Monday, July 18, 2011

Some Buffalove from The Atlantic

Today, my friend Kaid Benfield, one of the best known green bloggers in the country used his blog in The Atlantic to talk about Buffalo's amazing architectural legacy, and even gave me a terrific surprising shoutout. It's not every city that has buildings by Sullivan, Wright and Richardson AND Saarinen, Pei, etc etc. The National Trust's Preservation Conference comes to Buffalo in October and Buffalo is making more of this conference than any other city I've ever seen. Bravo to Buffalo and special thanks to Kaid!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Launching a New Firm and Life

Today I have launched my new firm Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture & Planning, PLLC. BAC/A+P is an architectural firm rooted in the belief that historic preservation values equal the best of green building practices. Our firm's work demonstrates that the artistic, scientific and cultural aspects of remaking and greening historic and existing buildings are crucial to a sustainable future. I have combined this blog, "Cities and Memory" with my former work blog, "True Green" to create my new blog "True Green Cities." Please check out my new website. BAC/A+P is located in Buffalo, NY and Winston-Salem, NC with a monthly jaunt to Washington, DC. One of my key projects will be the consulting management of the institutional development of the Buffalo Architecture Center, a new organization housed in the iconic towers of the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, designed by H. H. Richardson (photo above). I hope you'll join me on my new adventure!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It Took A Storm

Sometimes it takes a disaster to get me motivated to write. I have taken quite a vacation from blogging - both writing and reading, but finally got back in the blog saddle today. Here's the link to my lastest True Green blog. Hopefully it will re-energize me to writing on this blog and that one again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A New York City Love Letter

As I sit on a five hour flight from DC to San Francisco, it is New York City I’m dreaming about not San Francisco, as much as I adore San Francisco. There will be plenty of time to enjoy Northern California in the coming week. Last weekend John and I spent three days visiting with my friends and roaming around so I could show him my New York. I was a little worried that many of my favorite places and past restoration projects wouldn’t stand up under such close scrutiny (from me more than John!), but was delighted that everything we saw, everywhere we went, seemed magical. The perfect spring weather didn’t hurt either.

Central Park

We bookended a lunch visit to my friends Juliana and Bruce’s new Fifth Avenue Apartment overlooking the Reservoir with walks through Central Park. The walk there was a bit harried since we had gotten stuck in the subway waiting for the C train and decided to emerge at 59th Street and Columbus Circle instead of 79th and Central Park West. The positive, even if we were a little late – was the fresh air, sunshine and a fleeting chance to show John the new (not necessarily improved) architecture of Columbus Circle (see my previous blog on that topic). Central Park is always startling but never so much as the first day of summer-like weather after a miserable winter/spring. Every tulip, daffodil and tree was blossoming. The colors were all surreally alive and beautiful. We roamed up the West Side and crossed over the Great Lawn, so we could have a few glimpses of the Belvedere Castle. Passing the Guggenheim we were both thrilled by how wonderful it looked, since the scaffolding has come down after years of restoration. A view of the reservoir and its fortress-like features gave us the perfect birds-eye view from Juliana’s apartment and got us excited for the slower walk back through the park to the west side for a Broadway night at the theatre.

The turtles were lined up in Turtle Pond, and the Great Lawn and Sheep’s Meadow were filled with thousands of picnickers, sports enthusiasts, kite flyers, bird and dog watchers. It’s always amazed me by what a dog-city New York is. In a city with some of the smallest apartments anywhere, everyone seems to have a dog. And the city loves dogs. Some cities are dog-loving, others are not. Washington, for example, is not a dog-loving city. The Park was exploding with people and pets. When we climbed up to Belvedere Castle so I could show him my handiwork there, we had to wait in line to get into the small folly.

Long Island City

When Sharon and Henry moved to Long Island City 6 years ago, their building was the only residential one there amidst gritty industrial and railroad structures. But their riverside view of Manhattan from the 28th floor, directly opposite the United Nations, Empire State Building and Chrysler Building surpasses any other view in New York. (Adjacent photo.) The small Gantry State Park is now abuzz all the time with musicians, families, dogs, runners and rollerbladers. (See photo below.) Sharon and Henry now seem like urban pioneers. I love Long Island City now as a place to live and were I to go back to NY, I’d look there first, partially of course to be close to my best friends, but also because of the view and the wonderful community feel it now has. There have been some tradeoffs, of course. The former power station has been sanitized, a little too much and not too effectively architecturally, into very high end condos (full disclosure – John and I were intrigued and went to visit them…). Some of the buildings are not very well built yet very pricey. But there is now a “there” there, and since it’s just one stop on the 7 Train from Grand Central, it’s a lot closer to midtown than even the Upper East Side (our former stomping ground).

