YUP: Bikes, Beer & Buildings

The media tells us, with valid evidence, that appreciation for historic buildings is on the upswing, and the number of craft brewers continues to grow, and alternate modes of transportation are catching on in urban areas.

Where can you find all of these in one place? Check out Rochester, New York. The Young Urban Preservationists (“YUP”) of the Landmark Society of Western New York hosted its second annual BBB – Bikes, Beer & Buildings – scavenger hunt on Saturday July 11, 2015. Caitlin Meives (UVM HP Alum 2008), Preservation Planner with the Landmark Society, gave me the rundown on the event and the group.

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PiP: Tell me about Bikes, Beer & Buildings. 

CM: Bikes, Beer & Buildings is a great way to explore Rochester’s neighborhoods, see some lesser known landmarks, and learn about ongoing preservation projects. Organized by The Landmark Society’s Young Urban Preservationists (“YUPs”), BBB is Rochester’s first bike-based scavenger hunt. The YUPs provide the clues and you (and your team of 1-4 people) hop on your bikes and hunt down the buildings (or architectural features, parks, structures, etc).

PiP: How many years running? Where did you get the idea and the name? 

CM: This was our 2nd year. Last year, shortly after we formed, one of our steering committee members said he wanted to organized a bike scavenger hunt. So we did. Coming up with a clever name for events is always annoying so we thought, “Well, it involves three of our favorite things: bikes, beer and buildings….so why not just call it that!”

Happy participants! Photo provided by the Landmark Society for Western New York.

Happy participants! Photo provided by the Landmark Society for Western New York.

PiP: What’s the purpose or goal of BBB? 

CM: To have fun. To get out and see the city on two wheels. To see the exciting adaptive reuse projects that are happening all over the city. To see neighborhoods, parks, and buildings that a lot of people wouldn’t otherwise see or notice. Big picture, we (the YUPs) are also trying to engage as many youngish folks as possible. There is a an ever-growing community of young people in the area, especially in the city of Rochester, who are committed to their communities and are preservationists at heart.

PiP: Was it a success? 

CM: Yes, it’s a big hit and we’ll definitely do it again! This year we had 33 teams and just over 75 participants! We also had a bunch of local businesses and organizations who sponsored the event and provided in-kind donations of their awesome products for our prize baskets.

The beer garden! Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

The beer garden! Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

PiP: What was the best part of the event? 

CM: Watching everyone enjoy a cold beer or the purple “Pedaler’s Punch” that Lux Bar & Lounge prepared for our hot and tired cyclists.

Happy bikers and building lovers enjoying a cold beer. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

Happy bikers and building lovers enjoying a cold beer. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

PiP: Who are the YUPs?

CM: The YUPs are a group of youngish folks interested in preservation and community revitalization. We come from various walks of life and various professions—lawyers, planners, doctors, veterinarians, architects, writers, artists—but we all have one thing in common: we care about our communities and we believe our historic resources play an important role in any community’s revitalization.

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What does “young” mean? Whatever you want it to! We’re targeting those oft-maligned by the media “millennials” (aged 20 to about 40) but, more importantly, we want to connect with like-minded people who are invested in their communities and are young at heart.

PiP: Sounds awesome! Can you offer any advice for groups wanting to do something similar to BBB? 

CM: Four tips for you:

  1. You need a dedicated and committed group of organizers. You don’t need a lot of people, you just need organized and committed people. In fact, if you have too many people it can become unwieldy. How you structure the organizing of an event like this depends on the structure and dynamics of your group. I happen to be one of the co-founders of the YUPs and I work for The Landmark Society, the organization with which the YUPs are affiliated, so it naturally falls to me to more or less lead the charge and to make sure we stay on track. In this case, delegating and giving people ownership of a task or an event can be challenging. However, in our 2nd year organizing this event, I found that people felt much more comfortable taking charge. If your group was formed more organically by people who just came together to form a group on their own, likely you’ll all have that sense of ownership to begin with. Regardless, I think it’s important to make sure someone is the point-person for the event as a whole or for each facet of the event. If everyone is running around doing a little bit of everything and no one is in charge of one thing, things can really easily slip through the cracks. Trust me. We had one or two last minute snafus.

  2. Partnerships are key. Starting an event from scratch is tricky, especially if your group/organization is new and doesn’t have a huge base from which to pull. Our first year, two days out from the scavenger hunt, we had three teams registered. Then one of our partners, a popular local blog that focuses on urban and preservation-related issues, shared the event through its social media. The flood gates opened and we breathed a huge sigh of relief.

  3. Start small and work your way up. You don’t want your first attempt to be a colossal failure. So don’t set yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew or by expecting unrealistic numbers.

