From L to R: Britta Riley at the Synagogue, SCAD's re-purposed theater and prison, Chris Parachini admires some student work, and one of Savannah's many incredible green squares.
Recently, Mapos was honored and delighted to be invited to participate in Savannah College of Art & Design‘s nine day long design celebration, SCAD Style 2010, as part of their “Sustainability in Action” panel discussion, along with co-panelists, the artist/inventor Britta Riley and restaurateur/urban farmer Chris Parachini. Our gregarious moderator, Matthew Mascotte, assembled the panel to highlight 3 unique but related practitioners in ongoing sustainable projects. Video of the inspirational and informative discussions, which occurred in both the Atlanta and Savannah campuses, can be seen via this link (once it’s available). Until then, we’ll refrain from spoilers and just share some brief thoughts on SCAD, Savannah, Southern Hospitality, and Ghosts:
Mapos enthusiastically applauds SCAD’s campus, which sets the standard for creative reuse of existing urban conditions and architecture, not to mention integration into the urban community of Savannah. During our brief stay, we toured a textiles school in an old elementary school (miniature handrails still intact) and an architecture school within an old railroad structure, dined in not one but 2 former bank structures (one of which was al fresco in the old drive through lane), perused SCAD’s library in a former big box department store, and had cocktails in a former prison decorated by student work. Our standing room only panel discussion occurred in a repurposed synagogue– stained glass still intact. This was just a small sampling of SCAD’s beautifully executed reuse projects in the community.
The City of Savannah exemplifies the perfection of the Grid in city planning. It is both rational and humanist in its execution. Divided by a green square every third block in all four directions, each park space with its own unique character and history, the deadly repetition of the typical grid transforms into something more of a rhythmic melody, human in scale and wonderful to explore by foot. Ironically, these refreshing squares were originally designed for military functions.
One could be excused for likening Savannah to Rome. Like the lush Italian capital, the architecture, urban spaces, and foliage of this port city seem frozen in a former era of great private and civic wealth, where civilized leisure activities by men and women dressed in white was a much larger part of the city’s pulse. Those days are long gone but this cityscape remains like a palimpsest on modern Savannah. As luck would have it, this apparent preservation was the result of decades of economic stagnation during the second half of the last century—so much preserved out of apparent indifference before SCAD came to town 30 years ago. Imagining entire swaths of this fair city completely empty, and overrun by Spanish moss, it’s little wonder that Savannah has garnered a reputation as America’s most haunted city. Ghost stories proliferate in this environment!
When in Savannah, if you simply must eat pork prepared on a smokey, wood-fired grill, slathered in homemade bbq sauce, then drive (very fast) to Rib Hut BBQ in West Savannah, known by the locals as Mama’s (who still holds court in the open kitchen). This is where Matthew took us when we demanded authentic local BBQ. What we got was a transcendental experience which can only be described as a saucy “baptism by barbeque.”
It is said that Savannah is the “Hostess City” of the South, and we have never experienced such remarkably sincere hospitality. Everywhere we went, our new friends were eagerly pointing out the historic sites and curiosities with unaffected delight, both on and off the beaten path. A special thank you to Matthew Mascotte (our Moderator), Scott Singeisen (Chair of the Architecture Dept.), and Ashley Woodson (SCAD Event Master and new friend) for all of the time they spent with us.
Mapos is now conspiring for our next visit to this wonderful place—and Savannah truly is one of those rare things these days: a PLACE. Viva SCAD and viva Savannah, the Mostest City of the South!
Like any notable movement, the Great Restart of 2008-09 has given us many trends: large and small; serious and frivoulous; dull and riveting; depressing and, well, funny. Sure we have been affected in ways that tested our very existence, but one lesson learned around the halls at Mapos is to keep an optimistic perspective of the forces around us. If we didn’t see the laughable absurdity in the machinations on Wall Street, or the many smaller (and exponentially less serious) trends that pop up like internet celebrities after a heavy rain, we would have lost our marbles long ago. Humor helps. Pass it on.
Maybe it’s the self-fulfilling social world of New York City that we live in that has given us so many memorable gems. Hey, it’s the worst downturn in 70 years, so let’s celebrate the frugal recessionistas, enjoy our staycations, recycle, reuse, and repair. It’s good for the wallet, great for the planet, and can earn you valuable social capital on Facebook and even, dare I say, in real-life. In his column this past Sunday, Rob Walker jumped on the band wagon and showcased an entrepeneurial designer who champions reuse and helps others realize their hidden potential in recycling. Umbrellas into skirts. Boxes into wallets. Film canisters into room dividers. On Governor’s Island last weekend, the Dutch art group Platform21 produced a performative version of their “Repair Manifesto.” Workshops and installations included the visitor in creative acts of reuse and repair via points like, “make your products live longer!” and, “repaired things are unique.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re big proponents of reuse, and more, not tapping new resources when alternatives exist. The examples in the Times and out on Governor’s Island are smart, efficient, and beautiful. With thought and care, lemons can be made into lemonade and even a lemon tart. But admit it. It is a funny turn of events when recycling your shirt into curtains and mending your own socks becomes trend-worthy.
There’s an installation at MoMA by the artist Song Dong. He literally unpacked his mother’s house in rural China and laid it on the floor of the museum. His mother saw value in everything. Her livlihood depended on it. Her hardscrabble life was pieced together with objects of necessity now organized into high art. I’m sure she never heard of Martha ond Oprah and the popular rise of knitting in the US. You can pay $20 and visit.
Somewhere in the concept of Reuse is a win-win-two-bird-profit-making-social-impact solution. Here at Mapos we’ve always tried to integrate existing elements, equipment, materials, anything, into our designs. It adds unique context, character, and comes at a reasonable price: free.
There are myriad obstacles, of course. From extracting nails from old-growth timbers to refurbishing 25-year old boilers to meet current ASHRAE standards, reusing existing materials and equipment can also mean losing time and money on labor. The small but growing industry of Housing Deconstruction aims to dismantle empty and foreclosed homes (mostly in the rapidly shrinking cities of the Midwest) and re-sell and reuse as much of the material as possible. It seems like a good idea until you realize it takes 40 times the man-hours to dismantle a house as it does knock it down with a bulldozer. And with tipping fees at such a bargain, the economics don’t add up. That is why the most inspiring and inventive reuse mentors out there occur ont the fringes of the design and construction trades persistently plucking at the equation with a conviction for success.
Sambo Mockbee and D.K Ruth saw promise in the will of students to turn carpet tiles and windshields into homes and chapels. The rural poor of Alabama were thankful and the middle-class students worked for free. Dan Phillips scavenges through the dumpsters of East Texas and turns trash into treasure for low-income residents. Is it perfect system? Not by any means. These gems are photographed and championed, but are also often neglected and vandalized. The bulldozers keep on grinding and the landfills keep on growing. They sometimes go into foreclosure and get snapped up by eager middle-class aesthetes. But Dan will keep on building, reusing materials and putting people into shelter. There’s a profit making equation in there somewhere.