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White House Picks Architect to Head Preservation Board

May 24, 2010

By C. J. Hughes

Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA
Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA

On May 18, President Obama named Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, to head the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). He is the first architect to lead the agency since its creation in 1966.

The 23-member organization advocates for historical structures threatened by federal construction projects. It can raise a red flag if, say, 19th-century row houses are threatened by the path of a new highway.

Donaldson’s four-year term, which doesn’t require Congressional approval, officially begins this week, when he replaces John L. Nau III, a beer distributor and preservation advocate appointed by President Bush in 2001 and 2005. Chairs can serve a maximum of eight years but stay on until new ones are appointed for continuity’s sake.

Donaldson, who has been practicing architecture since 1970, is currently California’s state historic preservation officer, which means he plays a similar role on behalf of cultural resources in that state.

In terms of priorities, Donaldson seeks to not only make sure historic buildings don’t get torn down unnecessarily, but also aren’t ruined by insensitive modifications, such as using vinyl windows for energy-efficiency instead of period-appropriate ones.

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The ACHP should also create a national recruitment program, with for-credit college programs, to cultivate a new generation of preservationists. “There are a lot of us who are getting up there in years,” he joked.

For architect Jack Williams, an ACHP board member since 2004, Donaldson’s selection is a boon. “We can’t solve our energy problems by ignoring these older buildings,” says Williams, founding principal of Seattle’s Hoshide Williams Architects. “I am very pleased with the choice.”

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