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  • 11 Aug 2019 12:00 PM | Christine R Henry

    Welcome to the Summer Issue of VAN.  Feel free to use this link if you just want to scroll through all the stories directly on the website, or take a look below for highlights of the issue with links directly to each story.  And don’t forget, if you want to see a caption just put your cursor on the image.  This summer issue is overflowing with great updates, opportunities, resources and articles.

    Featured in this issue are reports and reflections from the annual conference “Landscapes of Succession” held in Philadelphia May 29-June 1 where we hosted two Access Awardees, three groups of student Ambassadors, and celebrated awards (link) for publications, advocacy, and achievements. The VAF board also adopted a mission statement at the meeting, and a new President, Claire Dempsey, began her term in office. 

    Members have also shared wonderful news of publications, fellowships, and retirements.  In publications news, the Summer Bibliography is packed with useful resources that contribute to vernacular studies.  If you are thinking of contributing to the scholarly conversation, consider submitting to the VAF Journal Buildings & Landscapes. Thanks as always for the contributions to the newsletter, please keep them coming!

    Christine Henry, Newsletter Editor

  • 11 Aug 2019 11:45 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Zachary Violette

    While its bylaws outline the purpose of the organization, the VAF never had a proper mission statement to succinctly articulate what it is and what it stands for. At its November 2018 meeting the Board of Directors tasked then-president Louis Nelson with forming an ad-hoc committee of five to craft a pithy statement, which would be useful in fundraising and recruitment efforts. The move was part of the strategic planning and evaluation that VAF leadership has been engaged in over the past few years: the 40th anniversary of the founding of VAF, combined with the rapid growth of the endowment, has prompted a good deal of organizational soul searching and planning for the future. Reflecting the diversity of the organization, the ad-hoc committee represented a variety of ages and professional backgrounds. Members included Catherine Bishir, Jobie Hill, Ian Stevenson, and Zachary Violette, as well as Louis Nelson as chair.

    The group started its work by examining a long list of nonprofit mission statements. These were noteworthy for their brevity, some containing only three or five words, most with less than 25. The committee set for itself a goal of not more than 20 words. Each member was asked to send to Nelson an initial suggestion of a complete statement, which he then anonymously compiled, and honed into a single working draft. This draft prompted vigorous debate among committee members about core aspects of VAF’s purpose: what is the role of historic preservation? How can diversity be properly acknowledged? How does VAF relate to other academic and preservation organizations?   After weeks of exchange a draft statement was circulated to the full board in early April. While the committee’s final proposal was longer than many of the other statements that were the initial inspiration, capturing the nuance of the VAF’s mission, it was decided, was more important than brevity for its own sake. After a lengthy discussion, it was approved, with minor changes, at the spring board meeting. (Because it will not be inserted in the bylaws, approval of the membership at the Annual Meeting was not required.) The approved new mission statement reads:

    The Vernacular Architecture Forum promotes a broad and inclusive interpretation of the built environment to encourage a deeper understanding of how and why people make and use buildings and landscapes. Working in archives, in communities, and in the field, our members support the preservation of everyday buildings and affirm their important role in the lives of people and places.

  • 11 Aug 2019 11:30 AM | Christine R Henry

    From left to right Ned Cooke, Claire Dempsey, and Myron Stachiw, on a bench in front of 226 Bay State Road, ca. 1980.It has been my pleasure to serve VAF over the years as a Board member, an annual meeting committee member, a founder of the New England Chapter, and now as president -- an honor that genuinely took me by surprise.  I have been a member since the beginning – the pink and blue mimeo phase of VAN production – and have been lucky enough to attend 34 of our 40 meetings.  It has been through VAF that I identify and distinguish myself professionally, giving me an intellectual home for my work as a practitioner and an educator.  Like so many in VAF’s first generation, I am not sure what my career would have looked like without it.