  4. Learn and adapt. Your event won’t be perfect the first, second, or third time around. But have fun with it, make sure your participants have fun, and get feedback from them.

PiP: Where can we find the Landmark Society or YUP on Social Media? 

Thank you, Caitlin, YUPs, and The Landmark Society of Western New York! Great job on such a wonderful event. 

With Your Coffee

#ihavethisthingwithfloors = one of the best internet trends lately.

#ihavethisthingwithfloors = one of the best internet trends lately. This floor is in the women’s’ bathroom at the Vermont State House. Yes, even the bathroom floor is beauitufl in that building. 

Happy weekend, friends! How are you? Hopefully Spring has sprung where you are. I can see flowers, green grass and buds in Vermont! Why am I always talking about the weather? Because I get so excited for warm weather in Burlington; I can’t help it. Today I spent the day in Montpelier with all of the Vermont preservation consultants and the Division for Historic Preservation staff at a training for preservation consultants. How fun it was to see everyone together. Side note: most of us are graduates of the University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program. Also, Happy Preservation Month! I hope you have fun weekend plans, including watching the Kentucky Derby, wearing big hats, and drinking Mint Juleps. Or something equivalent. Cheers! xo.

What’s going on in your world? Any interesting news? I’d love to know!

Preservation ABCs: J is for Joist

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

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J is for Joist

JisforJoistjpg

Historic preservation includes many fields and subjects, but at the core of the preservation field itself is buildings. Understanding the construction of a building and its elements will go a long way in conversation and in finding solutions. When looking at the “bones” of a building, joist is a good component to recognize. In the above picture the three members shown lengthwise are called joists.  A joist is a parallel horizontal beam that supports the floor and ceiling boards.

What you are looking at in this image are three joists with the floorboards of the second floor shown above the joists. In this particular instance, the ceiling plaster and lath has been removed, exposing the space between the ceiling and the second floor. The white marks on the joists are marks left behind from the plaster keys. You can also see knob and tube wiring (white ceramic cylinders and black wires) as well as new electrical wiring (yellow wire).  Joists can be made from wood (timber), steel, or reinforced concrete.

Joists are important, obviously, as they hold up ceilings and support floors. The best way to illustrate the function of joists? In college my professor told us that if we were unsure of the structural stability of a floor to be sure to walk on the joists. You’re more likely to go through a floor than a joist (not that you should put yourself in such a precarious position in the first place, of course).

The moral of this story? Learn your structural elements. And walk on the joists.

Preservation Pop Quiz

Pop Quiz: brick bonds. Found in Middlebury, VT.

Consider this pop quiz week, kids. If you have recently had midterms, I hope they went well. Try this one without worry of affecting your GPA. PiP is a learning environment.

On that note, describe this brick wall: bond, design, and anything else about bricks. Have fun.

Building Aesthetics: Air Conditioners

I’m not one for air conditioning. It’s too strong and too cold in stores, restaurants, movie theaters and office buildings. I feel like I’m missing out on the summer season and living in a fake climate. Windows and breezes; that’s what I like. And that is how many historic houses were built: to take advantage of cross breezes. Historic houses certainly were not designed with central air conditioning in mind, and window units prevent the function of windows.

There are few things that can ruin a historic house like a window unit air conditioner, don’t you think?

See the air conditioner on the third floor. An example from Shelburne, VT.

Of course, the arguments and reasoning for air conditioners are many. I have lived in the south – the North Carolina Sandhills – so I understand heat and humidity for months out of the year. Working in an office without air conditioning would have been miserable. Then again, the office wasn’t designed for air circulation and cross ventilation.  Now I find myself shocked at the number of air conditioners in Vermont. It’s really not that hot here, and our summer days are so few. I can’t understand why people wouldn’t want a summer breeze blowing through their houses. To each his own?

Should we start designing buildings to work with nature once again? Then we’d spend less money on electricity. Just a thought.

In the meantime, take note of the air conditioning units on buildings that you pass. Where you would put them instead? Or, would you choose a window or wall unit rather than altering the interior to fit central air? Has anyone come across this problem? What does an AC unit do to the architectural integrity of a building?

Does anyone else feel this way? Or would you rather just have air conditioning and take it as a necessary item in today’s world?

Historic Preservation Basics No. 4

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation. No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation. No. 3 = Let’s Talk about Architecture / The Very Beginning of Describing Buildings.

No. 4 = Let’s Talk about Buildings A Bit More

Historic Preservation Basics No. 3 introduced a simple outline for learning how to approach a building; how do you talk about the buildings around you? Now you have the basics: number of stories, roof shape, windows, footprint, and then details. The first four are easy; as they say, the devil is in the [architectural] details.

