Let me state the obvious: architects love experiencing and exploring buildings. When we travel, we go out of our way to identify and seek out buildings of interest, from ancient icons to contemporary iSores. (App developers take note: “iSores: a guide to locating controversial and downright ugly new buildings in world travel destinations”).
It is rare, on the other hand, to find architecture clients who actively seek out new ways to experience and transform their own buildings, and to broadcast their architectural presence to a larger community. That’s one of the many reasons that I love the Lawrence Arts Center.
Yesterday I climbed up a maintenance ladder and opened the roof hatch so that a rather excitable group including arts center staff, botanist Kelly Kindscher, and poet/environmentalist/community arts supporter Beth Schultz, could survey the possibilities of creating a kind of green fringe of planters filled with native grasses along certain edges of the building. Here are a few of the participants “waving the wheat” to demonstrate the visibility of tallgrass prairie plantings on the Arts Center roof.
As an informal (meaning unpaid) consultant, my duty was to be the stick in the mud — make that the “voice of reason” — who reminded the group of OSHA regulations about working near roof edges, of roof warranty issues, and the like. The rest of the group listened and then proceeded with enthusiasm undimmed.
I hope their project succeeds. From an environmental point of view, of course, it’s a gesture, at best. Had we covered the whole roof with a couple feet of soil and planted the entire surface with prairie grasses and wildflowers, we might have made a significant contribution to environmental conservation. We also would have spent a lot of cash that could have gone into serving the building’s main mission as a community focus for the arts instead. But that mission in a broader sense is about raising peoples’ awareness of the world around them, and if some fronds of tall grass appearing unexpectedly over the parapet of our arts center can do that, then I’m on board.
And if that unexpected sight causes some citizens to get excited about a building, so much the better.