by Jim Buckley
I joined the VAF when I came back to Berkeley to get my PhD in architectural history in the 1990s. It was great to be studying with Paul Groth and Dell Upton and to see the things we talked about up close and personal on the VAF tours, starting with Natchez. I was hooked right away and still consider the VAF my intellectual home. Much of my work debuted in paper form at VAF conferences, with plenty of helpful feedback on those initial ideas.
My interests at VAF have always been in housing, since I feel that how people live at home says a lot about their culture. My dissertation started out looking at worker housing but morphed into a study of industrial landscapes in California’s redwood country. I’d say cultural landscapes are my primary interest now and I am currently working with our students at University of Oregon on the built environment of African Americans in Portland, OR. I am very excited about the current interest of students in the history of people that the field has not previously emphasized. We all have so much to learn about the lives of people who operated outside of the dominant culture. I feel that that, by their interest in ordinary buildings, VAF members are particularly well-equipped to explore how segregation and prejudice affected the daily lives of marginalized people. I am particularly influenced by the thinking of Dolores Hayden, Gail Dubrow, and Donna Graves in seeking out ways to develop narratives about minority cultures through architectural expression.
Out of many fond VAF memories, I would say that the tour of stone fruit orchards in California’s Central Valley during the Fresno conference is my favorite because it characterized for me what the VAF is all about. Bill Littmann and I organized the tour with the advice of Paul Groth, who has spent a lifetime looking at and figuring out agricultural landscapes. To have Paul hand down his incredible knowledge as we parsed these fields and packing plants helped me realize again the value of VAF’s sharing of expertise across different subjects and places, all with the intent of better understanding the (ordinary) world around us. My goal as President will be to preserve the wonderful ways we have always shared our knowledge and to find new aspects of the vernacular environment for us to explore using new methods and approaches!