VAF 2020 Annual Meeting 

May 6 - 9, 2020
San Antonio, Texas

To view pertinent information directly, use the following links:

About the Conference    Conference Schedule   Lodging & Travel   Paper Sessions   Conference Costs     Registration

Paper Sessions

Vernacular Architecture Forum 2020 Annual Meeting 

Vernacular Landscapes of San Antonio and Central Texas 

May 9, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas

El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel

110 Lexington Ave, San Antonio

SESSION  1 - 8:15-9:45 

Subterranean and Aerial Infrastructure 

Chair: Fred Quivik

"Viewing the City from its Pipes: Istanbul's Water-works in Ottoman Maps"

Deniz Karakas, Tulane University

This paper delves into one of the everyday places still persistent, yet hidden: the underground water supply channels of the Mediterranean's largest metropolis, Istanbul. It focuses on the representation of the city’s water supply infrastructure in Ottoman maps dated from the late 16th to the late-18th century. There are still extant fourteen water supply maps, which can be found in the Topkapi Palace, the Köprülü Library, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Istanbul. But still, there has been little research on these maps, and they are mostly understood as technical documents. In the maps from the late sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, spatial relations between underground and surface were emphasized: both natural (i.e., trees, rivers) and human-made features (i.e., buildings, aqueducts) were conveyed. Rather than raw field data, they share the pre-existing aesthetic conventions of the city views found in sixteenth-century Ottoman miniature paintings for depicting both natural and built features of the cityscape. According to evidence from archival records, these maps were drawn generally by the architects. By the late seventeenth century, however, the water-supply maps, unlike earlier ones, were admittedly advanced in regards to the use of practical geometry relevant to topographical surveys. Therein, one finds geometric abstraction of the plan of water-supply channels and an emphasis on accurate measures of water surface areas. This paper offers an incisive look at the reasons behind this transformation. I will present new archival evidence from court records and law codes along with building and repair registers that demonstrate how these later maps gave visual expressions to the diminution of sultanic control over the city’s waters and communicate the new ways Istanbulites managed, controlled, understood, represented, and made knowable their household water supply systems. In so doing, this paper seeks to offer a multifarious understanding of the cities’ older layers, integrating the art of map-making with a discussion of the complex interplay between water resources and their exploitation by various social actors across the broader field of the city-nature relationship

"The Air Underground: The Confined Landscapes of Mining and the Development of Air-conditioning Standards,1900-1930"

Betsy Frederick-Rothwell, The University of Texas at Austin

To fully understand the social, political, and economic valences of modern “air conditioning,” this spatial practice must be understood as a body technology as well as a building technology. In this paper, I contend that this technology’s form cannot be read separately from ideas about laboring bodies constructed in classical liberal economic models and modes of production. However, a critical site in the formation of these discourses has long been left at the periphery: the underground landscape of mining in Britain and the United States. In repositioning these out-of-plain-sight spaces—and the conflicts over health and labor intensity associated with them—as central to the history of air conditioning, it becomes clear that this technology, now a nearly inescapably part of everyday experience, is more than simply a matter of “comfort.” 

Although the health effects of air in underground mines had long occupied physicians, miners, and mine owners, in the nineteenth century they became a particular interest of governmental bodies, which now saw growing mortality rates among miners as “a wasteful expenditure of human life.” Yet disputes remained over what dimension of air caused these ill effects. In addressing this debate, medical scientists aimed to replicate underground conditions in purpose-built air chambers, and in the early the twentieth century, they partnered with specialized heating and ventilating engineers to transform these chambers into technologically controlled experimental environments. In these spaces now far removed from the underground world, scientists shifted the conversation from the fatal diseases linked with contamination to the loss of worker efficiency linked with heat and humidity. 

It was as part of one such air chamber study sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Mines and U.S. Public Health Service that engineers such as Willis Carrier, founder of Carrier Air-Conditioning Corporation, claimed to have determined the “comfort zone” that underlies nearly all present-day air conditioning practice. This engineering narrative has since defined the story of air conditioning—indeed it is the one most frequently repeated in the popular press—but this paper, in following scientific and medical narratives more closely, reveals additional complexities and contingencies that informed the technology’s material manifestation. By excavating deeper into the issues at stake in underground mines and the scientific practices that grew up around it, this paper unpacks the paradoxes implicit in the technological paths chosen not only by engineers but also by medical experts, reformers, and employers.

“From the Ground Up: Rise of Aerial Infrastructure and the Transformation of Quito's Landscape, 1920s-1930s”

Ernesto Bilbao, The University of Texas at Austin

Quito, Ecuador's first aerial infrastructure, known as Campo de Aviación, built between 1920 until the 1930s, allows unveiling the effects that air travel provoked on the city's cultural landscape (Fig. 1). The design and construction of this rustic and ordinary-looking infrastructure catapulted transformation processes on the ground and immediately embedded Quito into broader global dynamics. Around Campo de Aviación, infrastructure of all kinds such as hangars, storage facilities, roads, and new urbanization soon emerged around its zone of influence. Quito's particular circumstances of geographical obstacles where transportation means were scarce, and its post-colonial societal structure make Quito an exceptional case study to understanding the effects of aerial development, at least in the Andean region of South America. Quito's inclusion into worldwide aerial networks started at the end of World War I when Europe and the United States found themselves with an oversupply of aeronautical facilities that rapidly fostered aircraft operations and incorporated other regions like Latin America. The same aviation development also served as material history for the representation and theorization of airport infrastructure. In 1947, for example, Le Corbusier depicted the American continent to show the emergence of an Urbanisme et aéronautique composed of new aerial routes surpassing geographical barriers of mountains and seas. Even more recently, in 2000, John Kasarda predicted a new type of population center entirely planned and dependent on the airport and air travel's speed named Aerotr0polis. In both cases, air transportation reveals changes in regional systems and the acceleration of globalization processes since the mid-twentieth century until the present time; aspects that were already present nearly twenty years before since the airplane connected Latin-American cities regardless of geography, culture, and economy. Different than cities in Europe and the United States who understood how to deal with aircraft facilities as great opportunities for urban development, Latin-American counterparts were, however, unaware of aviation's future impact on their territory. In that sense, by contrasting Le Corbusier and Kasarda's observations with the origins of aerial development in Quito, this paper aims to demonstrate that although air transport brought immense benefits, urban centers in Latin America found themselves unprepared technically, financially, and socially to undertake the pioneering stages of aviation development. This paper builds on specific critical state and non-state participants' documents and agendas, both local and international, that help to call attention to the aspects behind Quito's first airfield. While scholars have begun to draw attention to the development and expansion of aviation technologies, the architecture, and spaces of the airport in Latin America, and their related context, have yet to be examined. 

Alternative Visions of Historic Preservation

Chair: Chad Randl

"Beyond Design History: The Many Layered Pasts of Pope Villa"

Julie Riesenweber, University of Kentucky

After a catastrophic fire in 1987 burned away the architectural fabric of 175 years’ successive alterations at Lexington’s Pope House, researchers were able to confirm that the original owners and their local builder had indeed built to plans drawn by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and archived at the Library of Congress. This firm attribution to Latrobe, who is often called “America’s first architect,” generated interest among architectural historians and preservationists both locally and nationally. Shortly after the fire, the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation, central Kentucky’s regional preservation non-profit organization, purchased the building, intending to restore its original appearance and find a use for it. For the past 30 years, both conversations about preserving Pope Villa and the interventions undertaken have proceeded from a traditional group of assumptions: that the building’s significance derives from Latrobe, that it should be interpreted as his best domestic design, and restored to its 1812 appearance. The discoveries in the fire’s aftermath led to a scholarly reassessment of Latrobe’s domestic work, a detailed investigation of the building’s architectural fabric, removal of materials dating after its first period, and painstaking, scientific conservation of the materials dating to the first period. These analyses have depicted Latrobe as Pope Villa’s sole author, and have not considered his ideas’ reception. Conceptually framed by vernacular architecture scholarship, utilizing information drawn from architectural investigations at Pope Villa, and from fieldwork in Lexington and the surrounding region, this presentation argues that the building has multiple meanings extending beyond its place within Latrobe’s oeuvre. While in some respects, the house was built as Latrobe planned, he never visited Lexington, instead communicating with the local builder in letters and other documents, and through Eliza Pope. The house’s architectural finish owes more to its local context, suggesting that it in fact had multiple authors. Moreover, while innovative, Latrobe’s design for Pope Villa violated local architectural norms. As a result, once John Pope sold the house in 1843, the purchasers quickly renovated it to conform with local spatial expectations. Considering Pope Villa in this multi-layered way both furthers our knowledge of the nuances of building design and construction during the early 19th century, and underscores the importance of the local context for understanding buildings, regardless of whether their authors are known or anonymous. 

"Reclaiming the Built Environment for the People: The Urban Renewal Activities of Jeff-Vander-Lou in St. Louis"

Michael R. Allen, Washington University in St. Louis

This paper positions the work of activists in St. Louis’ JeffVanderLou neighborhood as a project of producing a new spatial vernacular that dared to even reclaim products of federal urban renewal policies. In 1966, an interracial group of conveners founded Jeff-Vander-Lou, Inc. as a community development corporation serving the mostly African-American neighborhood. The new corporation and its interracial supporters forcefully inscribed presence on the landscape of the neighborhood, from renaming the neighborhood to directing public dollars to rehabilitation of historic houses. Similar neighborhoods either invited slum clearance projects or failed to organize politically. Jeff-Vander-Lou not only challenged urban renewal orthodoxy, but implemented a massive program of historic rehabilitation and infill construction. The organization helped St. Louis write its Model Cities application, and was its most productive neighborhood partner – until its political activism led to City Hall severing ties. 

This paper explores the built environment program of Jeff-Vander-Lou against the backdrops of the federal shift from slum clearance to Model Cities funding and the national rise of the neighborhoods movement. Rather than “withdraw from” urban renewal, JeffVanderLou “engaged with” while nearly achieving a rather comprehensive project of spatially reordering an urban neighborhood to serve its residents through organized and shared local authority. In its most active period, from 1966 through 1974, Jeff-Vander-Lou funded and directed the rehabilitation of 800 historic housing units, breaking with conventional wisdom within the dominant black political culture in St. Louis which embraced mass demolition as a liberation from white-owned slums. Jeff-Vander-Lou, however, also broke from the local preservationist conventions in advocating neighborhood ownership and cultural hegemony, rather than the more individualist and bohemian approaches that drove rehabilitation in other historic neighborhoods. At its peak of power, the organization even unsuccessfully proposed purchasing several towers from the adjacent Pruitt-Igoe housing project for rehabilitation as co-operatively owned apartment houses. 

