February 13, 2017
This week, Nick sits down with a Preservation Maryland staff member, Michelle Eshelman. Michelle is a frequent user of 3D modeling software and discuss how she has been able to use her skills for the benefit of preservationists. Of particular note is her work in Ellicott City, a historic town that was hit by a devastating flood in July of 2016. Grab your finest 3D modeling software while you listen to this week’s PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Hi, this is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Want to learn how to do 3D modeling in two months? If you do, you should speak with Preservation Maryland staff member, Michelle Eshelman. I sat down with Michelle to talk about her work in the recovery of old Ellicott City, and how a young architect like herself got involved with historic preservation. As a native Floridian, you’ll also here Michelle’s opinion on Maryland and not to spoil anything, but the state certainly has made an impression on her. So kick back, relax, grab your finest 3D modeling software, and get ready. This is PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Hi. This is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we’re joined by Michelle Eshelman. Michelle is a young architect who is currently working with Preservation Maryland, assisting us field documentation, as well as creating 3D models of historic sites using a variety of new programs. Recently, this is meant during a lot of work in historic Ellicott City, which as some listeners may know was the site of a devastating flood this past July. Welcome to PreserveCast, Michelle.
[Michelle Eshelman] It’s great to be here.
[NR] Great. So you’ve been with us since last summer. You joined us right before the big flood hit [in historic Ellicott City in July 2016], and now you’re serving as a preservation associate, largely because of what happened in Ellicott City. And I guess the sort of interesting, how did you get into preservation? What’s your path to Preservation Maryland?
[ME] Well, I just graduated with my degree in Architecture, my Bachelor of Design in Architecture, and preservation is always something I’ve been passionate about. Growing up in Florida, most of the town I grew up in was built in the 1950s, and I was always so excited to see things that were older than that. So in cities like St. Pete, which is near where I grew up, there was a big 1920s YMCA that was abandoned. And I met up with a preservation group that was down there and I just loved exploring the building, I loved seeing all of its original details and how they had kind of degraded over time. I just loved the idea of bringing it back as something new, as something that was original to the fabric of the city.
[NR] So I guess when you’re – some people come in from different directions, and we have a lot of people through this studio who, some people are really fascinated by the history of a place, or its relationship to the community, but what you’re saying is it’s really about the structure itself. So obviously, that’s kind of what drew you to to the architecture side is that it really is the being, the physical manifestation of history through the architecture, which I guess is sort of unique. Not all architecture students are into the old stuff. Some just want to go out and make all new things, right? I mean, would you say that you’re sort of a subset of your architecture class? Was everybody interested in, sort of, the old? Or were you sort of a, maybe a minority in that viewpoint?
[ME] There was definitely a divide in students that were interested in more modern architecture and kind of organic forms, modular forms, from the Bauhaus era onward, and students that were interested in history. I’ve always been interested in architecture that tells a story, something that is vital to the community and that has been there through all of its history and really is an integral part of the city. So when I graduated from architecture school, I was really interested in pursuing a path that would bring me closer to preservation, to give me a really broad introduction to preservation as a whole, on the scale of large cities and small towns. And so Preservation Maryland is an organization that just works across the whole state. I’ve gotten to work on so many different projects and really see how preservation can impact the city at every scale.
New Tools for Preservation Architects
[NR] And listeners should know, too – I mean, this is sort of behind the scenes, pulling back the curtain about Preservation Maryland – but Michelle has sort of filled the gap in a sense that she was really the first architect that we’ve had on our team, on our staff, who has really expanded our ability to do a lot of drawings and things like that. And we’re hoping to be able to replicate that at some point in the future, maybe even establishing an architecture fellowship here to sort of replicate the great work that Michelle has brought to the table here, because there are certain things that we weren’t able to do before. And I think listeners particularly might be interested in sort of the technological side of architecture. I think a lot of people think of architects sort of sitting at the drafting table, using your T-square. And I’m sure you can use a T-square, right? I mean, you’re –
[ME] Of course.
[NR] You still know the basics. But one of the really cool programs that you’ve been able to use, particularly for our Six-to-Fix program, for some of the work that we’ve done in Ellicott City and elsewhere across the state, is SketchUp. So what is SketchUp? How does it work?
