Documentation practice at Uni Illi

Over a coffee at U Penn back in November 2010 Paul Hardin Kapp and I agree to have the Laing Memorial Lecture act as a starting point for introducing real-time CAD into architectural survey for student project work at the University of Illinois. We have both been let down by the Laser scanning lobby promising much and failing to deliver drawings. We want to bring drawing into digital practice as a way of recording with architectural sensitivity. I make an early start for Heathrow T5. I have only a days work to do so I’m travelling super light, just me, a TCR , tablet PC and a camera on this trip. By leaving the tripod at home I’m mobile and the walk to the station is easy. Getting the TCR in a pack on my back definitely helps.  Over the Carter Bridge reasonably light on my feet I have time to explore the focal planes.

On a Sunday there is a risk of disruption to the railway but my route is clear and I’m in good time for check in. T5 is working well and I’m on my way across the Atlantic inside 2 hours. A nice touch by BA was complimentary champagne in thanks for giving up my seat for a family who wanted to travel together. B777 is a nice ride and I loose myself in the murky world of China Mieville’s ‘Kraken’. This trip is about more than just the 1 hour Laing Memorial talk as I know Paul is keen to see TheoLt and PhotoPlan working together so I prep for that.

Transfer at Chicago O’Hare gets a bit tricky, US immigration is painfully slow and then our aircraft has a fuel leak so we swap to another in very quick order and we leave half a hour late towards Champaign.

The 28minute flight in the ‘puddle jumper’ is at 17,000 feet (5000m) and gives a great view of the plains below. The weather is bright but cold. Willard airport is a bleak, windy place.

I’m met by a patient Professor Kapp and experience the icy blast of the prairie wind. It’s supper time so Paul whisks me to a steak bar for a beautiful grill-your-own steak meal: you choose your beef cut from the chiller cabinet and over a beer as the steak sizzles over hot charcoal we chat, it’s informal and delicious!

The beer is a fruity weissbeer called Blue Moon served with a slice of orange, it goes down easy.

Tired and happy (Paul and I share a passion for measured drawing) I am delivered to the magnificent neo-Georgian splendour of the Illini Union in Urbana- no trouble getting to sleep but I wake well before dawn, the body clock is still on UK time.

Eventually the sun rises on a beautiful day. The weather is good but very cold, the trees are bare : winter still holds its grip here.

A walking tour of the campus really reminds you this is the breadbasket of the world.

This sign is modified by students to read POT instad of PLOTS..sigh, I have fixed it in pshop, that’s really class sign writing; it must be disheartening to have to redo it every term.

Other signs around the campus are a bit alarming. There is some heavy duty paperwork to do ( I wonder if I will ever see my I10?). The Urbana campus is fine mix of high quality ‘red brick’   buildings mostly from 1900 to the 1930s and some restrained new additions. Student work in Architectural Conservation is interesting but there is something of a void in drawing skills. Despite obvious acomplishments in CAD and design the ‘as builts’ are missing a lot of key detail and because of this the student designs tend to miss architectural cues like column entasis and cornice profiles.

Snapped off the wall of Paul Hardin Kapp's Office

I can see how TheoLt and PhoToPlan can help! Understanding through drawing just dosn’t happen unless you spend time in contact with the buiding- something TheoLt is all about.

After much stamping up and down stairs we secure a tripod and we are ready to get the students to grips with TheoLt.

Our practice building is the charming Barvarian gothic revival Urbana Unitarian Universalist Church Hall, venue of the Red Herring coffee-house of ’60s legend.

We get the plan underway in minutes and move on to tracing the roof trusses. The completion of hidden detail by sketch is an obvious route once we have seen how easy it is to map the building geometry: TheoLt frees the draughtsman to focus on detail and get a headstart in DWG production.

Working first in pairs and then in threes (we needed a spotter for the roof trusses) the students take to survey like ducks to water…and then the tripod gets shoved! Still we re-orient and carry on. Photo control is achieved and a quick hip shot of the beautiful panelled screen gets us started on PhoToPlan:

Using detail points from TheoLt the photo is rectified and we check the scale of the image with a steel tape and its good to 5mm (or 1/4″ in the old money) I underline the important selection iussues when using TST survey and to my surprise all agree on how TheoLt works for architectural survey. Job done?

Nope, despite it being way past my bedtime I had to stay awake for the Laing Memorial Lecture,  I start drinking coffee!

I manage to keep awake and the lecture gets my point across, there is no substitute for quality in drawings and by respecting the conventions of architectural communication drawings, digital or otherwise, are crucial to the information needs of the conservation cycle!

A fine supper finds me struggling to keep up with conversation, its way past 2am in my head and I’m gratefully returned to the Illi Union.

Next day dawns dull and the cold really begings to bite, a small flurrry of hard dry snow swirled about, fortunately it dosn’t really get started.  Paul and I head off to the airport. On the way out of town we swing off the road and I’m taken to see a remarkable group of buildings.

The experimental Round Barns date from a time when animal husbandry held out hope to the American small farmer, they were designed to maximise dairy production based on just 20 acres,  alfalfa feedstuff  was stored above and the split level basement acted as diary, the movement of the beasts carefully designed into the building for ease of manning. Construction was devised to maximise the strength of standard hardware store sections and no scaffolding was needed to erect the barn. The shape not only provided the best storage volume for the footprint but also offered good tornado resistance.

In the end corn farming took over from dairy and the barns stand as reminders of a time of experiment.The journey home is swift and as night falls again I am woken for strange foods:

It’s hard to sleep on the way home but BA do their best and although my kit feels much heavier as I trudge back from the station I’m pleased with how the trip went. I’m very thankful for the support Uni Illi gave me and I look forward more co-operation in the future. I love it when a plan comes together!

The 1912 drawings for the round barn are here

Latest on TheoLt is here

The lecture was taken from the RecorDim TG1 teaching guide

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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