All posts by Izabella Dennis

Battle Hall Conservation Study


Sample_Izabella and Sarah
GRA’s Izabella Dennis (left) and Sarah Hunter (right)

The Battle Hall Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1911, setting the stylistic tone for future academic architecture and shaping the distinguished Texas university campus. In preparation for a preservation and improvement campaign of the University of Texas’ first architectural masterpiece and its later extension, West Mall Building, a Facilities Condition Report was produced by an outside consultant in 2011 to identify measures to restore the building. Several building elements required further investigation to determine original finishes, best methods for cleaning and treating historic materials, and recommendations for restoration. The UT Office for Campus Planning and Facilities Management provided support and funding for the remaining studies to be carried out through the UT Architectural Conservation Lab under the supervision of Senior Lecturer and Conservation Scientist Frances Gale.

Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Marble Cleaning
Marble Cleaning Tests on the Battle Hall Staircase

Graduate Research Assistants Izabella Z. Dennis and Sarah B. Hunter from the UT School of Architecture Historic Preservation program had the opportunity to participate in this materials conservation study. The work included laboratory analysis of finish samples from ornamental metals, exterior wood building components, the interior wood reading room ceiling and interior plaster finishes. Cleaning tests were performed on interior marble, and protective treatments were evaluated for the exterior limestone veneer. The study involved archival research of the original construction documents and subsequent renovations of Battle Hall, on-site condition assessments and sample collection, and both laboratory and on-site testing. Based on the findings, recommendations were made to help restore original finishes to metal, wood and plaster elements of Battle Hall during its proposed renovation.

Finish Sample Statigraphy
Finish Sample Statigraphy

After documenting original finishes, including linseed oil paints and lead pigments, practical recommendations were developed using contemporary materials. This project involved close collaboration with Facilities Services in accessing hard-to-reach building components, conducting interior marble cleaning tests and exploring practical preservation solutions.

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander

Blake Alexander in his UT office
Blake Alexander in his UT office

Blake Alexander, namesake of the Alexander Architectural Archive, was born on February 4, 1924 in Paris, Texas. He was a longtime architectural educator at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture as well as a dedicated force in the education, documentation and preservation of Texas heritage.

Professor Alexander first started the collection that today is known as the Alexander Architectural Archive in 1958 when he adapted an assignment for his architectural history course at UT to follow the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) format. This required students to measure and document historic Texas structures. The documentation collection quickly outgrew his office and began to collect in a small storage room, dubbed “Alexander’s Closet”.

Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale's Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)
Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale’s Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)

During the 1960’s, a student brought Professor Alexander large paper sacks full of water-damaged drawings that had survived the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The drawings were from prominent local architect Nicholas Clayton, and sparked the idea to welcome the donation of original drawings by Texas architects that deserved to be preserved. In 1979, The University of Texas Libraries began to collect these drawings in “The Architectural Drawings Collection”.

The “Architectural Drawings Collection” was renamed the “Alexander Architectural Archive” in 1998 after the Texas Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians launched a campaign to honor the archives founder and recognize Professor Alexander’s pioneering contribution to the preservation of our architectural history. Today, the archive contains over 200,000 drawings and over 61 linear feet of papers, photographic materials, models and ephemera representing projects from Texas and beyond. The archive and Professor Alexander’s efforts have been an invaluable resource for restoring some of Texas’ most important and beloved buildings.

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander!