year's recipient of the Vincent J. Scully Prize, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to architecture and urban design.

As president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Moe serves as one of the nation's leading advocates for architectural preservation.

Moe will accept the prize, which recognizes "exemplary practice, scholarship, or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design," at a ceremony on Dec. 13. Previous winners include the urbanist Jane Jacobs, the self-styled architecture critic Prince Charles, the Aga Khan (a philanthropist) and, last year, Witold Rybczynski, the author. Moe, the ninth winner of the prize named in honor of the renowned professor of art history at Yale University, will give a talk after accepting the award.

Moe says he will use the occasion to present new evidence about the positive environmental benefits of historic preservation.

"We've always believed that preservation was an inherently sustainable activity," Moe said. "Now we have the data to show it."

Since becoming head of the Trust in 1993, Moe says that it has been increasingly involved with the broader, environmental issues raised by preservation. Sustainability has become a byword in urban design as more and more architects and activists have embraced the idea that buildings should use less power, contribute less to sewers and landfills, and integrate better into walkable, transit-oriented communities. Preserving existing buildings, or adapting them to new uses, has proved an important part of a larger, urban strategy of sustainability.

"We have the opportunity to make the case in a much more receptive environment, what with global warming and energy conservation," Moe said.

David M. Schwarz, chairman of the prize jury, said that this is the first time the Scully Prize has been awarded to someone actively involved in preservation. But that Moe's work easily falls within the scope of the things the prize was intended to honor.

"We've tried to recognize, with the prize, people who have made significant contributions to the built environment, people who have made our communities better places," says Schwarz, who is an architect based in Washington.

Before joining the Trust, Moe worked for Sen. Walter Mondale, and later served as Mondale's chief of staff when the fellow Minnesotan served as vice president. During his time at the Trust, Moe has been involved with efforts to prevent a Disney theme park from encroaching on Civil War battle sites, and an effort to preserve historic structures at the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Southeast Washington, where a massive Department of Homeland Security campus may lead to dozens of tear-downs. Other issues include educating the public about the historic importance of modern architecture, now old enough to merit preservationist attention, and slowing the pace of demolition in old, suburban neighborhoods as new landowners seek to build bigger homes on the site of more modest housing stock.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company