Architecture students archive history, win honorable mention

A sketch of the Gesu Catholic Church, located in downtown Miami, created by Matthew Cohen, Carolina Madureira, Mara Wine, Ariana Ragusa, Shef Ali Lal, Jose A. Vela III.  Courtesey of Ricardo Lopez
ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE: Architecture students Matthew Cohen, Carolina Madureira, Mara Wine, Ariana Ragusa, Shef Ali Lal and Jose Vela III drew a sketch of the Gesu Catholic Church in Miami. The team was recognized nationally for their work.
Courtesey of Rick Lopez

Scaling walls and climbing on beams are not what comes to mind when going about a typical homework assignment in the School of Architecture.

But that’s what professor Ricardo Lopez and his students did in order to get inside the roof of the historical Gesu Catholic Church in downtown Miami.

“A unique challenge was to get into the roof,” he said. “We had to climb up this tiny ladder that was tucked inside the wall that is an original part of the building in order to measure the trusses.”

Their project was to measure and draw the historical building for submission to the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), which will be archived in the Library of Congress. Since 1933, HABS has been collecting measured drawings, photographs and written reports for the purpose of documenting historic places within the United States.

Their hard work paid off. Ten architecture students from the class won the 2013 Charles E. Peterson honorable mention award for their drawings. Lopez and two students from the class, Jose Vela and Ariana Ragusa, will be traveling to Scottsdale, Ariz., on Oct. 19 to accept their prize.

Vela, a recent graduate, said that the Gesu experience has helped him in his career.

“It taught me how to learn the proper steps in documenting a building by measuring, sketching and compiling a proper set of drawings,” he said.

Jorge Hernandez, an architecture professor, said that the Peterson Prize honors the best in historic, architectural documentation.

“This is the second year that our students were awarded a Peterson Prize Honorable mention,” he said. “The Peterson Prize recognizes the highest quality documentation nationwide. This is an important distinction that elevates the profile of the program, our school, students and faculty for documenting the architecture of our region and bringing it to national attention.”

Architecturally, the Gesu Church is an important historic Miami building. Its steel frame structure is very rare for the time period in which it was built. In 1925, this technology was primarily used to build skyscrapers.

The trusses are what drew Lopez to this particular building.

“The roof is noteworthy because it has a long-span steel frame truss,” he said. “This allows for a longer span without columns inside the church; it’s single-wide open space.”

The Gesu project took the students one semester to complete by visiting the site once a week in three-hour increments.

This semester, Lopez and a new group of students will be measuring and drawing Coral Gables City Hall located in Coral Gables.