Let’s first establish that architectural details can be structural or aesthetic. Details matter because architectural styles are read through details, shapes, massing, and materials. So, the more you can identify on a building, the more likely you are to clearly match it with a style. (A slight disclaimer: the majority of buildings will fall under more than one architectural style; just be able to support your reasoning.)

If you want to become familiar with architectural styles, pick up a copy of Virginia & Lee McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses or another style book. Read it. Mark it. Refer to it constantly. Professionals do it all the time.

Again, I will not write a book here. Instead, let’s look at details. The intent is to train your eye to pull out details and to know where to look.

1. Door/window surrounds

How are the doors and windows accented? How are they set in the building? What surrounds them? Are there columns? Moldings? Arches over the windows? Pediments (think triangles) over the windows?

Madison Heights, VA. June 2008.

This set of double doors is striking, right? It’s a feature that you don’t see everyday or on modern houses, so you know that you want to mention it when talking about the building. Each door has 14 panes of glass over an inset panel. There is a four light/pane transom over the door. You could also mention the screen doors. The molding is hard to see in this photograph, but you can see some detail near the transom, indicating that it’s probably part of the style.

2. Windows

What are the shapes of the windows? Of the window panes? What are the materials?

Burlington, VT. August 2008.

The 1/1 window in this picture is likely a replacement window, based on the materials not the fact that it is 1/1. (Albeit, this replacement is not nearly as bad as white vinyl windows.) The interesting feature about this is the cast iron lintel (above the window) and the cast iron sill.

3. Decorative Details

Different styles will have varying levels of details. To find details, just pick out anything that seems beyond the standard box frame that you would draw for a building. Look for anything that doesn’t seem structural (as in, the house could stand up if it were removed).Note the surfaces and materials of walls and details.

Thousand Island Park, NY. August 2008.

(This house has so much to talk about! But let’s start with the details.) You can see the stickwork in the gable (thanks to the thoughtful painting) and the turned balusters (porch railings) and turned, decorative porch support posts. The porch roof has patterned shingles. The screen door detailing flows with the details.

Shelburne Farms Inn, VT. September 2009.

This image shows false timbering (the stripes in this image between bricks and the stucco, which beckons Tudor style usually). Note the diamond pane windows in the bay and the brackets under the eaves (the overhang of the roof).

4. Roof

Aside from the shape, what are the roofing materials? Is it patterned? Is there anything distinctive about it?

Montpelier, VT. October 2009.

This church steeple has a distinctive patterned slate roof; obviously, you’ll talk about it in your building description.

5. Massing

Another important part of describing buildings involves the massing, or how the elements of the building fit together in terms of scale and proportion. It isn’t always something that you can describe, but something that you can judge. Consider the massive McMansions and how large they are. Then compare them to pre-mid 20th century homes. The massing or scale of the elements of modern homes is exaggerated and often looks wrong.

Burlington, VT. April 2010.

Burlington, VT. April 2010.

Massing, shapes, elements, and sections of the buildings are just one thing to keep in mind. What else can you notice about this pictures? Window size, window panes, roof details? Wall materials? Porch entry? Chimney location?

While this is just a brief overview of talking about buildings, hopefully it gets you thinking the next time you’re looking around your built environment. Once you are comfortable picking out elements of buildings, pick up an architectural style book and start browsing through the styles. You’ll probably find that details such as lots of stickwork or 6/6 windows can help you find the style of and date your building. In addition, construction techniques and interior details can help your categorize and date your building, too. For now, just enjoy the buildings and know that quite often, the details tell the story.

Readers, this was a short list – feel free to add!

Historic Preservation Basics No. 3

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation. No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.

No. 3 = Let’s Talk about Architecture / The Very Beginning of Describing Buildings

Much of historic preservation has roots in historic architecture. Our built environment is, well, built; and, in order to appreciate and discuss our surroundings, preservationists and others alike use an architectural vocabulary. This vocabulary provides a cohesive literature for reading about, writing about and talking about buildings. These architectural terms are the foundation for how architectural styles are identified, studied, and described. It can be complicated; students spend years studying historic architecture. Entire dictionaries of architectural vocabulary exist, and entire books are devoted to architectural styles.

Keep calm and keep reading: this post will not recreate those dictionaries and books.  This post will guide you as you look at a building, because before you can start classifying buildings, you need to feel confident in looking at the elements.