A New Standard

Since I’ve been reading all about the Meatpacking District lately, our one venture outside of my usual places was here, partially to see the new Polshek-designed Standard Hotel which has been receiving architectural accolades, and partially to remind myself how New York it is to hang out in the current hip location (although if we’re calling it hip, it’s hipness is on the way out!) We met my Columbia roommate Elise and her daughter Issey at Five Ninth for brunch. The food was mediocre but the ambiance was exactly what I envisioned a restaurant in this neighborhood would be – industrial and recycled. The new Standard Hotel, the first piece of the reactivation of the High Line elevated railroad line park, did not disappoint. It’s daring and groundbreaking and its boldness in New York (which of late is rarely known for architecture that is successful and bold at the same time) is refreshing. Its placement atop huge stilts hovering over the High Line and peering out over the Hudson reminded me of Archigram's walking city from 1960s London which I obsessed over in architecture school. We didn’t go inside because we were out of time, but I didn’t need to go inside. I feared that my glee over its exterior might be tempered by an uninspiring interior. So I was content with marching around it from all four sides, particularly admiring the way it meets the remaining railroad structure.

Past Projects

I bored John with tales of my favorite stores, favorite gym, even my favorite bus line as I dragged him from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side. But I was happy that he was as delighted to see two of my past projects – the restoration of the Belvedere Castle and the interior restoration of the Shubert Theatre. It’s hard to be an architect and go back to look at your work to see if it’s holding up to the test of time and to see whether those decisions you made during design were the right ones. I was more than a little relieved that both projects held up wonderfully. The glu-lam replacement columns I designed for the Northwest Pavilion at the Belvedere were still solid and the only really weathering was on the older sections of the structure that we didn’t touch. The steel windows and doors were still functioning if a bit rusty and after 13 years definitely could use a sandblasting/repainting. But it doesn’t look like either the Pavilion or the Castle have been repainted since our project in 1996.

We went to see Angela Lansbury (at 84!) dance her way through “Blithe Spirit” at the Shubert Theatre. That was my favorite of the three theatre restorations Fran Russo and I completed over a decade ago. It was a very subtle yet expansive restoration involving the usual paint testing and research but also allowed for some creativity with the design of the seating and the missing ceiling murals. We got seats in the Mezzanine so John could see the ceiling close-up – one of the features I spent a lot of time on. The carpet was fraying a little on the edges, but everything else looked like the theatre had just reopened. What a sigh of relief, particularly as I head out to San Francisco to be inducted into the AIA College of Fellows, making me very introspective of late.

As A Friend

I just finished a devastating and haunting jewel of a first novel – “As A Friend”, by Forrest Gander, on the plane. Although it takes place in Arkansas, the setting doesn’t really matter and it transported me back to mid 1990s Manhattan. While it is as spare as Faulkner and Woolf are verbose, the feelings the story and language evoked, took me back to my days of reading Faulkner and Woolf, about the same time I was finishing the restoration of the Belvedere Castle. Reading just one sentence in any book by Virginia Woolf uplifts me because the language is so beautiful. It was the same with Gander. Feeling his characters sadness was so vivid. And that brought me back around to my love letter to New York. For me, that’s what makes New York City so alive and so magical always – its vividness and its soul. It may not always be pretty but it is always alive. Many people feel alone in New York, but what I’ve always felt is that I have a friend – the city is my friend and it never lets me down.

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Easter Service for a Non-Believer

I spend a lot of time these days in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where my boyfriend lives. Historic Old Salem is the home of the The Moravian Church in America, which continues its strong religious and cultural traditions. As one of the pacifist religions to come out of Europe in the mid 1700’s, the egalitarian and open-minded thinking of the Moravians impacted the architectural design and urban planning of Old Salem, and continues to remind us of that rich heritage today. One of the traditions that can be traced back to 1732 in Herrnhut, Saxony is the Easter Sunrise service. It has been held outdoors in Winston-Salem continuously since 1772.