[ME] Well, SketchUp is a program that’s really for the everyman. Anyone can use it. It’s really user friendly. It’s a building program, and so what you can do is create a floor plan, especially with something like a measured drawing of a building, and you can extrude the surfaces and create textures –
[NR] Okay, now. Hold on. Extrude the surfaces? That’s not an everyman term.
[ME] Well, working from something like a floor plan, which you can create yourself or you can import and trace over in SketchUp, you can take what is a 2D representation and turn it into a 3D representation. And so you can take what is 2D and build it upward. So create walls, whether it be full-height walls, party walls. You can create stairs that way, as well. And it’s just a really quick building tool. You can use measurements in feet and inches. And so something I’ve been doing a lot of with Preservation Maryland is taking measurements of buildings and turning them into measured drawings within SketchUp. So creating them pretty much from the ground up, making a floor plan and using that to build it upward into walls and to second floors.
[NR] So it really gives you sort of a full documentation of the building as is?
[NR] Is there the ability to show deteriorated elements or is that sort of harder to do? Like if we have a structure that’s missing part of its roof, could you show that?
[NR] And now you say that this is sort of an every man’s tool. So for the preservationist who maybe doesn’t have sort of even the professional training that you currently have. Is this something that you could pick up and learn if someone wanted to document a historic building themselves, what that would look like?
[ME] Sure, sure. There are tons of online tutorials for SketchUp because it’s so widely used across even professions other than architecture: such as industrial design, people who design products, people who design cars design in SketchUp, and you can even take files from SketchUp and put them into other programs such as Rhinoceros, which is another 3D modeling software that mostly architects use then you can also take things from SketchUp and you surrender engines such as VRay and Maxwell Render, Brazil Render which make them look like real surfaces rather than like a flat, three-dimensional object. You can put light and shadows on them so that it almost looks like something right out of a commercial like a car commercial.
[NR] So SketchUp is the base level, and then you can always kind of build from there.
[ME] Right, and as far as in everyman’s tool, it would probably take, maybe, two months of online tutorials before you could start building things and SketchUp and feel really comfortable and confident with it. It really doesn’t take much time at all once you find a tutorial to start building and trying things out and just getting the hang of it.
Documenting Shafer Farm
[NR] So are there any other examples of sort of the way that you view SketchUp here at Preservation Maryland that you think stand out that you’d want people to take a look at?
[ME] So one of the cool projects I’ve gotten to work on in SketchUp is building one of our Six-to-Fixprojects the Schafer Farm out in Burkittsville in Frederick County. It’s an old Civil War era structure that served as a place where generals would convene for the Battle of South Mountain. And so in measuring that building, it’s been abandoned for years. It’s been abandoned since 2000, at least. It’s really degenerated over time. Parts of the building have fallen in, some of the windows have canted towards the side, and –
[NR] That’s a very polite way of saying that they’re leaning in.
[ME] Right. And that one was really a challenge to measure and turn into a 3D model. But having it as a 3D model is going to be incredibly useful and its stabilization to be able to see from where it went, the measurements we took on the site when it was completely crooked, every wall is leaning different ways, and to see where it will be in the next decade with its stabilization and rehabilitation, I think is going to be an incredibly useful thing to have documented.
[NR] Right. Yeah. And it’s a before model. And the other nice thing, too, about documentation is God forbid we ever lose a structure, at least we do have a really good representation of what was there. And I know that in the future we’re– in the next couple months here, we plan on actually bringing out some drones. So sort of a call back to a previous episode with Belinda Kilby in Elevated Element, we are actually going to be bringing that firm out to sort of add to the documentation that Michelle has done and actually do some photographic documentation of the house and then the barn. And so maybe we also need to get you back out and do some measured drawings of a barn to add to your portfolio as well.
[ME] Sure, sure. And so one of the other things you can do with SketchUp is you can create floor plans, sections through the buildings at any part that you need, and you can create other drawings of rooms from the measurements that you have of the 3D model.
