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  • 15 Jul 2015 10:48 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Gretchen Buggeln, VAF President

    VAF Tour of Marktown, photo courtesy of authorI live in Northwest Indiana, about an hour from the southern border of the city of Chicago. No single experience has ever helped me to better understand the texture of Chicago—its history, its architecture, its challenges, and its possibilities—than our recent VAF conference. From the opening reception at Salvage One, with Davarian Baldwin’s provocative lecture about preservation and race in the Southside, to the closing banquet when we packed into Boni Vivo for great Italian food and lively conversation, the conference was filled with memorable sights and new ideas.

    Past VAF conferences in New York (2006) and Washington, D.C. (2010) proved that we could profitably move ourselves and our vernacular approach to the big city for an annual meeting. The idea of a Chicago VAF had enticed us for some time, but it wasn’t until Virginia (Gigi) Price took on the enormous task of organizing this conference—while herself living in Washington, D.C.—that the idea became reality.  Although many minds and hands crafted our meeting in Chicago, without Gigi’s enthusiasm and persistent effort, it never would have happened. Gigi—an enormous thanks from all of us! Our thanks go out as well to all the conference partners, especially Brad Hunt, our host at centrally-located and beautifully-equipped Roosevelt University.

    The conference, titled “Out of the Loop,” promised to take attendees away from the commercial and tourist hub near the lake and out to less known parts of Chicago and the wider region. Thursday tours visited neighborhoods in and around Chicago: thriving Hispanic landscapes in Pilsen and Little Village, Polish neighborhoods and churches of the Near Northwest, public housing developments, the lively and ethnically diverse South Asian community on Devon Avenue. Another tour looked at the architectural mecca of Oak Park through VAF-colored glasses (Frank Lloyd Wright, but also commercial districts and the challenges of racial integration).  At the end of this beautiful, sunny day, we all met in Logan Square to hear Liz Carroll play her fiddle and tell stories of Chicago, and we sampled local culinary offerings.

    Friday came in windy and unseasonably chilly. Conference attendees chose one of two tours. The first explored the industrial Calumet region, stretching from Chicago, through the company town of Pullman, down to Gary, Indiana. The second toured “Becoming Black Chicago” on the South Side—Bronzeville, South Shore, and the Dorcester Project. On the Calumet tour, I was delighted with our guide Mark Bouman’s knowledge of the natural history of this region. From now on, when I drive to Chicago on I-90, past huge industrial complexes shooting fire and smoke into the sky, I will have a new appreciation for the marshes, lakes, and dunes and the critters and plants that live—and survive—there.

    Company town of Marktown, photo courtesy of authorNot all the sights on these tours were comfortable. As Gigi wrote in the guidebook, “Chicago has much to teach us about finding common humanity amidst a city greatly influenced by redlining, disinvestment, and predatory lending. Class, too, matters and mid-twentieth century issues around de-industrialization, job loss, and gentrification remain unsolved and are dramatically visible in the landscape.” It was unsettling to walk through Marktown, a once visionary company town now a precarious remnant in the shadow of the BP refinery. Or, to experience the eerily quiet streets of downtown Gary and view the poignant ruin of a once magnificent Methodist church just sitting there—a Tintern Abbey with far less romance. We naturally wonder about the future in store for those places. But there was also beauty to be found, regeneration, cooperation, and adaptation. For me, this promise was captured in the hope that one small, translucent white flower, Thismia americana, known only to the Chicago region and not seen since 1916, will one day be found again on the South Shore of Lake Michigan!

    I’ve been slowly reading through the guidebook, pleased with the knowledge that I can pop back up to the city and explore some more.  I hope many of you have the same opportunity.  This book is still available for sale, and much of the conference material is accessible online.

