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.