CHSA 2nd Biennial Meeting

Wrapping up a good couple of days at Penn.  Our second biennial meeting was a good one, with attendance up and lots of good papers ranging from the replacement of the U.N. curtain wall in New York to the archaeology of brick privies here in Philadelphia.  Not sure there are that many other organizations that can span that.

I particularly enjoyed David Billington’s keynote.  Billington is one of the great names in engineering and structural history in the U.S., and he gave a great overview of the history of structural concrete, tying in some obvious figures (Maillart, Turner, Tedesko) and some who deserve more study–Gustave Magnel, anyone?  I had never seen him lecture before, so this was a real opportunity.

I got to spend almost three hours yesterday touring the Eastern State Penitentiary, an encyclopedia of prison design, masonry construction techniques, and building decay.  This is one of those buildings you read about in history class but don’t really have any clue about just how impressive it is until you can stand in it.  You can actually see the evolution of the block design from one wing to the next, and also see them making mistakes (oh, really–you didn’t think you needed to flash that stone wall?) and correcting them a generation later.  Highly recommended, and apparently they put on a heck of a haunted house each halloween.

Plans are afoot for future meetings in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis–gearhead historians and fans of centuries-old mortar mixes can keep up to speed on the Construction History Society of America’s website.

Thanks to everyone who attended, particularly those who gave papers.  Look forward to seeing you all in Boston and/or Paris for the 2012 meetings.