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  • 13 Apr 2021 12:06 PM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    Information about the Virtual Conference May 21-22, 2021 is now live on the website!

  • 20 Mar 2021 11:40 AM | Christine R Henry

    VAF’s Virtual Conference will be held Friday and Saturday, May 21 and 22, 2021.

    Friday’s events begin at 2 pm central and will include a welcome, a brief annual meeting, an awards ceremony for both 2020 and 2021 winners, a Field Work Round Table, and a San Antonio Preview.

    Saturday’s paper and poster day begins at 10 am central and will include three paper sessions, one in the morning and two in the afternoon, with the poster sessions at midday.


    More details on schedule and registration coming soon!

  • 20 Mar 2021 11:35 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Claire W. Dempsey, VAF President, and Claudia R. Brown, VAF Treasurer

    Once again this year, an exceptional benefactor has made an unrestricted gift of $100,000 to the Vernacular Architecture Forum.  We are indeed fortunate to have the continued generosity of this remarkable donor who, since 2011, has bestowed $100,000 annually to the VAF.

    These gifts have transformed our organization, providing the financial security and resources that underpin all our programs.  VAF’s net worth has grown significantly, from under $150,000 in 2011 to over $1.8 million today. This extraordinary good fortune has suggested it was time for a review of our investment policies and of the structure of the assets that serve as our ‘endowment,’ a process currently underway within the Finance Committee.  This should allow us to continue to strengthen our programs, provide administrative help to the Board, and increase our own generosity, all to improve our understanding of vernacular buildings and landscapes.

    We owe a huge debt of gratitude to this dear friend of VAF.

  • 20 Mar 2021 11:30 AM | Christine R Henry

    The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has generously awarded funding to the Vernacular Architecture Forum and the University of Virginia to sponsor and support summer field schools that will focus on African American places and engage Black communities, scholars, and students. VAF President Claire Dempsey had formed a committee to work with UVa’s principal investigator Louis Nelson to develop the format and goals of the program. The committee currently includes Carl Lounsbury, Kim Hoagland, Niya Bates, and Jim Buckley in addition to Claire and Louis, with additional members to be an announced. The group hopes to complete the initial application materials for distribution on the VAF website this Spring and select the first field school site in Fall 2021 in time for an initial fieldwork session in Summer 2022.

    VAF anticipates working with three different field school teams at three different African American historical sites over the summers of 2022-2025. Each site will run two 3- or 4-week sessions spread over two summers, and the teams will work with VAF and UVa as sponsors to select a diverse cohort of field school participants from both national and local sources. Field school students will not need to have previous experience in vernacular field work, as participants will be trained in and carry out a variety of recording techniques, including traditional hand measuring, high tech imaging, and ethnographic methods.

    Please spread the word about this fabulous opportunity to help us increase our diversity and broaden our knowledge about African American vernacular sites! For more information about this program, contact Louis Nelson at ln6n@virginia.edu.

  • 20 Mar 2021 11:15 AM | Christine R Henry

    The Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) solicits letters of interest to serve as part of its Vernacular Architecture Newsletter (VAN) team of editors.  The newsletter currently has openings for 1) VAN Editor; 2) Assistant Editor for News; and 3) Assistant Editor for Features. This will be an exciting opportunity to contribute to our VAF community and help VAN transition to a dynamic new format.

    In a time of social distancing, digital communications are even more essential for keeping VAF members in touch and current.  In recent months, an ad hoc committee has reviewed the current state of VAN and envisioned ways VAN can be redesigned and restructured to be more useful for our members, more easily integrate with all our digital communication channels, and bring in new generations to VAF.  The VAF Board has approved a plan to increase VAN’s publication schedule from quarterly to monthly and to add two Assistant Editors to share the work of producing the newsletter.

    Publication every month, with set deadlines for submission and publication, will improve communication and alleviate the uncertainty of publication.  Going forward, information that comes to VAN editors will be immediately posted in one of four blogs on the website, currently planned to cover VAF business, other business, member news, and features. A monthly digest of blog posts will be sent to members as VAN, with expanded visual and narrative content on a quarterly basis. Eight times a year, the newsletter will be mostly text and will include news and information items from the VAF.  Four times a year, the newsletter will have more images, longer features, the bibliography, and any news items.

    Undertaking this work will be three editors. The VAN Editor will oversee the Assistant Editors and the collection, editing, and publishing of VAN eight times per year.  The VAN Editor serves a three-year term and is also a member of the VAF Board.  The Assistant Editor for Features will solicit and edit longer articles, works with the bibliographer, and oversee the collection, editing, and publishing of VAN four times per year. The Assistant Editor for News will edit/adapt and sends content to social media, coordinating with web editor.  The Assistant Editors will first serve a one or two year term to establish a rotation for the three positions and will then be eligible for a three year term.  The Assistant Editors will not serve on the Board. The plan is for the new VAN Editor to join the selection committee to select the Assistant Editors.  All editors will begin their terms in spring 2021 by shadowing the current VAN editor, Christine Henry.

