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PMarch 13, 2013

Architecture Matters: Civic Buildings in the Center of Our Lives

Over the course of the next year or so, I intend to blog about the topic “Architecture Matters”. From commercial structures to our homes, I don’t think there has been a more important time to reflect on the importance of good architecture and to push back on form, function, economy and ecology that doesn’t work for the user or the community. In the opinion of architect Paul Rudolph, civic architecture has been the grand omission for half a century. In its most simple terms, civic architecture means assigning a proper role to each building so it works in concert with its neighbors, thereby creating a comprehensible whole. This is the opposite of the Madison Avenue view, which thinks of each building as a billboard for its owner. It means that there must be the focal building, the foreground and supporting buildings, the building that acts as a base for the important building, the building that acts as a pivot, the gateway building, the transitional building, etc.

Civic structures sit at the center of our lives. For all of history, the civic structure has carried forward our past, bravely looked into the future and become the glue that has galvanized our communities. One doesn’t have to look far to see the impact of great architecture and the loss we suffer from poor planning. It doesn’t take long to get excited about how new civic structures are emerging, while others are being repurposed or rejuvenated.  We are proud to play a role:

The Wilmington Public Library:

urlThe architecture of the Wilmington Library is so solid that is creates the enclosure for Rodney Square in Wilmington and forms a center to our urban village. The original architects chose a limestone and granite exterior in order to communicate the permanence of the building and the importance of its contents. Details on the outside include Ionic columns with volute capitals and the inscriptions that celebrate the great areas of learning found inside: words like Architecture, Science and Literature. Today, we are in the midst of contemporizing the library, making it more inviting and social for the community, while protecting the archives and collections that are at the center of our community’s intellectual history and advancement. Wilmington will join our Bear Library project where the architectural modifications were focused on making the library more valuable as a community resource and the Dover Library where the architects chose to make the environmental contribution of the library part of the collection with nuances like a “green” roof.

[For more on the architectural detail of the Wilmington Library, be sure to read EDiS Project Manager, Jeff Isbert’s  blog “Architecture Depicts Stories at Wilmington Public Library”.]

Friends School:

wilmington-houseIf you’ve ever traveled outside of Delaware, I’m sure you’ve seen a school structure tucked back within a community that seemed out of place or a school design that didn’t seem to fit within the context of its surroundings. Fortunately, the Quakers were keenly aware of the relationship between architecture and community. Over 300 years ago, the Quakers were establishing meetinghouses that brought their community together for worship in simple, functional structures. They were more concerned about what happened between the four walls than creating ornate facades. Yet, through their simplicity, they inspired a religious movement, an architectural style and the foundation for a great education. In 1748, the Friends School of Wilmington was founded and is considered Delaware’s oldest school. In 1937, the school was moved within the walkable community of Alapocas, soon after the neighborhood was established. As we create a new entrance to the school and bring their performing arts center back from the ashes of a fire, we are reminded how this elegant structure, not only carries on a historical narrative and how it has provided a rich environment for learning, but also how it has become a rallying point for generations of alumni.

Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company:

imagesWhen I was a kid, I remember vividly waiting for the annual Rehoboth Beach Fire Company multi-night open house. At the time, their facility wasn’t as large as it is today, but it was just as important. The facility was a solid brick structure and demonstrated that community members were always at the ready for their fellow neighbor. During open house nights, we drank punch, rode the fire engines, hit the siren, learned about fire prevention, got a little red, plastic fire helmet and got to sit in the ambulance (really a converted station wagon). That is why I am personally so excited that we will be building the new Station #2 for them on Route 1, just outside of downtown Rehoboth Beach. Here is an example of how they, not only built a handsome structure in the center of the downtown, but they used this structure to create a link to the community. Volunteer-based fire service is vital to our towns and, if there is one group that “gets it” with respect to architecture and civic buildings, it is our fire companies.

I’d really like to know what you think about this topic because, at EDiS, we think architecture matters.

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