While today Jeff-Vander-Lou’s architectural production is obscured by intervening vacancy, neglect and demolition, it remains a powerful outlier in St. Louis’ urban renewal history. Jeff- Vander-Lou dared to reclaim vernacular architecture not for its cultural pedigree, but for its utility. In so doing, it reshaped the neighborhood’s built environment. Even today, the remaining buildings that the organization touched show signs of a “Jeff-Vander-Lou vernacular” that speaks of a rich era of community self-organization that sparked reformulation of both historic preservation and urban renewal. 

"Unearthing the Impact of St. Augustine's African American Community's Contribution to the Historic Preservation Plan"

Nihal Elvanoglu, University of Florida

St. Augustine, Florida, known as the oldest city of European origin in the United States, had also been identified as “the oldest segregated city” of the United States during the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century. The struggle for desegregating the public spaces of the city through non-violent demonstrations catalyzed social changes at a time when the city was also being revitalized on the basis of a preservation plan. This historic preservation plan focused on the recreation of St. Augustine’s historic downtown as it was in the colonial periods (1565– 1821) for its 400th anniversary that would take place in 1965. The Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine became inextricably intertwined with St. Augustine’s historic preservation plan. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) supported the African American community in their strategic use of the prevailing 400th anniversary celebration as proponents of civil rights prepared to integrate the city’s public spaces. They jeopardized the city’s tourism initiatives and thus, challenged the ongoing preservation activities. Therefore, in the mid-twentieth century, while St. Augustine was being revitalized as a Spanish-American shrine, the Civil Rights Movement transformed the cultural landscape, and the political milieu. Public spaces and businesses including the ancient plaza, newly reconstructed tourist center, St. George Street, and segregated businesses became the sites of Civil Rights protests. Existing histories do not consider the underrepresented African American community of St. Augustine as an important stakeholder that contributed to the cultural and economic development of the city when the preservation plan was implemented. This was due to the prevailing political ideology and social circumstances. However, the contribution of African American community is now being recognized through a paradigmatic shift in the historic preservation movement. 

The intend of this paper is to examine, and chronicle the ways in which the African American community and the St. Augustine chapter of the Civil Rights Movement contributed to the historic preservation activities in the city. 

Carceral Landscapes

Chair: Carla Yanni

"Immigrant Detention Buildings on the West Coast of Canada"

David Monteyne, Univeristy of Calgary

The Canadian government erected substantial buildings for the detention of Asian immigrants in the two principal west coast ports of Victoria (in 1908) and Vancouver (1914). Although Asian immigration had been restricted since the 1880s, during the decade prior to World War I this policy became formalized architecturally—a trajectory similar to that followed at San Francisco’s Angel Island. Responding to white settler desires to “segregate the Pacific” (Nightingale, Segregation, 2012), which were made manifest in actions like the widely-reported anti-Asian riot in 1907 Vancouver, the Canadian government sought to represent through these two prominent waterfront buildings its commitment to controlling the comings and goings of non-European immigrants. 

The federal immigration department invented the term “detention hospital” to suggest its concern for immigrant and public health, and for due process in document checks. Immigrants would be detained in this type of building while recovering from minor ailments. More commonly, though, they were detained in Vancouver and Victoria while officials—both Canadian and American —ensured their papers were in order. Asian migrants who remembered, or recorded in graffitis, their often extended stays in the Victoria and Vancouver buildings understood them as nothing other than jails. They were, in effect, extralegal spaces where immigrants were held while officials tried to prove their inadmissibility. The detention hospitals, organized into separated wards for Chinese, Japanese, and “Hindoos,” effectively sorted and monitored different classes of immigrant. Rooms for medical examinations and boards of inquiry allowed for the probing of bodies and identities necessary to border control and crossing. 

Part of a book-length project on Canadian government immigration architectures, this paper draws on both migrant experiences and extensive government documentation, to explore how Asian inmates and others negotiated these institutional spaces.

"Education for Incarceration: Mid-Century Modernism at Ontario Staff College"

Jennifer Cousineau, Parcs Canada

In 1964, Canada’s federal government opened the first purpose-built school for prison staff, the Ontario Staff College, in Kingston, Ontario. The building’s design was classic Mid-Century modern; with it, the government signalled its intention to recast a carceral system widely considered broken. Prison reform advocates in Canada had been lobbying for change since the 1870s, but it was not until prison riots in the 1920s and 30s drew broad public attention that the government tabled a Royal Commission (Canada’s version of the White Paper) to investigate and make recommendations for future action. The 8th of 88 recommendations was that a school be built for prison staff; the Ontario Staff College was the result. Its construction was part of a broader reform initiative that would sweep through an outmoded federal penitentiary system in the 1950s and 1960s. As one of two Canadian institutions devoted to the new arts of teaching prison staff (the other being the French-language sister of the Ontario Staff College in Quebec), the Staff College did introduce novel carceral practices. Officials hoped that schools for prison staff would play a role in shifting the theory of prison reform into practice in the postwar period. Did they? This paper suggests that new carceral infrastructure, however well-intended, would only add another layer to a failing system, rather than help to heal it. 

It was no accident that the Ontario Staff College was built in Kingston. The 18th century city on Lake Ontario hosted numerous federal prisons, including Canada’s oldest, the Kingston Penitentiary, opened in 1839. Over time, the number of prisons in the city multiplied to 10, the largest concentration in the country. In the latter decades of twentieth century, the Staff College became a node at the geographic and conceptual centre of a fluid, Canada-wide carceral landscape. The students who trained within its walls would fan out across the city and the country to populate the larger prison system. 

This paper contributes to an ongoing program of research into carceral landscapes in Canada. Drawing on architectural plans and drawings, interviews with users, photographs, and the documentary record, it analyses the architecture and social life of a place that ultimately contributed to the expansion of the Canadian carceral system. The paper argues that the Staff College’s architecture, like architectural modernity in general, made promises it could not keep. Later additions that enlarged the Staff College building and its campus, as well as the construction of a sister school in Quebec, paralleled growth in the larger penal system. By the end of the century, the Ontario school was educating staff for an industrialized penal system so vast that it could not but betray the utopian intentions of its founders.

"Hidden in Plain Sight: The Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen, 1828-1836

Bethany J. McGlyn, Lois F. McNeil Fellow in American Material Culture, Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library

One of Alexandria, Virginia’s most important buildings is under threat. The federal house standing at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria--known today as Freedom House and in the nineteenth century as the Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen--is up for sale, advertised for a price of $2.1 million. Freedom House, currently owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League and operated as a museum, was built between 1812-1820 and occupied by the nation’s most notorious domestic slave traders, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, from 1828-1836. 

The house in which John Armfield lived while managing the trafficking of thousands of enslaved persons is all that remains of a significant complex of buildings that spanned four city lots. Separate quarters for enslaved men and women, an infirmary, dining building, kitchen, tailor shop, and open air yards--all constructed for the purposes of preparing to forcibly transport enslaved men, women, and children from Alexandria to Natchez and New Orleans--were demolished after the Civil War. Though the majority of structures that would have been occupied by enslaved people do not survive, my paper integrates a site-driven approach with analysis of surviving visual, documentary, and material evidence in order to foreground the experiences of the enslaved men, women, and children who were forced through this space. 

The existence and importance of this space has been acknowledged, but has yet to be mined for meaning. My paper attempts to read the space through the enslaved while also placing the complex within larger contexts of architectures of the domestic slave trade, institutional architecture, and the larger cityscape of Alexandria. 

By mirroring architectural features and spatial patterns of early nineteenth century prisons, schools, and hospitals, Franklin and Armfield sought not only to maximize space and efficiency and to protect their human investments, but to place their business within the likes of reform institutions operating for the public good. Built on the outskirts of the city and surrounded by a large, brick wall, the Franklin and Armfield complex reflects the frequent visits and criticisms they received from abolitionists seeking to expose the hypocrisy of slaveholding in the nation’s capital and the often- divergent attitudes of men and women in D.C. and Alexandria who grappled with the morality of the domestic trade in enslaved persons. 

Spatial Segregation and Social Power

Chair: Christine O’Malley

“Out of Necessity: The Y.M.C.A. for Colored Men and Boys”

Robert Louis Brandon Edwards, University of Virginia

When I was a child, I took judo lessons at the neighborhood Y.M.C.A.. Now, it just so happens that, that neighborhood Y, was the one in Harlem, on 135th street between Lenox and Seventh Avenue. I would spend my Saturday mornings practicing martial arts in a space filled with so much history, a space created for reasons not known by many. 

When the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) first opened in London in 1844, it only accommodated white men. And although the organization would spread worldwide, the Y remained segregated for its first 100 years of existence. During that time, African Americans were encouraged by the organization to establish their own versions of the Y— and they did. 

The first official “Colored Branch” of the Y.M.C.A. in New York City opened in 1901. Architectural segregation and isolation excluded African Americans from both public and private spaces during this time. With a majority landscape of white spaces, African Americans developed alternatives called black spaces. These were spaces where African Americans could feel safe and be accommodated. Because of the growing African American population during this time in New York City, the Y had to relocate twice to meet demands. In 1932, it finally settled 

at 180 West 135th Street in Harlem (my neighborhood Y.) It was listed in the 1941 edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book and would be a safe space for African American men and boys throughout the City during the era of Jim Crow. Since most hotel wouldn’t accommodate African American men during this time, the Y in Harlem was one of the few spaces they could stay. 

Through my research, I argue that 1. There is a history between race and space, 2. The history of these spaces should be presented with thew complexity of truth— so not just the what but also the why. W.E.B. Dubois said “...we must never for a single moment fail to recognize the injustice which made it an unfortunate necessity.” Systemic racism, architectural segregation and isolation are terms that should be included in the narrative to face these truths head on and to have hard conversations that promote change and equality. 