[NR] So it allows you, I guess, if you’re planning reusing a building or thinking about different reuse strategies. So if we’re going to use this building at Shafer as a visitor contact station or is there going to be a place for overnight stays instead of actually having to go go and put furniture in a room physically, you can kind of do that in SketchUp and say, “Hey, this space would work,” or, “The flow pattern her is not going to be good, we can’t use this space.” So it allows you to go through thinking that way and sort of different planning all just at your computer, rather than having to physically do that in a structure.
[ME] Exactly. Exactly.
[NR] So it makes planning better. I mean, it just is a better and more thorough way of doing this. So that’s wonderful, that’s really great. So as a professional in the field and someone who knows a lot about SketchUp, how long would it take you to do a model, say, of a single family dwelling, a historic dwelling from the 1850s, farmhouse?
[ME] Well, something like that, we’d definitely have to go out and take field measurements, especially because something that old, the measurements would have differed from what it would have originally been built at over time. So precise measurements definitely help with that to see how things have deviated, and then what you would do is you would take those measurements and use SketchUp and start with lines and use the measurements that you have to create measured lines, and eventually turn those into wall thicknesses and windows and punctures through the building such as doors and second floor landings. So with having the measurements and creating a measured drawing, it would probably take me maybe a week or less because of the time schedule that I’m so used to working on from architecture school, we build models in the course of a week
[NR] Right. And we should mention, too, that you are not stopping with a Bachelor’s degree, you won’t be with us forever, but you’re going to be continuing on to get a Master’s. At this point in time, we don’t know where.
[NR] But that is the goal to go on for further studies so that you can be a fully-bonified preservation architect.
[ME] Right. With my Bachelor of Design and Architecture, I’m not a licensed architect, I’m not certified.
Assisting in Ellicott City
[NR] We haven’t been providing any actual building plans or anything like that from your work here, but your work certainly has informed and assisted in the documentation. You’ve also done a lot of line drawings of historic buildings across Maryland, so there’s been a lot of value that you’ve added. But it’s not just been on the documentation side, you’ve also been assisting with our work, obviously, in Ellicott City which sort of struck right as you joined us here, and then we were able to bring you on to assist the work there. So Renée Novak is the field director out there for the Preservation Resource Center in Ellicott City that we established after the disaster, and you were assisting as the preservation associate. So why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about what’s been happening in Ellicott City, what you guys have been working on?
[ME] So having come from Florida, the flood actually happened on the day that I arrived in Maryland. So since I’ve been here, I’ve been caught up in hearing about the flood and the recovery efforts that Preservation Maryland has been involved in. And it’s something that I’ve become really passionate about is working in this Recovery Center. Along with Renée Novak, we’ve been walking Main Street on the daily talking to contractors, architects, business owners, property owners, and residents who have been affected by the flood. Many of them were displaced and several businesses still have not been able to reopen due to extensive damage that they sustained. And so part of my efforts in the recovery center have not only been talking with property owners and talking to them about tax incentives and things that they can do as far as recovery, but also working towards creating kind of a stock of what happens when a flood hits a historic district. So I’ve been working on creating infographics as far as explaining the tax credit process that we’ve been breaking down for residents in the field so that we have a tangible representation of the efforts that we’ve been doing down there. So creating infographics, documentation, photographs, and just really taking inventory of all that we’ve been doing down there.
[NR] It seems like it’s been a lot of work. And we’re going to be talking more about that work when we return to PreserveCast.
And now it’s time for a Preservation Explanation
[Ben Israel] Hello listeners, this is your producer, Ben. Nick and Michelle keep talking about the flood in Ellicott City. You maybe wondering where that is? Sit back and let us paint a lustrous word picture that captures the essence of the Town of Ellicott.
The year is 1772. Poland, it’s being partitioned by great European powers. Mount Papandayan erupts in Indonesia. And then the colony of Maryland, three brothers, John, Andrew, and Joesph Ellicott built a flour mill on the Patapsco River just west of Baltimore. A flour mill, you might think. But Maryland was always known for its tobacco crop. That is true, but the Ellicott brothers saw an opportunity and began encouraging local farmers to plant wheat in lue of the traditional tobacco. The result? The development of a thriving community called Ellicott Mills. The town was so successful that in the 1830s, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad laid the first 13 miles of track which connected Ellicott Mills, soon to be Ellicott City, with the bustling port of Baltimore. The City was a destination for visitors from Arthur Washington Erving to General Robert E. Lee. It also became known for a unique stone that could only be found in the Patapsco Valley called Ellicott City granite. Many of the historic buildings in the city were constructed from this granite.
