Vernacular architecture also has a place at AIA 2011. For a thoughtful session on regional identity, architects and Morgan State University professors Dale Glenwood Green, Associate AIA, and Ruth Connell, AIA, led a discussion of historic African-American churches. Despite their influence on the communities in which they stand and the black community at large, just 60 of these historic churches are included in the Historic American Buildings survey—an oversight that Morgan State is working to correct.

In exploring the cultural and architectural significance of these buildings, the researchers have identified wood and brick typologies, as well as gable-end and cross-gable typologies. They are working to bring resources to bear for the typically small communities that belong to these churches, including efforts to explain and improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines.

Documentation is a critical aspect of preserving the history of these buildings. Steeple bells, for example, have a way of moving between churches; in some instances, a church’s “new” bell is one that it inherited from an even older church. The preservation effort also includes new technology: Students at Morgan State use AutoCAD to model and document the churches.

Ultimately, service is the root of the project: The researches hope to facilitate conversations between architects and congregations about what churches can do to preserve their significant cultural legacy.