    To be considered for one of these VAN editorial positions, interested parties should send letters of interest and CVs/resumes (or any questions) to VAF President Claire Dempsey at dempseyc@bu.edu. Applicants should have knowledge of the VAF and its mission regarding the built environment; excellent writing, editing, and communication skills; and facility with social media. Past digital issues of VAN are available on the VAF website.

    Applications for  all positions VAN Editor,  Assistant Editor for Features, and Assistant Editor for News are due by April 1, 2021

  • 20 Mar 2021 11:00 AM | Christine R Henry

    Although this year because of the pandemic we will all gather again virtually to have our annual meeting and share wonderful research we want to make sure that everyone is planning for San Antonio in May 2022.  So this is the third installment of images that preview those exciting tours. Hope to see you all there! 

    Stonewall - Friedrich and Christine Sauer house. Photo courtesy of Brent R. FortenberryOur Hill Country sojourn will include an afternoon visit to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which has been well-restored by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. Just across the Pedernales River is LBJ’s Texas White House, definitely an extraordinary landscape, but on the south side is an excellent everyday landscape. The site includes an older house, the home of Friedrich and Emil Sauer, which began as a single room with walls of alternating logs and rock, circa 1869, but which was enlarged with three rooms of stone. A few feet away is a slightly later rock kitchen, and, across a dogtrot, a late Victorian one-story house built for Emil and Emma Beckmann circa 1915. As if this were not enough, it is surrounded by rock outbuildings and a well-preserved barn!

  • 20 Mar 2021 10:30 AM | Christine R Henry

    photo courtesy of PJ CarlinoI study vernacular architecture because it complements my interest in industrially produced vernacular objects. My scholarship originates in mass-produced tools and furnishings that are embedded in networks of power which are often inseparable from the surrounding space. I am interested in the complex networks of agents who shape the dynamics of race, gender, and class formation through industrial design. The study of vernacular spaces is critical to my understanding of how structural inequality is made concrete in the built environment.

    As a design historian interested in the anonymous and overlooked object teaching among designers focused on innovation, I frequently must defend the applicability of my work to colleagues. VAF gives provides an opportunity to share my work with a supportive and engaging community. It is invaluable to have a large and diverse group of knowledgeable like-minded folk critique my ideas and investigations.

    In addition to being a historian and educator, I am a designer and artist drawn to cultural landscapes of industry. There are few organizations where I could spend the morning touring a working industrial saw mill with two dozen friends as we did at the Philadelphia conference, and then the afternoon touring the inside and outside of worker housing, churches, and burial grounds of the surrounding community. That day, my phone was lit up by a continual stream of text messages sent between myself and friends alerting one another of sites not to be missed because they pertained to our interests. No one thought it strange as I crawled around on my hands and knees underneath the mechanical seats of a church looking for clues to their history.

    I am honored to be part of the VAF community, to contribute to the body of scholarship the organization has created, and to bring my administrative and educational skills to the work of the board.

  • 20 Mar 2021 10:20 AM | Christine R Henry

    Daniel De Sousa in his natural environment, taking a window detail with profile comb and pencil at a house recently acquired by Manassas National Battlefield Park. Photo courtesy of Daniel De Sousa.What are your interests in vernacular architecture?

    I've been interested in everyday architecture ever since I was a kid, who spent the drives to Grandma's comparing all of the different houses we saw along the way. Unsurprisingly, my childhood dream was to become an architect, and during my high school summers I worked as a draftsman at a local firm learning all about life "on the inside." The principals trained me in the dying arts of pencil-on-vellum and hand lettering, and involved me in every kind of project that crossed the drafting table: from strip mall storefronts to dentist offices, warehouses to bakery production lines, raised ranch additions to the developer spec houses that were replacing them.

    Classes at Connecticut College with my advisor (and former VAF President) Abby Van Slyck introduced me to vernacular architecture as a field of study. She opened my eyes to the ways the built environment can inform our understanding of patterns of living. It was also Abby who pointed me to historic documentation as a line of work, and reshaped the future of my entire career: in my senior year she suggested I apply to the Heritage Documentation Program's (HABS/HAER/HALS) summer program, and I've been there ever since.

    In my time at HDP, I’ve spent every summer on the other side of that experience, teaching students how to document historic structures using the latest in laser scanning and digital photogrammetry combined with profile combs and pencil and paper. My work has taken me all over the country, documenting barns, hospitals, campgrounds, mid-century apartments, lighthouses, zoo enclosures, and even the Statue of Liberty.

    Why are you involved in VAF?

