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Architecture as a career is not an easy choice. One might even say that architecture chooses you. Like medical practice or journalism, acting or teaching, you can only excel at your craft by becoming involved with the clients and invested in the outcome.
I could quote the dreadful statistics on failed marriages and failed businesses for architects, but statistics can't be applied to all situations or all participants. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. When you choose a career, though, you do place a foundation under who you are. You may not be that person in that career forever, but it will forever form who you become. If you love architecture and you nurture it, it can change you - make you think beyond what exists now and project into what might be. Even the most cynical architect is an optimist at heart, for we hold the inherent belief that the world can be made better - perhaps even that people can be made better - by creating an environment they aspire to live up to.
I knew I wanted to be an architect at the ripe old age of 8. Or an astronaut. I grew up in a small town with gaslights running down the main street. The town square still features its fountain of "Winkin Blinkin and Nod" along with the scattered memorials of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters who, for a short time, were soldiers - protecting this haven that I grew up in so that I could be free to be either an architect or an astronaut.
Growing up in a small town, I hadn't seen a building taller than our downtown hotel. I hadn't seen any paintings by Picasso, nor had I seen any great engineering marvels like the Hoover Dam. But something about my town - my town square, the public library, the old hotel - whispered "architecture". Beyond creating a great monument to memorialize a particular designer or fashion of the time, architecture is about anchoring people to a place and giving them a sense that they belong somewhere - that they can make not just a place in the world, but a home.
Architecture is a brave choice that will require sacrifices. The future ahead will be insecure. The people closest to you may never understand what you do or why. You will come to hard choices - between your design principles and your client's desires - sometimes between your moral principles and your security. As architects, you may be faced with these personal tests more often than others and you must choose wisely and honorably. We become better people - better designers - when circumstances force us to find the high road over the mountain.
San Diego surprised me. I went with no expectations other than pictures from the nightly news. My wife wanted to go to the zoo, and frankly, I just needed a breath of fresh air in a slightly warmer climate. So, we boarded a flight to San Diego.
The first surprise was landing. The commercial 737 put down her wheels and as I gazed out the window at the city below, there it was, right next to me. If I'd been paying closer attention, I could've waved at the guy washing dishes at his kitchen sink in his 20th floor condominium. Talk about your downtown airports.
I took my first flight lesson back in 1988 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in a Piper Cherokee 140. If I'd taken that lesson sooner, who knows? Maybe I'd be an Alaskan bush pilot.
Yes, everything seems beautiful from far enough away, but that's not the whole of it. The one person you can never get far away from is yourself, and from far enough up, there is a certain peace that comes from truly being by-oneself. And even though I'm alone in the cockpit, I feel more a part of the world below than when I'm tromping through muddy construction sites - like an artist stepping back from a painting to get a better understanding.
|Reading Hospital, Before Construction|
|Reading Hospital Site, After Demolition|
|Model of Future High School|
In recent times, we have become accustomed to equating new with better. In building design, particularly educational facilities, the perception of technology and mechanical systems as an overwhelming challenge often discourages building facility leadership from investigating the adaptation of existing structures as potential schools.
While older buildings are often characterized as more imperfect than new construction, the quality of their materials and underlying structure is often far superior to modern building materials and methods. With the rising costs of both materials and labor and the decreasing pool of skilled craftsmen in the building trades, existing structures can provide a very credible alternative for school facilities. Additionally, they often allow a head start on the construction process as much of the planned facility is on an existing foundation and already under-roof.
There are primary objectives in educational facility design that are inviolate: educational flexibility, durability of materials and the long-term operations mission. Of a school district’s total annual educational budget, building costs including operations, maintenance and debt service typically amount to less than 10% of the annual budget and in most cases, to less than 5%. When focusing on a fiscally conservative budget directive, keep in mind that investments in the building program which reduce energy costs, staffing demands and maintenance or replacement of finishes over time will far outweigh any savings made in construction costs.
