ECPN’s fourth interview from the ASG series is with Gilda Gross, Architectural Conservator at Integrated Conservation Resources – Integrated Conservation Contracting (ICR-ICC).
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Gilda Gross, and I am from Brooklyn, NY. I currently live in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I am an Architectural Conservator at Integrated Conservation Resources – Integrated Conservation Contracting (ICR-ICC).
How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
I was first introduced to conservation when I was looking for a summer internship between my sophomore and junior years of college. As an Art History major, I took a formative class on Roman Art and Architecture, in which the concepts of adaptive reuse and the role of the conservator was brought up over and over again. I decided to seek out a conservation internship at ICR-ICC. I spent the summer doing hands-on work with a number of the famous buildings that I had been so excited to learn about in architectural history courses over the past two years, such as the United Nations Secretariat Building by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier and townhouses by McKim Mead & White. After that summer, I was hooked.
Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue Architectural Conservation.
I was interested in architecture from a very young age - I grew up through a few home renovations and surrounded by the endless construction in New York City. I also loved science and have a very scientific brain. Discovering the field of architectural conservation was like hitting the jackpot for me; I found a niche with the best of both worlds, architecture and science. Being able to get away from my desk, into the lab, or out on site, was also a huge draw for me and I liked that every day was very different from the last.
What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
I took pre-college architectural studio courses at Washington University of St. Louis in Missouri and Pratt University in New York. I received a B.A. from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY where I majored in Art History. At Bard College, I wrote my thesis on the role of architectural ruins in post-Wall Berlin. I received a M.S. in Historic Preservation from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning & Preservation (GSAPP) where I concentrated in Conservation Science and wrote my thesis on the viability of Migrating Corrosion Inhibitors (MCIs) in concrete heritage conservation. My research focused on the lack of information and data surrounding the use of MCIs as a conservation treatment on historic structures and I carried out a few small-scale laboratory experiments to test manufacturers’ claims about the inhibitors’ migration capabilities. Between my two years of graduate school, I spent the summer interning at A. Ottavino Stone Corporation, where I worked in their shop alongside their stonemasons and learned a lot about the craft. During my time there we worked on the conservation of The Cos Cob Amphitheatre, that had been dismantled and removed from its original site in Connecticut and was being cleaned and repaired in our shop before being relocated to its new home.
Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
Being collaborative and being able to be team-player is essential to being a successful architectural conservator. Construction projects are often unique in their multi-tiered and layered team structures, and conservators are usually just one part of a larger project ecosystem. Each company or consultant has its own specific set of knowledge and skills to offer the project. I’ve found that some of the best architectural conservators are those who are organized, communicative, and cooperative within the project team. Within these team structures, having a strong understanding of both global and local architectural history is an important skill for architectural conservators. Architectural conservators bring a specific knowledge of building materials and methods, specifically historic ones, that provides an essential context to a structure.
What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
Over the past few years working at ICR-ICC I have been fortunate enough to work on a number of incredible projects, often focused on stone conservation. Some of the most recent and notable buildings I’ve worked on include: The Morgan Library, Central Park’s Naumburg Bandshell, the Untermyer Gardens’ Temple of the Sky, and the Ford Foundation Building. Currently I’m spending most of my time working on The Brooklyn Bridge restoration. One of the special things about working at ICR-ICC is the close working relationship between our conservators and our stonemasons – I’m constantly learning from our masons and I am always interested in finding new ways to allow the craft itself to inform my work as a conservator.
In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?
I think the field of architectural conservation needs to continue to focus on technology and how it can both maximize the efficiency of what we are already doing and further expand our horizons. Some of my peers are doing some really interesting things to move the needle on this, such as Halley Ramos and Andre Jauregui of SOE Studio who have been thinking a lot about new streamlined workflows and strategies for preservation that incorporate 3D scanning and app development. Some of the digital tools they have been developing and testing would allow teams to do things like collaborate on job sites remotely, restore and reconstruct objects that only partially exist, visualize scenes from viewpoints impossible in-situ due to size or accessibility issues, and interact with objects without risk of damage.
Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
Surround yourself with great mentors, don’t be afraid to get dirty, and invest in a warm winter coat!