I was happy to jump up at 6 am on Sunday to experience this cultural phenomenon, despite my non-believer status! The fair weather further encouraged us. The lead-up to the service actually begins around 1am in the morning when the Church band splits into groups and walks throughout the city playing chorales, partly to remind all listeners of the Resurrection, and partly to awaken people for the Sunrise Service. I heard them in the background (and this is more like a marching band, with tubas and drums) around 2:15am but managed to sleep right through their playing in front of our house after 3am.

Not doing my research ahead of time, I didn’t know that it was an outdoor service that required walking, so had brought a pretty Easter spring outfit with high heels. I was glad to learn though the night before that I could throw on sneakers, jeans and a fleece jacket and wouldn’t be out of place. John told me that up to 30,000 often attended the service which began in the town green in front of the church and then moved to “God’s Acre”, the Moravian cemetery, a few short (but hilly) blocks away. Parking was one of the major issues, but since John’s house is in town a few blocks from the town green, we had one less thing to worry about. It felt like going to a rock concert – up while it’s still dark, trying to get a good viewing spot. John told me that the service, which started at 6:30 am would finish at noon so I had no idea how I would manage standing that long, even in my sneakers. I saw others with folding chairs and thermoses which made me even more anxious.

The pulpit is set up directly at the Church’s entrance and the town green filled up quickly. But nowhere near 30,000. Still it was a lovely way to start the morning, with singing and scriptures as the sun rose behind the church. I didn’t pay too much attention to the readings, but they were definitely much simpler and less bombastic than the Catholic ones I grew up with. The gatherers were quite mixed and diverse – families, hipsters, singles, couples, dressed up in Easter finery, or ready for a hike. The minister seemed young, probably in my age range. The first half of the service lasted only about 15 minutes, and then we all walked to God’s Acre for the completion of the service.

The Graveyard – God’s Acre (adapted from the Easter Service Sunrise program)

The site for the graveyard was selected in April of 1766. The avenue bordering the graveyard was laid out in the year 1770 and the first body, that of John Birkhead, one of the eight men who first came to the settlement, was interred June 7, 1771. The Moravians still call their graveyard by the name first used by their ancestors in Bohemia. It is a “field” in which the bodies of loved ones are sown in faith as “physical bodies”, in due time to be raised as “spiritual bodies.”

One feature of God’s Acre is the use of recumbent stones, symbolizing the Moravian belief in the democracy of death and making it impossible to distinguish between the graves of rich and poor. The burial of members according to “choirs”, or station in life (married men, married women, single men, single woman, infants, etc.) rather than by families, is another distinguishing feature. In addition, it’s a chronological record.

Holy Saturday’s Flowers

Traditionally, family members, ancestors or friends place flowers on the graves on Saturday. John has been placing flowers at the graves of the two couples he feels closest to, in remembrance of his grandparents – the original owners of the house he lives in and the original owners of the house that was the first one he restored in the town. He made 4 vases out of flowers he gathered from his yard and we took them Saturday night. I found the tradition he had created touching.


We all gathered along the walks in the graveyard, with the pulpit re-established in a hollow which everyone could view. The sound was particularly well-done. It restarted just after 7am with the pink, orange and yellow stripes of the sun framing the minister with the various groupings of the band spread around the graveyard. The minister would finish a reading, then the band groups would play the songs in tandem with one another. The program ended at 7:30 and I wondered what we would do for the next 4 hours (meditate maybe like the Quakers?) but instead discovered that John had teased me and that the service was indeed only one hour, not five! My already aching lower back was glad to hear that!

I appreciated the simplicity of the service, the acknowledgment and integration of their ancestors into the program, the continuity of tradition, the relationship of the outdoors and integrating the whole city and the full weekend into the activities of the holy day. No, I’m not becoming a Moravian, but I do like their sense of democracy, equality, culture and beauty.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seeing Savannah from my Bike

Last week I spent a couple of hours driving up and down the grid of historic Savannah on my bike. The azaleas were blooming. The streets were quiet. It was the perfect way to start the biking season - no hills, little traffic, no complications. It was slightly overcast and a little cool, but such a delight compared to the only other visit to Savannah I had made in 2003 - when the humidity, thunderstorms and heat of August in Savannah made it difficult to enjoy Oglethorpe's squares.

