Historic American Building Survey (HABS)

Documenting the spaces when surveying a site for the the underground project is one of the most important steps in the survey process. Maps are carefully drawn in order to understand the scale of the spaces being examined and also to know precisely where features, such as underground doors and windows, are located. Accuracy and attention to detail is critical so we use guidelines that are set up in the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

Historic American Building Survey Brochure from the National Park Service

Historic American Building Survey Brochure from the National Park Service

The Historical American Building Survey was established in 1933, during the Great Depression, as a means to supply 1,000 architects who were out of work with jobs. What began as a 10 week project has since functioned as a guideline in a standardized format for recording and documenting historic structures. The HABS program is operated by the National Park Service, the Library of Congress and the American Institute of Architects. HABS drawings, as long as they meet the guidelines, can be submitted to the federal database held by the Library of Congress.

The history and collection of HABS documentation can be viewed on the Library of Congress website here.

For the Missoula Historic Underground Project, the standards were followed as closely as resources and the documentation process would allow. For instance, these guidelines for measurements:

  • Measurements should be taken with metal tape measures, to avoid slack in the measurements;
  • Measure in as long and continuous line as possible;
  • Measure to the outside of walls, door and window frames, etc.;
  • Record measurements in metric;
  • Horizontal measurements should be taken 4 feet above the floor.

In the next post, HABS Part 2, we will look at the guidelines for how the final drawings should be completed and look at an example from the Missoula Historic Underground Project.

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