Karrie Jacobs


January 20, 2011

Nice. Nice. Nice. Nice.

The 39571 Project in DeLisle, Miss. by SHoP Architects.  December 2006.

The other night I went to a party at the Four Seasons in honor of a new book, The Power of Pro Bono, a compendium of worthy projects for which architects donated their services. Nice.  The book was published by my friends at Metropolis Books.  Nice.  And beautifully designed by Paula Scher at Pentagram.  Extra nice.

I’ve been leafing through the book, which contains projects I’ve seen before, like the butterfly-roof Roxbury Estates houses that Rick Sundberg designed for Habitat For Humanity in Seattle.  And some that I’ve never seen, like the marvelous little cabins that Gensler drew up for a Catalina Island Boy Scout camp.  They’re fashioned from shipping containers, and as tired as I am of shipping containers as the default strategy for low-cost architecture, I find these little buildings  exceptionally elegant.  (Or maybe they’re just exceptionally well photographed.) Nice.

The book represents the philosophy of a San Francisco firm, Public Architecture, founded to encourage architects to do good deeds, not just in emergencies, like Architecture for Humanity, but all the time.   On the firm’s website, under the heading, “What We Don’t Believe” I noticed the following:

Beauty is trivial
No. Beauty dignifies. Architecture doesn’t just function; it expresses the human condition. It’s about human dignity. It’s about respect. It communicates identity and enables people to speak, to participate, to act. If you want to see what design has to do with identity, look at people’s clothes, their cars. Architecture does the same things; it just lasts longer.

What can I say? Nice!

Slowly, it dawned on me that I recognized the building on the book’s cover.  In fact, I’d been there.  In December of 2006, Allison and John Anderson of the Bay St. Louis, Mississippi based firm Unabridged Architecture took me for a drive to some of the neighboring Gulf Coast towns to see what had been built since  Katrina.  The 39571 Project in DeLisle, Miss. near Pass Christian, designed by William Sharples of New York’s SHoP Architects, was one of the first new buildings of any note.  The idea was to create a little bit of critical mass — a distribution center for donated goods, a restaurant, a beauty parlor, a place to gather.   39571 is two simple boxes joined by a canopy that creates a shaded, sheltered place for people to hang out.  Nothing fancy, but in the post-Katrina landscape, it looked pretty damn nice.

Anyway, seeing the 39571 Project in Pro Bono reminded me of that trip.  So I dug up my old photos, and then I went over to the Unabridged Architecture website to see what the Andersons had been up to lately.  As it happens, they  recently completed a new parking garage for Bay St. Louis.  It’s got photovoltaics, LEDs, and a rainwater fed irrigation system to keep its living walls (which haven’t grown in yet) fresh.   Yet another green parking garage for my  oxymoron collection. Nice.

P.S.  Check out my new Metropolis column on our nation’s timid approach to infrastructure.  Not nice.