Andy Dayton, associate web producer
A few weeks ago I took a break to attend a week-long retreat in rural Wisconsin. A change of setting was refreshing, and perhaps necessary. Much of my week was spent walking through open fields and gardens, a nice contrast to my cubicle here at SOF headquarters. I also went on two excursions to some unique and inspiring places: Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home Taliesin, and Deer Park Buddhist Center.
Both of these spaces seemed to compliment each other as meeting spaces of the old and new. Taliesin’s modern-looking organic architecture was aged to the point that it almost seemed to crumble into the hillside, while Deer Park’s traditional Buddhist decorations were placed on a brand new, modern building. Both spaces carried a certain weight that stuck with me, especially the interior of Deer Park’s temple, which you see pictured at top.
Fitting then that I returned to a staff discussion about Esther Sternberg’s new book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. I’ve only just started reading it, but the book focuses on the relationship between health and the spaces we inhabit — an idea that I can easily connect with my week in Wisconsin. We’ve talked to Sternberg before — first as a voice for our program "Stress and the Balance Within," then again as part of our Repossessing Virtue series. Sternberg’s book has been showing up in some unexpected places, and it’s raised the question of whether we might have another conversation with her. I look forward to continuing her book, and perhaps hearing from her again.
Image at top: inside the Deer Park Buddhist Temple. (photo: Liz Sexe)
Very Cool Slideshow
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Very cool slideshow produced by Colleen Scheck for SoF’s “Architecture of Decency” program.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Being a homeowner who has gutted and rehabbed a number of residences now, I’ve come to learn that materials really do have their place. Asphalt shingles work great on a pitched roof, but place them on a porch’s shed roof with a shallow incline… well, you’re begging for those newly laid floors of reclaimed Douglas fir from your upstairs attic to cup and bend. Wood putty is fine for those nail holes on an interior door. But, try to close the gap on those weathered storm windows — the first spring rain bubbles the paint and makes them look worse than before. Lessons learned.
And, as you can see from the picture above, what worked beautifully as a retaining wall treatment in the Yancey “Tire” Chapel (1995) failed miserably on Tracy Shiles’ house. The stepped approach to the front entry hasn’t borne foot traffic well, and it wasn’t covered either. The flaking stuccoed tires reminds me of something Andrew Freear, the director of Rural Studio, told Krista in our anchor interview for SOF’s upcoming program, “An Architecture of Decency.”
He views sustainability with a small ess. Instead of searching for “green” products with the proper FSC stamp or building structures that are LEED certified, Rural Studio emphasizes vernacular materials that require zero maintenance. The stuff has to be readily available, reusable, and understood by the owners so that it can be easily fixed. Their clients are scratching out a living and extra time, says Freear, needs to be spent making additional income, being with their families, or simply just resting from a hard day’s work.
After all, this isn’t so hard to understand. How many of you have an uncle, grandfather, or dad who gripes every time he opens the hood of his Volkswagen Jetta or Toyota Prius or even a Ford Taurus because he can’t make simple repairs because of all the electronics being used? The same idea applies here. A Dutch-produced prefabricated cementitious fiberboard may be “green” and durable, but if it gets damaged in a storm, the owner can’t replace it. But, use corrugated sheet metal and the owner can find a piece at any scrap yard or vacant, tumbledown building in the tri-county area for the repair.
Welcome to Alabama
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
We arrived in Greensboro on Tuesday afternoon and headed straight up to Antioch Baptist Church (see image below) to see if there was any information on services during the week. We were hoping to gather sound of the church’s congregation, perhaps speaking to members who had seen the previous incarnation. Cruising down the 1.5 lane highway at a healthy speed, we eyed this tiny sign pointing down a gravel road (driveway) “Antioch Baptist Church.” The grass between the tire tracks was quite tall, giving me the impression that this church might not get used at all. As we walked up to the structure we knew immediately that this was a Rural Studio project, it was like no other church in the area (except for the other RS chapels).
Alongside the church is an elevated graveyard with headstones dating back to the early 1800’s. The juxtaposition of these old tombs looking upon the modern chapel below was striking, as was the fact that the only windows along the long walls of the church were the narrow strip which looked directly out at the graves.
As we walked along the grounds, which were surrounded by thick forests of pines, you could hear an old hound dog howling in the distance interspersed with long stretches of eerie silence. This combination seemed to say, Welcome to rural Alabama!
We left Antioch to head back to Greensboro and again, at highway speed this dog seemed to come out of nowhere. At least, it seemed like a dog, minus one ear. This German Shepherd was standing next to the side of the road waiting for us to pass, standing alert with its one good ear. Sorry, it was just too strange for us to want to get out and snap a photo.
Establishing Roots to the Past
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
The foundation has been laid and now the heavy lifting begins for second-year students at the Rural Studio. They completely dismantled St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (circa 1854) last year and cataloged all its elements — from mortise & tenon beams to cut nails. Then, they loaded up the truck and relocated the structure near its original location in Cahawba, the first capital of Alabama.
The effort is painstaking, but history teaches lessons. And Jason Coomes, the instructor for this project, says it awakens the eyes of his young students and town citizens alike. The quality of craftsmanship and ingenuity of construction contributed to its longevity.
Beams used for floor joists weren’t nailed to the foundation. Taboo nowadays perhaps, but a feature that allowed the building to move enough so that it didn’t collapse under stress and strain. Now that they’re assembling the salvaged floor, they’ll date-stamp the contemporary substitutions to provide a legacy for the next generation trying to figure out how the church was built and rebuilt.
In so doing, they preserve our cultural legacy, teach the next generation of architects what it means to design buildings that last, salvage wood that most likely would have deteriorated or been scrapped, and sustain the geography of place that was once washed away by the floodplain of the Cahawba River. This seems like sensible sustainability, one that sates the curiosity of generations to come.
Antioch Baptist Church
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Thirty minutes north of Greensboro is a magnificent country church with a modernist flare that would appeal to most minimalists. In 2002, a century-old church standing on the site was carefully dismantled right down to the pulled nails so the materials could be reused in its current incarnation. The concrete blocks were salvaged from the women’s dorms at Auburn and serve as a retaining wall leading parishioners into the church.
(photo: Mitch Hanley)