Sunday, November 11, 2012

Style & Vernacular

Dick Williams (center) holds court in the Octagon, November 6, 2012 (photo by Will Dixon, AIA)
Some of the newer members and associates of AIA-Southwestern Oregon may not be aware of Style & Vernacular, a guide to the architecture of Lane County wholly produced by AIA-SWO and published in 1983 by Western Imprints (the press of the Oregon Historical Society). The book was the product of years of effort, carefully researched and written by a team of knowledgeable AIA-SWO architects and local historians. Today, nearly thirty years on since its publishing, Style & Vernacular remains perhaps the single best reference for laypersons, historians, and architects alike on buildings still standing (at the time of its publication) from all periods of Lane County’s history. 

This past Tuesday, Dick Williams, AIA Member Emeritus, proudly recounted the genesis of Style & Vernacular and the prospects for extending its legacy to a gathering of approximately twenty AIA members and associates at the Octagon. Dick served as the project’s director and driving force, but he was ably assisted by a dedicated group of AIA-SWO members, local historians, and academicians, including Michael McCulloch, Ed Waterbury, Doug Keep, Paul Hansen, Eric Gunderson, Bill Seider, Phil Dole, Jerry Finrow, and Glenn Mason. “It was easy to do because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Dick. The substantial effort was worth it and he is justly proud of what AIA-SWO accomplished by publishing the book.

Dick explained how Style & Vernacular was always intended to be more than a mere guidebook to Lane County architecture. A jury selected the numerous entries for the book for a variety of reasons and not always with unanimous agreement. Some examples typify the different types of buildings and structures to be found in Lane County. Most were chosen as representative of the architectural design values of their time. Not all buildings of historical importance could be included and the jury gave preference to those reasonably intact and without destructive changes. The selections included urban as well as rural examples: landmark buildings, covered bridges, coastal lighthouses, and humble barns. 

Western Imprints printed a single run totaling 3,000 copies. Dick made sure every public library in Lane County at the time received at least one copy; the Eugene Library acquired five. Several of these library-owned volumes would be replaced because of how well-worn and popular they would prove to be. At present, there is no remaining new stock of Style & Vernacular available; unfortunately, the Oregon Historical Society misplaced the original galleys, photographic prints, and negatives so printing more is out of the question. In any event, the original content is also now out-of-date, absent any of the noteworthy projects completed since its publication. 

Dick discussed possible futures for Style & Vernacular. He spoke with the Lane County Historical Society &Museum about the possibility of generating a digital version, and floated the idea of posting a scanned copy to the AIA-SWO website. But it’s his sincere hope that a chapter member or members with a passion for extending the book’s legacy will step up and produce an updated print edition. If you're interested in such a project, contact AIA-SWO executive director Don Kahle

Thanks to Willamette Architecture 360 for providing delicious lunches from Bon Mi Vietnamese French Cuisine Restaurant for all who attended Dick’s presentation. Of course, big thanks go to Dick for sharing the story of what proved to be a labor of love. Style & Vernacular was a singularly impressive achievement and a marvelous gift to Lane County history and architecture buffs.

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