“From Harlem to Hinterland: The Hebrew Home for the Aged and the Evolution of Congregate Senior Housing, 1917-1967”

Willa Granger, University of Texas at Austin

On April 17th, 1951, thirty-nine residents of the Hebrew Home for the Aged of Harlem boarded buses and ambulances parked before their former residence, a series of interconnected brownstones. Located on East 105th Street, the facility sat adjacent to the Beth Hamidrash Hagodol synagogue. Photographs document the residents’ departure and arrival at their new address, a former orphanage located on a bucolic property beside the Hudson River; the home’s Torah scrolls, once housed beneath tin-pressed ceilings, were likewise conveyed to the Riverdale property in the arms of board members. An architect had already been commissioned to renovate the orphanage’s interiors, an undertaking that had never occurred at the original rowhomes. Less than a decade later a new infirmary was built, while by 1967 a Brutalist medical pavilion was completed. Today the home’s footprint has expanded nearly tenfold. Taking the Hebrew Home as a case-study, this paper argues how the American “home for the aged” shifted from one building culture to another, moving from a grass-roots, ordinary, and repurposed mode to an increasingly systematized, architecturalized, and medicalized approach. Where senior living was once conducted within the intimacy of a given religious, ethnic, fraternal, or labor community, by mid-century it had grown in both scale and complexity. This shift tracks onto the “discovery” of older adults across regulatory, medical, social, and architectural discourse, but likewise dovetails with the professionalization and atomization of the downtown civic associationism undergirding senior care since the Civil War. Using Erving Goffman’s 1961 conceptualization of the “Total Institution,” I analyze how the increasing oversight of old age impacted the spatial and material practices of the Hebrew Home during its first fifty years (1917-1967), and in turn reified the “institutional” aspects of a facility that still endeavours to provide a “home-like” setting to residents today. To achieve this I deploy the archival methodologies of both architectural and social historians to understand not only the physical structures and spaces of eldercare (photographs, building plans), but likewise the community serving and served by the Hebrew Home (annual reports, board minutes, letters, census data). This work also calls up vernacular field methods to chart additions, alterations, and levels of upkeep across the Hebrew Home’s campus, as well as oral history with staff members to understand the evolution of the property over time. 

“Plantation Revival in Black and White: Cypress Pond Near Albany, Georgia”

Philip Mills Herrington, James Madison University & Lydia Mattice Brandt, The University of South Carolina

The many lives of the main house at Cypress Pond plantation near Albany, Georgia, offer a compelling study in the creation of “Plantation Revival” spaces: twentieth- and twenty-first-century buildings and landscapes designed to evoke antebellum southern fantasies. In the last twenty years, it has been the focal point of not one but two major re-purposings to serve the imaginations and needs of new occupants. 

In this paper, we explore how the two most recent owners of Cypress Pond, despite their very different uses of the property, both utilized the greatly altered main house to tell an instantly recognizable story of the Old South. After a white self-made millionaire, Gerald Lawhorn, purchased Cypress Pond in 1998, he hired architect S. J. Tuminello to envelop its modest vernacular Italianate main house in a white-columned southern mansion. Opulent interiors with paneled walls and stained-glass windows complemented Lawhorn’s antiques. 

The freshly white-columned plantation house took on new meaning when the land trust New Communities, Inc., acquired it with 1,638 acres in 2011. The purchase was a long-awaited triumph for the group. Founded in 1969 as an African American-owned farm cooperative, New Communities hoped to become a model of economic independence for black farmers when it first bought land close to Albany in Lee County, Georgia, in 1970. While the group initially thrived, it struggled to overcome discriminatory policies that denied it equal access to emergency loans and other funding. The group lost its land to sale and foreclosure in the 1980s. In 2009, New Communities saw new life when it received a twelve-million-dollar settlement from the United States Department of Agriculture. One of the group’s founders, Shirley Sherrod, remarked “they took 6000 acres from us, and God gave us a plantation.” New Communities uses the Cypress Pond house as a retreat and conference center, calling it “a relic of the Old South in need of a fresh vision.” 

This research utilizes memory theory, archival research, and fieldwork in its interrogation of how the radical transformation of the main house at Cypress Pond made it a more usable “relic of the Old South.”

BREAK 9:45-10:15

SESSION 2 - 10:15-12:15

The State of Black Vernacular Architecture in Historic Black Settlements

Chair: Andrea Roberts

“The State of Texas Freedom Colonies Vernacular Architecture”

Andrea Roberts, Texas A&M

African American families made up of former slaves aggressively pursued land ownership after the Civil War in Texas. Clusters of agrarian, land-owning settlements or “Freedom Colonies” emerged from secluded areas across the State. Also known as Freedmen's Towns, settlements, "my family place", "where we go for homecoming", Black settlements, or "the Black side of town", these communities were unique in that they were founded by formerly enslaved Texans and trace their origins directly back to the period between 1865-1930. Many of these communities cannot be found on maps or in current census maps, but they live on in memory, church anniversaries, and family reunions. Nearly 150 years later, select communities are fortunate enough to retain and utilize the tangible vernacular architecture of their ancestors and founders of their respective communities. This paper explores vernacular architectural contributions in Texas Freedom Colonies and the current state of these structures through visual analysis of historical and present-day photographs and oral recollections.

“Rediscovering African American Builders in Austin’s Black Settlements” 

Tara Dudley, The University of Texas at Austin

This paper uncovers the contributions of African American craftsmen and builders to architecture in Austin’s Black settlements during the nineteenth century, both before and after the Civil War. Scholars have explored many examples of slave labor and related development of Black settlements in other US urban areas such as New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond. These resources and issues—indeed the larger story of slaver—remain largely untold Texas. Although fewer footprints in the built environment linked to slavery remain in Austin, Texas, the city was tied to that institution and to the contributions of those brought to the fledgling frontier city from the city’s founding in 1839. From surveying and platting of the city to constructing the first government buildings and homes of the city’s elite, the labor of the enslaved contributed to the growth of Austin from the capital city of the Republic of Texas into that of the State of Texas. The only extant slave quarters building in Austin, located at the present-day site of the Neill-Cochran House Museum, provides a framework to explore antebellum works built by and for African Americans and tie it to the communities such as Wheatville which freedmen developed adjacent to the property owned by the Neill and Cochran families. Today the only extant resource in Wheatville, built by freedman George Franklin in 1867, is being literally engulfed by condominium development in the West Campus neighborhood. The author explores the state of this other resources erected by freedmen throughout the city, especially in rapidly gentrifying East Austin where freedmen established no less than four known communities in the 1860s and 1870s. 

Visual analysis of built works and examination of a variety of archival sources highlight the growth and development of antebellum American building culture in Austin as it was created by those who were enslaved and subsequently developed by the hands of freedmen. The author concludes that the roles of enslaved craftsmen and builders, when interpreted through the lens of these varied sources, enable educators and practitioners to reintroduce, reconsider, or “reconstruct,” enslaved peoples’ legacy and situate it within the understanding of extant urban landscapes as well as the canon of American architectural history. 

“St. John Missionary Baptist Church (Fort Bend, Texas): A Case Study” 

Portia Hopkins, Lee College

This paper explores the political and cultural landscapes of Reconstruction Era Texas, particularly in Fort Bend County, Texas and examines the ways in which, in the midst of a racist geopolitical space, the black church served as a nucleus for African American life. St. John Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1869 by Freed slaves, served as the case study for this project.

“The Front Porch: Racial Turmoil, Forced Migration and the Quest for Asylum” 

Schuyler S. Carter, Texas A&M

Summit, also known as Thomasville, was established in 1922 by Rev. L.W. Thomas and is now one of thirteen Black towns of Oklahoma still in existence. Rev. Thomas, a Texas freedom colony native is responsible for organizing the St. Thomas Primitive Baptist Church in the community of Summit. In 1929, the congregation constructed a church building that still stands today. The narrative of Rev. Thomas’ story is unique in that he not only was born in a freedom colony but also went on to establish an equivalent community in Oklahoma after racial tensions rose and forced him to migrate to Muskogee County after striking oil during the 1921 oil boom that occurred in Mexia, Texas. The residence that Rev. Thomas built was a place of community, altruism and solitude for many Summit residents as well as visitors who passed through the town. This paper explores the vernacular contributions of Rev. Thomas’ family residence as well as the historic St. Thomas Primitive Baptist Church in the context of racial tensions, forced migration and the quest for asylum. Visual analysis of photographs and content analysis of newspapers mentioning the construction of the home were utilized as the primary methodological practices of this paper. There is not much remaining of the historic footprint of the early Summit township but the impact of the two structures being discussed here is vital to bringing visibility to this historic community and great leader.

New Persepctives on Urbanism

Chair: Zachary Violette

"The Street Life of Toronto's Split-level Storefronts"

Erica Allen-Kim, University of Toronto

For a quarter century, developers added density to Toronto’s low-rise retail strips by constructing split-level commercial buildings. By the early 2000s, many of these buildings were underused or demolished. One architect of a split-level plaza, Lloyd Alter, publicly expressed support for its demise. In most cases, these in-fill projects replaced 19th c. row houses and storefronts with 2-3 story buildings accessed by exterior stairs. During the 70s, split-level developers took advantage of the city planning department’s preference for separating pedestrian and automobile traffic by moving retail underground. Between 1968 and 1977, the city offered density bonuses for underground retail, financed tunneling costs, and excluded retail basement spaces from the commercial gross floor area calculation. 

These land use incentives transformed Toronto’s financial district into glittering towers connected by an underground retail network known as the PATH. The split-level also proliferated in aging mixed-use areas such as Yorkville, Yonge, and Dundas West, as property owners sought to double rental income without increasing above- grade height. The split-level storefront or plaza attracted small independent businesses, many run by newcomers. The design was simple—concrete stairs, metal railing, floor-to-ceiling plate glass, low horizontal signboard—and a small pit served as a threshold space for the basement shops. Following density bonus changes in the 1977 Central Area Plan, the number of new split-levels decreased. Unexamined by researchers and unpopular with pedestrians, urbanists, and store tenants, it was criticized for creating pockets of dead space in a city that Jane Jacobs had called home since 1968. 

There is one neighborhood where the split-level has defied expectations. Chinatown West has the largest concentration of split-levels—32 along Spadina and Dundas West. The history and economy of Chinatown West created an opportunity for split-levels to become a generative part of the built landscape. Archival research of local newspapers and planning documents, mapping of sidewalk and storefront use, and a survey of split-level businesses and their design indicate that the split-level faces challenges similar to other areas yet offers a critical infrastructure for an entrepreneurial community. A close reading of the built form reveals that the split-level—much denigrated elsewhere in the city—works within the cultural context of Chinatown to produce a new form of heritage spatial practice. Whereas heritage consultants argued that Alter’s plaza lacked heritage value, I conclude that the same cannot be said for Chinatown West, which is currently facing redevelopment and gentrification pressures.

"Moderated and Controlled: Post-prohibition Public Drinking Spaces in Toronto"

Leila Marie Farah, Ryerson University

The political, social and cultural repercussions of Prohibition in North America have been extensively studied. However, post-prohibition effects and how the reintroduction of alcoholic beverages altered or generated new spaces have been less documented. In San Antonio, “Pearl Brewhouse”--a late nineteenth century key landmark at the heart of a more recent revitalization mixed-use development--was forced to rethink and diversify its production in order to remain operational during prohibition, and new venues like the “Esquire Tavern” opened in 1933 following the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.