    Our Saturday paper sessions, held in Roosevelt’s state-of-the-art classrooms, set a VAF record for number of panels (28) and variety of topics. Representing our North American roots were papers on grange halls, log cabins, and urban housing reform. Several panels presented new approaches to understanding vernacular architecture, asking us to think, for instance, about the sensory experiences of smell as humans move through buildings and streetscapes. Another session explored fresh “digital approaches to the landscape,” and presented imaginative ways of using new digital tools and “big data” to do architectural history. Eight papers took us beyond the borders of North America—to Turkey, China, Japan, and more. We also heard papers on the effects of globalization on North American places. I think of one in particular, Cynthia Anderson’s, “Landscape of Transients and Permanence: The Global Garden in Chicago,” about a neighborhood garden established in 2012. This agricultural site in the middle of an urban neighborhood is both a community garden and a refugee training farm, where middle class urbanites raise organic produce next to immigrants from Bhutan who grow food to support their families.  This garden encapsulates the positive themes of this conference: immigration, migration, adaptation, exchange, and ethnically and culturally diverse people working alongside each other to shape the landscape of a dynamic city.


  • 15 Jul 2015 10:30 AM | Christine R Henry

    Remarks delivered by the Bishir Prize Committee chair, Allison Hoagland, at the at the annual meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2015.

    View of the castle at Dixcove, Ghana. Photograph by Louis P. Nelson, July 2012The Catherine Bishir Prize is awarded to the scholarly article that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes.  The jury—composed of Betsy Cromley, Bill Littmann, and myself—received a dozen excellent submissions that demonstrated the vitality of the field of vernacular studies.  While most of these articles were published in VAF’s own journal, Buildings and Landscapes, we also received submissions from four other journals, showing VAF’s reach into neighboring fields.  The submitted articles made us realize how the study of vernacular landscapes continues to be vital and exciting, taking on unexplored topics or developing new methodologies to study the ordinary environment.  The high level of scholarship, the close study of buildings, the interpretation of landscapes, and the innovative approaches made these articles a delight to read—and also a tough decision for the jury.  But we did reach a decision.

    We are pleased to award the Bishir Prize to Louis Nelson for his article, “Architectures of West African Enslavement,” published in Buildings and Landscapes last year.  In this article, Nelson looks not only at fortifications in West Africa in which slaves awaiting sale were imprisoned, but, defining space broadly, also at the whole sequence of capture, journey to the coast, and loading onto ships.  One of the “methodological convictions” that Nelson lays out in this article is that the experience of a space is far more important than its material making.  As he points out, “understanding the architecture of the slave trade helps to ground the horror.”  Nelson’s work is rooted in vernacular studies, but he extends it in new directions, including his analysis of how a place is experienced, how a transaction might involve a sequence of spaces, and how these places relate to larger economic systems.  Examining both the particular and the general, Nelson’s article is a model of vernacular studies.

  • 15 Jul 2015 10:29 AM | Christine R Henry

    Remarks delivered by the Buchanan Award Committee chair, Nora Pat Small, at the at the annual meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2015.

    The PauStephen Fan's exhibit “Sub Urbanisms: Casino Company Town/China Town”, at Lyman Allyn Art Museuml E. Buchanan Award, established in 1993, recognizes contributions to the study and preservation of vernacular architecture and the cultural landscape that do not take the form of books or published works. Paul Buchanan served as the Director of Architectural Research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for over thirty years and inspired generations of VAF members to discover the rewards of fieldwork.

    The 2015 Paul E. Buchanan Award goes to curator and producer Stephen Fan for his exhibit “Sub Urbanisms: Casino Company Town/China Town”, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum of New London, Connecticut. Fan’s field work and research revealed the extent to which immigrant Asian casino workers have been transforming the suburban neighborhood adjacent to the Mohegan Sun casino since 2001. The resulting exhibit, as he noted in his submission, “used history to bridge contemporary cultural divides and to question the future ecological, social, and economic sustainability of the ever-changing American suburban ideal.”

    In confronting disputes about legitimacy, exploring cultural expectations for suburban living, and scrutinizing the role of government in enforcing traditional community norms, this project has met the high standards set by Paul Buchanan for recording and interpreting the vernacular landscape. In addition, the associated public forum, informal community events, publication, and closing reception brought together academics, politicians, immigrant workers, and other neighbors for spirited discussions about the community’s past and future, as well as about participants’ cultural values and assumptions. Ultimately, the exhibit provided the opportunity for all concerned to recognize the historical, economic, and political forces at work in shaping the past and the present landscape.

