Do Not Migrate

This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

By John White

John White_FinalPoster_SMALLAbstract

Methods of measurements and administration of HABS measuring teams have changed a lot in twenty-five years. Supervisors of the teams act as role models and provide advice, consultation, friendship and sometimes even act as arbitrators. In the early years management consisted of supervising field measurements and executing measured drawings of selected building(s)/site(s), preparing architectural descriptions of measured building(s) and other buildings not being measured, and photo request sheets for all project structures. A team foreman was assigned to assist the supervisor with the field measurements and drawing phase of the project. The project supervisor was also responsible for the procurement of supplies, making weekly written reports, acting as liaison with the local sponsoring agency, and developing public relations with the site owner, occupants and the community. By the 1980’s the supervisor no longer made weekly written reports, and the architectural descriptions were done by an architectural historian who was part of the team. A more efficient method of procuring field supplies was also instituted by replacing vouchers with government checks.

Team members were students at college architecture programs who were competitively selected for a summer project. Therefore an important facet of managing a team included their educational development. The selected students knew drawing conventions, but specific HABS techniques had to be learned. Additionally, the supervisor would also help improve drawing techniques, and taught historic methods of construction. In this way, the students’ skills to assess a structure for documentation and to recognize evidence of changes over time would be developed. The discussions and the supervisor’s experience often led to clues to estimating the time period of the buildings or changes to the structures. Time was spent with each team member discussing every aspect of the structure that they were, first sketching, and then drawing, thus capturing the essence in the detail and materials.

Throughout the supervision and management of documentation teams, new techniques were developed to improve field notes, measuring methods and the efficiency of producing drawings. For example, color coding of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal dimensions were developed as well as using a decimal system for dimension to alleviate discrepancies. Unique and unconventional methods of obtaining measurements were often developed in the field as equipment was not available on site. Field photography was another method that this supervisor accomplished, photographing extensively to assist in verifying the accuracy of the drawings.

This paper will be an overview of the role as manager, teacher, and advisor producing archival documents of the built heritage for inclusion in the Library of Congress Archives.


John P. White began teaching at Texas Tech in 1973. He received his BArch, University of Texas, Austin, and MArch, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He is a registered architect with extensive professional practice. He began his Supervisory Architect role with the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) summer team in 1974, continuing this employment each summer until 1999. HABS Projects varied across the nation including several National Park sites, communities, and large projects such as the Maryland State House and the Texas State Capitol. He has received numerous preservation awards and documented historic ranches in the Panhandle/Plains region of Texas.

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