This paper focuses on the spatial effects of post-prohibition north of the border-more specifically, in the Canadian city of Toronto, Ontario. While prohibition there ended in 1927, it was not until 1934 that regular public drinking was legalized. To control this change, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario assumed the responsibility—and power--to review and approve plans and other sets of drawings depicting alterations and proposals for alcohol- related public consumption spaces. This work presents evidence that regulations and surveillance were major driving forces in the design of beverage rooms and dinning spaces. In addition, it examines the movements of people (customers and staff) and the spatial organization and transformations of such spaces.

Methodologically, this study uses primary documents and drawings pertaining to Standard Hotels from the 30s and 40s. It presents this material visually via static and dynamic media, based on orthographics, contracts and photos. Overall, the paper contributes to understanding the role of beverage consumption in shaping buildings, landscapes and communities in the era following prohibition.

" 'After All, It's the Welfare Office and Nobody Likes Us...': The History of the Architecture of Public Welfare in Virginia"

Andrew Marshall, Cunninham/Quill Architects

Beginning with the seventeenth century Elizabethan poor laws, local public welfare efforts long provided a structure dedicated to relief – the almshouse. However, by the second decade of the twentieth century, the almshouse model had fallen into disrepute. In turn, Virginia officials invented its replacement: the district home. This consolidated and modernized version of the almshouse extended the tradition of indoor relief for the poor, indigent, disabled, aged, and abandoned. The New Deal policies of the 1930s instead reoriented public welfare toward outdoor relief, ending the inpatient housing model of “indoor” relief in favor of the issuance of benefits as monies or commodities via newly-mandated local departments. These welfare departments were the first in state and local government to be integrated across race and gender lines. Amid this progress, political battles loomed as conservative antipathy fought the mere concept of welfare and decried the federal government’s supposed socialistic, paternalistic tendencies. The peak political struggles occurred during the Welfare Rights movement of 1969-70 as local welfare offices became the site for “spontaneous demonstrations” led by organizers and welfare recipients to fight intimidation by local officials. 

The post-World War II architecture of public welfare was one of adaptive reuse. Quarters for welfare departments in Virginia mirrored the recommendations from a design manual for local welfare units which suggested that architects and officials avoid “elaborate or luxurious” offices. Accordingly, Virginian officials and architects produced functional and economic quarters that often seemed “hidden away,” according to Virginia welfare rights advocate Rafe Pomerance. In the mid-1970s, new regulations on welfare offices increased pressure on local politicians and led to the construction of the first purpose-built welfare buildings in the state. 

This paper is an architectural history of our most maligned public service. Key sources include newspaper accounts, government archives, field investigations, among others. These sources show that the formalized welfare program of post-war Virginia was shaped by the forces of expansion, hostility, and economy. Consequently, the quarters for local welfare departments became perpetually unseen: a specter of local government. In 1960, state welfare director Richard W. Copeland declared: “Our welfare programs are in existence because they are the will of the people.” 

As welfare programs persisted, they produced an architecture of flexibility and utility. Ultimately the beauty of welfare lies in its empathic and substantive goal to improve the lives of its recipients, but such beauty is not extended to these economic buildings. 

"Town Libraries and Engaged Publics Then and Now: The Cases of Gorlitz and Cambridge in a Transatlantic Perspective"

Maxi Schreiber, Technische Universität Darmstadt

In Görlitz, Germany, the “People’s Library and Reading Hall” opened its doors in 1907, making it one of the few free public library buildings designed as such. In contrast to the United States, German citizens had to fight hard to convince the municipal authorities to provide taxes for the founding and erection of a public library. The Görlitz library building survived World War II but suffered from terrible neglect under Communist rule. In 2009 it received an extension whose modern architectural appearance was debated among municipal politicians. At that time, Görlitz’s Renaissance-era city center was renovated and became a tourist attraction. Even if the library was not located in the city center and most of Görlitz was built in the 19th and early 20th century, it proved difficult to convince politicians and residents of the building’s appearance, because some preferred a more “historicized” style. 

More than 3,000 miles away, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Central Library, built by Van Brunt and Howe from 1888-89, reopened its doors in 2009 after a renovation and the construction of a new annex. Librarians and architects in Cambridge found themselves confronted with a library built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Yet such a style, which is often associated with the splendor of the first American free public libraries before the Carnegie era, created an atmosphere and darkness that did not seem to meet modern readers’ taste. Cambridge used a design advisory committee, which functioned as a representative group of Cambridge residents. 

In short, both of these libraries faced similar challenges but engaged their communities differently in the design process as they constructed a “new whole” out of their historic buildings and new annexes. This paper explores the perception of public library architecture then and now. Through a study of early 20th century architectural planning aids (Gebäudekunde) for architects, newspapers, library journals and architectural periodicals, it demonstrates the value these libraries have had in German and American society. Further, the paper examines the design process of the 2009 annexes and the engaged publics in Görlitz and Cambridge. Through interviews with librarians and architects as well as the minutes of public meetings, it sheds light on the residents’ relationship with their library buildings. Further, it investigates the historical background of readers’ expectations toward their library buildings and how these expectations can shape debates in design processes.

Landscape and Social Power

Chair: Jennifer Baughn, Chief Architectural Historian - Mississippi Department of Archives & History

“When is a Tree Not a Tree?: The Intentional Use of Landscape, Topography, and Vegetation to Facilitate Funerary Rituals in Early Post-Emancipation African American Cemeteries”

Amelia Hughes, 

While it can sometimes appear that the landscape of early African American cemeteries is haphazard and disorganized, this paper argues that these are in fact intentionally created spaces purposefully designed to facilitate the unique African American social and cultural practices surrounding funerary rituals which evolved as a direct result of the condition of enslavement. I consult a variety of primary sources in order to determine a set of traditions and norms surrounding early African American funeral rituals; the funerary traditions established during slavery were embedded in the culture and so continued to be practiced well into the 20th century, especially in rural areas of the South.

In order to explore how the cemeteries themselves may have facilitated these traditions, I researched and visited three early post-Emancipation African American cemeteries in Albemarle County, chosen due to their rural locations and affiliations with churches and therefore likelihood of being most reflective of commonly practiced community traditions. I found that the landscape and layout of the cemeteries themselves as well as the burial markers and vegetation within them were consistent with the types of rituals we would expect to see happen in the space. Most notably, I identified a distinct pattern of selective land clearing using trees as architectural features to create defined spaces of ritual and celebration based on the topography of the land and reinforced by the placement of burials and burial markers. I argue that what may appear to be unintentional and disorganized spaces in rural Southern 19th century African American cemeteries were in fact intentionally created utilizing existing landscape features to facilitate the performance of funeral rituals unique to African Americans in the rural South which were developed as a result of the conditions of enslavement.

“’Cemetery to Cemetery’: Segregation and Tradition in the Forney, Texas Landscape”

Diane Jones Allen, University of Texas, Arlington & Kathryn Holliday, University of Texas, Arlington

Forney, Texas is a former railroad and cotton town about 20 miles east of Dallas that is increasingly engulfed in suburban sprawl. At Forney's core are two streets, Main and Broad, that defined the city's commercial heart in the 1880s and established continuing patterns of settlement. At the north end of Broad, along the railroad tracks, the Hillcrest Cemetery has provided a resting ground for Forney's white residents since the 1840s and at the south end, the Prairie View Cemetery has memorialized the African American community since the 1880s.

Both cemeteries are still in active use, continuing these longstanding patterns of segregation. Our project focuses on these historic patterns of segregation and development that allowed the Prairie View Cemetery to survive but also suffer from neglect. While Hillcrest is governed by an active cemetery association, is well-maintained, and filled with monumental grave markers, the Prairie View Cemetery is maintained by a single caretaker who holds knowledge of burial patterns through oral history. Many grave markers are missing or damaged and subsidence, overgrown vegetation, and incursions by railroad maintenance equipment challenge its survival.

Forney's economic development corporation (EDC) uses the phrase "Cemetery to Cemetery" to describe its focus on the historic core. Forney is unusual because of the presence of the Spellman Museum, a local history museum funded by a private endowment that provides a centralized authority for storytelling about the town's history. Both the museum and EDC are exploring ways to tell that history in more complete ways. As Forney attempts to reconcile its history with contemporary efforts to create an inclusive community, outcomes for the Prairie View Cemetery will be central to its success. 

This project uses field surveys and oral histories to document contemporary families' use of the cemetery and its meaning to the African American community through workshops and a community exhibit to be held in partnership with the Spellman Museum in late spring 2020. We are also documenting folk traditions in the cemetery that incorporate concrete and mirrors in more contemporary burial markers. A key outcome will be a cemetery management plan that proposes interpretive materials for the cemetery and that balances family customs with maintenance needs. This case study is potentially useful for other small towns and cemeteries in Dallas-Fort Worth that are increasingly drawn into the metropolitan landscapes of larger cities that create both development pressure on the landscape and pressure to sterilize and suppress their history of segregation. By actively engaging with families, community members, and business leaders, the workshops, exhibit, and management plan can provide a template for storytelling and preservation.

“The John Muir Trail and Landscape Succession in the Sierra”

Tim Davis, United States Park Service

Stretching 200 miles from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, California’s John Muir Trail (JMT) is arguably the oldest long-distance recreational trail in the United States. The Sierra Club secured state support for the trail’s construction in 1915, invoking the recently deceased naturalist’s memory to bolster the cause. Through travel was possible as early as 1916, though it took two decades to finalize the route.

Sierra Club leaders and subsequent historians have cast the JMT’s creation as a saga of heroic exploration and enlightened conservation. The Sierra Club stalwarts who forged the route were celebrated for blazing a trail through terra incognita and setting the stage for the preservation of a treasured wilderness. Such accounts minimize or ignore two important factors: the extensive use of the region by indigenous and European-American predecessors and the ethical and environmental implications of transforming a vernacular landscape for living and working into a restricted recreational reserve.

Building on my current research for a Historic American Landscapes Survey project on the JMT, I will employ historic photographs, cartographic evidence, and published and unpublished accounts to underscore the extent to which the JMT’s creators made use of pre-existing trails along with advice and assistance from local residents – in particular, the predominantly Basque sheep herders John Muir and his followers fought hard to displace. Objections to the sheep industry’s environmental impact were accompanied by aspersions about the moral and intellectual faculties of these “foreign” elements. Restricting sheep and cattle grazing had many benefits – including the preservation of fodder for recreational parties – but exacerbated the forest overgrowth problems associated with the elimination of another traditional use -- Native American burning practices.

The JMT experience has continued to evolve. While the trail was created for elite Sierra Clubbers, the audience expanded with the backpacking boom of the 1960s/70s and has experienced another surge with the rise of social media as a source of information and medium for self-congratulation. The JMT has become so popular that prospective users compete for permits, privileging those who are internet savvy and have more abundant or flexible leisure time. The increased popularity of through-hiking, ultralight camping, and speed-hiking also emphasizes the JMT’s role as a linear facility for athletic achievement rather than an arena for more extensive engagement with the broader landscape through traditional pursuits such as scenic appreciation, nature study, fishing, and stock-supported base-camping.

