2011 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Professor of Architecture;
College of Architecture
- Elizabeth Louden
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
My research objectives are to discover and precisely document historic artifacts, objects, sites, and buildings that will provide original source materials for future research. These historical facts contribute to a broader knowledge base by recording the actual size, location, details, materials, and construction methods. This documentation ensures that facts, not assumptions are available for future analysis and understanding about our culture and history.
A college professor, Horn Professor Willard B. Robinson, once said “buildings are facts that should be preserved with as much historic integrity as possible to ensure that future generations of researchers have the same facts to interpret that we had.” He was my mentor and inspiration to pursue this particular area of the architectural profession. The real thing, that is what is invaluable.
Unbiased, no assumptions, factual, literal; these are my goals in the documentation and preservation of our cultural heritage resources.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
I want my research activities to help provide the essential knowledge and linkages to our human past. We must learn from past mistakes that destroyed buildings, neighborhoods, and landscapes in the name of progress, and understand that our heritage decisions right now will impact accurate interpretations by future generations.
Phillip Johnson, an influential American architect and the author of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Water Gardens, J. F. Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, and the AT&T building in New York, among many other significant works of architecture, is often quoted: “We cannot not know history.” He was referring to a sound knowledge of architectural history, but many people also accept and relate this to a similar quote by the philosopher George Santana: “Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”
I have had the opportunity to work on regional historic buildings such as the C. C. Slaughter Ranch, 6666 Ranch, and the Lubbock Federal Building, among others. Our local history is just over 140 years old. The work at Mesa Verde National Park, and on George Washington’s 1776 tent at Valley Forge National Park, still barely prepared me to accept my good fortune to work in the Roman Forum and then in Luxor, Egypt. To see and touch 8,000-year-old architecture has a powerful effect on understanding one’s place in history and is a truly humbling experience. My small contributions to world heritage, the preservation and conservation of the ‘real’ thing, are what makes this research and documentation of heritage worthwhile.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I think I have already touched on this, but actually, perhaps the look in a student’s eyes when they understand the importance of a humble ranch building or a dilapidated house to a community, the owners, the regional history, that is my ‘inspiration.’ And when I see the gratitude in the faces of the people as they realize that I agree with them; their history is just as important as an Egyptian pharaoh’s. History matters, and the physical remnants of that past is a powerful stimulant to the imagination.
In this part of the country, our built, or tangible heritage, is so young compared to most of the rest of the world, that often we don’t see its value. We know that others walked here thousands of years ago, but couldn’t live on the Llano Estacado without reliable surface water. Hunting buffalo required knowledge of springs that provided the necessary water. So a Trail of Living Water allowed hunters to follow the herds, but not to raise more permanent structures. Even if they had, the building technology would have been primarily earth bricks, or adobe, and susceptible to rapid erosion. So here, where the last Soldier vs. Comanche battles were fought, and the end of the American Frontier occurred, we sometimes have a hard time ‘seeing’ our heritage. Ranch buildings located in remote places, sometimes still owned by original families, become fragile without the necessary maintenance.
I think the relative rarity of our regional buildings also is what inspires me. Without recordation, all traces of our earliest structures will be lost. The humble utilitarian farm and ranch buildings slowly fall down from disuse. Although picturesque, they seem to have little value anymore.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
The type of service projects that I do usually involves working with county historical commissions and local heritage societies in area towns such as Morton, Brownfield, Slaton, and Levelland. Sometimes at their request, and at other times, I chose a historic site as a site of a hypothetical design or adaptive use project. In my Preservation Studio, for instance, last spring, I chose the 1931 Lubbock Federal Post Office at 800 Broadway. Usually, I work in small communities, but last year I decided we should do something in Lubbock. Ten graduate students photographed, inspected, measured, and created drawings of the building. They also produced adaptive use project proposals. Numerous positive things happened with that project. One of which was the listing of the building on Preservation Texas 2011 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Now, there is renewed interest in the potential reuse of the building. Sometimes good things happen from the attention, and sometimes the primary success is the documentation of the building so that the ‘facts’ of the building will be archived.
Other service projects involve doing historical research for National Register of Historic Places nominations. This involves a very thorough description of the history and architecture of a building. Students have worked on nominations for the C. C. Slaughter Ranch, the Hockley and Bailey County courthouses, and other area buildings. Another type of research is the Historic Structures Report. In a class several years ago, we looked at the Brownfield Train Depot Building that is a part of its heritage museum. We used the laser scanner to measure the building and produced accurate drawings, inspected the building to record its condition, and made proposals about how best the owners could preserve the building while adding air-conditioning for additional gallery space.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am teaching the second summer session of Advanced Architectural Design Studio. The students are working in teams on two different sites. One is in Fort Worth, the Recreation Building, and the other is the old Lubbock Power Plant site at 5th and Ave. J. The students have inspected the buildings, met with owners and developers, city representatives and potential new occupants. The proposals for adaptive use of these existing historic buildings will serve to inform interested persons about a new and fresh vision for their buildings. Students can dream big dreams without feeling completely constricted by the dollar. We strive to nurture a vision. We can always come down from big ideas, but it is hard to expand small thoughts.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?
Wow, advice is worth what you pay for it, right? I think I would say to stay focused on what you have a passion to do. It is very easy to be distracted in too many directions. I should know, I did that for a while until I was advised to refocus. I took that advice and spent my energy on the things that I love. Students feel that, and learn to appreciate heritage, to see potential in places that they have ignored before.
I have had incredible opportunities here at Texas Tech, done things I would have never been able to imagine doing. I have always said “yes, I can do that,” even if I didn’t completely know how I would do it, like using the laser scanner on the Statue of Liberty. We hardly knew how to turn it on when the call came from the National Park Service. I also stepped up and said I wanted to be a part of that project, so sometimes you have to take a chance, volunteer, and take a leadership position.
Fortunately, the projects we have had were places students wanted. We have been able to hire many student research assistants at a good salary, and therefore expect top-quality work. Architecture students are very special, smart, capable, dedicated, and reliable. They are a pleasure to work with and to teach.
I was a late bloomer. I started at Texas Tech at eighteen, then stopped, got married, and raised two children. Then when they were in school, I came back to finish my education. I changed to architecture from an elementary education degree. After my first professional degree, I worked with a local architect, started a graduate degree in historic preservation, and also taught drawing classes. From those graduate teaching opportunities, I received an invitation to apply for a tenure- track position and here I am, full professor now. Oh, and about twelve years ago, I decided to get another degree. I went to England and earned a doctorate in building conservation from the University of York. I like a challenge.
Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Archaeology, Institute for Advanced Architectural
Studies, University of York, York, United Kingdom, 2007,
Dissertation: Wood, Weathering and the West, a study of the ranch building wood deterioration in the Llano Estacado, 1850 - 1950;
Master of Architecture, Texas Tech University, 1989;
Bachelor of Architecture, Texas Tech University, 1987.