Of course, Ellicott City has had its fair share of problems and has flooded on many occasions. Still, the people of the city have persevered and preserved their cultural heritage. Hopefully, we captured some of that essence for you. I mean, that part about the granite is pretty cool. How many towns have their own granite? Anyway, let’s get back to Nick and Michelle on PreserveCast.
[NR] Alright, we’re talking with Michelle Eshelman, Preservation Associate here at Preservation Maryland, both about her work in documenting historic structures with an interesting piece of technology known as SketchUp, as well as her work in Ellicott City as a preservation associate in our special Ellicott City Preservation Resource Center, which was established after a disastrous July 30 flood, in which Ellicott City, Maryland, a historic community in central Maryland, received over 6 inches of rain in less than two hours. So it was a pretty devastating flood. We’re talking now in January of 2017, and the damage is still evident there, right? I mean you walk down Main Street, you still see the impact of that flood. Is that right?
[ME] Absolutely. There are still businesses that haven’t reopened since the flood, and the damage is so evident. You can see businesses that still have the whole back of their building blown out.
[NR] Right. And we should mention, for those people who aren’t familiar, Ellicott City sort of sits at the bottom of a hill. The Patapsco River is at the very bottom of that hill, and then there are two, really streams but they call them rivers, that run underneath the town, sort of meander back and forth, are underneath a lot of these buildings, and a lot of these buildings sit overtop of that. And so water sort of rushed down the hill and cut through some buildings, blew out buildings, and Preservation Maryland has been involved since day one down there. Do you have any estimate on the square footage that that the work of you and Renee, how many buildings you’ve impacted through this kind of technical assistance? Walking people through rebuilding, and tax credits, and all that kind of work?
[ME] Yes, we’ve been keeping track and keeping tabs on all of the residents that we’ve been able to help. All of the small businesses that we’ve put time into explaining tax incentives and going through, step-by-step, the whole process of recovery. And we’ve been able to help over 71,000 square feet down in Ellicott City.
[NR] Wow! That’s a lot. So that includes different buildings, and those are all historic buildings all within the historic district, right? We’re not talking about non-contributing. Those are really all historic buildings.
[ME] Absolutely. All on downtown Main Street.
[NR] Wow. So, for the listener, I mean, you can kind of get a sense for the scale of this. And that’s not even, you haven’t impacted all the buildings in Ellicott City.
[ME] Not by far.
[NR] That’s just maybe a third of them?
[ME] We’ve had technical assistance involvement in. And so a lot of this is, kind of, walking people through the very confusing process of rebuilding. Dealing with contractors, dealing with tax credits, both at the local, state, and federal level. So it gets pretty complex pretty quick, and we need to have professionals on the ground. And I understand that right now we’re working through a process to actually even be a little bit more involved in the Spring. And those details are, sort of, to be determined. But we’re even looking at doing some work on the residential side of Ellicott City, which has sort of been overlooked through this whole process. So there’s work left to be done, I suppose, for the Resource Center and for you.
[NR] As you sort of wrap up your time here with Preservation Maryland over the next six or so months.
[ME] Absolutely. We’re still down there, we’re staying down there, we’re still helping out in any way that we can and it’s been such an overwhelming process for all the business owners and we’re happy to help.
[NR] Yeah. Now sort of moving forward with your career, where do you hope to be in 5, 10 years? I mean obviously, your going to be leaving us in a bit and going to be joining some type of graduate program to continue your studies, but where do you hope to see yourself as an architect?
[ME] Well, I mean, becoming a fully licensed architect is definitely the first step.
[NR] Okay, so license [crosstalk] okay [laughter].
[ME] And I see myself staying involved in preservation. I mean, this experience has really opened my eyes to the wide range of things that the preservation community does, and, I mean, especially from an architecture standpoint, it’s just such a fulfilling career when it does work out, and there are just so many buildings out there that can be saved and should be saved. So I would be excited to be a part of that.
