UNCG Ambassadors Share Experiences

19 Jul 2016 4:50 PM | Christine R Henry (Administrator)

UNCG Students in DurhamThe Interior Architecture/ Historic Preservation students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) would like to thank the Vernacular Architecture Forum for hosting our involvement in the 2016 conference in Durham. Below are some of our individual reflections about our experiences and some ideas on how we will continue to promote the VAF for years to come. Thank you so much for facilitating our participation in the conference!

“I am so grateful I was able to attend the VAF Conference this year in Durham. It was an incredible experience to network with so many people in the field and to see a new side of Durham—a city I have lived near for over 10 years, yet never explored in depth. The bus tours were a fun way to explore both the city and rural towns around North Carolina. I had the opportunity to assist Ruth Little with her tours of Milton and Yanceyville, towns dear to my heart. I experienced downtown Durham’s tobacco heritage, the rich African American history of North Carolina Central University and the related College Heights neighborhood, and the monumental architecture of Duke University. I fully anticipate attending the VAF Conference next year in Salt Lake City and will be submitting a paper in the hopes that I receive the Simpson Presenter’s Fellowship. I will continue to promote the VAF as a fun, informative, and welcoming group to other UNCC-G students and people I encounter in the field. I intend to stay a VAF member for many years to come. Thank you again for facilitating our participation in the conference. We felt very welcome.”

– Samantha Smith

“VAF was such an incredible experience. I got to experience North Carolina in a new way. I was able to meet people from across the United States who are also passionate about vernacular architecture. As a student, it was nice to be able to connect with professionals from various fields.”

– Emily-Kate Hannapel

“As a student ambassador at this year's VAF conference, I was thrilled to be able to support a tour of my city on the bus tour of the City of Durham. Being able to see one's city through a new lens is truly a gift. I appreciated the tour's focus on NC labor history through the identification of the tobacco and textile engines that drove the creation of Durham and the buildings that housed that history, including the textile mill villages still in tact. I enjoyed the visit to the Hayti Heritage Center and appreciated the focus on the role of urban renewal and Highway 147 in destroying the social fabric of a thriving Black neighborhood in Durham that continues to still impact that community and the rest of the city today. In addition to HHC, Andre Vann also showed our group some fantastic homes based in the North Carolina Central University surrounding area and got me interested in visiting the NCCU archives very soon! We also had a fabulous lunch of delicious Southern food at the Blue Note Grill, where I met several exciting people in the field I intend to stay in touch with. 

The home tours in the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, however, while interesting, for me raised some deep concerns with the way in which some of the historic preservation community is talking about (or not talking about) gentrification--I heard the War on Drugs-era term "crack house" used twice over the course of the home tours by current upper/middle class white residents along with their comments about hoping to remove some of their poor and working class neighbors (mostly people of color) from their homes. It was both disturbing and discouraging for me as a Durham-based public historian who is involved in the fight against both gentrification and racism in Durham's city planning efforts, two things I encountered as a student ambassador during this part of our city bus tour.Overall, I learned a lot about my city and I truly appreciated this opportunity!”

      Kimber Heinz 

“The Vernacular Architecture Conference in Durham was the most valuable conference I have been to in my tenure as a graduate student at UNCG. The days were packed with unique and personal experiences of the architecture of the piedmont region around Durham. I was so impressed by how many places we had available to us on the tours, how well organized and documented each stop was, and how special so many of the places were. Some of the highlights were meeting Ben Williamson in Yanceyville at his home Clarendon Hall, seeing the incredibly unique Caswell County Courthouse, and the charming people and architecture at the Rosenwald School. And I have to give a shout out to the planners of the food—it was North Carolina at its best!” 

– Sheila O’Rourke


“I attended the Vernacular Architecture Forum in Durham NC this year, and was delightfully surprised at the treasures I discovered.  Durham has a rich history and interesting architecture; as a lifelong North Carolinian resident I'm almost ashamed that I had not realized this before.  On the bus tour of Durham I was able to see the cast off buildings of tobacco manufacturing that have been tastefully recreated into office and retail space.  One space in particular left a lasting impression: a collective of artists' studios, which from the lobby and interconnecting corridors felt intentionally stark and institutional, but behind each door revealed the creativity of community artist's whose work-in-progress was exposed for all to see.  Also on the tour were several homes in varying stages of preservation.  I always appreciate behind-the-scene access to interesting spaces, and being able to tour someone's home is an intimate and revealing opportunity.  Several churches also caught my eye: the stained glass in the Hayti Heritage Center, the stone facade of the Holy Cross Catholic Church on the campus of NC Central University, and the sublime Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University.  Though far from vernacular, the Duke Chapel was remarkable and I enjoyed just sitting, staring, and wondering in this magnificent structure.

Beyond the tour, the Saturday paper sessions provided the chance to get out of the heat, meet like minded people, and hear what was new in the field.  As a public history major with an interest in house museums, I was particularly interested in the two speakers from Monticello and took away some fresh ideas on how digital recreations of long fallen structures can provide the public with information on historical architecture without the cost of constructing reproductions.  Monticello's Mulberry Row, the former 18th century slave quarters for Jefferson's plantation, has a handful of reconstructed samples of slave dwellings, but through the digital project, visitors can view numerous plantation structures as they would have looked at three different time periods in history.”

– M. Lewis

“The Vernacular Architecture Conference in Durham was an extremely exciting event to participate in this year. The conference structure was unique with tours for the first two full days followed by a research centered paper session day. All members were friendly and interested in the student ambassadors. I felt fully embraced by a group of like-minded built environment enthusiasts and problem solvers. Durham was a wonderful host and a perfect location to discuss vernacular architecture! Out of all the conferences I have attended during my graduate school experience, this organization's annual meeting was a valuable experience for me.”

– Mardita Murphy

“American architect, Robert Venturi, tells us that : "A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus." We may mostly infer that he is speaking of a type of conceptual architecture, the high styles which form the discursive cases often cited as models in academia, in the social imagination and which taken together seem to drive engines of commerce and economics.

As true as this may be, the VAF forum offers an alternate lens through which to ascertain meaning. With hot Southern days under a blazing sky and broken air conditioning; the logistics of herding minds and bodies with diverse interests and a great deal of, dare I say it? ... passion, the simple stewardship of ordinary spaces where life happens--The VAF offers the most intimate and familiar lens for architecture: the human perspective, with all of its challenges and all of it's innovation in the face of an uncontrollable experience of reality. It is in this realm of day-to-day reality confronting realty that we are offered understanding to many levels of human experience. In shaping our environment, indeed in shaping our perspective on the built environment, we create memory of place whose significance appears to us as the most valid form of architecture simply because it holds meaning to us (as humans).”

– Christopher Scott Vann

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