Friday, May 14, 2010

The Base, the School, and ‘design guidelines’

For months now, we’ve been driving past the new school construction site at Spring and McKeen, struggling to figure out what the finished edifice will look like, and wondering how it will ‘fit in’ with the surrounding neighborhood and its existing structures.

Convinced that careful renovation of the original section of the Old High School and preservation of the gym would have had a remarkable effect on the neighborhood, we confess that we have yet to come around to believing that the new school will be a net positive architecturally speaking.

But as you know, we come from the engineering view of life, not the ‘creative’ side, so our credentials and tastes in such matters are suspect.  Even so, the depictions available, such as the one below, are not encouraging.

We note that this week the MRRA revealed its design guidelines for the base.  Reporting by The Ostrich included these passages:

the design standards aim to ensure that buildings on the base property mesh with the “look and feel” of the surrounding areas.

Our overall vision was to reflect the theme of the communities we’re in,” Levesque told those in attendance. “If you’re on the base or the Topsham Annex, you’ll see some of the same characteristics as you’d see in the downtowns.

We’re not exactly sure what this means, but we’re pretty sure that if you look at the graphic above, these were not the guidelines applied in the design of the new school.  It lacks the “look and feel” of the surrounding area; it doesn’t reflect the “theme of the community;” and you won’t see the “same characteristics” as you’d see downtown.

We might even go so far as to say the design expresses the sort of non-descript, faux modern style that typically looks dated in a decade or two, and was common in the 60s and 70s, especially in public structures.  The municipal building on Federal Street is a fine example of this school of design.  Virtually no discernible character, totally undistinguished, and completely inconsistent with its surroundings.

Which is to say the architectural distinction of the A-B and C-D wings of the now demolished “Old High School” that made them so beloved by our citizenry.

Perhaps they were the inspiration for the new school’s design.  Here we worried that the old landmark was being wiped from our community memory.  Leave it to our inspired “visioners” to see that we never forget the “themes” of our community.

Neighborhood residents must be thrilled, and who could blame them?

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