Orlando Ridout V: In Memoriam
Executive Director Leslie Buhler offers this tribute to Orlando, who died April 6, 2013. A pillar of architectural history and preservation, he was a deeply admired friend to her and others fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.
|Orlando on the Tudor Place roof.|
There are few people one meets in life who stand heads above others. One of those people in my life – as in many others – was Orlando Ridout V. While few outside the fields of architectural history or preservation will have heard of him, all of us will benefit far into the future from his work. For almost four decades, Orlando helped create, shape, define, and advance the study of vernacular architecture, for thirty of those years as chief of field research for the Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency dedicated to preserving and interpreting the legacy of Maryland’s past.
|Orlando explaining the architectural history of
Tudor Place: He shared his vast knowledge humbly.
In 2001 and 2002, we commissioned Orlando and Willie Graham, his longtime colleague at Colonial Williamsburg, to write a Historic Structures Report for the estate. Their systematic approach greatly advanced our knowledge of the building’s evolution and formed the foundation for the interpretive approach used today. Through endless hours of investigation, examination, and delving into documentary material (including early images), they produced a comprehensive site chronology and a keystone essay on the house’s evolution and architectural importance. From their inquiries, we gained invaluable understanding of the people who lived and worked at Tudor Place over 173 years of ownership by the Peter family.
|Orlando examining nail-hole patterns on the Tudor Place Temple Portico dome, January 2012.|
This was just months before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. News of his illness caused a seismic shock in the architectural history and preservation fields. He was not to leave this world without the recognition he so deserved. In 1979, Orlando had helped found the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF), dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of the built environment, and historic architectural resources and their relationship to local culture in particular. In June 2012, its Board awarded him the Henry Glassie Award recognizing special achievements in and contributions to the field of vernacular architecture studies.
…His contributions to this field have redefined how we, as a profession, look at buildings. Not content to simply maintain the status quo, he has elevated the standards of our field, continuously working towards bettering our understanding of buildings, refining our documentation standards and rethinking the types of questions we should ask about the built environment.
Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, is as a teacher and mentor… He gives freely and profusely to anyone who is passionate about buildings, and he is especially dedicated to those who desire to become field surveyors. How many people in our field have learned the basics about nail chronologies, framing techniques, and hardware while spending a hot day in a tobacco barn or cold, snowy day in an abandoned eighteenth century house with him? Benefiting in a special way are his students who took his legendary course, “Field Methods for Architectural History,” at the George Washington University.
But these examples do not do justice in any way to Orlando’s expansive generosity with the fruits of his intellect and his labor. No matter how elementary or complex the question might be, nor how many times he has answered it before, he always answers with thoughtfulness, unselfishness and modesty.