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American Institute of Architects

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by Joel Chamberlain

"Architecture week is about Springfield's built environment, the people who built it and the people who will lead our city into the 21st century."

Joel G. Chamberlain, AIA

A celebration of architecture, Architecture Week has been a series of events and exhibitions designed to bring the community closer together.

It provided a venue to enrich the collective experience of architecture and to share the dynamics of Springfield's built environment.

The event's activities were planned to attract a broad spectrum of Springfield's residents, including American Institute of Architects' members, community development organizations, students and the general public.

Our goals were to increase overall awareness of the profession of architecture and its accomplishments by demonstrating its contributions to our community and environment. We attempted to accomplish this by getting people involved with buildings, neighborhoods and design.

A night at the Gillioz Theater. Everyone who attended the AIA reception and movie at the Gillioz Theater in downtown Springfield the evening of Oct. 16 took advantage of an opportunity to have a unique architectural experience.

The event, a fund-raiser for the theater, was meant to be a casual gathering with a big impact.

It proved to be a fun and interesting time for all. The historic Gillioz is an appropriate place to experience high period architecture.

For those who have not been in the Gillioz, it is something to see. A rich palette of architectural styles and motifs abound within. It had a very elegant interior in its day.

The fact that the building is in rough original condition made the experience even more significant. It is a time warp into the past. For the young people there, it was akin to visiting an ancient Roman ruin.

For long-residing Springfieldians, it was a trip back to their youth. Stories of necking in the back rows and seeing classic movies and plays there were overheard.

The ornate architectural style and layout is like nothing one sees in today's buildings.

The partial restoration was refreshing and gave an idea of how beautiful it will look when fully restored. Our visitors couldn't take their eyes off the colorful paint and gold leaf on the balcony. Everyone felt lucky this building was still here and intact. They will pass the word to others on what they saw and felt.

The AIA is pleased the custodians of the Gillioz made this experience possible, allowing us to enlighten some people to our shared heritage and to help support the theater's fund-raising efforts.

But what is a theater for? Entertainment, of course! A movie had to be shown. Surely it had been years since a silver screen lit up the faces of a crowd in this spectacular space.

Not feeling it was necessary for the theater to be fully restored before it was enjoyed, this event featured the classic architecture movie "The Fountainhead" shown on a portable rear-screen projector unit.

A group of folding chairs served as temporary seats.

The movie was a black-and-white film (great effect), featuring an architect from the late '30s.

The architects all cheered when actor Gary Cooper blew up his project rather than see his perfect design changed by a developer. (A fantasy he genuinely believed in).

Snacks and root beer generously provided by The Springfield Brewing Company completed our movie reenactment.

Neighborhoods: A design charrette on Commercial Street.

A charrette is an activity where groups of people brainstorm on issues. A design charrette is where the identified issues are taken to the next step by visualizing possible design solutions, as well.

The Commercial Street Farmers Market charrette was organized in response to the vision of Springfield's community organizations such as the Commercial Club of Springfield, the Community Task Force Arts and Heritage Collaborative and the AIA.

The goal was to blend merchants, community supporters, college students and architects for a day to cogitate on the revitalization of this district.

Identifying the architectural elements on the buildings, to eventually be detailed on appropriate signage and markers, was one of the public-awareness themes discussed. The primary effort was placed on exploring the concept of creating an activity node in the center of the Commercial Street district, based upon a permanent farmers market and central activity anchor.

The charrette was held 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jackie's Studio in the heart of Commercial Street. The studio provided a venue for our tour and design work. Large-scale maps were provided to work from and for site orientation.

The farmers market development scheme considered three possible sites, with one of those containing the largest open area.

That site, located near the center of the historic district, now contains a parking lot adjacent to the historic pedestrian bridge. The bridge connects the north side of the tracks with Commercial Street. It is an ideal location for a permanent activity center.

The participants began the session by taking a walking tour through the Commercial Street Historic District. The tour was colorfully narrated by Commercial Club members Mary Collette and Nancy Hacket. These Commercial Club volunteers oriented the participants to the neighborhood's issues and visions.

The three-block-long area is on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings, all built within a few years of each other, shared related design themes. The group carefully viewed the intricate architectural detailing on most of the buildings.

A few non-historic, non-contributing structures in the line of historic buildings peered hideously back at us.

The participants returned to the studio and divided into four subgroups for the rest of the session. The initial process involved identifying the functional and practical issues associated with a redevelopment of this type. Traffic, security, economy, history, esthetics and sustainability issues were generated by each of the groups.

Next, led by the designers, artists and architects, each group developed design solutions that expressed their particular vision of the farmers market. No two designs were alike, though some shared similar versions of solutions to similar problems. The session closed with a review of the issues and design work.

The many diverse ideas delighted the merchants and Commercial Club people. The event provides them with an intellectual tool they can use to further redevelop and improve this historic neighborhood.

Springfield's significant buildings. Drury College was the meeting place Oct. 20 when a distinguished group of individuals met to begin the initial selection of candidates of notable architecture (of all kinds) in the Springfield area.

This activity was initiated to further educate the public to the existence of these significant buildings. As the lists are further developed and categorized, various media will be employed to publicize their status.

Business meeting. Oct. 21, AIA Springfield held its annual chapter business meeting at the auditorium of the Hammons School of Architecture, Drury College. Chapter officers for 1999 were elected. Congratulations to Andrew Wells, the 1999 chapter president.

Design lecture. Oct. 23 featured a lecture by Beatriz Colomina, professor of architecture, Princeton University, who spoke in the auditorium of Hammons School of Architecture at Drury. The lecture was titled "The Gift," and featured Ray and Charles Eames. Following the lecture was an architecture student exhibit titled 1-to-1 Constructed Historic Details.

Architecture week will be an annual event. Springfield AIA is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to explore new ways to bring awareness of architecture to the public.

(Joel Chamberlain, AIA, is the president of the Springfield chapter of the American Institute of Architects.)

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