Getting Familiar with American Vernacular Architecture

11 Aug 2019 10:20 AM | Christine R Henry (Administrator)

by Access Awardee Mariana Kaplinska

My visit to the US through the Fulbright Program in 2018-2019 (Historic Preservation, UPenn) is a long-term adventure for me, which is now close to its end. Coming back to Ukraine, I will keep all the experiences I gained attending classes, lecturing, meeting people, traveling, visiting museums, watching everyday life and business in various communities. There are many things to remember and the VAF Conference, which has been held this year in Philadelphia, and which I have attended for the first time, is definitely one of them. Staying in Philadelphia since November 2018--with a number of trips outside the state--I had already had some time to introduce myself to the city, its architecture, history and urban environment. A corridor in the Johnson House, 6306 Germantown AveFor my stranger’s eye Philadelphia appeared to be previously a rich and ambitious city, which has lost its weight, but the past luster can still be recognized in many ways, though some neighborhoods are in decline. So now, it is about the historicity and present day, attempts to develop the city as a comfortable living, creative, and business place. The other interesting thing to observe is the multifacetedness of the city. There are gorgeous villas and modest working class houses, industrial buildings, bigger and smaller row houses and high-rise buildings, and going beyond the architectural typology, diverse ethnic enclaves (like Chinatown, Polish, Ukrainian, Italian neighborhoods and many others), parks and gardens, excellent food.

Wyck, 6026 Germantown AveBeing familiar with all this in general, I was happy to look aside my usual routes (one of them, the Skuykill River Trail, is really beautiful and my favorite), and visit a number of houses on the tours, in particular those affording indoor access. Doing my best to visit as many buildings as possible, I however did not manage to see them all. The buildings revealed so many interesting details, I had to make an effort every time to leave so as not to miss another one. That is why the 2-volume walking tour guide was a great idea. All I have seen impressed me and inspired as an architect and a researcher. The conference was a few days of learning and fun, exploration of basements and attics, architectural shapes and constructions, surviving or rearranged interiors, analysis of the signs of changes and succession.

Conference Bag showing the fabric of the cityThen the paper sessions came, and considering them, I believe that among the other important things that move our world is a live, open-minded conversation with professionals willing to share, to hear, and perceive. Besides the presentation of research, this is exactly what scientific conferences are about, and their influence goes far beyond a scientific result itself. The VAF Conference was such a good occasion to discuss architecture in the richness of its images, materiality and functions, and without the preconceptions about its prestige.

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