Design: Sticks and Stones of History

Taking the measure of important structures from the nation's past

In San Antonio, two young architects in shorts and T shirts clamber over the crumbling, eroded walls of Mission Concepcion, a church-cum-fortress built by the Spanish in the early 1700s. "These structures are dissolving," says John Schlinke, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia. "The stone is melting."

In Nicodemus, Kans.—a cluster of trailer homes and collapsing limestone houses, seemingly marooned in the vast rolling prairie—a six-member team of architects and students sits in the township hall, patiently listening to reminiscences by some...

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