Saturday, June 6, 2009


I've seen scaffolding and sidewalk sheds all over the world.  Instead of being disappointed (as most seem to be) at not being able to see some monument or another, to me the scaffolding is a sign that the building or monument still lives as a part of the urban fabric.  The scaffolding indicates an embracing, both literally and figuratively; it imprints the human scale onto an object.  It is part of the life cycle of a building or monument.  Men (and women) have to physically reach every part of the building in order to first build it and then often to renovate or clean it.  In addition, it alters the space around it.  Because it is temporary, it can be a more ephemeral extension of the building or monument itself.  It blurs the hard line of the exterior because it provides incomplete shelter and for stability it must also attach itself and essentially become part of the 'host' structure.  I remember being entranced when, in the late 1990's, the architect Michael Graves was hired to "design" the scaffolding to be erected for the renovation of the Washington Monument in the nation's capital.  He said in an interview at the time, "I thought it was a great chance to give back to let's say an eight-year-old who comes from Des Moines with his parent or her parents to see the Washington Monument, and then discover that indeed it's covered with scaffolding -- what could you do to -- to somehow give them something that they didn't expect, give them two monuments -- the original monument, of course, and then this new scaffolding to sort of highlight or amplify the question of restoration.”  You can see more of the original interview with Michael Graves here; but what is interesting is that several visitors were also interviewed in the same article and they expressed disappointment that the monument was covered.  Why do we see scaffolding as ugly?

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