Trajectories of an Architect’s Design Sensibilities: From Student to Practitioner

Model of architectural design project.
Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The beginning of the fall semester and the nearly overnight return to a bustling and lively campus provides a good opportunity to reflect on the essential thing that we do, which is to educate. Student works are common discoveries in the collections that form the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) and can tell us either about an architect’s own practice or their methods of classroom instruction. This post will focus on the former, with an eye to the role that archival collections can play in examining design sensibilities within the context of a developing architectural practice.

Drawing showing elevation and site plan sketches.
Concept drawing, Bahamas Nursing School, c. 1985.

One of the most profound ways to understand the progression of the aesthetic sensibilities of a creative professional is to examine their works (including inspirational materials, writing, and sketches) across their career. Looking at materials that span years—or even decades—offers a glimpse into how their style evolved, was refined, stayed constant, or in some cases shifted radically. With architects it is possible to trace the development not only of their design considerations, but also the changes in drawing techniques, enhanced observational skills, and a deeper understanding of spaces. It is often possible to see how they refine and expand their understanding of the outer world, visual culture, and the impact of spaces on the people who inhabit them.

Photograph of architectural model.
Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel, Architectural model, 1962

The Exhibition Hall—Variable—Transportable project was completed by Dorothee Stelzer King while she was an architecture student at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Berlin, Germany. Completed the same year that she received her degree, the project was based on a first-year design exercise involving the enlargement of a simple shape to create a complex design without adding extra material to the final structure.

Document outlining requirements and development of the project.
Description and requirements of the award-winning portable exhibition hall project.

 

Drawing showing interlocking shapes.
Concept drawing showing how a basic triangle is repeated and extended to create interlocking stars and circular forms that in turn interlock to create flexible, modular shapes.

 

Elevations, site plans, and details.
Elevations, site plans, and detail drawings for Austellungsbau—Variabel—Transportabel.

Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3Ms2013-023, Dorothee Stelzer King, Folder 3

The Dorothee Stelzer King collection also contains works that the architect completed at various points during her professional career, allowing researchers to study the progression of her designs over time. The series of concept drawings and plans for the Bahamas Nursing School in Nassau, Bahamas, shows King’s attention to understanding how educational spaces and their inhabitants interact. While the drawings show a move away from the more experimental design work seen in Exhibition Hall—Variable—Transportable, they showcase a greater understanding of the practical nature of educational facilities and the importance of proper acoustics, seating, structural elements, and paths of movement through interior spaces.

 

Site plan drawing.
Location plan, Bahamas Nursing School, April 16, 1985.

 

Construction photos.
Construction photographs showing exterior and interior spaces, including structural elements, of the Bahamas Nursing School project.

Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_120Ms2013_023_B001_F020toF024_002_BahamasNursing_Scrap_118

Many other student and professional design projects and records can be accessed in the Special Collections Reading Room at Virginia Tech. The finding aid for the Dorothee Stelzer King Architectural Collection can be viewed online at Virginia Heritage. The collection is currently being digitized with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and will be available in full through the Virginia Tech digital library.

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N. B. White, Reporting from Boliver Heights

In October of 1962, Private N. B. White was at Boliver Heights, not far from Harper’s Ferry. White is likely N. Berdett White, a private in Company B of the 145th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. On the 19th of the month, he wrote a letter to his cousin, Darius, in reply to one received on the 12th. Like many soldiers, he offers an account of mutual acquaintances and fellow soldiers: who has fallen ill (measles was making the rounds), who was on picket duty, who has or hasn’t written (or should write more!), a request for news, and even an apology for his spelling (“I dont know that I can think of eny more for my bad writing and spelling”). Like many other Civil War letters from soldiers, it offers us a snapshot of White’s days in mid-October. But in the middle, he has a rather interesting story to tell. First, here’s the letter itself. We’ll get to that story…and a transcript…shortly.

Around the start of page three above, in the midst of telling his cousin about his own sickness and a recent fight, he suddenly states “there was a grate explosen the other day.” That, of course, might catch someone’s attention–as it did ours here at Special Collections. He goes one: some of the men built an arch to cook on. there was fore cooking the other day and there happened to be a shell in the dirt under the arch and when they built the fire the shell bursted and kild fore men.” White then goes back to talking about who his cousin got a letter from and who he wants to write him. He skips right over the lessons we might learn from this story: Always look where you dig? Don’t light a fire until you know there’s nothing under it? Don’t stand near a cooking spot someone else built? It seems like there could be several takeaways. White, however, seems to place it in a different context. And “context,” I think, is the key word.