    I came to vernacular architecture from an undergraduate major in anthropology and a brief stop-over in historical archaeology.  I think my first material culture book purchases were Ivor Noel Hume’s Historical Archaeology and A Guide to the Artifacts of Colonial America, followed on shortly by Henry Glassie’s Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States.  My graduate training was in the American & New England Studies Program at BU, a fortuitous choice that turned out to be a cordial environment at an exceptional moment. The Program had been an early adopter of expanding the common history-and-literature model to include art and material culture.  The history faculty, enamored of mentalites, thick description, and of course history from the bottom, were demanding but welcomed those of us who focused on things.  Together with adjuncts from the region’s museums, libraries, and historic sites, many also offering internships to augment our course work, these scholars introduced us to an extraordinary mix of methods and approaches.  And on top of all that, Summer Institutes brought visiting faculty and students to Boston, significantly broadening our professional networks.

    Because of these diverse opportunities, I was introduced to the work of individuals who would soon found and shape VAF, and I am enormously grateful to have been able to join the group in its early years. In VAF, I saw the sort of holistic and interdisciplinary work I imagined was possible but which was only just becoming a reality. VAN, our journals, and our meetings put me in touch with other students of the cultural landscape whose work was creative and persuasive, an inspiration for someone who has been more of a consumer than a producer of scholarship. At the beginning, VAFers’ interests were so various that I was not entirely convinced that such a motley collection could cohere.  But over time, and in all likelihood because of VAF, my own interests expanded. I began to see that VAF’s strength is how its programs and its members demonstrate over and over that it is all interesting.

    Of course it was our meetings and tours that sealed the deal. Amazing places selected for our attention, with transportation, food, and beverages all included.  I would be remiss if I did not also note how important it is to me that our annual gatherings are not just informative, but a really great time. My time at VAF meetings is spent looking, listening, thinking, and debating, sure, but also laughing.  Every time I visit a new place with VAF, I return home tired but re-energized, with better insights into my own region. That should keep me coming back for a good long while.

  • 11 Aug 2019 11:15 AM | Christine R Henry

    Auburn Ambassadors (l-r) at Independence HallBy design, our group of ambassadors from Auburn University were a diverse crew. We were split between history and architecture, graduate and undergraduate, and within our own areas of specialty and interest. The experiences of these students then--told below in their own words--represent the capaciousness of VAF and its multi and interdisciplinary approaches. Each student found moments of experience at the conference or in the city that they could view through their own areas of study, or use to expand their perception of the built environment.

    As a recent graduate of Auburn University’s architecture program, I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity for such a unique and thorough exploration of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was clear from the beginning that this conference was special and the people I met throughout the weekend gave constant testament to the character and hospitality of the event. I felt incredibly privileged to attend this event as a student ambassador, and was blown away by all the things I was able to see. The other attendees, some architects, historians, or preservationists to name a few, were so quick to answer my (many) questions on our tours. We were able to see many historic houses and townhomes and were welcomed and shown around most graciously by each and every host. I think the most amazing experience was walking through Elfreth’s Alley. The row houses we saw were absolutely stunning. Even more than that, it was incredibly encouraging to meet the people who live in and maintain these historic beauties. For me, coming from a classroom culture that really pushes modern architecture, it was refreshing to be in a place with people who love and value historic architecture. Everywhere we went I felt like I was given a behind-the-scenes look and it was such an incredible experience.  I hope this is the first of many future VAF experiences for me.

    --Fox Carlson

    As a historian of religion, I quickly chose the Southwest and Darby tour for the VAF Conference in Philadelphia. Being able to go to Bartram’s Garden and touring the Quaker buildings in Darby was easily worth the trip alone, and seeing old homes and churches where people have worshipped for decades was a special experience for me. All of the other conference events made it an outstanding experience as well, especially for a graduate student. I really enjoyed being able to meet people from different places, schools, and professions who all had a desire for studying and understanding the effect of space and place on people. The panels covered such a wide array of time, geography, and spaces, from farm ponds across the United States to altars in the rooms of domestic workers in Venezuela. Not only did these presentations stretch my understanding of space and architecture, they interested me in subjects I had never thought about before. This type of study is different than what I have been exposed to in most of my classes or work, and really widened my eyes to the effect it could have on my own work studying religious spaces and who is welcome where. Everyone I met was also extremely helpful and welcoming. The VAF Conference has easily been my favorite conference experience so far, socially, culturally, and academically the environment was engaging.

