Friday, March 22, 2013

Blow Torch Architecture

People pay big bucks for new things- new cars, new houses, new faces and new spouses.  It seems the appreciation for things that show their age has declined.  In one instance we were looking to give materials an old world look.

Mennonite Central Committee’s training center was a unique experience.  Everyone on the design and building team had to be trained to “get it”.  Team members were sent to Egypt and India in order to give them an appreciation for the lifestyle of missionaries as well as the landscape in which the people we were designing for were to be immersed.  As a result of this trip, we spent a lot of time trying of figure out how to make something look old or weathered, or even cheap.

This had many incarnations, such as applying paint to the walls with rags to give them a modeled appearance, experimenting with stained concrete floors, and having a local metal worker make some of the door hardware.

One activity really stuck out in my mind and it was the brilliant idea of the superintendent on site, Dave.  We used a lot of reclaimed lumber on the job for everything from doors to stair treads.  The thing about reclaimed lumber is that is has a surface patina that takes decade of dirt and oxidation to create.  The trick is how you deal with the cut edges because they look like freshly sawn lumber – a stark contrast to the look we were going for.

Somehow Dave knew how to deal with this.  Even though he had not gone on the trip to the two Continents and didn’t see any of the presentations the design team made to the Owner’s Board, Dave always “got it”.  He took it upon himself to treat the cut ends of the reclaimed lumber with a blow torch.  With just the right amount of acetylene and artistic flair, one can burn a patina into freshly cut wood.  Even if you were looking for it, it was difficult to see which ends were cut last week, and which had been cut last century.

Dave had done his part in contributing to the overall aesthetic (he contributed in many other ways, too), by pulling a non-tradition trick out of his bag.  I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to practice “blow torch architecture” in the future, but believe me, I am ready.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cheeseburger in Paradise

It’s funny what you carry with you from childhood.  For some reason I was thinking about 6th grade reading class the other day.  It was the very first day and many of us had not met before since it was our first day in middle school.  We all had to introduce ourselves and tell the class something about ourselves.  I have no idea what I said about myself, but that is probably because I was obsessing about what a girl said who went before me.  She said, “Hello, my name is Jennifer and I’ve never eaten a cheeseburger.”

I went on to know this girl for seven more years in middle and high school.  I actually ran into her a few times at Penn State where we both went to college.  But I never asked her why she said what she said in Mr. Shull’s reading class.  I am sure I forgot about it by the day after the occurrence, but during the rest of the class I wondered what she had against a slice of American on top of a burger, and why that would be of interest to a group of thirty twelve year olds.  Having known her for some time, I knew that she was neither lactose intolerant nor a vegetarian.

It never clicked with me until I was involved in designing the food service facilities for the Jewish Home of Rochester.  We had design meetings with the Rabbi to get his blessing (literally) on the food service plans.  I didn’t know very much about the Kosher lifestyle, but I got a crash course in it, learning that utensils and equipment can not be cross-contaminated between preparing, serving or eating dairy products and meat products.  I did a little internet reading to find that there are some verses in the Deuteronomy and Leviticus regarding the preparation of these kinds of foods as compared to Pareve, or neutral, foods.  It is also interpreted from these verses that one should not eat an animal with cloven hooves or sea creatures without scales.  It gets much more complicated from there, and I don’t claim to understand it, but it was quite enlightening to me at the time.

And then, twenty-one years later, a light bulb went off in my head connected to this distant memory.  Call it a revelation.  I am guessing that Jimmy Buffet is not Kosher…I knew it.