To look at a building and to identify what you see may seem intimidating. But, you do not need to know every architectural term in the books or every style – not even close. Rather, you can visually find your way around a building with a few categories and lessons on how to talk about what you see. Once you start talking about buildings and noticing their elements and characteristics, you’ll never look at a building the same way, and you’ll gain a greater understanding of your built environment.

Let’s start at the beginning. Buildings are easiest when thought of in largest to smallest elements. For now, let’s stick to the basics. How would you describe the overall look of a house? You can start without knowing any architectural vocabulary. Forget the complicated architectural dictionary; let’s just look at the basic shape, layout, and some details of a building. You’d talk about the number of floors, the siding, the colors, porches, windows, etc., right? And that is close to what preservationists do – we just tweak our colloquial vocab a bit and go into more detail.

Here’s a fairly simple building for practice. Let’s go through a few basic items. I’ll give some short explanations and the answers for this building will be in red. Okay, what do you see?

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, August 2010.

1. How many stories?

A story/floor is a full story. A half-story means that the top floor does not have a full height wall and ceiling.

This red house has 2.5 stories.

2. What is the shape of the house footprint?

Is it a  rectangle? A square? An octagon?

From this angle, it appears to be a rectangular shaped foundation with a smaller rectangular addition.

3. Look at the front of the house – how many windows/doors are on the first floor?

The number of windows and doors = the number of bays.

Click and go to page 3.

There are two windows on either side of the door, so this house has five bays. The side of the house has two bays.

4. What shape is the roof?

Gable, mansard, hipped, pyramidal, shed, flat, gambrel? The easiest and most common roof is the gable — it’s the triangular shaped roof, the kind most of us drew as little kids. Gables can be in the front (front gable) or on the side (side gable). Mansard is the most ornate, and looks like another story rather than a roof. Pyramidal looks like a pyramid, with all roof sides equal. Hipped is almost like pyramidal, but all faces of the roof are not the same length. Shed is one plane on an angle and flat is flat. Gambrel reminds most of us of a barn.

Hopefully that makes sense, but if not … see the image to the right, which is from the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Guidelines: Roofs on Historic Buildings booklet.

This house has a side gable roof. The rear addition has a shed roof.

5. Describe the windows.

Typically windows are hung sashes (one or both sashes slide up and down). The sashes hold panes of glass. How many panes are in the window on the top sash? The bottom sash? As an example, you would describe windows as six-over-one (6/1), meaning the top sash has six panes of glass on the upper sash above the bottom sash, which is a single pane of glass.

You’d have to get up closer, but for the sake this exercise, let’s discuss if they are replacement windows or original windows. Replacement windows, most often, are a single pane. Any pieces (muntins) dividing the sash are simply attached to the window. Historic windows would have individual pieces of glass set into the muntins.

The way a window opens will also help you to describe it: do both sashes move up and down? Does the window swing open? Lift open? Not open? You can guess sometimes, but it is best if you can actually open the window yourself.

If the windows were original, they would be six-over-six. If they are replacement, they are likely one-over-one. Unless the top sash is fixed (in place), these windows are probably double hung (meaning both sashes move up and down). We’ll pretend they are original because they’re more fun to describe — see below.

6. Look at other details of the building that strike you.

Paint colors may help to highlight elements. Are there chimneys? What is the foundation?

This house has cornerboards (the white vertical boards on the edges — and the eaves (the edges of the roof) are white as well). From this angle, there does not appear to be a chimney. The foundation is stone. See that triangle over the door – that’s a pediment.

Alright, number six was just leading you to thinking about more.  Here is the house again. Let’s put these descriptions together – nothing fancy or stylized, just plain. Go down the list.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, August 2010.

This is a 2.5 story, five bay x two bay, side gable building. The main rectangular block has a shed roof addition to the rear. The house sits on a stone foundation. On windows are six-over-six double hung sash.

Alright, that wouldn’t win any description awards — effectively and succinctly describing buildings takes practice, but you have to start somewhere. But before you hone your architectural writing craft, you need to look at a building, pull out the elements, and put them together.

So, there you have it! You just told me what you see in that building. It’s not so bad, right?

Once you have the basic ideas, then you can get into more details. Now you’ll notice that not all houses are boxes, not all roofs are gables, windows can be incredibly detailed. Door frames and window frames come into play. Corner boards, water tables, materials… it’s good stuff.

Go take a walk and tell me what you see.

Next week we’ll add in another level of description — more nuances.

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?

Preservation Photos #13

Barboursville in Orange County, Virginia, once the home of James Barbour and the finest residence in the county, it burned on Christmas Day in 1884. Today is stands in preserved ruins. It’s a captivating visit for anyone who loves mysterious buildings.