An adaptive reuse project addresses not only the improvement of educational facilities, but the redevelopment of deteriorating resources within a community. In Reading, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s vacated their 140 year-old hospital and its 6 block campus in the city. Even though the site required extensive environmental remediation and many of the structures required full or partial demolition, the school district was able to convert the hospital facility into a high school for almost $30 million less than the cost of constructing a new school. With construction halfway completed, the much-needed, 3000 student facility will be open for the 2009/2010 school year.
- When considering adaptive reuse for educational projects, there are several strategies that can help you stay focused on your goals for a facility’s aesthetic attributes, educational components, budget and construction schedule:
- when addressing a minimal budget, focus on limiting the project scope through efficient design; it is better to reduce the scope of the project than limiting future flexibility or compromising the quality of construction
- set a reasonable timeline for the project and work with your design team and identify scenarios which might possibly be discovered and their potential solutions ahead of time
- plan for what features you’d like to restore ideally, but be aware of areas of compromise in renovation scope so that you have options for reducing project costs after construction has begun
- be prepared for issues to arise and have an internal strategy and process for responding to your design team quickly during the construction process
- assign a generous contingency fund up front and plan to use it
Well chosen, an existing structure will more than compensate for any challenges that you may have to address. Through adaptive reuse, your educational facility has the opportunity to become a learning tool itself – illustrating its role in history, demonstrating old style craftsmanship and detailing, and imparting awareness and appreciation for all of the various types of structures that make up the fabric of a community.
In one of the more disturbing mountain formations outside Barcelona, a group of monks decided to found a monastery. Their seeming insanity is eclipsed only by the beauty and power of the area. If there exists a place on this earth that is close to God, figuratively and literally, Montserrat is quite possibly it.
In the satellite pictures to the left, the monastery church is the dark oval near the center. The shadows of the mountains are this big as seen from space. The picture above shows the rocks towering above the church. On the top satellite picture, you will note that these are the little rocks in the clusters directly adjacent to the complex in the lower photo. The really big rocks (like those to the far left of the complex in the upper satellite photo) are incomprehensible.
For her 40th birthday, I took my wife to Spain. We flew to Barcelona where I expected not to understand anyone and to be afraid to drink the water. The surprise was on me as Barcelona turns out to be a very cosmopolitan city. It's closest American equivalent might be San Francisco based on the arts, diversity and cultural refinement, though it many ways it was more "proper" than our California coast.
The most surprising about the region is the scope of radically differing terrain. The Mediterranean coast was dotted with regular "beach towns" of villas and tourist meccas, but only turn away from the coast headed north and you're facing flat-topped volcanic plateaus. Pass those and you're winding on roads that frighten billy-goats. Out of the mountains and into the flatlands through fields of blooming poppies and peppered with unhurried cows, the hills begin to roll once again, each topped with a town grown out of the shape of the hillsides. Further down the same highway, mountains of rock tower above with their enormous rounded fingers clawing to escape the earth itself.
To begin with, there is a road innocently named "N152". The first image is this road the way that map-makers see it. Winding and wandering comfortably through lovely villages alongside a nice little railroad.
Here is N152 as God sees it. The winding little road clings to the knife edge of a mountain and occasionally tosses rocks at the nice little railroad which is an alarming distance below. That the billy goats are terrified may perhaps be an exaggeration - but they certainly looked nervous.
Standing on this hallowed ground more than 40 years after the D-Day landing, I felt the collective spirit of all the soldiers and their adversaries who gave their lives for a cause they believed in. I have never been so affected or humbled by a place before or since.
The day we arrived was foggy and salt air blanketed the banks like a protective guard - like a stern librarian who holds a finger to her lips to remind the careless that precious things are concealed within and those that visit must be given their due peace in which to consider them earnestly.
Though immense in its engineering accomplishments, standing within these grand halls causes one to marvel not at the human contribution, but the divine inspiration. There are some places of worship that put one in mind of the perils of humanity and strike fear in the hearts of those who would stray from the paths of righteousness, but this cathedral is not one of them. In contrast, its facade of green and white invite the passer by to look a little closer at the details and entice them to come into this joyful place which can only have been created in celebration of a greater, more generous power than humanity can wield.