One and a half years after graduating from the Historic Preservation Program at University of Texas at Austin, I went back to the School of Architecture and took a tour of its prominent Architectural Conservation Lab, a great building conservation resource. Fran Gale, the director of the lab, was hosting a session with the students from her Materials Conservation class. The students were asked to use microscopes to examine paint samples and document the sequence of paint layers present. To better examine the paint layers, they encapsulated each sample in a resin cube so it could easily viewed and preserved.
Fran was involved as a consultant in the foundation of the lab back to 1980s. UT followed the standards from National Conservation Advisory Council for conservation education and facilities very seriously. The lab has become an important resource for the Historic Preservation Program. Fran has been in charge of the lab since 2007. The space is now located in West Mall Building, and provides great information about historic building materials. It is the home of Fran’s Materials Conservation series, and is also the technical base for students in the Historic Preservation Program. It has a big collection of building material samples, and supports the examination and testing of materials from historic buildings on the UT campus.
The UT Lab before class.
In the lab, students are encouraged to use various tools and equipment to conduct studies for both school projects and related research. I still remember when I was in school I would spend a whole morning or afternoon figuring out different pigment layers on the paint samples or testing the stains on the limestone. By using the digital microscope, I was able to take as many close-up photos as I wanted. I often took them home for future study. What better way to understand the characteristics of historic materials than doing the testing and analysis yourself?
Although the lab is a teaching and research facility for the School of Architecture, Fran sometimes will help with some local projects. Recently, one of Heimsath Architects’ clients made good use of this resource. In the restoration project of the University United Methodist Church located adjacent to the UT campus, project manager Sandy Stone suggested the use of BioWash to clean mildew off of historic limestone. The church had been contacted by a company that proposed using a clorox bleach for a much cheaper price. Sandy was concerned that the clorox would damage the historic materials. So she consulted with Fran, who agreed with Sandy’s selection and suggested a way to test BioWash product to use the least damaging concentrate possible. With Fran’s help, we were able to convince our client and successfully cleaned and preserved the limestone.
In historic preservation projects, it is always important to treat historic materials carefully and correctly. Fran and her Architectural Conservation Lab provide such a wonderful opportunity for scholars and professionals to learn the right methods and techniques.