    --Caroline Greer

    My first VAF not only influenced my interest in the vernacular but also pushed me to reconsider  purposeful relationships in my research. As a 2019 Ambassador, the Philadelphia Conference provided a dynamic space to interact with experts in a variety of fields promoting intellectual exchange. Though I am in a history program at Auburn, the differing perspectives on Architecture, Historic Interpretation, Museum Studies, and American Studies pushed my scholarly framework to move beyond academic departmental confinements. The conference allowed me to gain vital professional growth and intellectual perspectives, while the Ambassador program offset a majority of the cost, emphasizing the importance of open and philanthropic academic places that push for younger scholars’ active participation in the organization.

    The city of Philadelphia provided a great landscape to study as a first time VAFer! I found the tension between the complex urban landscape and the rural foundations of the city fascinating. The bus tours emphasized the early reliance on agriculture through the remaining farmhouses and barns we saw on the Germantown tour. For a rural historian, the agrarian realities of the city underline the false divisions placed on the American landscape. On Friday, the walking tours introduced me to numerous nooks and crannies across the city that caught my attention. Elfreth’s Alley stressed the importance of historic preservation in a city that is continually modernizing. This idyllic street transports visitors to Colonial America while placed between massive skyscrapers and apartment buildings. On Saturday, the paper presentations displayed the vast array of disciplines that converge at the conference. From rural spaces to urban life, each panel pointed to understudied and overlooked areas on the landscape. The atmosphere at each panel I attended was accepting, encouraging, and stimulating. The studies of the built environment throughout the week not only made me excited to attend next year but also hopeful to participate in the future. Thank you for advancing scholars and investing in my future.

    --Ryan Kline

    As a social historian, I initially felt a slight degree of trepidation in attending the VAF conference. I was not immediately sure how I would be able to apply my experience at the conference to my own research, which primarily examines how neighborhoods in both New York City and San Francisco became increasingly gentrified after the mass migration of young, middle-class, predominately white youth in the late 1960s. Attending VAF and talking to other scholars of space and architecture encouraged me to think about gentrification as a process enacted upon buildings and spaces. On the second day of the conference, I participated in the Germantown bus tour, which allowed me to explore how space could serve as a form of resistance to gentrification. One of the more interesting aspects of touring Philadelphia was seeing porch culture in action; blocks of rowhomes with people socializing outside on their porches seemed to represent a means of resistance to gentrification by reinforcing a sense of community. The many private tours and hospitable homeowners made the conference experience extremely intimate and exciting; because of its interdisciplinary and unconventional approach, I returned to Auburn with a new outlook on my own research that focuses on the relationship between the built --environment and people. 

    --Lauren Mata

    Philadelphia is perhaps the truest of American cities, embodying the endurance of history, the grit of industry, and the pursuit of the self-made family within a slightly leaning composition of red brick, white trim, and blue shutters. The VAF Conference was a meticulously researched survey of these core American pillars throughout everyday Philadelphia. The city is comprised of architecture that is both unassumingly symmetrical and intentionally ad hoc, giving an identifiable fingerprint to the ubiquitous row houses. With tours through attics and basements, the conference celebrated the behind-the-scenes spaces of real life.

    The longest lasting impression of the VAF conference was the varied conglomeration of individuals in attendance. From architects to preservationists to historians, every person was the utmost of welcoming encouragement to this recent graduate and first-time attendee. Early on a Thursday morning in late May, I found myself standing in the backyard of a private residence in the outskirts of Philadelphia next to a complete stranger. He turned to me and said, “I love the backs of houses. They’re crooked and perfect.” With that quirky statement, I knew I was among people who love buildings and the individuals who use them just as much as I do.

