By Sarah Traum, Architectural Historian at Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc.
One of the unexpected benefits that I’ve found while working in a multi-office firm is the chance to work on field projects with other offices. Even though I’m based in the Washington, D.C., area, I’ve been able to work on projects in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina. I really like working for other offices because it stretches me professionally.
As an architectural historian, I get to experience regional differences and building types. In my most recent fieldwork for the North Carolina office, it was the saddlebag house and a regional form of tobacco barn. These are not usual building types in northern Virginia where I do most of my survey work. Surveying something new to me enables me to practice my research skills and grow my architectural vocabulary.
In working with different offices and for different clients, I’ve also learned new methods and procedures. For example, the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office requires the use of several comparable resources when evaluating an architectural resource. This isn’t something that I have to do for most of the reports that I work on. This process of searching for similar architectural resources enabled me to better understand the resource that I was surveying: where was this building type usually built? In a small town? In a rural area? Were there other buildings associated with this building type? What are typical modifications to this building type? Also, the process of driving around and looking for comparable resources gave me a good idea of the geographic context for the resource that I was surveying. I’ve incorporated this use of comparable resources in a non-official way in subsequent survey work that I’ve done.
I’ve also been able to bring my expertise to work for other offices. I’ve been able to incorporate my experience with Greek Revival style architecture from my graduate work in upstate New York into work with New England offices. I’ve also been able to take advantage of the expertise of staff in other offices for my survey projects in Virginia. It is so helpful to be able to pick the brains of those who are more familiar with new-to-me resource types.