Development and Demolition Issues

Ring out the Olde, Ring in the New

The web page links below address specific development initiatives that reflect some Institution choices which clamor for exploration and review. Are these individual development projects pieces of an overall development strategy or does each project stand alone as a unique solution to a convergence of distinctive commercial, residential and public development considerations? What forces drive such development projects? Who benefits from them? Is it even any of our business?

As these recent projects become reality, there is an issue about priorities. Last season the Bell Tower was still missing bells up in its carillon, some were on the first floor of the tower, and not yet installed for lack of money. Adopting a Bell Tower bell is no prominent campaign, but practice cabin renovation is given the hot-button role of the cabins in the big picture of making The Music School a world-class Mecca.

As does many other non-profit organizations seeking benefactors, Chautauqua encounters the occasional donor whose name (and money) wants to be associated with something significant and visible. The gift would be accompanied by publicity, and would be memorialized unto a seeming eternity. It is often a challenge to generate interest in money for the mundane, e.g., road improvements, but no such obstacle exists for renovation of the practice cabins or building a brand new practice facility.

Like it or not, large gifts tend to like prominent projects. The Institution promotes gifts in numerous ways an understandable impulse but road maintenance (and Bell Tower bells) are as important as practice cabin renovation.

 

To Build or not to Build

The Institution as of late seems to have forgotten that the openness and space on the Grounds are finite resources.  What is within the fence is important, but the absence of facilities is important also.  It is high time the Institution commits to a maximum quantity of building.  Instead, there is talk of the term "sacred cows" to give pejorative connotation to the notion of reservation and conservation of what Chautauqua already has a pejorative connotation.  An example is the revisionist notion that the practice studios are old, decrepit, pathetic remnants of long ago that should not be kept in good shape but reinvented, and encroached upon by new, state of the art, interlopers like Lenna Hall, air-conditioned private practice rooms (Gershwin did fine without one of them) and the soon to arrive, or invade, Office Depot Hall.

We do not oppose development per se. In particular, we recognize that individual property owners have the right to develop their private dwellings according to their own tastes as long as the resulting changes to the property do not infringe upon their neighbors (sensory offenses such as noisy air conditioning, overly bright external lighting and noxious fumes come to mind). Otherwise, who rather than the owner is to be the arbiter of what is appropriate or aesthetically "correct"?

"No one wants a city frozen in time, a Williamsburg on the Hudson, but neither  do we want a city with no sense of time it is essential to feel, as we walk through the streets, that some of what we see has been there before, and will be there for our children. Architecture becomes a vehicle of common experience, a way in which the generations talk to one another. It is a force of cultural continuity, a piece of our common ground as a culture."----Paul Goldberger

Furthermore, we recognize that overly restrictive regulations can squelch the artistic and utilitarian initiative of resourceful architects or property owners, resulting in boxy, antiseptic structures whose very blandness fails to reflect the adventurous spirit that inspired the creation of not only individual buildings but also Chautauqua Institution itself. A modern structure that serves timely needs and desires does not necessarily have to be at odds with architecturally incongruous neighbors.

What we do in fact oppose, however, is the surrender of cherished Chautauqua buildings, gardens and wild spaces to the Institution's periodic hunger for infusions of cash. We fear that Chautauqua's perennial craving for capital might be too easily exploited by real estate developers who have discovered in recent decades that our public treasures can be converted into substantial profits. Chautauqua's needs should drive development, not vice versa.

In June 2002 Design Associates, an architectural firm working with the Institution for the design of the Garden District, made an eloquent statement about the Grounds in a pattern book about the new development.  Here are excerpts:
 
"...[Chautauqua] is a place that embraces nature, [and] draws upon traditional architecture and town planning practices....The Plan of Chautauqua is a response to the specific natural features and contrasting qualities of the site and the best aspects of traditional vernacular place-making that is part of the church camp movement.  Pedestrian-scaled streets, scented gardens, shadowy verandas, narrow alleys and overhanging roofs, vivid as well as pale colors, deep shades and bright surfaces have been brought together to provide a sense of familiarity, stimulation, and ease....The pattern of streets and brick walks laces throughout the neighborhoods and natural areas to connect the rich variety of places together as a coherent whole..."
 
It is ironic that too often the values and traditions articulated in the foregoing have been neglected.

Click on an image below:

1. Will the archives become more accessible or less accessible once they are under glass in a climate controlled environment on the edge of the Grounds instead of in the heart of the Grounds at the Library?

2. Are the CLSC banners better off being preserved but never seen, or should they be left on display for at least part of the summer in Alumni Hall?

Your Thoughts?


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