    --Kate Mazade

  • 11 Aug 2019 11:10 AM | Christine R Henry

    University of Delaware Ambassadors at UPenn. Front Row James Kelleher (Winterthur, Class of 2020), Bethany McGlyn (Winterthur, Class of 2020), Elizabeth Palms (Winterthur, Class of 2020), Catherine Morrissey (CHAD Assistant Director Faculty Sponsor), Mary Fesak (UD-American Civilization PhD), Kimberley Showell (UD-Historic Preservation Graduate Certificate Class of 2019), Olivia Armandroff (Winterthur, Class of 2020), and Andreya Mihaloew (UD-Historic Preservation Graduate Certificate Class of 2019). Back Row Ritchie Garrison (Director of Winterthur Program), Michael J. Emmons, Jr. (CHAD Faculty Sponsor), and Jamie McGee (UD-Historic Preservation Graduate Certificate Class of 2019)

    This year's VAF conference provided me with a wonderful opportunity to learn about Philadelphia's historic architecture. Friday's walking tours showcased the vibrancy and diversity of Philadelphia row houses. The row houses on tour encompassed a breadth of architectural styles and periods, reflecting the city's larger historical patterns. I found the close proximity of tiny, working-class row houses with large, high-style row houses particularly fascinating. The conference paper sessions also covered a breadth of topics pertaining to the built environment. I thought the variety of interdisciplinary approaches were refreshing and stimulating. 

    --Mary Fesak, American Civilization PhD Program

    Despite having resided in the greater Philadelphia area for more than half my life, I had not been familiar with the history of Germantown and the historic resources located there. The collection of buildings on the bus tour, and the access we had to them, was informative and very engaging. The walking tour of center city rowhouses offered interior access to an extensive and well curated collection of this iconic Philadelphia building type, with in-depth research on each that I'm still reviewing weeks after the conference.

    The paper presentations were interesting and offered different viewpoints across several historic preservation themes. In my studies, I had previously read articles by several researchers at the conference, so it was fascinating to meet them in person.  As my own objectives in the field are focused on community development and public outreach, the format of the tours and presentations themselves afforded me inspiration and ideas for sharing architectural history with the public.  My first VAF conference proved to be an enriching way to learn about the Philadelphia area, network with other academics and professionals, and learn from the work of preservationists across the US and beyond.

    --Jamie Magee, Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation

    As a graduate student at the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum, I spend as much time as I can exploring Philadelphia’s buildings and landscapes. When I learned that the VAF’s annual meeting would be held in Philadelphia this year, I grew excited to visit (and re-visit) sites around the city with like-minded students and scholars. As someone passionate about everyday buildings and landscapes and the stories in their construction, use, and memory, VAF provided me with an exciting and intellectually stimulating weekend that I know I won’t forget. From exploring private homes along Elfreth’s Alley to hearing the newest research in architectural history, preservation, and material culture studies, the opportunity to attend VAF as an ambassador introduced me to buildings, landscapes, friends, and mentors that will continue to inspire and inform my own research.

    --Bethany J. McGlyn, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

    University of Delaware Ambassadors in front of Ben Franklin statue. L to R Ritchie Garrison (Director of Winterthur Program), Justyce Bennett (Winterthur, Class of 2021), Bethany McGlyn (Winterthur, Class of 2020), James Kelleher (Winterthur, Class of 2020), Emily Whitted (Winterthur, Class of 2020), and Olivia Armandroff (Winterthur, Class of 2020)The VAF Conference in Philadelphia was an ideal introduction to the organization and its important work. The meeting struck a perfect balance between tours, papers, and social opportunities. 

    With their focus on successive layers of Philadelphia’s history and built environment, the tours really helped me to see the city in ways I might not otherwise have. I learned a lot about cultural change in Germantown with a stop at an unassuming wig shop on Chelten Avenue and a conversation with the scholar who had grown up at the shop. The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground in Germantown stood out for their ability to illuminate burial customs and the history of education in the Philadelphia area. On the second day, a look inside the houses along Elfreth’s Alley was exceptional and offered perspective on the city’s colonial roots and long history. I was further excited to explore a townhouse designed by I. M. Pei on Society Hill and talk with the home’s owner. Because of its location just across from a glorious 19th century row home on the tour, I might not have taken the time to really see Pei’s utilitarian gem. Overall, I appreciated the self-guided nature of the tours, which offered participants the freedom to explore at our own pace. Residents and occupants of buildings featured in the tour were so generous with their time, space, and knowledge.

