Finding a place that fits

Woman with red hair and glasses sits in red chair and smilesI have had an interest in architecture since high school. Looking back, it seems that maybe a career in cultural resources was inevitable, but it took me a bit of time to discover. However, it was well worth the time and effort: I am fortunate to have a career that excites me, allows me to explore our architectural heritage, and learn something new about our surroundings every day.

As a high school kid writing papers on Frank Lloyd Wright or taking historic walking tours, no one knew to tell me a career in cultural resources was an option. Instead, I was directed towards architecture, which I did consider—I even got an application to Wright’s Taliesin School of Architecture and toured the Illinois Institute of Technology. But this path just never seemed quite right.

Instead, I ended up at the University of Wisconsin, where I took a variety of art history and history classes. While reviewing the course catalog I found and signed up for an Introduction to Landscape Architecture class. I learned about Frederick Law Olmsted’s design of Central Park and other iconic landscapes. During this time, I also learned from a few professors that a career researching and writing about our built environment actually existed. Finally, I felt I had found my place.

man and woman stand infront of Fallingwater building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Finally made it to Fallingwater after studying it for so many years.

As I was finishing my undergraduate degree in art history, my father asked me my plans. I said I was going to get a master’s degree in historic preservation. Although he was skeptical, he stayed quiet and let me follow my own journey, even though I know it was difficult for him to understand how I would make a living in this nontraditional career. Fast forward to today, I’ve been able to carve out a 25-year-long career that has taken me to see historic resources from New York to Alaska. Following my passion has really made the time fly by.

As I move forward in my career, giving back to my profession and community becomes increasingly important to me. Applying my skill and passion for historic preservation, I served on the city of Madison’s Landmarks Commission for two terms. Despite some long nights debating over new development in local historic districts, this was an extremely rewarding experience. I got to work with city staff and fellow commission members to apply the ordinance allowing for the protection of many properties. I also recently served on a diverse committee to develop the city of Madison’s first historic preservation plan. The plan outlines measures to celebrate and preserve Madison’s history through place and provide guidance to integrate preservation and development. I look forward to seeing how this will shape Madison’s future.

This type of work not only is fulfilling to me personally—my experiences both past and present highlight what is most valuable about historic preservation. Through learning about and working to preserve our past, we can come to shape our future. And I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t decided to follow my own path.

Christina Slattery

About the Author

Christina Slattery specializes in historic preservation of transportation and engineering structures. She evaluates the significance of properties ranging from missile defense systems to road corridors, and develops creative mitigation strategies for projects.

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