The style of architecture and the construction methods used by the Shakers throughout Middle America and New England were unusual – reflecting an ascetic living and working structure that was both communal and gender-segregated.
|This image blends part of an old photo, left, of southwest Ohio Shaker architecture with the virtual reconstruction of the same building (a dwelling house) by a UC team.|
Much of this distinct architectural legacy has been lost. However, an ongoing University of Cincinnati public-education project is virtually rebuilding lost structures and interiors using advanced visualization technology.
UC’s CERHAS: A history of success
This effort related to reclaiming Shaker architecture and design is led by Jose Kozan, adjunct professor of architecture and research associate in UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. He is working in conjunction with other members of the Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at UC.
The center – a 21st century leader integrating art and design with technology – has previously led high-visibility, public-education efforts to virtually reconstruct ancient Troy, sites in ancient Greece, the Midwest’s lost monumental earthworks built by ancient Native American cultures and other lost or inaccessible art and architecture.
Shakers in southern Ohio
Kozan’s project focusing on Shaker architecture began as a preservation and tourism effort in Crosby Township in southwest Ohio. A local citizens group – the Friends of the White Water Shaker Village – wanted a way to highlight two major Shaker structures (Meeting House and Dwelling House) that remain from a one-time Shaker community known as White Water Shaker Village.
|At right, remaining Shaker architecture in Crosby Township, Ohio.|
That initial request led to a years’ long project by Kozan to collect old photographs of the village as well as old drawings and maps of the area to virtually restore the northernmost portion of the site.
Kozan explained, “Reconstructing the lost buildings or even the lost interiors of existing buildings is a challenging puzzle. We have no surviving plans. Interiors have been dramatically altered and subdivided since the Shakers left the site in 1916. And even for two buildings on the site (Meeting House and Dwelling House), later owners have made additions (i.e., porches and annexes) and changes (i.e., asphalt roof vs. the Shakers’ wood shingle roof) that must be virtually removed in order to see the structures as the Shakers knew them.”
Distinctive aspects of Shaker architecture
Shaker architecture, with its unusual features and construction methods, provides valuable insights into Shaker life and culture. All of these come to life in Kozan’s virtual reconstructions of buildings and interiors once part of the Whitewater Shaker village. Distinctive aspects of that architecture include
|The interior of the Shaker Meeting House at White Water Shaker Village as it would have looked in the 19th century.|
|At left, a view of the dilapidated interior of the Meeting House taken in previous years and, at right, a look at the interior today after a number of remodelings since the 19th century. Above is an image of the interior as the Shakers designed it.|
A lasting impact
The simple architecture of their homes, meeting houses and barns have had a lasting influence on American architecture and design.
As a group, the Shakers had what Kozan described as a commitment to savvy use of resources allied to simplicity in building forms, set within site planning that emphasized social structure and social interaction within a communal life. They achieved a well-coordinated design hierarchy within structures and with the placement of structures within the landscape. Their work provided a continuous flow of influences upon generations of American architects and designers.
The UC project to virtually recreate and preserve these structures and interiors is also having a lasting impact on students. Third-year architecture graduate student Jordan Parrott, 30, of Miami, Fla., has worked on the project with Kozan with in and outside of class time.
“It’s an exciting project for three reasons,” explained Parrott. “First, it’s in our own local community. Second, we get to see the results of our work made widely available because our renderings are available on Google Earth. And, finally, it’s enabled me to see the many alternatives available in the field of architecture. There are different avenues of work and research, things related to preservation, visualizations and development, open to us as future architects.”
Continuing the legacy
UC’s Kozan and architecture students have created schematic 3-D virtual models, located online in Google’s 3-D Warehouse and Google Earth, of structures that no longer exist but were once part of the White Water Shaker Village site near Harrison, Ohio.
|Aerial view of the ongoing UC project to virtually recreate a northern portion of what was once White Water Shaker Village.|
The UC team has also created more detailed 3-D virtual models, also located online, of still-extant structures, providing a view to interiors as they were originally built by the Shakers. The current interiors of the extant structures are in some state of disrepair and have been remade and remodeled numerous times since the village was first established in 1824.
Kozan’s long-term goal is to expand these virtual reconstructions to include other historical Shaker communities throughout the U.S., to spread the architectural lessons to be learned, and to encourage tourism via preservation, rebuilding and virtual means throughout an online Shaker network.
|Two UC virtual recreations: the Meeting House at left and the Dwelling House at right.|
Kozan explained, “I’m promoting these efforts because to do is to learn. By interacting with the design history, students and others can take away the lessons of this legacy, which speak to creating meaning-filled living spaces.”
He is also presenting on this work at academic conferences and in journals, including a recently published article in the “Proceedings of the 34th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Conference.”