    The paper sessions made clear just how broad the field is and offered a window on the variety of research in progress. Throughout the day, I found myself wishing I could be in two or three places at once. In general, the conference offered an unparalleled opportunity to meet scholars and practitioners in the field, both more formally on paper day and by chance along tour routes, during meals, and at receptions. It was truly a rewarding experience.

    The Ambassadors program is such a generous way to make the field accessible to newcomers and I am thankful to the VAF for offering these awards. Additionally, I am grateful to the conference organizers and volunteers who put so much time and energy into making the meeting a success.

    --Andreya Mihaloew, Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation

    It was a privilege and treat to receive an Ambassador Award to attend this year’s VAF Conference. The final day’s paper sessions particularly stood out to me. As I made my way from presentation to presentation in the conference hall at the University of Pennsylvania, two matters in particular struck me as truly remarkable. Firstly and obviously, the presenters’ synthesis of their fieldwork and research across a wide array of time periods, regions, and cultures was impressive. Not only did I leave with my little notebook filled with notes and ideas, but I also left inspired. As someone just entering the field, watching these presentations showed me the goal toward which I am working. Someday I hope to join among those ranks of presenters. Secondly, the sense of scholarly camaraderie and genuine community stood out to me throughout the conference. People put forth thought-provoking questions and critiques in the presentations, commended each other on their work, and seemed delighted to be gathered together. Having attended my first VAF Conference now, I took those first steps into this special group of like-minded people. I am beyond grateful to have had this opportunity, and I hope to go to many more VAF Conferences in the future.

    --Elizabeth Palms, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

    My first VAF conference was truly one for the books! From the moment I arrived with my classmates, I felt the welcoming sense of community that this interdisciplinary conference seems to generate, energized by the attendees' enthusiasm to unlock some of the stories of the everyday in Philadelphian architecture. Philly is a familiar city to me, but the unique opportunity for behind-the-scenes access to so many historic spaces allowed me to see the city like I never had before. Friday's self-guided tours took me into some amazing interiors, but my personal favorite was by far Arch Street Meeting House. Our group sat looking closely at graffiti carved into the backs of pews by Quaker boys in the balcony of the meeting house, which felt pretty close to stepping back in time. All in all, I am incredibly grateful to have had the chance to experience VAF for the first time, and I hope it won't be my last time attending. 

    --Emily Whitted, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

  • 11 Aug 2019 11:00 AM | Christine R Henry

    UMW Ambassadors (l-r) Emily Whaley, Christine Henry (faculty sponsor), Brenden Bowman, and Garek Hannigan The University of Mary Washington (UMW) Ambassadors share their personal experiences below, but also had a chance to talk with many conference attendees about their own reflections on VAF.  This group of students continued the work started by the Ambassadors from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee last year; using the free app PixStori, they collected short interviews from 21 attendees to find out what VAF means to them in our new initiative WeAreVAF.  Thanks to all who participated and shared their thoughts!

    Subway Station at UPennThis spring I was fortunate enough to attend the Vernacular Architecture Forum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was my first time attending the conference, but I was immediately comforted by how welcoming everyone I met was. I was initially nervous about going on the day trips by myself, but soon forgot my worries when I began talking with longtime VAF members. My favorite part of the conference was meeting people who practice preservation professionally and hearing about their careers. I also really enjoyed studying the houses and site visits with other members and hearing about their perspectives that were influenced by their different educational or work backgrounds. I really liked that the conference is centered on vernacular architecture because you get to know the city you’re visiting from a very intimate point of view. This was an experience that I truly loved, and I am definitely considering becoming a VAF member. I can’t wait to attend another conference!