[NR] Well, it’s encouraging to hear, particularly since you give some credit, I suppose, to your time spent here with Preservation Maryland and obviously, we’ve had a great time having you as a part of a team here. So as we sort of draw to a conclusion on the interview here and we tend to ask people some standard questions, just to kind of get a sense for where they stand on certain fun issues, and I know that you’re sort of fairly new to the state here. You came down the day that the Ellicott City flood hit, and we don’t have any reason to believe that you were the cause of that flood. But you did show up on the day that it hit.
[NR] But what has been your favorite part of moving to Maryland? And maybe that’s kind of a fun question to hear from someone who’s new to the state. Some of us who have lived here for a while, you kind of get used to certain things about it. But it’s always fun to hear from someone who’s new to the area, what sort of strikes them as something that they really enjoy about the state.
[ME] Something that’s been so different from Florida is just the juxtaposition between the big city and all of the really rural areas. I mean, it is a huge change going from Baltimore downtown to places like the Eastern Shore, out towards Frederick and Hagerstown. It’s just what a huge variety of places across the state.
[NR] Really? So you’d say in Florida, it’s more similar?
[NR] There’s really sort of more homogenized in that sense. You don’t get too many variations.
[ME] Right. Even the bigger cities are still somewhat relaxed. It’s kind of a beach lifestyle, so no matter where you go, it’s kind of like beachy areas and woodsy areas. But I mean, folks all across Florida are kind of the same. Across Maryland, just the variety of places are so interesting.
[NR] Yeah. And there’s definitely a true sense of place still in Maryland. When you go to the Eastern Shore, you know that you’re on in the Eastern Shore and it’s just remarkably different than being in Downtown Baltimore and the same could be said for being in Western Maryland in the mountains. There is definitely that sense of place, which, you know, you could argue that part of that is thanks to the historic preservation community that we have worked really hard to make sure that not everything is alike and not everything is the same, that there are some regional differences.
[NR] It’s good to hear. I think that would be heartening for a lot of people around the state to hear that. So you’ve only been here for a short time again, but we ask everyone, particularly those living in Maryland, if they have a favorite building so far in the state. And I know that’s a hard question particularly as an architect because you’ve fallen in love with every building and you want to hug every building. But if you could pick out one from the time that you’ve lived here, what would it be?
[ME] Oh my gosh. Well, I don’t know that I could pick just one.
[NR] You have to. That’s what we’re asking. You have to pick one. You could do top three.
[ME] Top three?
[ME] Alright, I was really impressed with Holly Hall –
[NR] Okay, so Holly Hall for people who aren’t familiar is a federal style from the early 19th century in Elkton, Maryland which is at the very top of the Chesapeake Bay in Cecil County, Maryland. And you can find out more about that on PreservationMaryland.org if you want to read in more. It was one of our Six-to-Fix projects from 2015. So you like Holly Hall, why is that?
[ME] Just seeing an abandoned building that you used to be just so grand. The splendor of the building, and all of the details, and the architectural finishes. I am a person who loves to tour abandoned buildings, and that one was incredible.
[NR] Yeah, so sort of the juxtaposition of what was once the finest with now what is today sort of vacant and downtrodden.
[NR] Yeah, sometimes that is stunning in a very sad way. Okay, so Holly Hall is up there. Was there another that you were going to mention?
[ME] This weekend I actually got to tour the Peabody Library, and that was really incredible. Just to see all the books, and all of the old fixtures, and the glass ceiling in the building. Gosh, that almost took my breath away. That was incredible.
[NR] Yeah, the Peabody is fantastic and is an example of the finest that has remained the finest. Well, that’s wonderful. Well, we appreciate not only having you join us today on PreserveCast but also all the work that you have done in support of historic preservation here in Maryland, and we wish you the absolute best of luck in moving forward. And thank you as well for the standard that you have set, hopefully, for future emerging architects who will be on the team here at Preservation Maryland in years to follow. So thank you for joining us. We appreciate it, Michelle.
[ME] Yeah, thank you, Nick.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!