Purposing aesthetics in historic preservation: advocating, signifying, and interpreting aesthetics

Salim Elwazani


Aesthetics is a pillar consideration in historic preservation. Yet, purposing aesthetics for historic preservation ends seems to lag behind the opportunities. Utterly subjective, aesthetics poses challenges for the preservation community worldwide to moderate, accommodate, and purpose aesthetics in heritage programs. The challenges revolve around the assessment of aesthetical purposing in three domains. These domains include the community disposition towards accommodating aesthetics (advocacy), the criteria and strategies for assessing the aesthetic value of historic resources (signification), and, the standards for treating historic resources in preservation projects (interpretation). This study, therefore, assesses the trends for purposing aesthetics in historic preservation thought and practice through three platforms: advocating aesthetics, signifying aesthetics, and interpreting aesthetics. The study completed literature content analysis on aesthetics in general and aesthetics in historic preservation in particular. Further, because of the perspective of the study, the works of international and country preservation programs provided information relevant to advocacy, signification, and interpretation of aesthetics that have been refined by classification, comparison, and exemplification methods. Among others, these works include those of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the U.S. National Historic Preservation Program in the National Park Service. The study culminated with general and platform-specific conclusions. First, as the three proposed platforms (advocacy, signification, and interpretation) maintain structural and serial relationships, they constitute a relevant and feasible framework for assessing aesthetical purposing. Second, as the aesthetical purposing assessment followed a broad, international perspective, the conclusions of the study are commensurate with the selective scope of information used from international and country preservation programs. Third, the contribution to aesthetical purposing at each of the three platforms can be measure only in general, and at times, subjective terms.


  • Proposing aesthetical advocacy, aesthetical signification, and aesthetical interpretation as a platform framework to assess the purposing of aesthetics was feasible.

  • As aesthetical purposing was approached from a broad, international perspective, the conclusions of the study commensurate with the selective scope of information used.

  • The contribution to aesthetical purposing at each of the three platforms is hard to measure; however, the indications point to uneven contribution.


purposing aesthetics; aesthetical advocacy; aesthetical signification; aesthetical interpretation; historic preservation; preservation standards

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