    --Brenden Bowman

    As a VAF ambassador from the University of Mary Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the conference’s attendees, those who were ‘first-timers’ like myself, and others who have attended for years. In meeting innumerable VAFers, I began to understand what exactly VAF meant. To me, VAF is an organization of people who are passionate about understanding the everyday built environment in a holistic fashion; it is a collection of professionals and scholars who bring together their personal experiences as students, professors, public historians, architects, preservationists, and numerous others, in order to further the interpretation and protection of vernacular architecture.

    Being that it was not only my first time at a VAF conference, but my first time being at any conference at all, I was both nervous and excited for what was to come. But after the Opening Reception my nervousness was quelled as I met conference-goer after conference-goer, all as eager as the next to not only welcome me to VAF, but also to speak with me and to share their stories of their studies and of their careers with me. That, for me, was a continued theme of the conference, the idea of the story, of a shared, cathartic experience.  It was that idea which connected the narratives of the historic landscapes the conference introduced to us with the experiences we all felt together as VAFers exploring the vernacular built environment. This was exemplified by thursday’s bus tours which plunged us all into the depths of Philadelphia’s long and storied histories. For myself, I experienced the Tacony and Northeast Philadelphia tour, a trip which saw us traverse two company towns; the Kensington development which supported the Dyottville Glassworks and the town of Tacony which grew out of the Disston Saw Works. These tours propelled countless conversations with my fellow VAFers as we explored landscapes, basements and attics together, as we not only learned more about our built environment, but about each other as well. 

    It is these shared experiences which made the 2019 Vernacular Architecture Forum conference as enjoyable and as memorable as it was. For an undergraduate like myself, it was both joyful and inspiring to see so many students, professionals, and scholars who I shared common interests with and whom I could have so many vivid conversations with. I cannot wait for my next opportunity to attend another VAF conference, to see previously unknown-to-me vernacular landscapes and to share my experiences and have experiences shared with me. I thank you all for welcoming myself and my fellow ambassadors.

    --Garek Hannigan

    In Philadelphia, we visited unique buildings and sites with rich histories. I went on the Tacony Tour of northeast Philadelphia, where I was able to explore the city’s industrial history, from factory worker housing to the Disston Saw Works, a real functioning factory. Next, we were able to tour private homes, from exteriors to basements to attics. Nothing could have prepared me for access into the basements and attics of private homes around Philadelphia! The best part of this section of the conference was being able to listen to professionals point out details and offer their opinions in each structure we visited. I enjoyed listening to their insight and learned a lot. The tours helped give me a better sense of what life what like for workers at the turn of the century by experiencing the built environment firsthand. After the first day of tours, I was shocked by how tired I was, but I was also eager for the next day of walking tours.

    Historic graffiti at the Arch Street Meeting HouseOn the second day of tours we visited a variety of places in the central part of the city. The most memorable part of the tours was the historic graffiti done by children in the Arch Street Meeting House. By shining light on the wooden pews in the section where children sat, letters and notes carved into the wood became visible. It was a fun reminder that children (and people) weren’t so different in the past.

    In closing, I would like to thank the Vernacular Architecture Forum for providing this wonderful opportunity to spend time with likeminded people, whom appreciate buildings for all that they are worth, and its members for being so kind. I learned so much and I had a great time meeting members and seeing the awesome sites!

    --Emily Whaley

  • 11 Aug 2019 10:40 AM | Christine R Henry

    Below are a series of interviews conducted by the UMW Ambassadors to the VAF Philadelphia Conference.  It is a wonderful collection of thoughts and reflections from VAF members, long-time and new, about what VAF means to them.  Just click on the link below the image and enjoy!










