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When is a Place More than Just a “Space”?

By Ken Lambert, CSI posted 03-03-2023 05:25 PM


Architecture, engineering, construction and owner (AECO) professionals design and build structures. That is what we do. There are all kinds of structures and uses, and various types of building materials and architectural styles of course.

We have Codes, specifications, ASTM standards, and the like.

But oftentimes, especially after standing for many years, what is built is so much more than that structure.  It becomes more than four walls and a roof.

At a simple and personal level, we need only to consider the home that we primarily grew up in, as children. In most cases that one home has been out of the family for many years. If so, have you ever had a chance to later visit it and go inside at some point? Maybe there was an Open House, and you stopped by “for old times’ sake.”  For you and maybe your siblings that single-family ranch or colonial has a bigger significance than those stud walls and the drywall that has been repainted. It is more than just that physical space. You can feel it. A building, especially a home, can easily transport you back to a different time. That building can sometimes seem almost like a living thing.

This works sometimes for other kinds of commercial spaces and structures as well—even if there is not a true personal and direct connection.

I remember back many years ago when I went on a road trip with a few friends down to a baseball game at (the original) Yankee Stadium in NYC. It would be my first time there. Mind you, I do NOT like the Yankees (no hate mail, please). But that said, walking into and through Yankee Stadium—often referred to as “the House that Ruth Built,” in honor of the iconic baseball player, Babe Ruth—was very inspiring. 

In that very spot decades earlier, Yankee Lou Gehrig probably gave the greatest speech in sports history, announcing that while he was retiring due to the debilitating effects of disease that now bears his name, to stand in front of such an ardent throng of fans made him feel, “Like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

That is what I felt being in that stadium. The structure was much more than bleachers and steel beams.  And I had no personal history with Yankee Stadium.

About a year ago I ventured to purchase a home that I bought because of this very same truth: that certain structures have a significance much greater than their layout, their front door, and their bedroom count. 

It is a terrace (row) house in Liverpool, England—built in 1949. At its core, it is no different than thousands of other such buildings that were built shortly after World War II.

Except, now people visit and walk through this home, traveling from all around the world to do so. Some have even claimed it is on their “bucket list” to be there and stay there.

The subject home is a key part of rock ‘n roll and music history. It was the home that Beatle George Harrison grew up in, and the very house that was a regular rehearsal spot for the Beatles. George, along with his mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, used to gather there and play guitar and work out the song lyrics and harmonies that for millions of fans have provided the soundtracks of their lives.

To many people, that fact is irrelevant. However, to some people, especially fans that have been playing Beatles songs for 50+ years, being there is quite a surreal experience.  Sitting in a 10’ x 12’ room that those three historical figures sat, talked, and sang in is a prime example of a built environment being more than its dimensions and components.

So as we work each week and help to deliver homes and commercial building or gathering spaces we should keep in mind that, in some cases, we are creating something a bit more to certain people. Those people will, for a variety of reasons, have a real connection with that space and the building. That is a prime goal of architecture and building design, even if sometimes we don’t start each day thinking of the potential lasting impact of our work.

Ken Lambert is the Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at International Masonry Institute