  • 15 Jul 2015 10:28 AM | Christine R Henry

    Remarks delivered by the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize Committee chair, Matthew Lasner, at the at the annual meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2015.

    Cover of The Social Project, Cummings Prize Award winner 2015Kenny Cupers’ The Social Project: Housing Postwar France (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) is a deeply researched, well-illustrated, and conceptually innovative study that challenges prevailing ideas about Modernism in architecture. It expands the boundaries of vernacular architecture studies — and, more generally, the fields of architecture and urbanism — by paying close attention to a wide range of often overlooked actors and forces that shape buildings and metropolitan landscapes: not only the designer and user, but also bureaucratic systems and academic knowledge. “Modern architecture,” Cupers argues, “did not belong to an avant-garde of architects alone; it was shared and shaped by government officials, construction, companies, residents’ associations, developers, and social scientists” (xii).

    Between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, France, like much of Western Europe, undertook a massive, state-led construction program of multifamily housing in the suburbs, producing a “new world” for millions: serial, prefabricated housing slabs and towers surrounded by plazas, community centers, highways, parking, and “monstrous shopping-mall megastructures.” Quickly stigmatized and now much maligned, the grands ensembles have typically been framed as a product of misguided top-down forces influenced strongly by CIAM. Cupers complicates this positioning. The Social Project takes pains to illustrate through impressive archival research the complexity of Le Corbusier’s impact and the great degree to which other lineages and realities determined the shape of postwar France.

    The Social Project places postwar French urbanism in a larger historical and global context, drawing connections between the French banlieues and United States public housing, British New Towns, Eastern Bloc microrayon, and even mass-built American suburbs such as Levittown. Cupers also explores France’s “social project” in the context of the country’s often overlooked private housing market: its strengths (few) and weaknesses (many) in the interwar period, the impact of wartime rent controls, the sector’s marginalization during the postwar decades, and its gradual resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s. Of equal interest, The Social Project deftly reintroduces familiar scholars and critics active in postwar France, such as Manuel Castells and Henri Lefebevre, complicating how their work has been interpreted in the Anglophone literature in the context of evolving regimes of urbanism in Europe.

    The task of selecting the book that best contributes to the overall intellectual vitality in North America of vernacular studies is not an easy one. The Social Project stands out not just for shedding light on an important topic that has been neglected in English-language scholarship or the high quality of original research, but for breaking new interpretive ground. In arguing Modernism, at least as deployed in France, was less a style than a product of complex negotiations between the professional imperatives, social-scientific expertise, and the quotidian, Cupers offers a new way of thinking about the twentieth-century built environment that is exemplary of Dell Upton’s admonition to write the history of architecture as “landscape history” rather than design history.

  • 15 Jul 2015 10:27 AM | Christine R Henry

    Remarks delivered by VAF President Chris Wilson at the annual meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2015

    Photo of Dell Upton courtesy of Carl LoundsburyIt is difficult to image a person who has achieved more or contributed more to the field of vernacular architecture studies than the recipient of this year’s Henry Glassie Award, Dell Upton. Upton is a graduate of the storied Brown University program in American Civilization, where his dissertation committee included chair James Deetz, and readers George Monteiro and Henry Glassie. He began his professional career as an architectural historian with the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission in the mid-1970s.

    As one of the founders of the Vernacular Architectural Forum in 1979, he served as the first editor of our newsletter, Vernacular Architecture News. In those pre-internet days, those mimeographed, later printed newsletters, and Dell as its editor for ten years served as the indispensible clearing house for information on the quickening of scholarship on everyday buildings and landscapes. VAN and Upton’s own growing stature gave the VAF intellectual credibility, and helped create our community of scholars.

    Upton’s own voracious reading and centrality to this emerging discourse, positioned him to edit two influential 1986 collections. Common Places, edited with John Vlach, sampled a rich range of topics, research methods and interpretive strategies, and demonstrated the depth and vitality of the field. America's Architectural Roots broke out of the early east coast focus of the field, even more definitively, to suggest an inclusive range of ethnic and regional traditions.

