Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pragmatic Beauty, Valdez Alaska

When I travel abroad I seldom go out of my way to visit "Great" architecture. Cathedrals are impressive but have a certain sameness to them.  Modern projects too often look like somebody's out of control Lego set.  But now and then something catches my eye and makes me smile.

Here is the dental office of D.A. Houseman, Valdez Alaska.

Wow.  Now it helps to know that Valdez is an interesting place.  It was a Gold Rush town tossed together very quickly in 1898 when steamship companies scammed prospectors into thinking this was a shortcut to the Yukon.  Valdez has always had a good port so the town never really died out, although the big earthquake in 1964 destroyed the original site and most of the buildings.  The construction of the Alaska pipeline in the 1970s and a boom in tourism has made it a rather busy place again.

The buildings in town are a mixture of a few old structures hauled over from the original site, along with a hodge podge of more recent construction.  All of it looks quite weathered and prematurely "old" due to the harsh climate.  It is a damp, foggy place that gets more snow than any other spot in America.  Like, 300 inches a year.

All of these factors come into play in the rambling structure shown above.  Note the square, boxy look to the various components? That's because it is made of square boxes.

The view from behind, majestic mountains in the background.  The entire complex appears to have been assembled by parking a series of metal shipping containers on the lot, then linking them together and partially framing some of them in with wood. Maybe that big leaning sheet of plywood is work in progress.  Valdez is the busiest container port in Alaska so there are lots of shipping containers to be had.

Stop and ponder for a moment the potential problems of a flat roofed structure and 300 inches of snow per year.  Hmmm, start to see an issue?  I really love the solution shown here:

There is a stairway going up to the roof.  It is of course fully enclosed because who wants to shovel snow off the stairs that you are using to get up on the roof to shovel more snow.  And parked on the roof, year round we find.  Yes, a snow blower!

I like this building so much that I am going to borrow it.  I think it is a marvelous stand in for the mythical "Trowelsworthy Hall".

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