To us–or to me, at any rate, as someone who spends too much time around food history–I find this surprise story fascinating. What did this cooking arch look like? What was it about that particular spot that seemed appropriate to build one? Was there any hint of something beneath the surface? What where they planning to cook? What kind of supplies did this Union regiment have relatively early in the war? For White, this was an off the cuff mention. After all, wasn’t the news of the recent fighting, in which no one was killed and only seven wounded, far more important than an accidental explosion and death of four men? Isn’t it better to focus on who is still alive, rather than think about who has died, especially during wartime? In the context of the time and his letter, most certainly. And of course, White had no idea his letter would last 156 years and I would have questions about this incident and he may not have had the details himself. He may have simply included it because it was an event of note or because it was something different to report back home.

If you’d like a little more context for this collection, the finding aid is available online. As a final note, this letter came with a transcript, so here’s the content in its entirety (I just didn’t want to spoil it before). Enjoy!

Announcing a New Look for the Special Collections Website

If you’ve been to the Special Collections website recently, you already know – it looks brand new! If you haven’t seen it, please visit it at https://spec.lib.vt.edu/.

Here are screenshots comparing the old (left) and new (right) Special Collections website designs:

We’ve been discussing a redesign of the website for a while now, but with the rebranding of the Virginia Tech website, the University Libraries have been working all year on putting its pages into the new VT design theme. And now, Special Collections is part of this new design!

The new website aims to make finding materials easier by including a search box on the main page for digital content, such as digitized letters and photographs from our collections, and for finding aids, which describe our manuscript and archival collections. Menus at the top and sidebars on each page organize the content of the website into specific areas and minimize the number of pages you have to click thru to find the information you need.

We’re still planning on some minor additions, such as changing images in the banner on the main page and adding smaller images on some of the other pages. If you have any recommendations, please contact us with ideas!

New ImageBase website

On a related note, our ImageBase website has also been redesigned to fit into the new theme. If you haven’t seen it, please visit it at https://imagebase.lib.vt.edu/.

Here are screenshots comparing the old (left) and new (right) ImageBase website designs:

The organization and content of ImageBase remain the same, but the design fits in with the Virginia Tech and University Libraries’ new design. The old logo has been retired, and we are currently working on a new banner for the main page, similar to that on the new Special Collections website. If you have any recommendations, please contact us with ideas!

Barn Raising: Documenting an Architectural Transformation

Architectural documentation evolves throughout a project’s life-cycle: ideas are conceptualized and committed to paper for the first time in the form of rough sketches, then iterated through during the collaborative design development phase, then, after meticulous research and calculation, transformed into construction or working documents and specifications. Designs are refined, change orders made, and construction and as-built photographs shot. What’s left in the end is a mass of records that instill in the viewer a sense of the design process, ideally.

To illustrate this cycle, I’ve put together a gallery of images from one of Eleanore Pettersen‘s projects, in which she transformed a dilapidated barn into a residential and studio space for her own use (the project did not, in fact, involve any actual barn raising, as my title may have confusingly suggested!). Looking through these pictures, her achievement really feels remarkable – I can’t help but admire the execution of her vision and wonder at this dramatic metamorphosis. Please, peruse at your leisure!

Ms2003_018_F013_001_PettersenBarn_Ms_002

Ms2003_018_F013_001_PettersenBarn_Ms_001
Rough sketches on legal pad paper, with particular attention to spatial details and measurements

Barn_before2

Barn_before
Photographs showing the space before undergoing renovations
Ms2003_018_F013_005_PettersenBarn_Ms_002
Sketches refined throughout the design development phase of the project

Ms2003_018_F013_013_PettersenBarn_Ms_001

Ms2003_018_F013_008_PettersenBarn_Ms_001
Precisely defined and unambiguous detail rendered beautifully
Ms2003_018_F014_008_PettersenBarn_Dr_001
Reproductions made for site work
Barn_PubMaterials
Spotlight on the project in The American Home

 

 

PettersenHome_photo

PettersenHome_photo2
Photograph of Pettersen in her converted home

Safe Zone at Virginia Tech

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month in the United States. It is a separate observance from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month which takes place in October. LGBT Pride Month (or LGBTQ+ Pride Month, or LGBTTIQQ2SA, or whatever umbrella term you are comfortable with) was created in response to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City which followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. It is now 49 years since the Stonewall Riots, and 59 years since the Cooper’s Donuts Riots in Los Angeles, and Pride Month has become a worldwide phenomenon celebrating the spectrum of sexualities and genders encompassed within the umbrella of LGBTQ+. But, there are still instances of bullying and violence against this community. Just last year, during Pride Month, a mass shooting happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Given the violence against the LGBTQ+ community that prompted the creation of Pride Month – and the violence that still happens to the community today, I thought I’d write about Safe Zone at Virginia Tech in honor of Pride Month this year.

SafeZone_1

The Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech was established in 1998 in an effort to create a more welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. We recently finished processing the HokiePRIDE Records (RG 31/14/15) which include some early documents related to the Safe Zone program defining what or who a Safe Zone is. Listen to David Hernandez talk about the definition of a Safe Zone in his 2014 oral history from The Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Collection (Ms2015-007).