    Remarkably that same year, 1986—while still the editor of VAN—Upton also published his first great scholarly monograph, Holy Things and Profane. The book is so inventive in its use of sources and range of themes that it is impossible to isolate a single strength. But I remember being particularly taken with his analysis of the relation between architecture, ritual and social hierarchy—of the ways that the “processional use of space,” of each socially- and gender-defined group entering the church in tern with the male planters entering last as a group, and of the repetition of this pattern at courthouses and planters’ homes, both reflected and reproduced social hierarchy in 18th century Virginia.

    Upton began to serve on thesis and dissertation committees at the University of Virginia in 1979, and after a series of visiting appointments in the East, joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. Over the next 20 years, working in particular with his colleague, Paul Groth, Berkeley became to my mind,  the leading center of graduate education in the field. Upton returned to UVA for 5 years, and since 2008 has taught and, for a term, chaired the Art History Department at UCLA. He has served on a total of 150 thesis and dissertation committees, including chairing 29 dissertation committees. His former students constitute a veritable who’s who of second and third generation scholars in the field.

    While I am focusing this evening on his books, he has also published over 80 scholarly articles, many as groundbreaking and widely read as his books. “Pattern Books and Professionalism,” Winterthur Portfolio (1983); “White and Black Landscape in Eighteenth Century Virginia,” Places (1985); “Architectural History or Landscape History,” JAE (1991); “Just Architectural Business as Usual,” Places (2000, a critique of New Urbanism) come quickly to mind. Scholars with other interests might come up with an entirely different list of favorites, so broad have been Upton’s concerns.

    His 1998, Architecture in the United States, incorporated recent vernacular architecture and cultural landscape scholarship into an architectural history textbook, deemphasizing the traditional distinction between elite and vernacular. In place of an inclusive chronology, he devoted each chapter to an interpretive theme: Community, Nature, Technology, Money and Art.  Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic, from 2008 is a compelling evocation and interpretation of lived experience, of the sights, sounds and smells of the early American cites. Upton notes elite attempts to foster decorum and shape new urban environments, but also elaborates the counter forces  of commerce, vernacular social traditions and the demimonde.

    Dell Upton has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association, both the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award and the Spiro Kostof Award from the Society of Architectural Historians, and twice the recipient of the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s Abbott Lowell Cummings Award. Please join me in welcoming the recipient of the 2015 Henry Glassie Award, Dell Upton.

  • 14 Jul 2015 8:00 PM | Christine R Henry

    by Wes Cheek

    It leaves a bit of residual academic whiplash, working on a Ph.D. in sociology after getting my master’s in historic preservation. Attending the Vernacular Architecture Forum Outside the Loop conference in Chicago this June was a great reminder to me about what drew me to preservation and architectural history in the first place. There were so many truly inspiring examples of scholars using architectural history to ask complex and interesting questions and find diverse and multifaceted ways by which to answer them. I was incredibly impressed at the variety and depth of the work being done by everyone involved in the conference. Being the only person with a background in architectural history in my current program I often have to begin presentations with an explanation of what the term vernacular means and why the buildings that we describe with this term are essential to study and explain. It was quite a relief to be at VAF around people who already grasp the importance of everyday structures as a given and then work from that understanding.

    The tours helped to illustrate what we often describe about vernacular architecture, that it is the setting for our everyday interactions and a frame for how we understand ourselves. Hearing the residents of public housing describe the fight to keep their housing from being destroyed reinforced the concept that preservation isn’t just mansions and monuments; it is also the places in which people live. Eating at a fish fry in a church basement showed that communities come together in places that they hold to be important. It was also revelatory for me, as I didn’t know that you knew how to do a fish fry up North. I stand corrected.  I also got a chance to see President Obama’s house, but that was accidental and I didn’t stare. I promise.  Those who lead the tours were informative and insightful. Additionally I learned a great deal from other people on the bus who were able to contribute their own knowledge on everything we were seeing.

