Detailed architectural drawings and historic research of a homestead on the Gallatin River near Four Corners resulted in a national prize for seven Montana State University architecture students.
Graduate students taking professor Maire O’Neill’s course in architecture documentation won second prize in the National Park Service’s Charles E. Peterson Prize for drawings of the Damon Gabriel homestead. The homestead was established in 1889, and its rare two-story hand-hewn log barn was probably built earlier.
O’Neill and Theresa Lindenau, a graduate architecture student from Olympia, Wash., attended award ceremonies in Washington, D.C. last month during the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference. The award carries a $2,500 cash award for the MSU School of Architecture. The winning drawings are now archived in the Library of Congress.
The Gabriel entry was the third time MSU students have entered the Peterson Prize contest, O’Neill said. MSU entries have always placed in the competition of “measured student drawings” sponsored by the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the American Institute of Architects. This was MSU’s highest placement in the contest to date.
In addition to Lindenau, other members of MSU’s winning team were: Hannah Stroebe, Kate Tilleman, Chelsea Holling, Jessica Proctor, Andrea Duroux and Urvi Shah. All were students in the fall 2014 course of “Traces: Drawing on the cultural landscape, lessons from ordinary buildings.” The Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico won first place in the contest.
“I’m very proud of this team,” O’Neill said. “They totally exceeded themselves…They all really cared and put in a lot of extra time.”
O’Neill has done prolific research about Montana’s agricultural building history, particularly in Gallatin County. She said she picked the Gabriel site as a project for last year’s class because the site was settled very early and is remarkable in terms of condition, construction type and design of several historical buildings on the property that were built with log construction and stone masonry.
“Also, on a single site there is a wonderful cross section of building examples using different construction techniques,” O’Neill said.
Lindenau, who will graduate from MSU with a master’s in architecture this weekend, said O’Neill’s class offered an opportunity to do extensive fieldwork, as well as an opportunity to learn to make meticulous and accurate drawings.
“One-third of our work was on site,” she said, adding that is attractive to students who put in most of their time in architecture school in studios.
While on the buildings’ site, they took exacting measurements, made detailed field notes, which were actually drawings, and took extensive photos. To develop the material detailing in the drawings, the photos were downloaded into a CAD program, and then the students traced the surface details freehand with a tablet device. The real challenge came when combining the seven students’ work into one seamless set of detailed drawings, a painstaking coordination process that took several weeks.
O’Neill said the project enabled students to develop “clear, concise, patient and effective communication with each other” in a team project.
“It is quite difficult to get that experience in (architecture) school, because we grade the students as individuals,” O’Neill said. “But, in practice you almost never work alone. In practice you work as a team. You need to know how to coordinate with each other. You need effective verbal and graphic skills and you need to know how to meet deadlines that you agree upon as a team.”
Lindenau said the project gave her several definite marketable skills that helped her win a job following graduation.
“To be able to sketch is definitely a good commercial skill, as is the ability to take accurate measurements, which is needed in renovation projects. I was able to sell that in my job interviews,” said Lindenau, who will work for Formescent Architects, a Bozeman-based design firm.
O’Neill has studied historical sites in agricultural settings around Gallatin Valley for about 15 years and worked to record them with drawings so that there is a record. Such drawings also help property owners who will seek to renovate them in the future.
She said many of the buildings similar to the Gabriel Homestead have disappeared quickly and without record during development.
“As they disappear, we are losing knowledge of what people were building here from 1864 to the 1950s, and why,” O’Neill said. “That’s what I’m trying to capture before it’s all gone.”
She said she believes the historic agricultural buildings – most built from limited resources, with limited tools and labor by people who had an immediate need to respond to the climate – constitute a true Montana architecture.
“A lot of contemporary interpretation of what is considered ‘Montana Architecture’ is very romanticized – stone and timber lodges,” O’Neill said. “I’m interested in what ordinary people in rural communities were building and why. I’m interested in retaining that knowledge and considering what we can learn from it.”
Maire O’Neill (406) 994-3950, email@example.com