Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Afternoon Folly

I will die a perpetual student.

Despite having taken architecture history classes in college, years of attending architecture lectures, even taking an eight-week architectural literacy seminar a few years ago, I never fail to learn something new every time I go to an exhibit at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

I was delighted when I arrived there today to see so many of the diamond-paned lead glass windows of the Branch House open to the beautiful 73-degree air.

I'd never seen a single window open there before.

Inside, the new show "Design 2011: A Retrospective of Winning Work" was full of clever takes on new architecture, interior design and preservation projects.

Particularly appealing was the inclusion of some of the judges' commentary for why each project was chosen.

"Weirdness" was my favorite judges' descriptor, used for the winner of a house in Kensington, MD, a place I once lived.

Looking at the striking post-modern redesign, very different from the houses I recall in that neighborhood, I would guess that the neighbors would agree with that assessment.

There were more than a few university projects: VCU's Dental Clinic in Wise, Founder's Hall at George Mason and the Performing Arts Center at JMU.

But I was more interested in residential projects.

Virginia Tech's Architecture School had built their third solar house, this one notable for its net-zero energy use despite much glass and an airy, unenclosed feel, so unlike typical solar houses.

A loft in Winchester's historic district maintained its Victorian facade on the front of the house but the rest was open to interpretation.

The owner, a collector, told the architects to view the building elements as opportunities for modern, pop art sculpture, so interesting surfaces were everywhere in the back.

Today's new term for me was "folly," a building deliberately constructed to be ornamental.

One of the design winners included a folly as part of the construction of a pool and garden pavilion. The charming building was decidedly ornamental.

My favorite preservation project was the Hazel River Cabin which joined an historic slave quarters set for demolition with a 1794 toll keeper's cabin and its 1856 addition.

Inside it was rustic, functional and clean-lined. Outside, you saw three distinct styles of American architecture married in an aesthetically pleasing way.

It seemed to me that it was truly  fortunate that someone with enough money to make it happen chose to save three historically significant buildings while crafting a comfortable, modern-day living space for the 21st century.

Not that a lowly student knows what she's talking about.


  1. you should try closing those windows tight on a cold winter day...they were a bear to work with..leaks, drafty but beautiful in design. Like some people i know.


  2. Given their age, I don't doubt that they weren't the most efficient windows to keep out cold. But on a beautiful, breezy day, they are as good as any to let in fresh air.

    I was just charmed to see them open for the first time!

  3. so true K..& i would be amiss to say as you already know...that building has many charms. the third floor linen closets, (cedar shelving) is a jewel..nice you notice the little things...guess it makes you...you?


  4. Isn't it the little things that give us the unexpected pleasures of life?