Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bright Center: Creating a Face

One of the hallmarks of No Place is the facelessness of the buildings. Buildings that all look exactly alike, one after another -- whether vinyl-sided townhouses, faux-brick fronted McMansions or bland concrete-and-glass commercial buildings -- give me a sense of emptiness and dislocation.
Not originally faceless, the Old Leggett building had obtained faceless status over the years. Three original turn-of-the-century buildings had been combined and the facades stripped away in favor of a giant aluminum, ground-to-rooftop Leggett's sign in the 60s. Later, when the department store moved to the Apple Blossom Mall, the new owners attempted to correct this architectural monstrosity with faux stucco and small plate glass windows, but it didn't really work. When we bought the place, it was an anonymous, shabby, mostly empty white elephant.

One of our first tasks was to give the building a Face, one that would make a unique statement yet be worthy of historic Winchester. We wrangled with the Architectural Review Board, since our color scheme and material choice was slightly at issue, but in the end we were given the green light. Through design elements, we made the building look like three Main Street buildings again. We replaced the small plate-glass windows with higher windows, more reminiscent of old street-front windows and more welcoming. We added copper-topped canopies to protect passersby from the rain and encourage them to stop in. And of course, we added the Bright Center sign to give the place an identity.

As the building was being refaced, we kept it wrapped under a great plastic tent to protect it from the weather. When we were complete, the tent came down to reveal the brilliant gold front to a crowd of locals who had clearly been waiting for months for the moment. There was a collective smile and then spontaneous applause. "It's like we just gave them a giant gift," Jimmy, one of the construction workers, said in wonder. "I've never been so proud in my life."

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