December 2011 Newsletter
Treasure! Big Behind-the-Walls Finds
Renovating old buildings and homes can be lucrative business, but in some cases the real treasure is not on the invoice, it’s what you find behind the walls you tear down. From cash to guns to suits of armor, here are some stories of treasure unearthed during renovations.
The most valuable treasure in this story turned up when workers were renovating an old house in Austria. As you can imagine, a country with such deep history is likely to have all sorts of interesting stuff hidden behind the walls, and this house didn’t disappoint: As workers broke through a hidden door that had been bolted shut since long before the current owners moved in, they discovered the torso of a suit of armor and an ancient sculpture. Such things are easily faked, so the homeowners brought them to an expert. The examination revealed that they were authentic treasures that evidently originally had belonged to 15th century Italian statesman Lorenzo Medici. No clue how Lorenzo’s stuff got behind the wall of this family house in Austria, but the owners auctioned the items off for 8.8 million Euros, which equals more than $12 million!
Money, Money, Money!
Sure, finding a $12 million suit of armor was cool, but nothing beats finding cold, hard cash stashed in the walls. Bob Kitts, a contractor in Cleveland, was gutting a bathroom in a client’s home when he discovered a box nestled between the studs under the medicine cabinet. He pulled it out, popped it open, and couldn’t believe his eyes: over $25,000 in 1920s currency! “I almost passed out, it was the ultimate contractor fantasy,” Kitts told the Associated Press. The owner rushed home and together they found another box in the bathroom with $100,000, and two more boxes with various valuables. Of course, money does strange things to people: Now Kitts and the homeowner, who was a high school classmate, are arguing about how to split up the dough. In the end the lawyers might be the biggest winners from this treasure hunt!
Kilroy Was Here
Not all behind-the-walls treasure is worth a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean it’s not amazingly valuable. When workers were peeling old paint off the walls of Morgan Chapel in Bunker Hill, West Virginia, they noticed scribbled writing on the walls. As the old paint flaked off they read a few of the hand-written messages until it hit them: These were messages left by Civil War soldiers who had probably used the old church as a hospital or barracks! The soldiers, both Union and Confederate, covered the walls of the church as high as they could reach. Among the messages: “I should not have written on the walls of the house of God. I would not have done so if it had not already been marked up.” Another wrote, “It’s not our rebellion,” and a third comment read, “Down with traitors, treason and copperheads.” The church, built in 1740, was already considered historic, but now its historic value is unquestioned. The West Virginia Episcopal Diocese, which owns the church, is considering how to best preserve the writings.
Finally, some “treasure” you probably would rather not find when renovating. Workers renovating a house in Dublin, Ireland were cheerfully smashing old walls when something unexpected appeared: A stash of hand grenades! They were old and corroded, and experts suspect they were remains of the personal arsenal of a fighter in Ireland’s War of Independence, which ended in 1921 and freed most of Ireland from British rule. You’d think 90-year-old grenades wouldn’t be much to worry about, but the neighborhood was evacuated and an army bomb disposal unit was called in to handle the munitions. You can bet the remodelers on that job are glad they didn’t swing the sledge hammer one more time!
Five Great New Architecture Books To Give This Holiday Season
Sure, the holidays are great for parties and people and big meals, but sometimes nothing sounds better than spending a few hours alone with a good book. So if you have any architects or other design professionals on your gift list, consider the following five new books.
Cities for People, by Jan Gehl. Reviewers have loved this book about what makes good cities work. Some of the concepts are obvious — safe walking and biking paths lead to a community that gets outdoors, for example. But others are more subtle, such as the assertion public spaces with comfortable seating are essential to a healthy community and that tall, dehumanizing architecture can increase crime rates. One reviewer wrote “If Cities for People is widely read and widely applied, the world’s urban life will be immeasurably better.”
Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren. Wow, a whole book about the john? It makes sense when you consider how much goes on in and around public restrooms — people wait in line, avoid eye contact, try not to touch anything, try not to inhale, overhear conversations, apply make-up, write notes on the walls. And a bigger picture also exists: How do these facilities deal with the waste? Where do transgendered people go to the bathroom? Why do women wait in line more than men? Toilet is a collection of 12 essays by urbanists, historians, and cultural analysts about these and other issues. Great bathroom reading, no doubt.
Edward Durrell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect, by Hicks Stone. This biography of the controversial Stone discusses his work on the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The book explores Stone’s work and his often turbulent life.
