An eighth-grade Spanish project convinced Stephanie Walker she ought to study architecture.
The assignment was to draw her dream house and label it in Spanish, and Walker, now a rising senior architecture major at Morgan State University, created a meticulous floor plan. So meticulous, in fact, that Walker’s teacher told her she should consider a career in architectural drawing.
Walker is among a cohort of six architecture students at Morgan State who are restoring the windows of the university’s historic chapel. It’s part of a program called Touching History: Preservation in Practice, which is meant to bring more black students into careers in historic preservation.
“I always wanted to get into architecture for affordable housing, so that I could affect the way affordable housing is designed,” Walker said. “But me being exposed to historic preservation — it’s making me change my direction.”
At the chapel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, students are scraping lead paint from the exterior windows and repainting them, as well as repairing any rotting wood they discover in the frames and repairing the windows’ glazing.
“The students who are restoring these original windows, designed by early African American architect Albert Cassell, are restoring that legacy and helping to restore this to its former glory,” said Dale Green, an assistant professor of architecture at Morgan State and the lead faculty for historic preservation.
The building was constructed using proceeds from the sale of what was then called Morgan College to the state of Maryland. It is one of several buildings on Morgan’s campus designed by Cassell, a Towson native, and is an “iconic symbol” of Morgan’s founding, Green said. That took place in 1867, when a group of ministers convened in the basement of Sharp Street Church to establish the Centenary Biblical Institute.
This summer, the students in the program have restored log cabins at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and helped with masonry work at the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture, which is billed as the oldest museum in the nation.
Last year’s cohort of Morgan State students, the first group to participate in the program, also made restorations at the Peale Center. And this fall, a new group of students is headed to Antigua and Barbuda, where they will restore the government house as part of a project administered by Queen Elizabeth and overseen by Prince Harry, Green said. Various groups of students and faculty will visit the site to help with restorations over the next five years, he said.
Tyriq Charleus, another rising senior in architecture, grew up in Washington. His experience there inspired him to pursue a career in the field.
“My community has always had dilapidated homes,” he said. “And now in D.C. they’re usually just getting torn down and replaced with new, shinier buildings. But the history that happened in that neighborhood is also being erased.”
He remembered his mother sharing stories from the city, adding that many of the locations that shaped her childhood have since disappeared at the hands of new development.
So Charleus got into historic preservation.
The Touching History program was developed by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Hands-On Preservation Experience Crew.
David Vela, the National Park Service’s acting deputy director of operations, said the students are helping with a $12 billion maintenance backlog at the service.
Through their work at Morgan’s Memorial Chapel, and possibly other sites in the future, including the home of Frederick Douglass and buildings at other historically black colleges and universities, students that participate in the program will diversify the field too, he said.
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“The folks that are involved in the preservation community don’t reflect the face of America today. Programs like this will help to change that,” Vela said.