    Try as I might I couldn’t make it to everyone’s paper presentation but I say this in all honesty; I wanted to see all of them. Each presentation I was able to make it to was an insight into a subject from a perspective I had not yet heard or considered. I now know far more about funeral homes in the South, community-based reconstruction in New York and abandoned buildings in Baltimore than I did when I started my trip.

    It is a long train ride from New Orleans to Chicago. I spent the majority of it drinking coffee and staring out the window at the vast wide United States; the swampy deltas and the little towns. I spent the trip up wondering what the VAF conference would be like, what I would hear and see. I spent the trip back down full of new images and concepts, feeling that I had learned more than I had known a week earlier- always the sign of a good trip- and eager for next year.

  • 14 Jul 2015 7:30 PM | Christine R Henry

    by Ana Croegaert

    My Vernacular Architecture Forum panel, Architectures of Enjoyment, was in many ways a departure from all of my previous scholarly conference presentations. I am an anthropologist by trainingan ethnographer of migration and cultureand most of my research on the built environment has centered on the efforts of people displaced by the wars in former Yugoslavia to shape the landscape in their sites of relocation, as well as in their homeland. At times my work has included the small pleasures immigrants take in ćejf / pronounced cheyf, roughly translated as to relish: a coffee, a cigarette, or a leisurely stroll through the Chicago lakefront. More often, though, I have spent hours documenting and analyzing the impacts of schrapnel-ridden homes, bombed-out religious and cultural sites, and postwar political gridlock, on the well being of Bosnians and the postwar diaspora.

    Mural on 2900 block of West Fullerton by artists Mike Tupak, BboyB, Skol, Mugs, Statik, Des, & FlashThrough this years VAF annual meeting, I was able to present new research that involves another set of migrations, and transformations of places: DJs and dance clubs. More specifically, House Music DJs and warehouses-turned-dance clubs. House music is an electronic music form innovated by Bronx-native Frankie Knuckles (Frank Warren) for primarily gay African-American and Latino clubgoers in Chicagos post-industrial warehouse sites in the West Loop and River West parts of the city in the late 1970s / early 1980s. The music, and the Warehouse”—the place where House music derives its name, and also the first club Knuckles DJ-ed before opening the Power Plant”—quickly went international: the Warehouse club in Leeds, England opened in 1979. The enjoyment panelists presentations focused our attention on how people endeavorand laborto create places of recreation.

    John Kramers images created a visual narrative of Chicagos mens bowling leagues, and how these leagues served both as sociable spaces for working-class men (leagues were segregated by race, and sex) and as spaces in which to imagine class mobility through the aesthetics of Progressive-Era fitness paradigms, and capitalist-class private mens clubs as manifested in the Rec center. Rosalynn and Adam Rothstein gave a thoroughly entertaining presentation on the hexayurt structure created by Vinay Gupta. While Gupta envisioned the hexayurt as a shelter that could be particularly useful in disaster relief settings, its most popular and prevalent use has been at the off-the-grid Burning Man annual outdoor festival held in Nevadas Black Rock Desert. The Rothsteins traced the hexayurts evolution to a readily available pre-fab model, along with its own lexicon (I learned that hexayurt debris is referred to as moop or matter out of place!) as it has been appropriated as a showcase for DIY idealist architecture. Chad Randls comments on the papers posed stimulating lines of overlap and inquiry about how we might think about the ways that cultural and technological innovations precede, and leave their mark in, place-adaptations. I was still chewing on this food-for-thought when I attended another inspiring panel: Roundtable on Latinos and the American Landscape.

    Here, Andrew Sandoval-Strausz, Sarah Lynn Lopez, and Mauricio Castro generated lively discussion peppered with critical commentary on the historical links established by North American and Caribbean Latinos on the North American architectural landscape. Sandoval-Strausz reminded us that Latino migrants in the U.S. have long been doing what urban planners in the 1980s coined mixed-use spaces, and New Urbanism. The central role of The Plaza in Latin American urban design is one among many such examples of urban living concepts Latinos have introduced to the United States. (I currently live in New Orleans, a U.S. city that has the mark of Latin-American / Anglo-American hybrid design in much of its landscape, starting with both a Plaza and a Central Business District). Castro provided a visual architectural genealogy of Miami, Florida and Havana, Cuba that helps us to better understand and to re-envision the renewed diplomatic and economic engagement between the United States and Cuba. Lopezs presentation was of particular interest to me, as her concept of the remittance landscape and what she calls the tyranny of maintenance sets forth a model for better understanding the political economy of migration, and the work of long-distance belonging while embedded in a set of often precarious circumstances and state of well-being.