The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard not a new book (it was published in 1994), but it’s a classic worth re-reading. It’s a deep, captivating book about space, homes, how our homes affect us, and much more.
The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, by Kate Ascher a readable, heavily illustrated book about everything skyscraper, this book reveals how water makes it up the pipes to the top floors, how telecom networks connect occupants to the world, and much more. A fascinating read for design professionals and design fans.
45,000 Docs Scanned, Sale Closed!
Anyone who has ever bought a house knows the sale generates all sorts of paperwork. Now imagine the mountain of paperwork associated with two 40-year-old retail properties going on the market — a mountain of 45,000 construction documents, contracts, lease documents and other important papers!
In May AIR Graphics was asked to scan 10,000 historical and as-built construction documents for this project, then convert them to searchable, date-indexed PDF binders. That job was well underway when in early November the building owners told AIR Graphics the sale was closing, and they suddenly needed 35,000 more documents scanned! The second batch, which was mostly operational contracts and lease documents, filled 20 file boxes.
AIR Graphics tackled the job without a hitch. All 45,000 documents were scanned and indexed in time for the sale to close. Rather than hand over a pile of jumbled hard copy documents, the sellers were able to give the new owners a clean, easily searched digital record of all documentation.
“It was a win win for all parties,” says Richard Dooley, AIR Graphics account executive. “The seller maintained a valuable set of record documents if a circumstance ever arises that they need a historical copy, and it is now a click away. And the seller provided the new owner with more than their due diligence by providing the intrinsic value of digital files versus hardcopy and added value in the future in reduced costs for storage and distribution.”
ArchiQuiz: State Capitol Edition
1. Which state capitol building is the largest, and who designed it?
2. Which state capitol building is the smallest, and who designed it?
3. What is the oldest state capitol in continuous use?
4. Thirty nine states call their capitol building the “state capitol.” What’s the next most popular moniker for that primary state government building?
Amazing Architecture, Restaurant Edition
Remember climbing into a treehouse when you were a kid? Eighteen lucky diners at a time get to do that again at the Yellow Treehouse Restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand. Check it out: http://www.yellowtreehouse.co.nz/
Redesigning a restaurant is tough. Redesigning one each season is simply amazing! But that’s what New York’s Park Avenue does — a new design for each season, facilitated by restaurant design firm AvroKO. Check out the images here: http://parkavenyc.com/autumn/photos_seasons.php
In the mood for seafood? How about seeing the seafood swim by while you eat? Then you’d love the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant in the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort. The dining room is 16 feet below the sea, and features 180 degree views of the reef and marine life. http://conradhotels1.hilton.com/en/ch/hotels/dining.do?ctyhocn=MLEHICI&id=din2
Do the pipes running along the ceiling of the space you’re designing sometimes get in the way? See how designer Stanley Saitowitz handled them in a San Francisco restaurant called Conduit (yes, the name is significant!): http://www.dezeen.com/2008/07/25/conduit-restaurant-by-stanley-saitowitz/
Italian restaurants often turn to kitsch to attract diners. Not La Nonna restaurant in Mexico City, designed by CheremSerrano. Red bricks dominate this design, but not the way you imagine in an Italian joint: http://www.contemporist.com/2011/03/10/la-nonna-restaurant-by-cheremserrano/
News You Can Use
MIT Architect Helps Winterize Occupy Camp
Boston Architect Redesigns Coffee Cup
First Brookline Conservation Neighborhood Named
Copley Square Plan Protested
Boston Landscape Architect Wins in Sacramento
Integrated Design Group Adds Five to Boston Office
Being Green, Floor Edition
The ECOnights collection from ECOsurfaces is made from recycled tire material and comes in 16 hues. It is designed for retail, commercial, and institutional spaces. http://www.ecosurfaces.com/econights.php
Cork flooring from Globus comes in multiple colors, sizes, and patterns. And the factory is powered entirely by wind power. http://www.corkfloor.com/
Flooring from Elmwood Reclaimed Timber comes from old barns, buildings, and rural structures that are condemned or abandoned. Each board tells a story! http://www.elmwoodreclaimedtimber.com/wood.aspx?pgID=872
EnviroGlas Epoxy Terrazzo is a poured-in-place flooring that uses recycled glass chips to create a floor so durable it usually lasts the life of the building. http://www.enviroglasproducts.com/
The Rainforest Collection of leather flooring from Ecodomo comes in a floating format in tiles or planks. http://www.ecodomo.com/products/recycled.shtml