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Posts Tagged ‘HABS’

Every time I turn on the radio, I hear about the importance of creating more green jobs. People in political positions that historically could care less about where we are getting our energy are now hollering for wind power (or whatever alternative energy source), not necessarily to help the environment, but to create more work for people. Either way, it is generally a win-win, with the exception of some greenwashing and the Nantucket situation I mention in the below caption. It is also a reminder of how building anything green is seen as the hope to get through this recession. Of course, we don’t always have to create jobs through building…there are a whole lot of other options for people in the building (noun, not adjective) trades, we just tend to forget about them because we’ve spent decades of bulldozing and building new because it was cheap, easy, and profitable.

Cape Wind, Inc. has won a long-time battle to build 130 wind turbines that would be 440 feet tall, taller than the Statue of Liberty. The turbines would be illuminated and spread over a 25-square mile area in the federal waters that lie in the middle of Nantucket Sound, the seascape that is mostly enclosed between Nantucket Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod. While I am naturally a proponent of alternative energy, surely this didn't have to be such a smack in the face of the 12th generation Native Americans, local residents and hertitage conservationists that have been clogging up meeting halls in protest of this for years. There are sooo many ways to skin this cat. For more on this issue, check out the Preservation Nation blog.

So this got me thinking about how we got through tough times in the past, namely a little known event called the Great Depression. While I survived my own great depression in high school by falling in love (aww, I AM pretty!) and finally chucking my Pearl Jam tape out the window, the U.S. Government had to be a little more creative. Enter the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

In 1933, the National Park Service established HABS as a way to kill 2 birds with one stone: to mitigate the negative effects on U.S. history and culture caused by rapidly vanishing architectural resources, and to create desperately needed jobs for architects, draftsmen, and photographers at the same time. If you work in any kind of building field, you realize just how relevant this is today. An archive of historic architecture was created as a result of this initiative, and we now have a database of primary source material. Needless to say, many of these buildings—many of the earliest buildings that were built during a time when we were just trying to figure out who we were as a new nation—no longer exist outside of these records. The loss is devastating of course, but the way I see it, if I can’t still have my grandma around, I’ll at least be glad to have her photo at my fingertips.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to show off one of the drawings that my grad school class did for the Stephen Douglas monument in 2007, now in the HABS collection in the Library of Congress. You are welcome, SAIC HPRES class of 2008. You can search these archives online, and should!

Obviously many of these documents collected by architects and draftsmen in the 1930s were hand drafted plans of these structures, which is not something that we would likely do today due to time and materials needed. HABS now accepts (and actually encourages) CAD drawings, however, which, while not as romantic and fun to frame and hang in the living room, makes more sense as architecture firms want people who can work on computer drafting programs now. And what’s even cooler is that the National Park Service is also now using technology that can measure structures in unprecedented detail. Currently, Mount Rushmore is in the process of being scanned by ground-breaking 3-D laser scanning technology that can capture sub-centimeter details. Wow. This is part of a project called the Scottish 10 by Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of art to scan a total of ten world heritage sites around the world. Let’s train more people on how to use this kind of technology and create another boom in heritage conservation in the U.S. while also creating more jobs.

Maureen Young from Historic Scotland preps one of the laser scanning stations to begin scanning Borglum's model in the Sculptor's Studio. Image and caption taken from the NPS website, photo by Amy Bracewell.

There is not only work in building new. Let’s move into the future by looking more closely than ever at the past.

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