University of Oregon Ambassadors reflect on experiences at VAF in Salt Lake City

08 Jul 2017 11:30 AM | Christine R Henry

Dear members of the VAF,

Thanks to a generous award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum, five graduate students from the University of Oregon’s Historic Preservation Program took part in the VAF Two Utahs 2017 conference at Salt Lake City. We are honored to have served as VAF Ambassadors and were so inspired by the remarkable people, projects, tours, and ideas that we encountered during this action-packed week! As any veteran VAF member knows… it’s not your average conference. We are fortunate to have received this invitation to join a pretty special group.

UO students Allison Geary, Kate Geraghty, Charlotte Helmer, Morgan Albertson, and Hayli Reff with UO Historic Preservation Program Director Jim Buckley at the VAF Two Utahs conference, May 2017

University of Oregon students Allison Geary, Kate Geraghty, Charlotte Helmer, Morgan Albertson, and Hayli Reff kicked-off their VAF experience in Park City, UT. This small mountain city provided a fascinating example of how a significant economic change, such as the transition from mining to tourism and recreation, creates an opportunity to revitalize a historic downtown core. We crawled through old single-wall homes, heard about new projects envisioned by local developers, explored the city’s history museum, and sampled whiskey at the High West distillery. At Deer Valley Resort we got an eye-opening glimpse inside vernacular architecture of the 1%, a new interpretation of “vernacular” that was incredibly thought provoking. This resort town displays several decades of luxury apartments and houses that have fueled the economic revival of Park City. Our first day at VAF wrapped up with aerial ski jumping, cocktail hour, and insightful planning for adaptive reuse at the Utah Olympic Park. On day two we covered a lot of ground in Salt Lake City through a series of self-guided tours. We learned about historic commercial buildings downtown and saw intriguing rehabilitation projects in the Sugar House neighborhood. Throughout our adventures, our hearts were warmed but the generosity of the communities and homeowners that we visited for hosting our curiosities and acquiescing to our desire to look behind every door.

As preservationists we like to explore the built environment around us, but also as students we enjoy a good presentation and roundtable discussion. The Saturday paper sessions offered yet another way to engage with new architectural history and preservation topics as well as interact with our peers and mentors. With so many options throughout the day, the group split up and compared notes afterwards. The session entitled “Field Notes,” was particularly interesting for aspiring professionals to see in-progress projects utilizing emerging technologies and modern platforms [YouTube] to better understand architecture, design, and culture.  Another impressive session included “Situating the Urban House” where an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, yet still suburban, brought about a different lens through which to view preservation and residential dwellings. We also particularly enjoyed the “Establishing a Landscape” session, “The Particularity of Institutions” session, and “The Multiple Layers of Preservation” session.

Above all, this experience taught us that the VAF community is a remarkably friendly, bright, and adventuresome group of people. We were motivated to set our goals high in our future careers while embracing the kindness of the community around us. In our capacity as VAF Ambassadors we have been inspired to bring that same energy and enthusiasm back home to the Pacific Northwest region where a fledgling VAF chapter, the Cascadia Chapter, is in the works. We held our first meeting just a few weeks after returning from Salt Lake. With guidance from the New England chapter and friends that we made in Salt Lake we are ready to carry on the VAF’s traditions here in Cascadia-- and we welcome you all to join us. We are delighted to have joined the VAF family and look forward to see you all again next year!

With sincere thanks,

Your UO Ambassadors

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