Thursday, July 28, 2016

Same As It Ever Was

You think you know a place, and you realize you don't even how it was named.

Next month, it'll be a decade since I abandoned the staid Museum District for the wide open frontiers of Jackson Ward, almost immediately falling in love with the far more historic and quirky nature of a neighborhood "in transition," whatever that means.

Yet it took a visit to the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design today to see the new exhibit "Drawing on History: Infill Design Competition" with a favorite photographer to finally learn how my beloved 'hood got its name.

Short answer: a saloon!

No kidding, it was James Jackson's beer garden at Second and Leigh that Jackson Ward was named after, a fact that gives me no end of delight to discover. I was almost as tickled to read that it's also the least altered residential neighborhood in all of Richmond.

And if you really want me to brag, let's get as hyper-local as my own street. Clay Street specifically is considered to have one of the finest collections of architectural cast iron in the entire U.S.

Shucks, this old ironwork? Why do you think I had the bushes taken down and planted a complementary garden using it as a fanciful backdrop?

After a fabulous lunch, I suggested a visit to the Branch, knowing that, despite my friend's current Southside address, his years in Church Hill and J-Ward would make him curious about an exhibit showing the possibilities of infill building.

For icing on the cake, I told him I'd walked by the Branch yesterday only to discover that block of Davis Street closed because three enormous old trees had come down, completely altering the look of the block and didn't he want to see that?

Arriving to find the trees now removed, his attention went at once to one of the remaining cars that had born the brunt of a fallen tree and he made a beeline for it.

"Ooh, destruction!" he said with glee. Only a guy would want to inspect a car with its roof crushed to the console, full of shattered glass, branches and debris, with rain and broken glass in the cup holders.

Inside, discussing the new look of Davis Street, one of the staffers said his Mazda had also been crushed, but he also looked pretty happy at the prospect of a brand-new car.

Moving on to the gallery, we got an eyeful looking at the design submissions for the many empty lots in two neighborhoods that deserve attention: Union Hill and Jackson Ward.

It wasn't hard to see why the grand prize winner had been chosen. The three-story house design for Union Hill had it all: the same proportions as the surrounding houses and exactly the same feel. And unlike so many more modern house designs, it had eleven (eleven!) windows on the sides of the house and that counts as one window those that were actually three-part windows.

This is a really big deal to me (and should be to more people) because of the past 50 years of building houses with no thought to cross-ventilation, which is completely unlike the houses around it built in the 19th century, pre-A/C.

But the winning design also had an appropriate front porch and two levels of back porch, an essential design element for the neighborhood, even if the reason for back porches - for the "help" to do chores on out of sight of people on the street - speaks to our entitled past.

Let's never lose sight of the first rule of community-building, kids: good porches make good neighbors. That may be an old chestnut, but I find it impossible to get behind houses in 19th century neighborhoods that don't have front porches for sitting and visiting on.

What I could get behind was suggestions by architects for the proposed designs to use re-purposed materials from nearby dilapidated residential buildings in the construction of the new. Brilliant.

Not all the entries were houses and some of the commercial buildings we saw offered fresh ideas on how to integrate innovative spaces into older neighborhoods.

One  three-story building had a ground level space for an herbarium, shop or market, with a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, a rooftop garden and a three-level public greenhouse behind it. How cool an addition to Union Hill would that be?

Another design had an artists' loft that put artists in full view of passersby, with the goal being creating spaces for artists in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Leaving the exhibit, FotoBoy and I marveled at the variety of ways these architects and architectural students had envisioned houses and buildings that not only transformed vacant lots, but would also become part of the fabric of the area.

Lunch and an exhibition, a practically perfect way to wile away a hot July mid-day. Someone needed more, though, once again ogling the smooshed car. What, again?

An appetite for destruction is apparently written on the Y chromosome. Happily, his X is also strong.

No comments:

Post a Comment