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Home arrowInclusiveness arrowFrank Edgerton Martin Interview

Frank Edgerton Martin, MSLA
Design Journalism/Historic Landscape Preservation

Frank Edgerton MartinFrank Edgerton Martin has been fascinated by old places since visiting his grandmother in her old house in Minneapolis back in the 1960s. She loved history and helped to encourage some of the first historic preservation projects in Minnesota back in the 1940s, including the Sibley House in Mendota, home to Minnesota's first governor. He went to Vassar College and majored in Philosophy which, although it did not lead to immediate employment, taught him a lot about clarity of expression and the many ways to understand beauty and historic landscapes. A few years later, Martin attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for an MSLA degree in Cultural Landscape Preservation and Landscape History. At Madison, he studied with many great geographers and planners including Arnold Alanen, Fahriye Sancar, and Yi-fu Tuan.

Martin's own work with historic landscapes and campuses began as a consulting landscape historian and writer for the University of Minnesota-Morris master plan completed in the mid-1990s. Using participatory photography, he explored the sense of attachment that the campus community feels toward historic buildings from Morris's agriculture school era. This research led toward a new emphasis on preserving historic buildings on the campus.

He revisited the University of Minnesota-Morris to serve as landscape historian and preservation specialist for a Getty Foundation Campus Heritage Grant. Working with Gemini Research and Miller Dunwiddie Architecture, he helped to create a visionary and long-term preservation plan for the entire campus landscape including courtyards, windbreaks, and agricultural fields.

Aerial View of Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, 1936. From Upper Port Preservation Study…with Miller Dunwiddie Assoc.

What led you to your field?

Observing urban sprawl take over the small village where I grew up outside of Minneapolis. From there, I grew fascinated by the history of city parks and new modern landscape historic itself.

How does what you do relate to historic preservation?

I work in cultural landscape preservation...old estates, National Heritage Areas, campuses. There is a full list of projects on my web site here:

Why do you think historic preservation matters?

I'm not sure it always does. Too often it seems to be a tool for development through the tax credit system than a wholistic approach to preserving economic diversity and memory in a community. It's not just the architecture that matters, but social access and diversity of people and memory.

What courses do you recommend for students interested in this field?

Preservation law, materials technology, cultural geography, public speaking, and writings.

Do you have a favorite preservation project? What about it made it special?

The Management Plan for the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area

41 counties in Missouri and Kansas where the Border Wars happened and the Civil War essentially began. This for me is the future of preservation. Building grassroots networks of local organizations to tell stories of how the natural landscape affected human history and its social ecosystems of stories today.

Can you tell us what you are working on right now?

As landscape preservation planner and journalist, I am writing a number of articles about preservation issues in downtown Minneapolis. You can read current articles here: I am also working on video oral histories with noted Midwestern modern architects and landscape architects and a Historic American Landscape Survey of a modern landscape at the University of Minnesota.

How do you think the national historic preservation programs help your community?

We need more attention to preserving historic modern buildings and landscapes and proactive professional involvement when developer projects change historic districts.

Do you have advice for novice preservationists?

Travel as much as you can and talk to local professionals. Learn about regional vernaculars in design and always consider the social history and current social equity questions surrounding new projects. Join local preservation advocacy groups and find mentors who have been devoted amateurs or professionals for years. Seek to work with them on volunteer efforts.

The ACHP's mission is "preserving America's heritage;" can you give us an example of how your community is preserving its heritage?

There is much good work being done with converting old hospitals and other building types into affordable housing through housing trusts and non-profits.

How does journalism play a role in historic preservation?

It is what I largely do and is essential to bring the public along in understanding how layers of time in a city or town give it life and are a real opportunity for future redevelopment in small towns and neglected areas.


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