Friday, November 14, 2003
As an architect, I like to look at all kinds of buildings. Whether they're big or small, famous or not, there's always something to catch my attention and tickle my curiosity. Why were certain materials, colors or textures chosen? How were the details put together behind the walls? How did the inevitable trade-offs between cost and quality play out?
There are dozens of ways to design something well. In fact, it's much easier for an architect to think up yet another design option than it is to choose the one, among many, that will actually be built. A good building is the result of thousands of decisions made by many participants — not only the architect, but the owner, the engineers, the contractor, and the municipal authorities which have jurisdiction over the project.
For a town of its size, Carlisle has some really great buildings. For example, the house built by Fontaine and Judy Richardson was designed by Fay Jones, one of this country's pre-eminent architects. World famous for his Thorncrown Chapel, Mr. Jones won the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects. (Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Jefferson were among the other recipients.) Mr. Jones not only designed the house, but many of its furnishings, including light fixtures, a custom pool table, and even the wastebaskets. It's a total work of art.
Another of Carlisle's remarkable buildings is the Gleason Library. Every time I go there, it makes me feel good. It feels, smells, and sounds just like a library should. It's full of interesting stuff, and it has all the right nooks and crannies. The new addition, by architect Jon French, is a masterpiece of modesty. Rather than overpowering the original, it respects and extends the design. In an age when many are tempted to do additions which are not of the same caliber as the original work, the use of materials is just right. It's solid, well built, and feels very much at home next to its older cousin.
I'm pleased to say that Jon French is a friend of mine. We studied architecture at the same school many years ago and built a house together on Cape Cod as we struggled to finance tuition. I was delighted to run into Jon when the Gleason Library opened, because I was not aware until then that he was the designer of the building. He's done what a good architect should do — he gave us a building that is handsome, useful, well constructed, and a "good architectural citizen" of Carlisle. It's a building that belongs here and nowhere else, and it makes our town a better place to live.
We all spend a lot of time in buildings — they have a big effect on how we go about doing what we do. Next time you're in one, take a look around. Like a good mystery novel, buildings are full of clues about themselves, and if you pay attention, they will tell you many stories.
The 100% well-informed public
Every one of the 212 citizens that attended the Special Town Meeting last Monday evening was delighted that the six Warrant Articles were disposed of in record time — 37 minutes in my unofficial record book. The assembled crowd seemed ready to vote and run, and the Moderator obliged by skipping the usual presentation on Article 1 and simply moving to "Questions?" The choo-choo train was slowed only briefly by a request from School Committee member Mike Fitzgerald to allow School Building Committee Chair Paul Morrison to make his prepared presentation on the need for a wastewater treatment plant for the school. Admittedly, those who understood the issues recognized that passage of the wastewater plant (as well as the other Articles), was a "no-brainer." Voting "No" and losing a 60% state reimbursement was not a viable option. There were only two questions for the presenters all evening. By 8 p.m. the parking lot was empty.
A Town Meeting can get seriously bogged down with long presentations and endless lines at the microphone. So when 200 Carlisle citizens arrive at consensus to spend $1.3 million without any discussion, the Mosquito staff pats itself on the back for obviously providing a very complete explanation of the Warrant. While we like this explanation, one must wonder whether every voter in the room really understood every Article.
I remember attending Town Meetings years ago, when we were new in town and the children were still very young. Arriving home from work at 6 p.m., I had 60 minutes to cook dinner, feed the family, greet the babysitter, grab a travel-mug of coffee, the Warrant, the Mosquito, and any flyers that had arrived in the mail, and head for the auditorium. Settling into a seat, I would begin to scan the information for the first time. I was present, but unprepared. Fortunately, as each article was moved, the presenter gave a clear explanation of the article, the background, the alternatives, and the consequences of an "aye" or "no." After a discussion on the floor that explored the different opinions, I was reasonably ready to make a decision.
While we all support appropriate time limits on presentations and discussions, a well-prepared and rehearsed presentation of every Article is important. It insures that all voters are reminded of the issues and know clearly what a "Yes" means. It also encourages those who may not be familiar with Town Meetings or may not have had adequate time to prepare to attend this central function of town government.
A well-informed public makes better decisions.
© 2003 The