It is unusual that SESAH’s Award of Excellence for a Book honor a work on Native American architecture. In fact, it has never been done. This is likely because when such publications have appeared, they lean hard on the archeologically technical or the anthropologically social scientific. Carrie Dilley’s Thatched Roofs and Open Sides: The Architecture of Chickees and Their Changing Role in Seminole Society shows how deep research into archeology, anthropology, material culture, and architectural history can be made rich and full, as well as elegant and eminently readable. While this tells the story of an architectural and cultural cornerstone of the Seminole peoples for thousands of years into the present, this is even more significant as a book that will help ordinary people understand architectural history.
What Dilley shows us is that the strongest architectural history can be about looking at all the built environment around us, not just the grandest or most elite. Likewise, appreciating an architectural archetype, like the chickee, is about acknowledging variety and change, and explaining them, even if it means looking seriously at Tiki huts, or the common present-day reliance on mass produced materials and modern ideals in technology and environment. Most of all, however, architectural history can even be great when it helps a people gain a more secure consciousness of their own heritage and its expression in built form.
Carrie Dilley has done all this and more, and thus is richly deserving of SESAH’s Award of Excellence for her book, Thatched Roofs and Open Sides: The Architecture of Chickees and Their Changing Role in Seminole Society.