“Plugging Into Nature: A Typological Study of RV-Friendly Public Campgrounds in Canada”

Tania Martin, Université Laval, Québec City

Campgrounds, one can argue, contribute to shaping a Canadian (and American) culture of the great outdoors. Ubiquitous across the country, late-20th and early 21st-century campground typologies adhere to standardized organising principles as the analysis of campsite layouts, the architecture of service pavilions and physical settings reveals. While recognizing the existence of other types of public and privately-run camping facilities that serve distinctive groups, this paper focuses specifically on Canadian federal, territorial and provincial park campgrounds designed for car camping.

Grounded in autoethnography, this paper investigates campgrounds as a form of travel infrastructure that allow ordinary Canadians to get in touch with the land, and increasingly, afford them opportunities to visit historic sites as well. Although they may differ in size, in proximity to major urban centers or, conversely, in having ready access iconic natural landscapes, field research indicates that campgrounds share common characteristics in their initial planning, patterns of development and modernization. Each, however, is adapted to the particular climatic and topographical features of the region in which they are located.

Nonetheless, a dichotomy inherent, perhaps, to the democratization of camping merits examination. Owners and managers have essentially extended city amenities into the wilderness probably to fill urbanites’ and suburbanites’ needs for creature comforts. 

Seen through the useful lens of real-estate logic, campsites can be understood as very short-term leases of land by campers who either pull up their car and set up their tent or who park their recreational vehicle (rv), basically a movable tiny house or cottage, on a designated lot. This in turn invites comparison of campground infrastructure with road building and suburban development. Lot divisions, location relative to coveted views or beach access, the number and types of services available at a campsite influence one’s experience. The ways roads and paths are laid out, the rules campers must abide by, the spatial and temporal regulation of activities all translate a surprisingly supervised environment, as a drive-through typical campgrounds will show.

The research presented here is part of a larger project on the cultural landscapes of the rv in Canada.

Social Production of Residential Space

Chair: Betsy Cromley

"The Revolutionary Kitchen: Venezuelan Domestic Architecture in an Era of Conflict"

Valentina Davila, McGill University

Typically, in Venezuela, middle and upper-middle-class houses is divided into public, private and service areas. In the living rooms, lush plants, elegantly upholstered furniture, family portraits and elegant religious art welcome guests on quiet Sunday afternoons. At the heart of the house, are the private areas where everyday life unfolds. The family sits in comfortable leather sofas watching a movie on a large tv while babies sleep in pink or blue nurseries. Inside formal study rooms, older kids do their homework surrounded by massive, custom made bookcases holding outdated encyclopedias. Lastly, on the opposite side of the building, unequivocally located at the back of the house, is the service area. This part of the house exists within the perimeter of the building but in a contradictory material and social dimension. 

The laundry area, back patio and servants’ quarters are traditionally designed and built with a pauper mentality, deemed not worthy of the same materiality than the rest of the building. It is as if these environments were designed to avoid the corruption of the workers' character, to ward off inclusion. The kitchen, however, is a complex space as food preparation intertwines labour and love, nourishment and servitude, femininity and power. Literature registers the confined space of the kitchen as belonging to the servants, an area where architecture powerfully intervenes to overturn social roles. The walls of the kitchen act as a kind of social vacuum where deferential behaviour is blurred as workers are expected to sit and even remain seated if the employer enters the room. For decades, middle-class Venezuelans and Latin Americans have designed their kitchens as a servant space so much that the materials used are of lesser quality, and labour-saving appliances such as dishwashers are rarely installed. Kitchens can be taken as historical evidence of the Venezuelan middle-class race and class ideals. This presentation seeks to study the material culture of the Venezuelan middle-class home to demonstrate that the kitchen was always considered—and consequently designed and built as—a “servant space.” If domestic architecture has been used as a tool of segregation, did it exacerbate the class and race conflict that ignited Chavez’s 21st -century revolution? Is the kitchen’s material culture somewhat responsible for one of the most massive humanitarian crises in Latin American history?

"'Neat and Clean and Happy Looking Little Homes': Martha Bayard Stevens Model Workers Housing in Hoboken"

Samuel A. Pickard, AECOM & Emily Paulus Everett, AECOM

The City of Hoboken, New Jersey was founded and heavily influenced by the affluent Stevens family, which exercised a prominent and at times dominant paternalistic influence on the port city well into the 20th century through their Hoboken Land & Improvement Company. Between 1875 and 1885, Martha Bayard Stevens, philanthropist and influential matriarch of the Stevens family, used her position to develop a model housing community within the center of the city near the free church she had established for working-class residents. Known as the Odenheimer House model tenement and Willow Terrace model housing development, they represent a lesser-known but significant ensemble that embody Stevens’ notions of religious and social reform.

The first of Stevens’ efforts was the circa 1875 Odenheimer House model tenement building. Long one of the largest tenement buildings in Hoboken, contemporaneous reports suggest that it represents an interpretation of pre-Civil War model tenement designs and a conscious effort by Stevens to provide adequate, hygienic housing for members of the city’s working-class populace.

In 1885 Stevens undertook the construction of an ambitious 80-unit model housing development known as Willow Terrace. Situated on the same city block as the Odenheimer House—Willow Terrace’s two-and-one-half-story model workingmen’s homes are arranged in five rows of 16 houses along two private streets. With low-pitched gable roofs, shared dormers, and two-bay wide, flat-front red brick facades with minimal setbacks, the architecture and spatial planning likely reflects the influence of 19th century terraced housing in Britain.

The authors documented and analyzed Steven’s model housing complex during the course of one of the largest historic architectural surveys undertaken in New Jersey in recent years. This paper will examine the historical development of Willow Terrace, including the ideals it aspired to and the ways in which its physical and architectural characteristics both emulate and deviate from other model housing developments of this era. Comparisons with other women housing reformers, including the contemporary Octavia Hill in the United Kingdom and the later Octavia Hill Association in Philadelphia will be made in an effort to better understand Stevens’ influences and place her within the context of other early American housing reformers of the time. 

Additionally, while the proposed construction of further units by Stevens and the HL&IC was never undertaken, the paper will examine what further influence the Odenheimer House and Willow Terrace may have had on the built environment of Hoboken during the ensuing decades. 

"The Role of Slave-made Savannah Grey Bricks in the Construction of a Plantation Ideal in 20th-Century White Suburbs" 

Robin B. Williams, Savannah College of Art & Design

The Hermitage Plantation and the slave-made Savannah Grey bricks that had been produced there in the many millions before the Civil War captivated white builders and home owners eager to evoke the ante-bellum Old South beginning in the 1930s. Before its destruction in 1935 to make way for a pulp and paper mill, the decaying Hermitage Plantation was a popular tourist destination and spawned at least one replica of the main house erected in 1933 in Savannah’s Ardsley Park, an early 20th-century automobile suburb. Despite eleventh-hour calls for the plantation’s preservation from Harold Ickes, Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, automaker Henry Ford was allowed to purchase the Hermitage “big house” and all of the surviving slave dwellings for their Savannah Grey bricks. Valued for their distinctive handmade character, these large, brownish, irregular and porous bricks used in many of Savannah’s historic structures, became a popular form of architectural spolia for reuse in suburbia. Ford utilized the bricks for his newly built Southern winter home near Savannah, Richmond Plantation, that resembled the original plantation house, but in enlarged form. He also salvaged two of the original brick slave dwellings for display at his open-air architecture museum, Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan.

An article profiling the Hermitage published in The Atlanta Constitution a month after its March 1935 sale gives insight into its symbolic resonance. It saw the plantation as “one of the few remaining landmarks of the era of romance and chivalry that preceded the Civil War” and looked forward to how “it will be restored to its former glory” by Ford. Such associations, combined with a desire for “country” living, likely account for the popularity of Savannah Grey bricks salvaged from demolished downtown buildings. In the city’s post-World War II white-only residential subdivisions developed just outside the city limits, Savannah Greys and their picturesque residue of lime mortar served as an immediately identifiable facing material for both traditional plantation style and modernist houses alike, as well as for the subdivision entry gates. Yet nowhere was the enslaved African authorship of these bricks acknowledged, the bricks being symbols of an Old South imaginary for white suburbanites.

"Trade Secrets and Research Houses: Knowledge Production and Exchange in the Postwar American Home Building Industry"

Elaine Brown Stiles, Roger William University

In 1953, LIFE magazine featured a two-bedroom, 1,300 square-foot house that was the “product of a series of extraordinary conferences in which leaders of the highly competitive building industry pooled their trade secrets and . . . planned the best housing buy in the US today.”1 Designed by the National Association of Home Builders’ “Trade Secrets Committee,” the “Trade Secrets House” was a “home show for builders” - a didactic device to promote best practices in design and production to builders across the nation as well as an expression of the knowledge and expertise of the industry. A few years later in 1957, the NAHB launched program with similar aims, but different methods: the NAHB Research House program. The builders leading this program designed eight research houses over the course of eleven years to test construction systems, materials, and equipment in the interest of stimulating new product development. The program partnered with manufacturers and academic institutions to generate new building knowledge by builders, for builders. 

These two programs – one of knowledge sharing and one of knowledge production – were parts of ongoing efforts among home building industry leadership to foster greater professionalization among its members at a critical time in their history. At the same time, the industry used these programs to lay claim to certain areas of building and design knowledge it had already put to effective use in transforming the American domestic landscape. This paper examines the Trade Secrets and Research House programs as material expressions of builders’ best practices and design values, but also as means for understanding how mid-twentieth-century home builders gathered, vetted, and shared design information. In these examples, builders privileged the collective wisdom of their colleagues even as they sought to legitimize their work through association with values of rationality, efficiency, and scientific method. These activities reveal the tension between vernacular and official, or empirical, knowledge in builders’ period design culture as they sought to reconcile the question of their professional identity and shape its expression in their housing products.

LUNCH: 12:15-1:15

SESSION 3: PLENARY: 1:15-2:30

BREAK: 2:30-3:00

SESSION 4: 3:00-5:00

Sites of Memory

Chair: Abby Van Slyck

"Race, Memory, and Leisure at the Mexia, Texas, Confederate Reunion Grounds" 

C. Ian Stevenson, Clark University

In 1892, members of the fraternal United Confederate Veterans Camp Joe Johnston #94 purchased twenty acres fronting the Navasota River in Mexia, Texas. Over the next nineteen years, they would assemble a total of 92 acres, platting it for 332 family-sized plots and installing three communal pavilions. Like their Union veteran counterparts, in the last decades of the nineteenth century Confederate veterans designed outdoor spaces with architectural interventions to combine leisure and memory of the Civil War for themselves and civilians alike. At waterfront locations, these veterans hoped to use natural features, such as shade and breezes, to augment entertainment and festive food, as ways to bring together constituents with shared understanding of the Civil War. Such landscapes were devoted to the Civil War Vacation—hybrid activities that were fully commemorative and fully recreational, designed to help veterans solidify their own memory of the conflict, promote healing, and impart specific legacies to future generations.

