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Subscriber: null; date: 21 October 2019


  • Margaret Moore Booker

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) constitute a public archival collection consisting of more than 556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites in the US dating from Pre-Columbian times to the 20th century. Maintained by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the HABS collection is one of the largest national surveys of its kind in the world. It serves as a vital resource for students of American architecture and is a crucial aid to historic preservationists. Its success reflects the importance and great need to document America’s surviving architectural and engineering masterpieces, particularly those that might be threatened with alteration, demolition or development.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, HABS was initiated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a short-term, federal relief project. Under the program—the brainchild of architect Charles E. Peterson—unemployed architects and draftsmen were hired to record systematically historic buildings through accurate, scale, measured drawings and photographs and written historic documentation. The program was (and continues to be) co-sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Library of Congress. Unlike most Depression-era federal assistance projects that disappeared once federal emergency funding ended, HABS survived and flourishes today.

Since 1969, HABS has operated jointly with its offshoot, HAER, as part of the Cultural Resources Program of the NPS in Washington, DC. Established in 1969 by the American Society of Civil Engineers, NPS, and the Library of Congress, HAER documents historic sites and structures related to engineering and industry. Among them are bridges, ships, steel works, railroads, canals, parkways and roads. From the beginning, HAER focused less on the building fabric and more on the machinery and processes within. As with HABS, HAER combined drawings, history and photographs to produce a comprehensive record of each site’s significance.

Together, HABS/HAER have documented a comprehensive range of achievements in architecture, engineering and design in the US and its territories, from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago, to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC, to Grace Church in New York City.