A Calling

I am an architect. But don't ask me about your curtains. I've actually had people ask me to help them pick curtains. OK, maybe because architects are supposed to have good taste? I don't know how to break to them that I dislike curtains.

I digress. (Please hold the 'so what's new' comments!)

The projects I've worked on are "institutional," meaning public schools, hospitals, civic work. I've been a part of some fabulous work. One was featured in our profession's national journal. I spoke about it at a national conference in Atlanta. Others were highly complex, multi-phased internal renovations of hospitals requiring no 'down time.'

They are fascinating to me, but those are not my favorite projects. I have two. One is lovely to look at, one is not; both are beautiful in spirit.

The first is an elementary school located in the quaint town of Brookville in northern Pennsylvania. Originally designed in 1939 by the firm I worked for, it was innovative in its use of steel in combination with wood. It is a lovely neo-Classical structure anchored by a clock tower. Literally, generations walked to that school, first as the high school, then an elementary school. The days of walking to school are all but gone. Most school are mega-schools, supposedly to save on costs. I don't think anyone figured out the social and emotional cost of losing the neighborhood school. This school almost met a similar fate, but the school board changed its mind and we were privileged to be able to convert it to current standards. Today, parents who walked to that school walk their own children there to school. And the clock works.

The second is also an elementary school. It is in the declined post-industrial city of Johnstown. The plan was to abandon this ugly, windowless building in a questionable neighborhood and build a new building elsewhere. There was so much opposition to the new site that the Board was backed into keeping the 1970's building. Although unspoken, everyone knows some ugly whites didn't want some little black children in their neighborhood. We were given this ugly building. We couldn't give them windows, but we gave them all the benefits that other kids in nice neighborhoods have. Because, why shouldn't they?


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