I've always loved beautiful buildings. There's no one type. I like big prairie farm houses. I like tiny bungalows. I like the ornate two and three story office buildings with cornices and window ledges. I like skyscrapers that attempt to be more than Bauhaus blocks of concrete and glass. I even like gas stations -- at least those with some imagination (the green-roofed village style, the chrome art deco style).
In the course of my life, I have turned down various jobs simply because I couldn't imagine myself walking into a particular building every day.
Buildings have a deeply personal dimension.
But they have another dimension, too. I think this became clearest to me some years back when I attended a session put on by our own Local History staff. The topic was the old Douglas County courthouse.
We have quite a collection of photographs of the old building. When we presented pictures of the night the courthouse burned down, I was astonished to see tears in the eyes of even the gruffest ranch hands in the room. That old building had mattered to them. It also united them.
The building that replaced it -- a sort of concrete bunker with all the charm of a jail cell -- was universally loathed. The new front, added last year by the County, did much to soften the bare edges of the building, to at least point toward a more refined notion of public architecture.
A friend told me about a National Public Radio piece that ran a couple of weeks ago. The speaker commented that in the nineteen twenties and thirties, people lived in small, modest homes. But even in the midst of the Great Depression, they built public edifices of distinct quality and stature.
Today, the trend is opposite: those who can, build lavish trophy homes to live in. Meanwhile, all too often we throw up (I choose the phrase deliberately) public structures that are drab, cramped, and frankly cheap -- or have all the sweeping grace of a warehouse.
Our patrons have sent a consistent message to the Douglas Public Library District over the years. They want our buildings to be part of "downtown." But this isn't always just a matter of convenience. More often, it's a statement about the civic importance of the library as a place, a belief that a thriving library belongs in the heart of a community. I share that belief.
And they want our buildings to be something other than a big box buttressed by split face block, and finished with cement floors and exposed pipes. There persists in the American imagination the notion that the public library should be a building that not only houses the products of culture, but actually demonstrates some understanding of it. I share that belief, too.
I'm very proud of the library buildings that have gone up on my watch: from the surprising ingenuity of our Parker Library (a renovated bowling alley that brings Mainstreet right through the front door), to the sweeping extended river bank of the Lone Tree Library, to the overtly civic scope of our new Highlands Ranch Library. These buildings reflect a lot of good thinking, by a lot of good people.
All of these buildings, I do believe, are sources of pride for their communities. More and more, they are also a focus for community activity. There's a connection between the two.
There is a lesson in the buildings we love.
Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.
All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.