The University Campus as Learning Laboratory by Frances Gale, University of Texas at Austin
Frances Gale: Good morning. I’m pleased to be the first speaker at the first session at the first summer session of NCPE. Our topic which is Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice is an important one. At the University of Texas at Austin we’ve been successful in bridging this gap by using our university campus as a learning laboratory.
First, some background information for those of you who may not be familiar with our campus. The University of Texas at Austin was founded in 1883 and the campus originally consisted of a 40 acre tract set aside when Austin became the state capital. The campus has grown from a single building, 8 teachers, 2 departments, and 221 students to a campus that now consists of 350 acres on the main campus, 17 colleges and schools, about 24,000 faculty and staff, and over 50,000 students. We’ve made some progress.
As you can see from the early black and white image here, our campus has evolved during the past 130 years. However, the original 40 acres is still the heart of the university. From the center piece which is the main building and tower, if you look south there’s a spectacular view of the state capital and the ensemble of buildings on the 40 acres gives our campus character.
Today’s 40 acres reflects the master plan of Paul Philippe Cret who served as consulting architect for the university and designed 19 projects during the 1930s. I’m guessing it was a wild ride during that time. That said, the two buildings designed by Cass Gilbert two decades earlier, the library and the education building, and the library I’m going to talk about later. It’s now called Battle Hall and houses the Architecture and Planning Library. These two buildings designed by Gilbert established the palette of materials and the Spanish renaissance style for the 40 acres.
We have the opportunity to develop a preservation plan for the 40 acres beginning in 2007. Our project was funded by an award from the Getty Foundation through their Campus Heritage Grants program and the project included a cultural resource survey, a landscape inventory, and an architectural conservation plan for historic buildings. Our campus partner was the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management and we had another partnership with a well-known preservation firm based in Austin, Volz, O’Connell, and Hutson, formerly Volz and Associates.
This morning I’m going to discuss my primary responsibility for the campus, the preservation plan for the 40 acres which was developing the architectural conservation plan. As mentioned at the university, I teach Materials Conservation courses and I teach a Lab Methods course which involves introducing our students to examining materials in the laboratory. They use laboratory facility to identify materials and measure properties. In the Field Methods we study deterioration processes and we learn to identify and describe the resulting conditions. These courses over a period of several years work very well with our campus heritage grant developing the architectural conservation plan.
Students participated in developing the plan through the courses. As you can see from the list, our work included surveying the historic buildings. Following the survey we selected several case study buildings to focus on. Students conducted condition surveys. They developed illustrated glossaries. We worked on a number of conservation issues and ended up developing recommendations.
I always start even though I am very technically based. I think it’s important to start by identifying character defining features for historic buildings and what I emphasize with the students is if you care about that feature or element, identifying it as being character defining can be very helpful when you’re making a case for preserving it.
Both courses will be a good fit for the plan that we’ve developed and there were quite a variety of materials that the students learned about. The ones that you see in the slide here are all from the main building, the Indian limestone, there also were several Texas stones, both limestones and granite, iron-spot brick, decorative concrete, wood, clay tile, Terra Cotta, and they really provided an excellent means of studying materials.
We also looked at a variety of existing conditions and the students not only learned how to describe them, but also spent a good deal of time identifying sources of deterioration, helping to understand why these conditions had resulted.
Through our partnership with Campus Planning and Facilities Management, we required elevation drawings of many of the 40 acres buildings and the students used these drawings to graphically depict existing conditions. Each student selected a building and really took some ownership in surveying the conditions and figuring out the best way to depict them graphically.
For each building we also developed an illustrated glossary of conditions and in doing this what I emphasized was the need to communicate with owners and managers of historic buildings. You may know exactly what you mean by erosion, but I think it’s important to be able to convey that with both words and images. Once the illustrated glossaries were developed, we then created a master glossary of conditions that we included in our final report.
The students were pleased to have their work included in the report and what I’d say we’re a little behind schedule in finally publishing the results. In fact, Michael Hollaren who was the principal investigator, delivered my copy to me a couple of weeks ago in a just-in-time effort. You see the cover depicted here in the slide and it would be posted on the Campus Heritage Network. I have the URL for that as well and I know that many of you have participated in this excellent grants program, and probably your projects are up and we will join you shortly.