    Together, these two panels reminded me of the promise that interdisciplinary research holds for helping us to grasp the empirical world, as well as to envision possible futures. The panelists took seriously the aesthetics of everyday people, including those of people from marginalized groups. They also placed these within a broader framework of inequality and class aspirations. Sandoval-Strauszs remark about the New Urbanism challenges us to think critically about how processes of racialization and inequality not only significantly shape our built environments; they do so because they are enacted through a series of shifting symbolicand ostensibly apoliticalaesthetics.  Thank you VAF: it was my pleasure to participate in this years meeting!

  • 14 Jul 2015 3:58 PM | Christine R Henry

    Cover of Winter in Tilting by Robert MellinVAF member Robert Mellin, Associate Professor at the McGill School of Architecture, was made a member of the Order of Canada in December, 2014 in recognition of his heritage conservation work in Newfoundland and also for his publications. He will also receive an honorary doctorate (D.Litt) from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador in May of 2015 in recognition of his work in preservation and architectural practice. Pedlar Press in St. John’s, Newfoundland published his book Winter in Tilting: Slide Hauling in a Newfoundland Outport, in 2015.

  • 14 Jul 2015 3:30 PM | Christine R Henry
    In a continuing series that explores the diversity of our membership, the following is an interview with a new VAF Board member, and VAF member since 2007, Emilie Johnson

    How were you introduced to VAF?

    Like so many others, I can date my introduction to VAF to a particular meeting  - Savannah.  I was a relative late-comer to VAF.  I came to graduate school in architectural history department at the University of Virginia out of an art history and art museum background and I had no idea what vernacular architecture was.  I studied under Louis Nelson, who introduced me to vernacular architecture and VAF, and had a cohort of peers at UVA who were engaged in thought-provoking ways of looking at and asking questions about buildings.  All of these new and interesting people were involved with this organization, and like all good peer pressure, I wanted to be part of it too.  After my first meeting, where I realized there was a larger community of people doing this kind of work, I was sold. 

    How has your experience with VAF shaped your career, methods, views etc.?

    About the same time I learned about VAF, I did my first fieldwork – which, as we all know, is just about the most fun you can have.  Through articles in Buildings and Landscapes, papers, presentations, and conversations on tours at the conferences, I have found VAF a consistent source of progressive, inclusive scholarship based on insightful questions derived from excellent research that is deeply place, object, and document based.  Now that I work at Monticello, a built environment often described in superlatives, I try to model my approach to the place from a VAF-inspired perspective. 

    What is one of your favorite VAF moments?

    It is hard to choose, but a couple of things came immediately to mind.  One was the Bubbles disco at the Falmouth conference – hosting papers by day, and other kinds of revelry at night.  I also thought about seeing the spiral staircase from Montmorenci in a Mount Vernon out in Fresno, California.  VAF is an organization that seeks out, embraces, and celebrates the unusual, the surprising, and sometimes the absurd, which is why I’m so happy to be part of it. 


  • 14 Jul 2015 3:28 PM | Christine R Henry

    http://architecture.brookes.ac.uk/research/pci/encyclopedia-of-vernacular-architecture.htmlExpressions of interest to contribute to the second revised edition of the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World are now invited.

    Please visit http://architecture.brookes.ac.uk/research/pci/encyclopedia-of-vernacular-architecture.html for details.

    The Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World will be a fully revised, updated and expanded edition of Paul Oliver’s classic 1997 publication. Featuring approximately 3,000 entries, the encyclopedia will contain over 30% entirely new material and will be available as a six volume printed work and as an interactive online encyclopedia.

    The encyclopedia will be published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2018.

    The deadline for submissions of all expressions of interest is 1 October 2015.

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