An early Safe Zone Resource Manual (circa 2000), includes information about the history of the program as well as basic information about terms and symbols used by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Over time, the Safe Zone program has evolved. It was initially guided by the direction of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) of Virginia Tech (later known as HokiePRIDE). Later, it fell under the direction of the Department of Student Affairs and the Multicultural Center. Most recently, it has been run through the LGBTQ+ Resource Center. Safe Zone has been a part of Virginia Tech for the last 20 years!

Society has advanced significantly regarding acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and so has Virginia Tech. Still, educating people on campus about LGBTQ+ issues remains important and the Safe Zone program remains a vital way for members of the community to identify people who are supportive and have a basic training on issues affecting the community.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about the Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech. If you want to see more of the materials from the HokiePRIDE records (RG 31/14/15), stop by Special Collections and have a look!

If you have materials related to the history of the Safe Zone program at Virginia Tech, HokiePRIDE, or LGBTQ+ history at Virginia Tech and are interested in donating to Special Collections, please contact us using the link at top of this page.

The Ineffable Beauty of a Loosely Drawn Shrub: A Gallery of Olive Chadeayne’s Architectural Drawings

Among the many things to admire about Olive Chadeayne are her devotion to detail, her naturalistic sensibility, and her ability to effortlessly merge the two. Undoubtedly, the artful blend of looseness and rigidity in her renderings makes them delightfully appealing. There can be something preternatural about architectural drawings – human-made constructions floating around in space can feel a touch unearthly, even austere and uninhabitable. This is perhaps why the loosely freehanded plants, shrubs, and trees in Chadeayne’s work can appear so beautiful, even though, examined on an isolated basis, they might appear insubstantial. Their effortless inexactitude is a perfect foil to the precision of an elaborately drawn house – a softening of interrelating straightedges.

It’s wonderful to look at a drawing and be greeted by an ameboid palm, a delicate swirl of eucalyptus or pine, the diaphanous outline of an elm, or the weightless curlicue of a shrub. They lend textural complexity and balance to an image, along with other highly stylized details.

Ms1990-057, Olive Chadeayne, Folder 16
Residence for Lineaweaver, September 1940

Of course, inexactitudes and approximations abound in architectural drawings. Architects and designers see these as collaborative gestures toward a client, for whom they want to grant enough space to impose their own creative vision. The looseness can be an invitation to play and imagine – a blurring of boundaries between architect and client, between dwellings and nature’s endless bounty. Enjoy!

Merging Major Interests

Double Majors at Virginia Tech are becoming more common. Partially as a need to stand out among others, partially as a method of seeking more specific educational goals. I am a double major in English (Creative Writing and Professional Technical Writing) and Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). I am frequently asked how this could possibly be a good combination? Where will I ever apply both?

My answer is traditionally communication between engineers, management, and the public need to be clear and concise. Interning at Special Collections has helped me to broaden that statement by giving me the opportunity to archive Engineering Collections. I started with transcriptions and gradually worked my way up to understanding and organizing collections of multiple boxes. When I was experienced enough in archiving, I was allowed to choose the collections I wanted to archive. From this point on I witnessed firsthand example after example for the ways in which my degrees worked together. Most examples seemed to be reports and instruction manuals.

I continued to learn more about organization and private company improvement over time as I worked through collections. I was also able to work with interesting subject matter like NASA’s Wind Tunnels and the collection I am currently archiving, the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection. From each I learn something different. Throughout the Avery-Abex Collection, I have come to better understand manufacturing processes and plant systems by organizing the business’s internal and external papers. From this experience I was also able to develop a deeper understanding of the applications of professional writing as an engineer.

My favorite part about working on the Avery-Abex collection is that I had to develop a method of organization that would restore order to the case files. Most of the collection boxes are sporadically numbered. There will be files from 1946 -1948 in box 114, 152, and 75 for example. I had to find a way to pick and choose which boxes to chip away at and how to label them in such a way that the materials fit the company timeline. The solution was to organize by case number, one of the few details listed on each box. However, many of the files are metallurgical samples, negatives, lantern slides, and even reels of film. So I had to develop number codes for the different types of material to keep track of where materials were going and what materials had been processed. The whole experience really tested my ability to think through the given materials.

As I got further into my ISE major, I began to learn more about facilities, systems, and linear programing problems to organize everything and create a more efficient environment. I began to see this in my work at Special Collections as well. As a scholar, a student, there is a moment when you can see dots connecting. The feeling is incredible because you go from understanding theory to seeing it in application. I started to get a lot more out of the work I was doing because I was able to understand deeper connections between the systems engineering that I was studying and the workplace/warehouse type environment where the theory was applicable. The more I saw ties between my majors and my work, the more interesting each shift became. I wasn’t just dating papers, I was developing a system that will become a resource for students and researchers.

My time with Special Collections has never been dry. I will be returning in the fall to continue my work on the Avery-Abex collection. I look forward to what the future of this collection holds and everything that I will be able to learn from it.

By Kaitlyn Britt