    I received a crash course in VAF in 2010, when several of my colleagues at HDP were involved in planning the Washington, DC Conference. Since it was local, I was allowed to participate on the office's dime. Two full days of architecture tours led by experts, with meals included? How could I turn that down? Even the paper sessions, I discovered, were on such widely varied topics it was hard to choose which ones to attend. And then there was the zeitgeist of the membership: the almost reverential respect toward owners who had opened their homes to us; the collegial debates in attics and cellars over the meaning of an iron nail or muntin profile; how friendly and enthusiastic everyone was to meet someone new, or to see their old friends again. By the end, I knew that I had found a tribe of “my people.”

    If you have one, what is a favorite memory about VAF, and why do you want to be on the board/what do you bring to the board?

    I’ve attended seven of the last ten conferences held since 2010, and each has given me the opportunity to see wonderful places, make great connections, and broaden my knowledge beyond the niche of producing architectural documentation. When I was asked if I was interested in serving on the Board, I was more than happy to give back to the organization that’s given me so much.

    With my background, joining the Orlando Ridout V Fellowship Committee felt like a natural fit. I strongly believe that physically interacting with and exploring a structure is an indispensable part of learning about it. Working at HDP has given me the immense luxury of spending many weeks a year in the field, and a good chunk of that teaching the next generation of practitioners. The pandemic, unfortunately, has meant challenging times for field schools, including our own. Heritage Documentation Programs cancelled its summer program for the first time in living memory last year, and it will remain dormant in 2021. As we begin to recover, though, I hope that I can bring a useful perspective to the committee and advocate for what I consider the best part of the job.

  • 20 Mar 2021 10:10 AM | Christine R Henry

    Vyta exploring tabby architecture in Georgia. Photo courtesy of Vyta Pivo.My interests in vernacular architecture concern the construction of concrete infrastructure, from roads and highways to bridges and unspectacular high rises. I am curious about not only how built environments are designed, but also how the materials that go into their construction are manufactured and distributed, and how they affect natural, animal, and human bodies. This is the topic of my PhD dissertation at the George Washington University, titled “The Gospel of Concrete: American Infrastructure and Global Power.”

    I was introduced to VAF by two of my mentors, Richard Longstreth, the co-chair of my dissertation, and Lisa Davidson, Sally Kress Tompkins Fellowship supervisor. Richard is a giant in the field and has been involved with VAF for decades; he encouraged me to attend my first conference in Alexandria, VA in 2018. Lisa guided my HABS documentation of Paul Rudolph’s Burroughs Wellcome headquarters in the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; the building has been recently demolished, but my JSAH article based on this research will be coming out later this month. Lisa's attention to detail and instruction for how to properly measure and describe buildings helped me understand that VAF is not just another conference, but an opportunity to learn and sharpen skills in observation and documentation. I joined the VAF Board of Directors as a graduate student representative to help guide the organization and to also voice an important student perspective.

    My favorite memory about VAF is attending my first meeting on the Potomac. I very much enjoyed the paper sessions, but the trips along the Maryland shore completely blew me away. I felt like I was back in architecture school, traveling across diverse landscapes to document typically inaccessible buildings. And at VAF my peers came from all types of different backgrounds, including academia, historic preservation, nonprofit, and the government sectors. I really enjoyed learning alongside these folks, who soon became very close colleagues. At a time when education in architecture and design seems to lead only on a path to further precarity, it is so encouraging to see architectural preservation and documentation work thriving and at its highest standard.

  • 20 Mar 2021 10:07 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Tom Leytham


    In the early 19th century Tunbridge, Vermont was a one-stop shopping center.  The town had a general store, livery stable, hotel, granary, grist mill, saw mill, and blacksmith shop as well as well as several covered bridges.  The Spring Road part of the historic district has a 1½ story blacksmith cottage and residence, a covered bridge, grist and saw mill. The mill is the step child of the group, in the shadow of the Vermont cute village image.

    But the mill is one of the most original examples of Vermont vernacular architecture –hiding in plain sight. The 1½ story grist mill was built in 1820 using locally sourced brick.  In 1870, a saw mill was added by just building a new structure over the existing building – Pokeman style.  The configuration was dictated by the sloping lot, in order to keep the belts vertical from the turbine through the building – with one turbine serving the grist and saw mills plus the wood shop. Restricted by the land and river, the bold addition does not overpower the modest original structure but ingeniously compliments it.

    The interior is almost intact. Patterns for bull rakes hang on the wall of the woodshop.  The band saw, table saw, planer, and lathe are ready for the leather drive belt to engage. The chutes, conveyors and mill stones are still hooked up and ready to make flour.

    The 1911 turbines have been removes to ready the building for its next life – to generate electricity for homes in Tunbridge Village.



    for a video about Tom's work "Hiding in Plain Sight"

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