This interdisciplinary paper employs a cultural landscapes approach to one Confederate variant of the Civil War Vacation, examining the site’s built environment as both a manifestation of and shaper of Lost Cause ideology. As evidence, it explores the orthogonal plot plan, lease covenants dictating the types of structures allowed, and photographic and written evidence of the landscape’s use. Although Confederate veterans mirrored their Union veterans by creating landscapes at waterfront locations devoted to a combination of commemoration and leisure with family and friends, they were unable to center memory on the triumph of victory or ending slavery. Rather than focus on celebrating battles to augment honoring fallen brethren as a way to cope with the conflict’s trauma, Confederate veterans instead employed their Civil War Vacation to support the ascendant Lost Cause. This paper argues that Confederate Civil War Vacation compounds celebrated the old antebellum order, normalized the racial hierarchy inherent in the tenuous white supremacy ideology, and supported the creation of a segregated society at the same time they embraced middle-class leisurely activities. 

"La Villita and the Idea of San Antonio" 

Kathryn O'Rourke,

San Antonio O’Neil Ford is known for his intense interest in nineteenth-century vernacular architecture in Texas, his pioneering uses of new construction technologies in the mid-twentieth century, his commitment to historic preservation, and his influence on a generation of architects in south and central Texas. Most research on Ford has focused on his work in the context of Texas architecture and issues of architectural regionalism as it is understood in U.S. architecture.

The project that brought Ford to San Antonio from Dallas in 1939—the creation of the village-like commercial district La Villita (“the little town”) in downtown—is the foremost reflection in Ford’s built work of his research on vernacular architecture. In the plan Ford organized buildings inspired by the vernacular “pioneer houses” of German and Alsatian immigrants that he had studied and sketched since the 1920s around plaza-like spaces with Spanish names, such as Calle Hidalgo. In addition to shops, the program included an art school where working-class Mexican-Americans were trained in crafts and in which Ford taught design.

Relatively little is known about the school, but drawings (discovered in the basement of Ford’s architecture firm in 2014) of some of the objects that were designed or created there suggest that, as a whole, La Villita embodied a variety of complicated intersections between vernacular Texas architecture, a cross-border fascination with Mexican craft traditions, urban renewal, and WPA-era social reforms.

The project was further complicated by its swaddling in romanticized associations with rural and vernacular Texas architecture and those with “Old Mexico,” as well as with the emergence of the ideology of pan-Americanism in the era of the Good Neighbor Policy. This paper analyzes the buildings of La Villta and the drawings associated with its school in relation to contemporary preservation efforts in San Antonio focused on vernacular Spanish colonial buildings and to the surge of interest in craft in Mexico that preceded La Villita by about twenty years to understand how the project advanced the idea of San Antonio as a romantic “Mexican” town. It argues that San Antonians at La Villita melded expressions of a past imagined through vernacular Texas architecture with techniques developed in central Mexico that that cast folk art as central to national culture to create a modern work of urban design that at once celebrated the city’s cultural diversity and served to mask its deep economic and racial inequities. 

"'Columbus Might Be Dwarfed to Obscurity': Italian Americans' Engagement with Columbus Monuments in a Time of Decolonization" 

Laura E. Ruberto, Berkeley City College & Joseph Sciorra, Queens College, City University of New York

Since at least the 1992 quincentenary of Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean, the once-glorified Columbian legacy has been increasingly challenged within and beyond indigenous communities by reiterating the atrocities he established in a genocidal approach to colonization. A renewed scrutiny of Columbus statues occurred in the wake of outcries to remove Confederate-focused statuary in public spaces. And yet, representatives of local and national Italian American organizations vigorously rearticulate their support for Columbus Day and oppose the removal of Columbus monuments in the name of Italian American victimization. 

Civic monuments are the products of specific historical moments that coalesce into the eventual design, building, and display of what is deemed permissible by those with access to financial, political, and cultural resources. Such objects are never fully expressive of an all-encompassing ethos and thus are loci of tensions of competing collectives. Frictions and disagreements exist at the time of creation and have the potential to accumulate and multiply in a pluralistic society along variated lines of interpretation and affiliation. Such predicaments have certainly occurred with most Columbus monuments conceptualized, funded, fabricated, and gifted by Italian Americans to various municipalities throughout the twentieth century.

We understand Columbus monuments as “sites of memory” that function within a system of rememoration (Pierre Nora)—the act of resuscitating the past. Using an interdisciplinary approach combining theories on public monuments, collective memory, material culture, and migration studies, we consider how contemporary Italian Americans’ attachment to Columbus perpetuates a master narrative regarding earlier Italian migration developed during the white ethnic revival of the 1970s which reaffirms a racialized ideology of privilege and exclusion. We will focus on two contemporary case studies—New York City and San Jose (California)—of the historical construction of a Columbus statue and the contemporary debates around their continued presence within public spaces. In each case, these two cities, both with Italian American mayors, have had continued and varying efforts to remove or preserve these migrant-created monuments in light of shifting cultural politics. By interpreting and relying on archival research, present-day news items, interviews/oral histories, and visual analysis we demonstrate the intricate and uneasy relationship monuments have to public memory and the constant re-negotiation of collective memory. This process leads us to better understand how contemporary Italian Americans use memory and history as rhetorical strategies to defend or decry monuments of the past in light of mounting criticism against them in the present. 

"The Meanings Behind the Representations of Vernacular Architecture at the Naga Heritage Village in Nagaland" 

Shisachila Imchen, PhD Anthropology degree recipient, University College London

This paper is based on findings drawn from portions of my doctoral research carried out in Nagaland, a state in northeast India.

Since the year 2000, the government of Nagaland has adopted policies and measures to encourage tourism in the state. This included the construction of Kisama, the Naga Heritage Village, near the state capital Kohima. Like similar ‘ethnic theme parks’ (Bruner 2005) found elsewhere in the world, which prominently feature typical architectural structures of the culture, the Naga Heritage Village has permanent buildings on display that are examples of vernacular architecture from the various tribes of Nagaland. In most cases, the vernacular architectural forms represented at the Naga Heritage Village are replicas of what are known as morungs (bachelors’ or men’s houses). This is significant because morungs, as this paper demonstrates, play an important role in the formation and articulation of identity and attachment to place in the village, which forms the core of one’s identity in Nagaland. Using a phenomenological approach, this paper explains how people’s embodied interactions with the morung and with the other people encountered within it shape ideas about self and attachment to place. This paper shows that it is precisely because of the importance of morungs at the level of the village that morungs have been appropriated in representations of vernacular architecture at the Naga Heritage Village. Moreover, it explores the manner in which the morung replicas are presented at this ethnic theme park, to reveal the underlying messages and meanings that are made prominent through such presentation.

Beyond the Building: Using Alternative Source Material to Interpret Vernacular


Chair: Mary Beth Betts

"The Forgotten Power of the Acllauasi: Architecture and Women in the Inca Empire"

Stella Nair, Associate Professor, Art History, UCLA

My paper addresses the profound gender bias that pervades Inca studies today; one that creates the impression of a potent and vast Inca empire designed, constructed, and primarily used by men. This illusion has its roots in the Spanish invasion of the Americas, when Iberian men interviewed indigenous men about the Inca past, and has been continued by archaeologists, a field traditionally dominated by men whose work has focused largely upon the study of Inca men. In doing so, female roles and achievements have been overlooked and silenced. In my paper, I will show that despite this colonial legacy, we can gleam subtle but significant clues from written and material evidence that give voice once more to the important roles that Indigenous women played in creating and giving meaning to the impressive and vast Inca architectural landscape that came to define the western rim of South America and one of the greatest empires of the early modern world.

Since the Spanish arrived in the Andes in 1532, the Inca Empire has been understood primarily through the lens of men (in the form of military leaders, rulers, architects, patrons, and administrators) and male spaces (such as newly conquered lands, military camps, administrative centers, and royal palaces). Yet, there were vast spaces created, built, inhabited, reshaped and even controlled by females. Women played diverse roles in Inca society, ranging from coya (queens) and priestesses, to servants and enslaved prostitutes. These females spaces made up an important part of the Inca landscape in the form of educational centers, private homes, religious shrines, servant quarters, production areas, and queen’s palaces, to name a few. 

My paper will draw from the example of the acllahuasi. The acllauasi, or House of the Chosen Women, was a sacred, highly- controlled, complex in the Inca Empire. This institution, which was built within the core of the capital city as well as throughout the conquered lands, was where young girls of different ethnicities were chosen to be educated in Inca customs, such as history, religion, arts, mathematics, and the making of the royal beverage (aka). Most women who were sent to the acllahuasi did not remain, but after acquiring a myriad of critical skills and knowledge, left to serve as queens, priestesses, warrior women, artists, dancers, wives and mothers, among other important roles. These women went on to design, construct, remodel, and occupy a diversity of spaces within the Inca empire. In my paper I will explore the ways in which these multi- ethnic indigenous women who were gathered under the state architecture of the acllahuasi, left to redefine the Imperial Inca landscape, and how our recognition of these women and their roles dramatically changes how we see and understand Inca architecture, history, and space. 

"Walking Around the World: Oral History and Architectural Survey"

Michael Ann Williams & Sydney Varajon, 

Since the inception of VAF, individual scholars have advocated for the use of oral history and ethnographic perspectives in vernacular architecture research, from the pioneering works of George McDaniel (1982) and Charles Martin (1984) to more recent studies by Rebecca Ginsburg (2011) and Gabrielle Berlinger (2017). Surprisingly, however, there exists considerably less literature on the methodology of systematically integrating oral history and architectural survey of vernacular structures. 

In the summer of 2019, Michael Ann Williams and Sydney Varajon, both folklorists, conducted a survey of African American cultural resources in Transylvania County, North Carolina, focusing especially on the community now known as Rosenwald. Funded largely through a grant from the North Carolina SHPO, the project also included a smaller amount of funding from the National Trust for an oral history component. Although the planners of the project (a CLG sub-committee) intuitively knew that oral history was vital to address the under-representation of African Americans in previous architectural surveys, they had no clear vision for how the integration of oral history and survey would take place. In this paper, we will examine the challenges, successes and failures of the project in an effort to better understand under what circumstances oral history can be used to enhance survey projects. 

