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October 12, 2023 Foundation

The lighting is bad tonight, I could write anything, spell things wrong, wouldn’t know the difference.

The city is slow. We can talk about growth, and we want to talk about growth, but then we look around, and I’m still walking through scaffolding, and I still see open seats at the bar, and I walk past people who ask me for money.

When the new homeless wave arrived in town, I took it as a sign of growth, a proof of concept, a goal achieved. Even the underground has heard about our good streets and good weather. The business journals are on track, they got their angle right.

In great Raleigh culture, we’re responding to the press, the voices in the ether (I can’t keep track of all the sources!) The police are out in force, in friendly force, round and round with the four-wheel drive, even mounted police, reminding us of large animals, and the good old days, and how far were coming, driving our electric cars and waiting for the culture to shift.

Working downtown (when we don’t WFH), we watch these waves in real time. I finally told my bearded-friend on the street to try a little harder. I confronted him on a street corner, like an intervention to a homeless man, “Look, friend, you’re still giving the same speeches from when I met you years ago, before the pandemic, you’re still working the same hours.” You and me both! Now, my bearded-friend is working a different block – its a good city.

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There’s some value to telling these stories, so let’s go again. My new friend, Einstein, we’re building some history, long conversations I don’t always understand. I watched him get pushed out of the old pharmacy alcove by a vagrant we now call Benjamin Franklin. It didn’t seem fair to me, I like Einstein a lot better, but Einstein doesn’t seem to mind – the alcove on the other side of the bus station is cleaner.

We don’t design our buildings for the Vagrants, we don’t plan our cities for the homeless, but I do remember lectures in college where we jumped straight to the ruins. Greece, Rome, those were the boom-towns, and look at those ruins!

We had a dean, at the time I was in Architecture school, top notch for what she offered the institution, but I remember her lecture too, that They shall know us by our pots.”

To say that the homeless are halfway between our boomtown and our ruins – it’s unfair, and I wish I thought it was untrue.

I believe in good design as good ruins, but I also have sat still long enough to witness the phasing of ruins, the repair-and resurrection of brick buildings from the turn of the last century. I’m back to sitting still, staring at those brick buildings, with residents on the doorsteps, and waiting for the call for the next resurrection of those good ruins – good enough anyway for another go. We’re not done yet, don’t count us out.

Suburbs may be in season again, I hope they are – the architecture will be much worse for an embarrassingly long time, but the conversations will be meaningful.

When I think of architecture right now, I think of wood studs in place, to fill in the gaps, and set us on a trajectory to talk to the building code official about things that aren’t very hard to decide, but we both have a job to do.

I got invited to a soirée in Charlotte, to the African American History Museum. While I won’t pretend to understand the title of the destination, I am drawn from the depths of my profession to inhabit those walls in that city, for no other reason except to contribute a presence and maybe abscond some hors d’oeuvres.

The homeless have every right to our porches, shelter from the storm, while the architects work on the next thing. When the homeless spend time on our stoops, and our staff group-messages about work-from-home, Architecture gets challenging.

I think this is the time when we start to buy cheap, and maybe the old institutions decide to build, better add those names to my marketing list. Times are changing.

Architecture sits still, but we draw through the in between.

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