Our continuing partnership with Campus Planning and Facilities Management is strengthened by my dual appointment. I always say I’m half faculty, half-staff. I’m not sure if the top half is faculty and the bottom half is staff, but in addition to teaching in the Historic Preservation program, I also work as a consultant on the restoration projects that take place on our campus particularly on the 40 acres with restoring and renovating historic building.
This connection provides opportunities for graduate students to learn from ongoing campus restoration projects and I’ll just give you an example. During the recent renovation of the Texas Union, the students learned about the challenges of complying with building codes while preserving the Texas Union’s architectural character. It can be very challenging. What we were able to do was not only have classroom discussions, but also have tours provided by some of the professionals, consultants, and also the staff people at UT who were involved with that project.
Working with the UT maintenance staff we have the opportunity to develop workshops that are also open to student attendees. Here you see pictured a couple of things that we did. On your left is an image of some work that we did with maintenance staff in really going over pressure washing, what was an appropriate pressure, what was the angle of the spray, etc., etc. Then on the right we did a graffiti removal workshop and my feeling was I kept getting calls every time there was graffiti. At one point I decided let’s do a workshop and talk about an approach and readiness for campus vandalism.
We also through the Project Management and Construction Services, we organized tours of current construction projects. The geography building which you see on the left involved rehabilitating the existing structure and building a new addition. The project stimulated classroom discussions about the use of appropriate materials and designs for historic buildings.
On the right you can see Milton Babbitt who is involved with a facility condition report on Battle Hall. He gave a classroom lecture and then gave a top to bottom tour of Battle Hall. The image shows the top.
We also have worked with UT Landmarks program on their collection of Twentieth Century art and with materials conservation I think it’s important to also involve students in Twentieth and Twenty-first Century materials as well. The students have had an opportunity to work with conservators on some of these projects. You see on the right a hands-on maintenance cleaning project undertaken by some of our students and they participate in the Landmarks Preservation Guild program.
We did a little bit more intensive work with UT landmarks in developing a graffiti controlled testing program for Sol LeWitt, Circle With Towers. This structure is constructed of concrete block. It’s located in a central thoroughfare and we felt that it was a target for graffiti vandalism. We worked in the lab evaluating several commercially available graffiti controlled treatments both in evaluating appearance changes and also their performance, and then had an opportunity to do onsite testing, and then the final roll-out of the full scale application.
We are very excited about our current project. I mentioned Battle Hall and we’re now engaged in a Battle Hall conservation study. The upcoming renovation project of this iconic structure offers a rare opportunity to investigate original construction materials. Designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1911, Bell Hall originally housed the university library, now the architectural planning library. It’s the only building on the 40 acres that’s listed on the national register.
Here you see me with my new best friend, former librarian, and former first lady, Laura Bush, agreed to serve as the Honorary Chair of the fundraising efforts for the restoration of Battle Hall. We believe that Mrs. Bush will be effective in raising the considerable funds that are required to restore Battle Hall and make necessary improvements to some of the more antiquated building systems.
The Battle Hall Conservation Study addresses some of the issues that were described in the facility condition report that was recently completed by a consulting A&E firm. Our proposal suggests that the Historic Preservation program is equipped to tackle these conservation issues and that our involvement will be cost-effective for the university.
You can see that we’ve already started the work. This shows an exterior view of Battle Hall and a couple of the students engaged in studying some of the finishes on the metal balconette. They’re stooping because they’re enclosed in bird netting. Then on the interior, and again, you see that we’re in the middle of extracting samples even from high up locations. Again, it’s a partnership. We wait until there’s a lift available for changing light bulbs and we grab a ride when possible. I think they called us on a Tuesday morning and told us that the lift would be available on Tuesday afternoon.
At the University of Texas at Austin and I’m sure that this is the case with many of your universities, our biggest challenge is managing change. Our goal is to be a part of the conversation with the UT team. On the left, upgrading the HVAC system in the main building tower allowed us to study areas that are rarely accessible. The image on the right shows Flawn Academic Center during renovation work that involved enclosing the fourth floor.
Although we were disappointed that this character defining feature was modified, we were successful in educating campus planning and facilities management about the importance of preserving modernist buildings. A small victory.
Our continuing partnership with Campus Planning and Facilities Management ensures that our students will have the opportunities for meaningful hands-on experience with campus projects. Using the UT campus as a learning library underscores the connection between historic preservation and the construction industry, and participating in Campus Planning and Facilities Management projects greatly enhances the classroom lectures and exercises that I provide in my Materials Conservation courses. Thank you all for your attention.
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.