Early in the project, we realized that the failure of the earlier comprehensive survey-- conducted in the early 1990s-- was not failure to document significant individual structures associated with African Americans (that survey did a relatively decent job of identifying  relevant extant structures within their pre-1930 time frame). Instead, the shortcoming of the earlier survey was failure to construct any kind of useful narrative about the African American community from this documentation. In our 2019 survey, with an expanded time frame (up to 1975) and the focus on living memory, we were able to better understand the impact of the construction of a Rosenwald school, the development of adjacent communities following the opening of a tannery, and the emergence of a locally grown civil rights movement. Most significantly, we began to gain insight into how landscapes of segregation were constructed within a small Appalachian county seat and how adult members of the African American community endeavored to construct communities of safety for their children—places where, in the words of one interviewee, a child could feel the freedom to “walk around the world” while never leaving the embrace of a watchful community. 

"From Unarticulated to Articulate: Putting the Party Wall to Work"

Madeline Webster, Boston University

An astute city dweller noticed in 1868 that “the newspaper and the book have long ceased to be the sole means of advertising. The dead wall has now become a valuable property, if it be situated in a much-frequented thoroughfare.”  By 1868, the party wall—referred to pejoratively as a “dead wall” as seen from the street due to its unarticulated surface—had transformed from a structural component of a building existing outside of the architect’s stylistic vision into a blank canvas for increasing profit. 

As the nineteenth century progressed, tenants and owners covered street-front facades of commercial buildings in ever more copious amounts of signage. Still, dead walls were an underutilized asset reserved for the more industrious shop owner and sign painter. It required capital to build, own, or rent a building tall enough to have exposed dead walls rising above the adjoining structure, and it took even more entrepreneurial acumen to know how to maximize the space. 

Painted wall signs, extant in the twenty-first century in the form of faded “ghost signs,” had their heyday roughly between 1900 and 1960 in urban centers across the United States. This paper looks at their early history in Boston as documented in photographs taken by James Wallace Black during the nation’s centennial celebrations (Figure 1). Painted dead walls were indicative of unrestrained commercialism in the migration of signage from the facades of buildings to the previously-unused sides of them, but they could also be considered as a new kind of public memory. In the same decade that the fledgling historic preservation movement erupted in Boston in an effort to save colonial-era buildings from encroaching commercial forces, layered painted wall signs dotted the city as palimpsests: a preservation by neglect rather than resolve. 

The party wall, critical to urban living, is absent from the literature as functioning as an element of the streetscape, and painted wall signs have received minimal scholarly attention  in the United States. Where the field of vernacular architectural studies is concerned, I propose a 20-minute paper that focuses on an ordinary component of a building that is seen across the spectrum from the most ordinary to the most exceptional.

"The Architecture of the Dinner Plate: Material Culture and Architectural Inspiration in Indiana 1820-1860"

Benjamin L. Ross, RATIO Architects

The use of imported sources of architectural inspiration—builder’s guides, pattern books, and periodicals—has been well-documented in mid-nineteenth century Indiana. These publications catered to builders and sophisticated property owners and often produced identifiable buildings, but they were not the only sources of architectural imagery in the region during this period. Transfer- printed ceramics, produced mainly in Staffordshire, England, brought architectural images into the daily eating and washing routines of mid-nineteenth century Hoosiers of all ages and genders in most occupations and levels of society. Although they lacked the written commentary provided in the publications of architects and tastemakers, these detailed engravings conveyed a range of Romantic architectural expressions and landscape styles paralleling those seen in pattern books and magazines. 

While much has been written about nineteenth-century transferware by archaeologists and collectors, the content and influence of these vessels’ architectural imagery has seen little scholarly examination. Using archaeological reports and museum collections documenting transferware pieces present in Indiana between 1820 and 1860, this paper will examine the range of architectural expressions depicted, comparing the imagery with that of contemporary architectural publications. Drawing from period sources and current scholarship, the paper will develop conclusions on the relation of these architectural images to the context in which the ceramics were used and their potential effect in framing mid-nineteenth century Hoosiers’ ideas about architecture.

Popular Pastimes

Chair: Lisa Davidson

“Building Horesetopia: Marion DuPont Scott’s Construction of the Montpelier Stables as a Rejection of Social Norms”

Mary C. Fesak, University of Delaware

Born in 1894 to William du Pont, Sr. and Anne Rogers Zinn, the introverted and tomboyish Marion duPont Scott turned to horseback riding as a child despite the objections of her mother who wanted Marion to become a debutante. As a young adult, Marion openly challenged gender norms by competing on horses while riding astride. By the mid-1920s, she had developed a love of steeplechase racing. While her father had already developed James Madison’s Montpelier into a country estate complete with facilities for riding and driving horses, Marion envisioned Montpelier as a first-class thoroughbred training, racing, and breeding establishment. Upon her father’s death in 1928, Marion directly contested gender norms through the construction of three premier racetracks and a thoroughbred training complex. She became a leading steeplechase racehorse owner and breeder, raising and training horses at Montpelier until her death in 1983.

Based on my research as the 2019 SAH/HABS Sally Kress Tompkins Fellow, this paper explores the construction of Marion’s thoroughbred training complex. The training complex contained training barns, worker housing, and outbuildings. Using archival research, oral histories, and field investigations, the paper evaluates how the complex’s layout, vernacular construction, and changing spatial usage patterns reflected Marion’s increasing rejection of the class, race, and gender norms that structured the social and labor hierarchies in elite horseracing culture during the 1920s and 1930s. Eschewing the construction of the palatial, high- style Colonial Revival training barns and indoor training tracks of her peers, Marion collaborated with Montpelier’s African American construction foreman Mitchell Jackson to build highly functional, vernacular, purpose-built summer and winter training barns using precut materials from Sears and Roebuck.

This paper also explores how Marion quickly abandoned her traditional understandings of class, race, and labor norms reflected in her construction of the segregated worker housing typical of thoroughbred farms as she hired talented African American horsemen for supervisory positions. Made possible by her elite social status, Marion’s “horsetopia” at Montpelier facilitated her escape from gendered societal expectations into the masculine culture of horseracing she found more fulfilling. In contrast to many thoroughbred farms that reinforced class and racial norms, the training complex at Montpelier enabled working-class white and African American horsemen to form a community with their employer around their shared love of horseracing in Jim Crow Virginia. This paper reveals how a seemingly simple agrarian built environment served as a site for the mediation of complex social norms. 


“’Meet Me at the Swap Meet’: Immigrant Entrepreneurs and West Coast Hip Hop’s Intercultural Origins”

Alec Stewart, University of California, Berkeley

Just before Christmas in 2014, several hundred Korean and Latinx vendors at the Compton Swap Meet received extremely bad news: their workplace had been sold to Walmart, and they would be forced to close. Compton stood to lose one of its most iconic places, which was both a significant source of goods and services within a retail desert, and an internationally famous hip hop site. As two longtime customers later opined, the swap meet was “poppin,’ literally and figuratively [with] African American culture” during its heyday, and it was “the holy grail of the hood.” These sentiments are part a growing chorus that cites the Compton Swap Meet as one of west coast hip hop’s most important places. Indeed, pioneering artists Dr. Dre and Eazy-E used the Compton Swap Meet as an initial distribution outlet for self-produced recordings that mainstream record stores refused to sell. Since 1986, more than 200 rap artists from Ice-T to Nipsey Hussle have affirmed the indoor swap meet’s status by naming them in the lyrics of over 300 hip hop tracks. They also routinely appear in music videos, including Kendrick Lamar’s 2015, “King Kunta,” which he shot on the Compton Swap Meet’s marquee and parking lot. Within a hip hop tradition of reporting and critiquing non-white urban social realities, Lamar joins a growing number of artists who frames swap meet space through a nostalgic lens. 

Like housing projects in the Bronx and Queens, where young DJ’s developed the foundational tools of hip hop DJing and rapping, indoor swap meets were central to the social (re)production of hip hop culture on the west coast.4 Architectural theorist, Craig Wilkins, has observed that “hip hop design” involves the appropriation and “remaking” of spaces neglected by white upper and middle classes into sites of empowerment.5 Over four decades, hip hop lyrics have discursively similarly reframed swap meets as extraordinary hip hop spaces. In this paper, I argue that west coast hip hop evolved in tandem with swap meet spaces via a dialectical relationship between music and place. While indoor swap meets articulated the material culture of west coast hip hop through the articles sold within them, lyrics about them in turn ascribed new meanings to multicultural shopping spaces. I explore the dimensions of this relationship by analyzing a variety of swap meet goods, including custom t-shirts, tattoos, and bling, as well as the hip hop lyrics that made indoor swap meets internationally famous.

“The Beach, Boardwalk, and Motel in Florida: The Context of Beach-side Leisure, Polynesian Dreams, and Representations of the Tropics in Daytona Beach”

Mike Walker, Savannah College of Art & Design

Daytona Beach bills itself as “the world’s most-famous beach” which may or may not be true, but there is no disputing that Florida’s highest-grossing industry for decades has been tourism and that Florida attracts more tourists per year than any other destination in the world. Daytona Beach long has marketed itself as a premier Spring Break and summer vacation spot, so it is logical to examine the material culture of its beachfront. Interestingly, after promoting itself as the go-to destination for vacations, many hotels, bars,  restaurants, and attractions along the beach strive to convey a sense of somewhere else: Aztec or Mayan palaces or temples and especially Polynesian or Hawai’ian locales are commonly represented, invoking a removal of authenticity both in terms of representing other cultures and geographies and, thereby, not representing the actuality of Daytona Beach. Yet what is that actuality? Daytona Beach has a long history with English and Spanish pioneer settlers and an even longer history with the native Timucuan peoples. Today, the extended urban micropolitan area numbers a population of around 350,000 and Daytona Beach has become a Floridian city recognized by name the world over, just as Orlando and Miami are, as a vacation destination. 

This paper examines how the abstract ideal of a tropical paradise with concrete connotations such as Polynesia has been incorporated into the built environment of Daytona Beach’s shoreside areas and how architecture has been utilized as the primary means of creating and connecting a message of topicality for tourism purposes and moreover, how while this message began with local businesses, it has now carried over into official government projects as well. Architecture is less-considered in the scheme of advertising and tourism than other marketing such as print, television, radio, and web-marketing but deserves historical exploration in the case of Daytona Beach due to the high level of cohesion and prominence of the built environment in conveying a message of a welcoming, tropical, vacation. 

“Make Room for Happy Hour: Middle America’s Love Affair with the Post-War Basement Bar”

Mary Anne Beecher, Ohio State University

Throughout North America, the prospect of living in below-grade spaces emerged as a product of life-style shifts in the post-World War II era. In the U.S. and Canada, finished basement space became an expectation in the single-family suburban dwellings from Winnipeg to San Antonio throughout the mid-century period. By the 1950s, persons living in the middle of North America had formed a preference for occupying subterranean family rooms with wet bars for grown-up gatherings or “rec rooms” that served as play spaces for children and teens. Often, the two were combined.

