Preserving History for the Future
Elizabeth Louden finds success through her preservation work and through her students
by Kristina Woods Butler
Elizabeth Louden, professor of architecture in the Texas Tech University College of Architecture, didn’t grow up having dreams of becoming an architect or traveling the world to study preservation and restoration theory. In fact, she hoped to become an artist but didn’t believe she could support herself purely as an artist.
Growing up an only child to a single mother, she was often called upon to make small repairs around the house and figure out their newly acquired technology. Little did she know that her passion for art and her mechanical logic would be the perfect combination for studying architecture.
Better with Experience
Louden enrolled at Texas Tech right out of high school, studying elementary education. But school was put on hold when she began her family. Once her children were a little older, she decided to go back and finish her degree, this time in architecture.
“The advantage of being a more mature student is that every class is important; I actually was upset if a teacher gave us a walk,” said Louden. “Many times I thought I just couldn’t go back the next semester, but after some much needed sleep and recuperation, I tackled another set of courses one day at a time.”
After earning her professional Bachelor of Architecture degree, she began working in an architect’s office and also continued taking graduate courses in preservation. When she was approached about teaching a class at Texas Tech, she immediately accepted.
“There were faculty here who influenced me–Professors John White and James White, and particularly Willard Robinson who was a Horn Professor at that time–their passion and interest in historic buildings and historic preservation really inspired me,” said Louden. “You become aware of the short time you’re on this earth, and you realize you want to make a lasting contribution. Every human being has to do something positive, not just take from the earth, but preserve. There’s a bigger picture, which is why I do preservation. You see what people have accomplished before you and can place yourself in the continuum of life.”
In 2001, the research team including Louden began scanning the Statue of Liberty with a 3D laser scanner.
Louden found herself in that continuum last summer while working on a 1931 building in Lubbock that once served as a federal building and post office. Her graduate student preservation team efforts helped draw attention to the building, which was listed on the 2011 Texas’ Most Endangered Places list.
“There are a lot of people in this community who are interested in the preservation of that building,” said Louden. “Ten graduate students and I studied the building, photographed it, analyzed the structure, then laser scanned it, completed drawings and did hypothetical proposals for adaptive reuse of the building. Since that time, the county and the city had the building appraised and assessed for the feasibility of adaptive uses. There has been some further activity and the roof is now being repaired while other options are studied. Hopefully, someone will be able to use the building and we will continue to have that major building as a significant part of downtown Lubbock. It represents a major part of our heritage in this area, and we don’t have a large number of significant buildings still standing from our past.”
Scanning Lady Liberty
In 2000, Louden was involved in a high-profile project for the College of Architecture on a national scale. Because of previous work with the National Park Service, architecture professor John White was asked if a team would be interested to use the college’s 3D laser scanner on the Statue of Liberty.
“There were no accurate measurements of the exterior of the Statue of Liberty at that time,” said Louden. “They had engineering drawings of the interior, but not the exterior.”
The team, comprising of Louden, Associate Professor Glenn Hill and two students arrived in New York in August 2001 and began their initial survey, but only a few weeks later, the tragedy of September 11 put their research on hold. For five years the researchers kept the project in the back of their minds, and in 2006 they received the call from the National Park Service to continue their work.
“Over the next two years, we created 43 sheets of architectural drawings of the whole site, including the concessions and the administration buildings, Fort Wood, with 22 facets of the fort walls,” said Louden. “They wanted every rock and every joint precisely measured and drawn. We finished in the fall of 2008 and submitted the drawings to the National Park Service to be archived in the Library of Congress.”
Louden’s preservation work has taken her on many journeys. She has worked on regional sites such as the C. C. Slaughter Ranch and 6666 Ranch; national sites like Valley Forge National Park, Big Bend National Park and Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park; and numerous projects for the Texas Department of Transportation such as the Colorado Bridge at HR377, Bryson Farmstead, Landa Street Bridge, among others.
“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,” said Louden. “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.”
“History matters–and the physical remnants of that past is a powerful stimulant to the imagination and a basis of factual research.” — Elizabeth Louden
Inspired by the Past and the Future
Louden uses the preservation studio and the advanced architectural design studio at Texas Tech to not only teach graduate students about architectural research and design, but also as a tangible service-learning vehicle to assist communities with revitalization and preservation projects. During their courses, students work with county historical commissions and local heritage societies, as well as conduct research for National Register of Historic Places nominations and learn how to write a Historic Structures Report, in order to receive a working knowledge of historic preservation. But the students and communities are not the only beneficiaries from the hard work.
Louden teaches graduate students at the preservation studio and the advanced architectural design studio in the College of Architecture. Click image to enlarge.
“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,” said Louden. “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 and a basis of factual research.”
Louden was recently named director of the Historic Preservation Program in the College of Architecture. In her role she is working with faculty to re-evaluate the curriculum and find new exciting ways to attract graduate students to either earn a certificate in historic preservation or complete a Master of Science in Architecture with a specialization in historic preservation. Louden said that Dean Andrew Vernooy fully supports the historic preservation efforts, encouraging her to expand the program to include more students and funded research.
“The preservation program has a strong tradition that goes back several generations,” said Vernooy. “Dr. Louden has been an important part of that tradition as a student, a faculty member and now as its director. We look forward to her leadership as the program evolves to meet the demands of the next two decades.”
Besides continuing to expand and explore the potentials of three-dimensional laser scanning usage on historic buildings, Louden is working on a conference paper, based on the 12,000 years of history in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, and her research opportunities in Kurdistan, where she taught a workshop on rehabilitation of historic buildings. This work, in November 2010, assisted in experience sharing and capacity building for the Kurdish people to enable them to care for their own historic places and buildings.
“From that experience and the opportunity to visit the Erbil Citadel, a site that has had continuous habitation for over 7,000 years,” said Louden, “we are seeking to develop a partnership program that will take students to work on location.”
Louden's preservation work has taken her across the united states as well as internationally at places like the Roman Forum and Luxor, Egypt.
During the summer, while co-teaching with Rima Al Ajlouni, assistant professor of architecture at Texas Tech, on a six-week study-abroad course in Prague, Czech Republic, she will begin making initial contacts about partnering with a world-renowned preservation firm to work on the restoration of buildings at the Erbil Citadel. This work will take extensive research to restore accurately and respectfully. But she’s willing to take on the challenge.
“I have been very fortunate, worked very hard, persevered and taken on challenges that I wasn’t sure that I could do,” said Louden. “My mother gave me confidence in myself and taught me the value of diligence, a very important lesson in life.”
And it is her persistence and willingness to do more than was required, that has resulted in so many amazing accomplishments that are sure to have a lasting impact for years to come.
“I want my research activities to help provide the essential knowledge and linkages to our human past,” said Louden. “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 about what has been built, what we valued and where we invested our lives.”
About the College of Architecture
The College of Architecture at Texas Tech offers Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Architecture degrees, as well as Ph.D. programs in land-use planning, management and design.
An Integrated Scholar
Elizabeth Louden was honored as a 2011 Integrated Scholar by the Office of the Provost for her outstanding teaching, research and service. Louden has been recognized in part through TTU Research and Teaching Awards, the College of Architecture’s Researcher of the Year and nomination for the Barney Rushing Research Excellence award in 2004, and the student-nominated Professing Excellence Award in 2006.
Kristina Woods Butler is Associate Director of Research and Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Integrated Scholar video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Senior Editor of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Louden photo courtesy Neal Hinkle. Field images and videos courtesy Elizabeth Louden.