ArchitectureRob Vander Giessen-Reitsma

The dominance of the eye and the suppression of the other senses tends to push us into detachment, isolation and exteriority.  The art of the eye has certainly produced imposing and thought-provoking [architecture], but it has not facilitated human rootedness in the world…. modernist design at large has housed the intellect and the eye, but it has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memories, imagination and dreams, homeless.


Juhani Pallasmaa
The Eyes of the Skin:  Architecture and the Senses

What Pallasmaa is saying with a lot of big, articulate words is something we believe to be a simple, everyday truth: that our built surroundings shape who we are, and we in turn shape our built environment.  Think of the difference between growing up in a mansion versus growing up in a garbage dump, or worshipping in a cathedral versus worshipping in a living room.  These spaces feel different to all five of our senses and shape our memories and our imaginations.

With this in mind, we hope to be very intentional about the environment we build at the Huss Project. *culture is not optional is taking on a unique challenge in converting an institutional building into a space that inspires creativity, care and imagination.  Fortunately, Huss School has retained some of its historic character, as well as providing a solid canvas for many creative possibilities.  Below are some clusters of words that describe our desired outcome for the space, as well as some of the tangible qualities that might achieve such a spirit.

Beautiful, Quality

Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh, says that what disadvantaged people need to begin to thrive is sunlight, affection and good food.  Something about his philosophy works, as evidenced by the thousands who have gone through his arts and vocational programs to achieve greater levels of self-esteem, creativity and accomplishment.  In the process of building spaces for his programs, he never, ever skimped on beauty.  Why, after all, should only rich people have access to beauty?  Recognizing that many who come through the doors of the Huss Project will have limited access to resources—whether indebted college students or children caught in a multi-generation cycle of poverty—we seek to honor them with beautiful spaces.  We also seek to honor future generations who will use the building with materials and methods of high integrity.  Restoring the size of the original window openings, adding windows to the gym and installing skylights to brighten dark spaces will welcome in the precious Michigan sunshine at all times of year.  Choosing natural materials over synthetic and handcrafted aesthetic over institutional will help convey a sense of value to individuals and organizations who use the space.

Imaginative, Creative, Whimsical

There are many beautiful spaces in the world that lack creativity and whimsy.  We hope that the Huss Project will inspire visitors to dream beyond what is to what could be.  Doing so with a building will hopefully serve as a model for dreaming in other areas of life and society.  We hope the building will surprise and delight, not only by the activities that take place on the property, but by the structures themselves as they wordlessly convey an imaginative playfulness.  Paint colors, small space designs, outdoor structures, kid-friendly details, original artwork and more can all contribute toward such an atmosphere.

Innovative, Historic, Environmentally Conscious

A large building can be a visually boring energy drain.  We hope the Huss Project will have a sense of gravity that speaks to its long history, as well as its long future through integral historic materials and features combined with new technology.  High-efficiency windows should complement the original design, while also helping out efficient zone heating and cooling systems.   A peaked metal roof over the original structure will mitigate the structural issues of the old flat roof, achieve greater longevity and provide interesting lighting and solar power possibilities.  Fluid connections between outdoors and indoors—a rooftop garden, indoor plantings, outdoor gathering areas, food production—will demonstrate a year-round appreciation of the rhythms of creation.  Appliances, mechanical systems and routine daily practices will all play significant roles in reducing the building’s carbon footprint and teaching people about sustainable possibilities that are transferrable to other settings.

Invitational, Hospitable, Welcoming

There’s a rumor among the local kid population that Huss School is haunted.  Well.  That works in our favor short-term for keeping potential mischief-makers at bay, but as programming gains momentum, we plan to throw that reputation into reverse.  The building should be a space that tangibly and intangibly welcomes people of all kinds.  Ethnicity, economic level, mental ability, physical ability, religion, sexual identity, age—none of these qualities should provide a spoken or unspoken barrier to being present and involved.  There will be outdoor gathering spaces for visible community events and public gardens for neighborhood enjoyment.  Conscious designs and updates, including an elevator, will make the building wheelchair accessible.  Community participation will be invited whenever possible for design, décor, physical labor and maintenance.  Residential space will balance privacy and community, incorporating design details characteristic of a home, rather than an institution. 

Versatile, Useful, Well-Maintained

Because the building will be used by a group of individuals and organizations that will rotate on a regular basis, spaces should balance specificity with versatility.  A well-equipped dance studio should be able to evolve for recording music, doing yoga or watching a film.  An apartment should be able to comfortably house a family for one night or one year.  The field should be able to accommodate softball or soccer.  The gym should be equipped for basketball or a banquet.  Adequate and easily accessible storage will be key for both use and regular maintenance.  When people look at spaces within the building, they should be able to see multiple possibilities, rather than just a single use, which will serve a logistical purpose as well as the ideological purpose of expanding imagination for possibilities which have not yet come to be.