The Story of Buildings

School is back in session and that means I’m on a roll with our family’s routines. Nightly routine, morning routine, homework routine, exercise routine, meal planning, college football schedule, soccer practice….I could go on and on.

Perhaps my love of routine has something to do with my desire to be in control of my life, which I know is never truly possible nor do I actually want it to be, but I do like knowing that I have the ability, for the most part, to craft a schedule with a rhythm that suits our family. As much as we love travel and adventure, we also love being at home. There are a few elements of our routine that we’ve made a point to commit to this year. Perhaps the most rewarding has been nightly reading with our kids.

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It’s relatively easy to send my 4th grader to his room to read for 30 minutes in the evening. It’s not that hard to put aside 10 minutes to help my Kindergartener work through an early reader. It is nearly impossible to to wrangle two boys, a hard-working hubby, and my never-slow-down-self to the front porch swing to read a book aloud and together each evening. Miraculously, we have a couple-evenings-a-week streak going for us. I even think we’re all enjoying it!

It’s no secret that I’ve hand-picked many books in my kids’ library specifically because they discuss my favorite subject: architecture. The more I study and work in the fields of preservation and design, I can’t shake my observation that we have so much room for improvement in the way we shape our built environment. Β It’s really important to me to pass along to my boys a way of seeing our world that considers buildings old and new. Buildings can “tell” us about ourselves through their architecture, but we need eyes to see and an architectural language to translate their message. The Story of Buildings opens children’s eyes to all types of architecture, providing a thoughtful and design-focused perspective of our world.

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When we disregard our historic built environment and are apathetic about new construction, we let quick, cheap, and easy rule the day. Whether we acknowlegde it or not, buildings contribute to the way a place makes us feel, and that sense of place is one of the most important factors in creating a vibrant, healthy community.

My kids probably haven’t picked all of this up from our recent nightly readings, but it’s my hope that their little brains absorb the fact that architecture matters. It’s powerful. It visually tells us what people value and what they do not.

People build buildings for purposes other than practical ones. They want them to show others what they care about and what they believe in. So they make them as beautiful as possible – or sometimes, if they’re making a fortress or prison, as scary as possible. And that’s why buildings change the way we feel. They can fill us with awe or calm, joy or dread. They can be so beautiful that we never want to leave or so ugly that we hurry out the door, vowing never to go back.

Buildings are far more than piles of brick or frames of steel, because every one, no matter how large or small, carries the dreams of the people who made it. When you look at a building, you wonder who lives or works there. When you visit a building, you ask yourself who built it and why. And as you stare at buildings and wonder about the people inside them, you understand that that’s what makes them so special.

Every building has a story to tell.

One of the reasons I believe historic preservation is important is because it allows buildings to continue to tell their stories – our stories – through architecture. I hope the passage above encourages you to give more thought to the built environment in which you live, work, and play, and if you need a book to guide you along the way, The Story of Buildings is a great one for the entire family.

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