    Diehlmann and Apple.mp4



























    Van Slyck.mp4





  • 11 Aug 2019 10:20 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Access Awardee Mariana Kaplinska

    My visit to the US through the Fulbright Program in 2018-2019 (Historic Preservation, UPenn) is a long-term adventure for me, which is now close to its end. Coming back to Ukraine, I will keep all the experiences I gained attending classes, lecturing, meeting people, traveling, visiting museums, watching everyday life and business in various communities. There are many things to remember and the VAF Conference, which has been held this year in Philadelphia, and which I have attended for the first time, is definitely one of them. Staying in Philadelphia since November 2018--with a number of trips outside the state--I had already had some time to introduce myself to the city, its architecture, history and urban environment. A corridor in the Johnson House, 6306 Germantown AveFor my stranger’s eye Philadelphia appeared to be previously a rich and ambitious city, which has lost its weight, but the past luster can still be recognized in many ways, though some neighborhoods are in decline. So now, it is about the historicity and present day, attempts to develop the city as a comfortable living, creative, and business place. The other interesting thing to observe is the multifacetedness of the city. There are gorgeous villas and modest working class houses, industrial buildings, bigger and smaller row houses and high-rise buildings, and going beyond the architectural typology, diverse ethnic enclaves (like Chinatown, Polish, Ukrainian, Italian neighborhoods and many others), parks and gardens, excellent food.

    Wyck, 6026 Germantown AveBeing familiar with all this in general, I was happy to look aside my usual routes (one of them, the Skuykill River Trail, is really beautiful and my favorite), and visit a number of houses on the tours, in particular those affording indoor access. Doing my best to visit as many buildings as possible, I however did not manage to see them all. The buildings revealed so many interesting details, I had to make an effort every time to leave so as not to miss another one. That is why the 2-volume walking tour guide was a great idea. All I have seen impressed me and inspired as an architect and a researcher. The conference was a few days of learning and fun, exploration of basements and attics, architectural shapes and constructions, surviving or rearranged interiors, analysis of the signs of changes and succession.

    Conference Bag showing the fabric of the cityThen the paper sessions came, and considering them, I believe that among the other important things that move our world is a live, open-minded conversation with professionals willing to share, to hear, and perceive. Besides the presentation of research, this is exactly what scientific conferences are about, and their influence goes far beyond a scientific result itself. The VAF Conference was such a good occasion to discuss architecture in the richness of its images, materiality and functions, and without the preconceptions about its prestige.

  • 11 Aug 2019 10:10 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Access Awardee Jose R. Vasquez

    You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer,  it gives to a question of yours.”    --Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

    126 East Rittenhouse StreetIt would seem as if the house at 122 East Rittenhouse street could not be farther away, socially, culturally or in style, from the affluent estates of Germantown. Yet its walls reveal a layered history compellingly familiar to all of us whose work intersects with the vernacular. The house is one of four nearly identical houses built between 1848 and 1850 on the same street by a house carpenter named Mr. Jacop Roop Jr, as investment properties. As austere as they may appear presently their stories are nothing of the sort, in fact they exemplified the essence of the 2018 VAF conference Landscapes of Succession. They have provided shelter to individuals specializing in various trades, a baker and a house carpenter among others. Successive occupants encapsulate an ethnic cross section of  Philadelphia’s population for over a century, Irish Americans, Italians, and African American families.

    According to Dr. Camille Wells, “… part of what attracts us to old buildings is their insistence on communicating, in some outmoded dialect we entirely do not understand, the energy and purpose, the achievements and hopes, the disappointments and hardships, of those who made and used them.”

    Wandering through Philadelphia’s storied streets defined by rowhouses, discreet alleyways, and former agricultural and industrial landscapes I was beguiled  by the possibilities, challenges, and paradoxes embodied by vernacular architecture. The enduring bricks of Philadelphia, the wood carved details of porches and rotting cornices, and the skillfully chiseled mantelpieces furnished my mind with textural imagery and questions that I will be passing on to my architecture students in Miami.  

