Monday, January 30, 2023

Me, Space, Time, and Architecture

 New Idea for Posts

(Me, Space, Time, and Architecture)

Given my age, I suppose it is natural to look back more than forward. Forward seems to have a shorter shelf life.  I should tell you I am nearing the octogenarian stage of life. 

With my career choice and education in architecture, I moved quickly into construction and development.  Construction projects required an early morning alarm. Usually 5am. Now in retirement early to bed and early to rise means bed around 8pm and getting up around 4 or 5am. This allows me to tell people I get up at the same time now as when I worked.  There is a lot less stress in those early hours. I no longer worry if cocreate trucks are going to show up. Finding that first cup of coffee at 4am while waiting for the sun to rise leaves plenty of time to think and reflect on life. 

Therein lies the impetus to reenergize this blog.  Over a 4am coffee, I began to think of books I had read as an architectural student.  Out of nowhere which is how the brain works at my age came Space, Time, and Architecture by Sigfried Giedion. Ah! I said I can write a book defining life in terms of architecture.  I thought I could define the socio-economic and political impacts on architecture and the effects the built environment has on its occupants.  

I have always been interested in technology.  Given my age, it may be hard to believe but I began my research on google, not at the public library.  I wanted to start in the 1940s, I was born in 1944.  I also wanted to start with the architecture of my childhood. So my first search was a history of Hoboken, NJ, and the development of the tenement apartment.  I found Hoboken's history has been very well documented and presented in a book published by the Hoboken Historical Museum.  The following information is paraphrased from that book. "Since 1932 the city has made notable strides in the manufacturing field. In the 1940 census, there were twenty schools with an enrollment of 12,322. One college (Stevens Institute of Technology). Twenty-six churches. One free public library. One hospital. The population was 49,833."  

page 20 Hoboken Historical Museum "Industrial progress makes forward strides"

Housing that population would fall to the hands of the architects, builders, and landlords who would replace shanty towns with multifamily housing in the form of tenements. The typical tenement apartment developed in Hoboken was called a Dumbbell Plan.  I have shown examples of the plan and some photos of those tenements below.  Today many of those structures that survived demolition have found new life as expensive apartments and condominiums.   

This was the plan we lived in on Willow Ave. in the late 40s and early 50s

The above floor plan is an example of the home where I formed my first memories.

There were no bathrooms in the apartment the toilets were shared by the tenants on each floor. On the first floor, you came in the front door and entered a long hallway usually dimly lit that lead to a central stairway (tenements also known as walkups) our apartment was on the fourth floor.  Creaky stairwells poorly lit left a lasting impression on me.  When you reached your floor you walked down the hallway to enter your apartment directly into the kitchen.  You walked through the first bedroom my room to my parent's room.  Each room had a small window that opened to the courtyard which formed the signature feature of the dumbbell plan. One could almost reach out the kitchen window and touch the neighbor across the courtyard.  Clothing lines were pulled between kitchen windows across the courtyard and conversations flowed between kitchen windows as clothes were hand washed and hung to dry.  

I lived in this Washington Ave. tenement when I was born in 1944

Washington Street has been preserved in a historic district

Willow Ave also preserved became my home of first memories
I had no concept or understanding that anyone lived in anything other than an apartment.  We bathed at the kitchen sink.  A trip to the toilet may require patience depending on whether the neighbor had gotten there first.  The toilet room was in the hallway on the wall above the toilet was a wooden water reservoir hanging from the reservoir was a small linked chain with a porcelain handle to flush the toilet. Strange how these little details remain so visible in my mind. 

Entering the kitchen directly from the hallway was normal.  The kitchen had a gas stove, sink, and was furnished with a Formica and aluminum table and chairs.  The kitchen opened directly into the living room. My early memory of the living room was the flowered wallpaper a large cushioned chair and a sofa both covered with a floral print.  The only other furniture in the living room was a wood-standing radio.  The outside wall of the living room revealed a pair of double-hung windows that opened onto a firescape that hung from the building façade. The façade of Willow Ave. above has not changed from that of my childhood with one exception the wood windows have been replaced with metal framed windows. 

This is the first of a series of  Me, Space, Time, and Architecture posts.  I hope you enjoy the journey. 

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