Theater and Stage #2

I used the Theater and Stage analogy at last year’s Greenbuild conference in Phoenix. It struck a chord with reporter and author, Katherine Salant, who was in attendance. Subsequently, she wrote an articlefor the Washington Post about the principle of separating the shellfrom the infill and how it plays out in our work. We used the following graphic to illustrate the point:

High Performance House

The tie-in to high performance building is the simple notion that better structural and thermal performance requires more resources and more labor, which in turn begs for more longevity to justify the materials and time invested. Two other considerations are derived from that understanding: 1. The internal short-term elements (stage) need to be less intertwined and hard-connected to the long-term shell components (theater) and 2. infill needs to be subservient to the shell requirements in the original construction.

I grew up in Colorado Springs, which is fairly close to Cripple Creek, a1890’s mining town that was empty and crumbled into ruin by 1950. My dad used to take us up to the old ghost town where we’d explore the mine and building remains. It was there that I first saw poor construction standards. The miners’ shacks and the storefront buildings were little more than wooden tents, made with skinny framing members and board sheathing. These buildings were all temporary props, with no intention whatsoever to make permanent structure. At least they knew it, and planned it that way.

In my later youth, I found myself working in tract developments outside of Colorado Springs. First, I worked in the ground, laying sewer and water pipes, but eventually I joined a framing crew and helped to build the homes. I soon realized that the construction standard wasn’t a whole lot different than the dilapidated miners’ shacks of Cripple Creek. In some ways, these buildings were worse than the miners’ shacks because the truth wasn’t known to the owners and their homes often had very serious inherent deficiencies and workmanship flaws. With the siding on the outside and the drywall nicely painted on the inside, no one knew. Well, actually there were a few who knew–the oft-repeated job-site saying when something wasn’t right was, “You can’t see it from my house.”

Here’s an important architectural vocabulary distinction: Buildings should have good facades, but they shouldn’t BE facades. Illusions can happen on the Stage, but they shouldn’t happen on the Theater structure itself. Our commitment to building high quality, high performance buildings requires us to first of all insure the integrity of the shell. Then the play can go on, decade after decade and generation after generation, celebrating both beauty that is static and life that is forever dynamic.

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