    Mantel at ClivedenThe commonplace, built, repurposed, or sadly derelict underlined my experiences as a first time VAF conference attendee. In Germantown my peripatetic tour wanderings took me, and got me lost at times, from proverbial “high” to “low brow” places and the spaces in between. From Cliveden, a Georgian 18th century country house, to the working-class Morton neighborhood, and to the 19th century upper middle-class enclave of Bayton hill, I found myself, literally and metaphorically speaking, searching beneath the stones and fading wallpapers tackling the silencing of history. This  concept was formulated by Haitian scholar Michel-Rolph Throuillot in reference to those events, peoples, and places deliberately sidelined or suppressed  by “other(s)” historical narratives. The VAF walking tours and the conference paper sessions facilitated a rereading of these histories, hence lending them a voice at a critical moment in our national history when these histories can’t longer be overlooked. Visiting Philadelphia’s contested sceneries of succession, I got my fill of architectural details, spatial impressions, and scholarly discussions in the context of rough streets, manicured lawns, and hot attics.  In company of seasoned  VAF members, now new friends, I got to experience this city, as privileged outsider. I came across places that could not be diametrically different, like the workers houses on East Rittenhouse street and the countless anonymous blocks of rowhouses defining the urban fabric that I scrutinized during the conference’s periphery bus tours. Rowing or long walks through the cityscapeThey spoke a shared language and experience which was insistent in its humanity.  I cherished the generous hospitality bestowed on us by homeowners allowing us unfettered access to their dwellings and enthusiastically answered our questions.  During the conference second day I crisscrossed the city in a “long walk” experiment, or rather what I would call rowing walks, heading from the University of Pennsylvania and walking to several rowhouse neighborhoods and urban networks west of Rittenhouse square. I thought that the City Hall was worth a detour ( it was!) and found myself in the midst of a community party celebrating Walt Whitman's 200th birthday, then looked up at Mr. William Penn and from there found my way to examine Elfreth’s Alley, with its shared building stories to conduct more rowing amongst the red vastness of the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

    The commonplace fostered unique experiences often interspersed by serendipitous moments. They happened while touching masonry walls, listening to someone explain American colonial furniture wood joinery, or watching Dr. Richard Longstreth, this year's Henry Glassie awardee, under the drizzling rain taking photographs of Stenton’s colonial revival garden. It was while at Stenton, amongst the city’s earliest surviving and well-preserved buildings, where I became acquainted with Dinah’s life, an enslaved servant whose resilient spirit helped disperse the silence of the walls making history vividly relevant again, thus, reminding me that old buildings and frayed walls draw us closer with kind relatedness as we endeavor to make sense of our entangled present and silenced stories.

  • 11 Aug 2019 10:05 AM | Christine R Henry

    Following tradition at VAF, the 2019 awardees were announced with much fanfare.  Each awardee was recognized for their contributions to VAF and to the field of vernacular architecture studies.  Please click on the links below to read the full inspiring stories and view the evocative images of each awardee.

    Advocacy Award: In 2019 VAF honored Dick Pencek, emeritus teaching scholar at Pennsylvania State University

    Award for Local Advocacy: In 2019 VAF created a new award to recognize a local organization in the place of the annual meeting and Hidden City, Philadelphia was the first recipient.

    Catherine W. Bishir Prize: This year there were two winners of the 2019 Bisher Prize. 

    Maire O’Neill Conrad, Professor of Architecture and Design at Montana State University was honored for her work on the development of farm buildings in the Northern Rockies is solidly grounded on extensive field recording, "Light on the Land: Construction revolution in farm buildings of the Northern Rockies (1890 - 1910)". Buildings & Landscapes: v. 24 i. 2 p. 58-84. 

    Gabrielle Berlinger, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore at University of North Carolina was honored for her study of the Jewish sukkot--a temporary ritual enclosure built for the Jewish holiday commemorating the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, “From Ritual to Protest: Sukkot in the Garden of Hope.” Buildings & Landscapes: v. 24 i. 1 p. 1-25.

    Paul E. Buchanan Award: The winner of the 2019 Paul E. Buchanan Award is the Montana African American Heritage Resources Project, for the model public outreach using interactive web-based digital media to bring together resources and people.

    Abbott Lowell Cummings: The 2019 Cummings Prize was given to Christian Tagsold for his book Spaces in Translation: Japanese Gardens in the West.

    Henry Glassie Award: This year's recipient for special contributions to the field is Dr. Richard Longstreth.

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