This lecture is part of the National Council for Preservation Education meeting held July 15-16, 2014 in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The University Campus as Learning Laboratory by Frances Gale, University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin campus contains one of the most elegant and beautifully designed collections of early twentieth century academic buildings in the United States. Several historic buildings on the original “Forty Acres” were designed by prominent American architects. Cass Gilbert designed Battle Hall, the only building on the Forty Acres listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Paul Cret designed the Main Building and Tower and a number of other buildings. Both Gilbert and Cret developed master plans for the University, and the Forty Acres reflects their influence.

The Forty Acres has become a learning laboratory for students in the UT Historic Preservation program. Our investigative work began with a 2007 award from the Getty Foundation’s Campus Heritage Grants program that provided funding to conduct a cultural resource survey, compile a landscape inventory, and develop an architectural conservation plan for historic buildings. Our campus partner was the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management (CPFM). Students participated in the project through two materials conservation courses and their work included examining samples of original building materials, documenting existing conditions and identifying sources of deterioration. This project provided a meaningful introduction to preservation technology.

Our continuing partnership with CPFM is strengthened by a dual appointment for Fran Gale – in addition to teaching in the Historic Preservation program, Fran has a half-time position with CPFM. This connection provides opportunities for graduate students to learn from ongoing campus restoration projects. During renovation of the Texas Union, students learned about the challenges in complying with building codes while preserving the building’s architectural character. Recent work on the Geography Building included rehabilitating the existing structure and a new addition, and the project stimulated classroom discussions about the use of appropriate materials and designs for historic buildings. Visiting campus projects provides a valuable perspective on the construction phase of restoration projects.

An upcoming renovation project on Battle Hall offers a rare opportunity to investigate original construction materials of this iconic structure. During summer and fall of 2014, students will examine a variety of conservation issues that were identified in a recently completed feasibility study for Battle Hall. The work includes laboratory analyses of paint and mortar samples and field testing to determine methods for cleaning and treating historic materials. Funded through CPFM, the students will gain hands-on experience and make a significant contribution to this campus project. Our partnership with CPFM ensures that preservation technology plays an important role in the University of Texas at Austin Historic Preservation program.

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