Happy Thanksgiving – it’s a beautiful fall afternoon. We’re looking forward to dinner with the family. The afternoon naps are already in progress, tonight’s dose of tryptophan will simply be a bonus.
Our house is near a nice city park. It’s as long as our block, and creates a perfect walking loop that’s enough for the adults to feel like we moved our legs, and not too much that our kid can sprint and stop without much prodding. Recently, the city has updated the community center building in the park. AOArch responded to the city’s RFQ, but we didn’t get the commission, so now I have the opportunity to make up mistakes that the winning architect made in my neighborhood, though the truth is that they did a great job, and it’s a much better park thanks to their care.
You can see the layered history of RFQ’s in this park, and you can imagine the way these buildings get funded, designed, and built. A concession stand at the softball fields had that mix of exaggerated exposed steel structure and brown painted wood paneling that pointed to a certain aesthetic and a moment in time, that was owned by the local architects who tended to win public bids, in the eccentric but inconclusive early eighties. That building had been boarded up as long as we’ve lived in this neighborhood, and was demolished last year to make way for a shiny new electric transformer with accompanying chain link fence.
But the restroom building remains, with its painted CMU, its oversized shingled roof, and the covered picnic tables with too much shade. It’s large enough to serve three sports fields, but the lighting is poor, daylight is rare, chlorox has negotiated terms with the mold, and it’s a facility you only use if you must.
Last Thanksgiving, we brought a sorry plate of lukewarm leftovers to a family who had taken shelter under that big roof in the shade with the picnic tables. A squatters’ home in a comfortable Raleigh neighborhood with open-air views of the park. This Thanksgiving, on our walk through the park, we shared greetings with the same family. Our family and theirs has survived through another difficult year. Our family and theirs has remained in our respective homes, stayed together, and kept our children fed. Their family has earned the applause. While we can imagine their family’s needs, especially as we move in to winter, they didn’t ask anything of us, and it’s hard to think of what to say, except “Happy Thanksgiving!” We are so thankful for our home, our work, and our place in this city. Watching the leaves fall in the afternoon sun as I write is a delight. I hope our friends in the park find some sense of that peace that comes in these moments of freedom, and I hope you do too.
In school, our professors would talk about designing good ruins – it’s the stuff that makes good lectures. What will our buildings look like when we’re gone, how will these materials decay, will our long-future decedents be moved by our priorities and our sense of proportion? And the application, how does that affect our designs today? That park building is a contemporary ruin, headed toward replacement at best. Obviously, it’s no place to raise a family, on a picnic table at a public restroom building, and this story highlights the demand for . . . for what? For long-term shelters that accept families, yes. For careful housing that matches actual income levels, yes. For diverse and safe communities, yes. For more local jobs and ample public transportation, can we provide it? For a better understanding of who are our neighbors, yes, absolutely. Let’s keep working on all those things, make the ruins good ones, and give people places to live well.
Blessings this coming season, thanks to our friends and to Providence.
Back in the office on Monday.
Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
GREEN | URBAN | SMART ARCHITECTURE
19 W Hargett Street, Suite 700-A | Raleigh, NC 27601
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