A.B.S. – Historic American Buildings Survey and the Integration of New Technology

drone mapped aerial view of The Residency, Harbour Island, Bahamas, by University of Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing, Software Engineering Team

A.B.S. – Historic American Buildings Survey and the Integration…

As part of an HABS (Historical American Buildings Survey) effort to document the built environment, a University of Miami School of Architecture ARC 518 class took a small caravan of aircraft to North Eleuthera in the Bahamas to visit an historic site in disrepair, “The Residency” the former Governor’s mansion in Harbour Town. [this is an excerpt from the publication] From the airport, they had ground transportation provided by Mr. Finethreads, who delivered them to the nearby dock where they met Captain Duke for a water taxi east to Dunmore Town on Harbor Island where a golf cart was waiting. Typical of British Colonial towns in the Bahamas, the Bay Street runs parallel to the coast and perpendicular roads stretch uphill from Bay streets to a King or a High Street. In the case of The Residency, it was located on Dunmore Street overlooking the Government Dock and the Harbor.

As the coast bends so does the grid of streets, resulting in wedge conditions, referred to as “jibs,” like the one just north of the site. This verandah house was built on the site of Lord Dunmore’s original home in the early 1900’s after standing for centuries. The former Governor of Virginia and loyalist to the Crown, Dunmore was commissioned to the Bahamas. The current building served the same function of state residence and place of government business until just a decade ago. Mr. Flowers recounted what it was like to live there when he toured the faculty and students through the property.

A focused initial assessment of the architectural elements of the building subject is a crucial step in the documentation process. “The quality of architectural documentation cannot be easily prescribed or quantified, but it derives from a process in which thoroughness of research and factual accuracy play a large part, and it acts, for better or worse, as a measure of the integrity and reliability of the information.” Based on thorough on-site observations one can formulate a list of drawings that collectively describe the building in detail. These typically include a location map, site plan, floor plans, exterior elevations, building sections, doors and windows, building details, and interpretive drawings. Gathering existing documentation of the building subject may result in the discovery of a useful drawing or photograph to reference in the planning of the documentation process. Based on the amount of time allotted to the site documentation—and whether that time is compressed into a few days or stretched out over a year—one can devise a strategy to be most effective and efficient in conducting field work. The number of team members and their experience is a factor as well. In Harbor Island, the team had only two full working days. The ten students had already had a brief introductory documentation exercise so they were able to be very efficient with their time and produce 20 field notes.

This advanced drawing and research course (ARC 518) covers the documentation guidelines for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) set forth by the US National Park Service. Students acquire the ability to:

  • analyze and assess historic sites for documentation
  • create detailed field notes, and
  • produce measured drawings that follow national standards for submission to the Library of Congress.

The Residency, Harbour Island, BahamasThey gain a fundamental knowledge of how to record historical sites that may require further study, preservation, alteration, or addition.

Recently, the course has included digital methods of documentation in conjunction with the University of Miami Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC), using aerial and frontal drone photography, photogrammetry, and 3D point clouds with control points and GPS referencing to expand the amount of data that can be expediently collected while in the field. By superimposing different techniques, students will be able to evaluate their usefulness and the complementary nature between analog and digital. (The methods here were used by IDSC Software Engineering to map The Residency, pictured at right, in anticipation of a restoration.)

About HABS

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is the nation’s first federal preservation program, begun in 1933 to document America’s architectural heritage. Creation of the program was motivated primarily by the perceived need to mitigate the negative effects upon our history and culture of rapidly vanishing architectural resources. At the same time, important early preservation initiatives were just getting underway, such as restoration of the colonial capital at Williamsburg and the development within the National Park Service (NPS) of historical parks and National Historic Sites. Architects interested in the colonial era had previously produced drawings and photographs of historic architecture, but only on a limited, local, or regional basis. A source was needed to assist with the documentation of our architectural heritage, as well as with design and interpretation of historic resources, that was national in scope. As it was stated in the tripartite agreement between the American Institute of Architects, the Library of Congress, and the NPS that formed HABS, “A comprehensive and continuous national survey is the logical concern of the Federal Government.” As a national survey, the HABS collection is intended to represent “a complete resume of the builder’s art.” Thus, the building selection ranges in type and style from the monumental and architect-designed to the utilitarian and vernacular, including a sampling of our nation’s vast array of regionally and ethnically derived building traditions.

Read the complete article and see more cool photos at: A.B.S. – Historic American Buildings Survey and the integration of new technology by Ricardo Lopez, Chris Mader, Amin Sarafraz, Li Yin, Arquitectura y Urbanismo, [S.l.], v. 38, n. 2, p. 91-103, September 20, 2017. ISSN 1815-5898.