Despite the quiet streets, Broughton Street seemed alive and well compared to my last visit. All the major chains plus unique jewelry stores and high end boutiques made possible by the blossoming of SCAD. River Street was still tacky but filled with people. The outdoor markets sold nothing original or indigenous.

Oh, but those azaleas, framing the squares, the historic buildings and the tour groups.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Take A Green Challenge

Recently I told my sister that cows are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions because of their release of methane into the air. So, don’t eat beef, less cows, less methane, less greenhouse gas emissions. She didn’t believe me, thought I was making it up. Yesterday as I was driving around in the sprawl of Rockville, MD, doing my big box shopping (okay, even a green preservation architect needs an occasional fix at Target and Bed Bath & Beyond) and I was listening to a piece on NPR about that very topic – expanding the methane problems to sheep and goats as well. The reporter was reluctantly asking rhetorically how these pretty fluffy creatures could be doing more damage than Hummers and SUVs. (See the goats above at the National Zoo -are they really more damaging than an RV?!) When I got home I had a message on Facebook from an equally green friend challenging me to take the 2009 Green Challenge - From Green Day (St. Patricks Day) to Green Day (Earth Day), make ONE change in your lifestyle to live more sustainably. When I looked at the list wasn’t sure there was anything new on it I could do (or want to do) so here’s what I thought when I read it, and what I decided to do.

*Ride your bike to run errands. Get a basket. – This just isn’t happening. I will take the Metro, I will walk and I will ride my bike 30 miles for exercise but I’m not turning my expensive bikes into commuter bikes. And with the economy, buying another bike is not an option.

* Learn how to compost. – I would like to do this, not sure if you can in an apartment? So I will research this.

* Bring your own bags when you shop. – I do this, when I don’t forget. Very proud to say that I didn’t forget them yesterday and used my own bags for 8 hours of shopping.

* Recycle ALL plastic bags at the bin in the grocery store (most have them). – Haven’t done this yet, I keep plastic bags for cat litter. Not sure what else to do for the cats, living in a city, they can’t be roaming on their own.

* Eat regional food only. – I try my best here, but I have to say one of the issues with this whole “regional” thing is I am concerned that it will make us all very isolationist. (The "heritage apples" at Filoli in Woodside, CA are served local restaurants in Silicon Valley.)

* Stop using styrofoam. Refuse it when out and about. – I never use styrofoam personally. And don’t encourage it.

* Start a food garden. It's spring! – While it’s impractical in DC, I could certainly help John plant more in North Carolina.

* Plant 10 trees for each vehicle you own, even better if they also produce food! - This I can consider. I do pay for carbon offsets each month, and my “indulgence” goes for wind energy. (The trees at the tree-line on Mt. Rainier below help clean up excess greenhouse gas emissions.)

* Buy fresh veggies, grass-fed beef, free range eggs, hormone-free dairy products. – Since I don’t eat beef I think I’m well ahead of the game here.

* Put down the Round-Up. Pull weeds or spray clove oil on them. – No problem, I have no grass or garden, so no weeds either!

* Clean your house using only baking soda, lemon, vinegar, and water. – I have tried this and wasn’t happy with the results, but I do use only Method, Clorox Green Works and Seventh Generation products.

* Buy cloth napkins in different patterns (for different people) and reuse use them all week. – I use recycled paper napkins and question whether washing more cloth napkins each week is actually better than using recycled paper.

* Own less stuff - for every item you buy, recycle or give away something else. – I should definitely do this and think this will be my big attempt before Earth Day, maybe I could even sell some things on eBay!

* Unstick your windows. An open top sash can cool your house fast ...and keep it cool. – Already do this.

Can I get more points since my job includes making the world greener? Ok, I know it’s not about getting “points”, but it did make me think that I should take a survey of my life and make an honest list of the good green things I do and the not-so-green, so I can make a better attempt at helping save the world. Of course, things we think are green today, we discover 6 months later aren't as good as they could be. Which makes me think more and more lately that "going green" is more a state of mind than a state of reality.