By Rachael Johnson, AIA, 2019 AIA Colorado Member Voice Committee
As a passionate traveler I have found myself disappointed to find cranes and scaffolding littering the skyline and much anticipated views of the few destinations I’ve visited. Living vicariously through my history books set me up for major disappointment when half of my favorite Pantheon in Rome was shrouded in metal framing and screens hiding the iconic facade. “What a miss during my trip,” I thought, years ago in the idealistic mindset of an architecture student. Function followed form back then and aesthetics and preservation were of utmost importance in my eyes.
As a professional architect now, cranes on the skyline represent, perhaps, an inconvenience in my daily commute and are of detriment to my peace and quiet at home – but this all is much outweighed by the hope for and promise of a thriving community and industry. Cranes mean construction and construction means a busy office life, job security and, most importantly, a healthy economy and growing Colorado. These days, form and function each have merit, but the story is so much bigger – inclusive of business and cultural longevity.
A recent trip to Northern Italy put my previous perception about travel and development into perspective. My experience in mid and southern Italy had fully supported the generalization that Italy is old and is home to some of the most antique and protected landmarks we know. Construction and development is bogged down or even halted in generous care of these antiquities.
Northern Italy, in contrast, flaunts construction activities in excess. Venice, Como, Milan and Parma all display their depth of current development and improvements that are underway – heavy equipment precariously balanced on steep, vegetated slopes and crumbling concrete docks or beautiful facades under renovation, shrouded in cartoon reflections of themselves. Here, the visible promise of “new” is evident and hopeful. In an economically suppressed country that still occupies real estate in the hearts and minds of warm-blooded romantics, there is a cautious hope that the “new” promotes growth and longevity while not interrupting or eliminating the valued “old.”
Time away from my student perspective and added professional experience of late may both be factors in this evolution of my views and expectations. How much, though, does context, history and vernacular of a place play into one’s perception of visible industrial development? And my own context and connection to that place? I would argue that these all are significant factors.
This small commentary is a reflection on my recent travels and the transfer of this thinking to my home and work. This is also a suggestion that we are indeed stewards of our local history, our existing spaces and the future of our community environment and must take care to consider all perspectives and keep that bigger picture in mind. Neither my early idealistic, binary perspective nor my complex, realistic and professional view is incorrect – nor are they exclusive. We all have immediate clients and users, while we also have budgets and fees to consider. A comprehensive evaluation of costs and benefits for immediate project scope and delivery AND those affecting surrounding humanity downstream are equal in their value to humanity and the consideration of both are obligatory anymore.
Italy is a living and complex example of the generalized extremes – history; varied and choppy in the north and consistent in the middle and southern parts of the country – culture; antique and preserved in the smaller towns and modern and evolving in the larger cities – and construction; the antagonist in the older and historically significant locales and the latest trend in the modern and affluent and privately owned areas. Colorado similarly straddles different camps. As Colorado architects, we must coddle our past and nurture our future, cherish our landscapes and find pride in our skylines. Above all, it’s crucial to find that healthy balance in order to encourage all to thrive.