Modern vernacular interiors are extremely vulnerable to alteration, creating the urgency for this research. Shifts in leisure behavior preferences and a desire for aesthetic continuity in the everyday  domestic environment have resulted in a significant loss of modern vernacular basement environments in the 21st century. This study relies on colorful mid-twentieth century advertisements for modern interior finishes and real estate listings that portray the actual physical attributes of basement leisure spaces that correspond in time. The ads portray imaginative spatial and decorative schemes such as the Old English Pub or the Polynesion Tiki Bar: whimsical alternatives to the more conservative traditional living spaces that could be seen from the street. More than 600 images from real estate listings for mid-twentieth century properties found along a middle North American corridor: Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada along with Fargo, Omaha, Kansas City, Tulsa and San Antonio have been used to reveal a combination of vintage and remodeled spaces, providing insight into how historic modern vernacular spaces have fared over time.

The results of this research include a typology of basement leisure spaces, with particular attention to the attributes of the basement bar. Insights yielded include that spaces celebrating the consumption of alcoholic beverages in mid-century basements were prevalent, demonstrating the sociability of adults in the domestic environment of this time. While rarely matching the fanciful environments promoted by manufacturers of affordable, imitative, and waterproof interior materials, these spaces also extended the living environment of middle-class Americans and Canadians as more casual rooms with specialized features such as fireplaces, comfortable or rugged seating space, and areas for dancing or playing ping pong or pool. The impulse to create updated extensions to living space in the lower levels of these same houses reflects an effort to cultivate neutrality and accommodate contemporary preferences for networked and virtual social interactions.

The Architecture of Agriculture: City and Country

Chair: Jennifer Reut

“Bracing Against the Prairie Winds: A Case Study of Three Estonian Farmsteads in Stark County, North Dakota”

Travis Olson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In the first decade of the twentieth century a small number of families emigrated from Estonia to western Stark County, North Dakota. This immigrant group brought their architectural customs—traditions reflected in the farmsteads built in this area. Their buildings demonstrate the continuance of their cultural heritage and reveal instead a connection to Germanic building types, suggesting a broader German diaspora than has been previously considered. Drawing on fieldwork conducted over the past three years, including measured drawings and recorded oral histories, this project is a case study of three remarkable surviving farmsteads which demonstrate both the variety of building types constructed by the Estonian families in Stark County as well as the ways that these families modified their cultural building traditions in reaction to this new landscape in an attempt to succeed in their new American environment. 

This project builds on my ongoing dissertation research on the architectural traditions of Eastern European settlement in Western North Dakota which is largely focused on the culturally Germanic immigrants that came to the Northern Great Plains from the Eurasian Steppe—groups that are locally known as the Germans-from-Russia and the Germans-from-Hungary. The Estonian families on which this project is focused do not neatly fit into either of these groups, and because they attended the Scandinavian Lutheran church, they established local networks with the Norwegian and Swedish families rather than the Catholic Germanic peoples. 

Their farmsteads suggest an evolution of sorts as these families adapted to the harsh landscape of the Upper Great Plains. The buildings are built largely of locally-sourced stone, as wood was rare and expensive when accessible, and the farm buildings reflect the builders’ adaptation of their traditional house types for construction in available materials. Similar to the German-Russian houses we’ve studied in the area, the dwelling floor plans reflect German traditions, most evident in the modified flurküchenhaus plan. Notable are the ways that the Estonians exercised their technical construction skills. The earliest farmstead studied for this project contains a housebarn, while the second farmstead contains an attic reinforced for grain storage. The third farmhouse was constructed slightly later and suggests the American influence on the settlers through the attempt to separate the domestic from the agricultural spheres of the farmstead. All three farmhouses demonstrate attempts to mitigate the harsh weather of the Northern Great Plains: builders altered the locations of doors and windows, strategically sited their houses in the landscape, built exterior entrance vestibules (known in the Germanic traditions as vorhausl), and built low-pitched and reinforced roofs. 

This research is part of an ongoing effort to understand and document the cultural landscape of this region. Based on three years of study and three field schools led by Dr. Anna Andrzejewski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previous research has attempted to identify a German-Russian house type, and this project complicates the narrative by examining the often-overlooked Estonian perspective while building an understanding of the ways that peoples from different cultural backgrounds adapted their building traditions in response to the natural environment of the Upper Great Plains. 

“Corner Post Construction: North American Adaptation of an Ethnic Building Tradition”

Maire O’Neill Conrad, Montana State University, Bozeman

Corner post construction, perhaps better known as pièce sur pièce construction is a form of timber frame using square, sawn posts, with hewn horizontal logs infilled between posts. It was a durable form of construction on the North American frontier, made possible with a few hand tools, and didn’t require the level of skill necessary for heavy timber framing. Although it appeared in various forms at numerous locations in Europe for centuries, on the North American continent it is believed to have arrived with French settlers in the 16th century in the region that is now Quebec. Variants of the method spread westward across the North American continent with the construction of fur trading posts. 

During the earliest westward settlement, where travel was arduous and transportation of tools was limited, corner post construction was easily built with plentiful, locally available materials used in short, modular segments. It took root among the Metis of the Red River Settlement in Manitoba, and is often referred to as the Red River Frame.1 The North American fur trade may have first institutionalized this construction method, as it proved a good fit for the widespread construction of large two-story structures and fortified posts. 

The method diffused southward into the states and territories by multiple routes that are not well- documented, and was adopted by the U.S. military for the construction of western military outposts. In Montana, a few miles from the former site of Fort Ellis (1867-1886), extant buildings offer evidence of a highly speculative adaptation of this construction type at the end of the 19th century. This paper proposes to explore connections between a distinctive variant of corner post construction in three proximate buildings: A demonstration building promoted by the local Agricultural Experiment Station, a two story horse barn built by a settler from the Red River region, and a massive show barn built by a very successful rancher, the son of a French immigrant. 

The author will develop an analysis from measured drawings, prior historic documentation of the two extant barns, and by tracing the biographies of those connected with their construction. The experiment station’s demonstration building, no longer extant, can be closely examined in large plate negatives and published descriptions. The construction of all three buildings reflects an economy of means, similar to the buildings early French-Canadian settlers, but I speculate that the motivations for this economy varied dramatically. 

“The Lost Skyscrapers of Goose Island: Philip Armour’s Grain Elevators, 1888-1933”

Thomas Leslie, FAIA, Iowa State Univeristy

Chicago’s status as the financial capital of the Midwest was due to its geographic position at the junction of numerous routes of exchange, but also, as William Cronon explained in his 1990 book, Nature’s Metropolis, to the development of storage structures that transformed grain from an agricultural product sold by the bag to a freeflowing commodity. While physical grain moved through and around the Chicago River and the ‘iron necklace’ of rail lines surrounding the city’s center, speculators and traders within the Loop found sophisticated ways to bet on its pricing without ever coming into contact with the operations of the city’s growing collection of enormous handling structures. 

These grain elevators were owned and operated by a loose clique of elevators who were poised between the interests of traders, farmers, railroads, and increasingly nervous state and federal governments who saw the explosive growth of futures trading as a genuine risk to the country’s sustenance. In particular, market manipulations known as ‘corners,’ during which traders would draw up contracts requiring delivery of vast quantities of grain for a set price on a future date—and then hoard grain to drive up those prices, forcing their marks to purchase and sell the same grain back at ferocious losses—caused the Chicago grain market to fluctuate wildly. Local papers reported breathlessly on the drama of traders winning and losing unimaginable fortunes during these struggles while elevator operators quietly pocketed their share of both parties’ transactions through storage fees and under-the-table payments elicited by such corners’ need for huge stockpiles of commodity grain.

Philip Armour made his fortune in Chicago on meatpacking—and, in particular, by cornering the hog market through similar manipulations at the end of the Civil War. Seeing even greater potential in grain, however, he embarked on a plan in 1882 to break a corner attempt by secretly hoarding grain as protection against price manipulations; to ensure secrecy, he took over a network of elevators connected to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. This strategy proved successful, and in 1887 he launched an even more ambitious defense against another corner by rapidly building the city’s largest grain elevators on Goose Island, in the River’s north branch, that connected him to the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. With access to vast territories both west and northwest of the city, Armour proved a formidable financial warrior, building another “thirty-day” elevator to smash yet another corner bid in 1893.

Armour’s structures captured the imagination of the city and, indeed, the nation. Scientific American devoted several pages to the resulting complex, the Chicago Tribune called it one of the city’s “seven wonders,” and for years postcards and tourist pamphlets included the 150’ high structures as must-see attractions. As the largest of over one hundred timber and iron elevators in the city, Armour’s were flagships not only for the grain trade, but for the city’s reputation as a place of ruthless financial buccaneering; they became symbols of Chicago’s bustling port and the scale of its speculative dealings. Destroyed by fires during the Depression, nothing remains of these giant examples of architecture as economic warfare, but the central importance of the commodities market is a lasting monument to the activity that was enabled and symbolized by the city’s “other skyscrapers.”

“A Symbol of Resistance: The Farmers’ Alliance Building in Big D”

Paula Lupkin, University of North Texas

By the late 1880s unrest grew among the farmers in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, who like agrarians throughout the US, resented the control wielded by railroads and distant bankers and brokers over the price and distribution of their crops. Much of the infrastructure that facilitated this system of control, from the rail lines themselves, to telegraphic networks, grain elevators, and cold storage warehouses, terminal facilities, and merchant’s exchanges, were controlled in St. Louis, Kansas City, and New Orleans. To resist, local branches of the Farmers’ Alliance organization, part of the Populist movement, sought to cooperatively manage their own grain elevators, crop insurance companies, and plow and cultivator dealerships across rural America. In Texas, they took their fight from the country to the city, building an ambitious four story, $45,000 Alliance Exchange building designed by Albrich Ulrich just at the edge of growing Dallas to coordinate the marketing of the cotton crop of the state membership and to act as a central purchasing house. 

This paper will examine this radical urban-agricultural architectural experiment, which housed store rooms, banking facilities, a telegraph office, and wholesale farm implement dealers. It linked the farmers from their rural locations to the markets of Dallas and St. Louis, where they competed directly and equally with the brokers and dealers on the exchanges, purchased their cultivators and seed in bulk, and borrowed money at reasonable rates. Lasting only a few years before failing financially, the Alliance Exchange and its building is an important and rare link between city and country, vernacular and elite, pre-industrial and industrial, agrarian and commercial. 

© Vernacular Architecture Forum

For more information or questions contact
the secretary or the webmaster.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software