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We used to build beautiful things

One of the reasons people travel to historic places throughout Europe, and North America is to see the architecture that was created several thousand years ago. Despite wars, climate events and time, it is still standing, and it is still beautiful.

In our own province, take a drive out to Trinity Bay or Brigus. Walk through old St. John’s, tour the Ecclesiastical District, or hike up to Cabot Tower.


Really stop and look at the workmanship. The stones used to build the Basilica, or the Anglican Cathedral were cut by expert masons.

If we tried to build something similar, we simply do not have the skill or the talent here to do it. At its roots, architecture exists to create the physical environment in which people live, but architecture is more than just the built environment, it is also creating our culture. It stands as a representation of how we see ourselves, as well as how we see the world. It is also how the world sees us.

For some reason, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have left the beauty of architecture behind and instead embraced, lazy and poor architecture. It seems builders buy set plans from a store that offer no detailing, no craftsmanship, and are slapped up in no time.

A good example is Newfoundland Housing. We create subdivisions and fill them with row after row of the same box house. They are designed to oppress not impress. These are designed to become a ghetto.

The Newfoundland Housing units seem to be purposely designed to defeat the human spirit. Take a moment and drive through one of these areas. The first thing you notice is there is absolutely nothing beautiful. Very little or no pride of ownership.

They are a slapped together box that is jointed on both sides. It is meant to be cold and industrial. The drab design is on purpose. So, when a person moves into that house, their first thought is, “I’m gonna get out of here someday.”

These units are designed to remind the people who live there that:

· You are on social services or low income.

· Everyone who drives by will know that.

· You are lesser than everyone else going to work this morning.

· You offer nothing to society.

· Our tax dollars are paying for you.

Imagine if every time you left your house someone yelled these comments at you. Because that is what people living in housing think every time they leave their front door.

These ugly box houses are designed to tell everyone who drives by that:

· Here are the poor.

· You do not want your children hanging around in this area.

· Feel free to ridicule and judge everyone inside these houses.

· Including the children because the apple does not fall far from the tree.

These box houses are designed to divide classes: the rich and the poor.

Every child who lives in Newfoundland Housing, is tagged in school. Teachers will privately refer to them as a Newfoundland Housing child. Other students will soon find out they live in government housing and make fun of them. These government sponsored ghettos are designed to remind these children that you are not as important as the kids in the beautiful houses. You are of no value to us. You are forgotten.

But… what about if we walked away from lazy and poor architecture?

What about if we decided to take a parcel of land, and instead of building oppressive box ghetto housing, what about … if we built another Brigus?

What about if we built something beautiful?

Take a parcel of land, and instead of building box house after box house, and bungalow after bungalow, what about if we built beautiful, smaller, economical housing for people.

What about if that neighbourhood had a beautiful playground and a large community vegetable garden?

What about if the people who lived in these beautiful houses were encouraged to go to the vegetable garden to take what they need and contribute back by helping the garden grow?

What about if we built a senior’s neighbourhood that looked like Trinity? What about if that community had a senior’s type playground and a vegetable garden?

Think about it!

Put yourself in the position of these people.

What about if those using the housing came home, and instead of walking into a house that is purposely designed to break their spirit, they walked into a house that welcomed them home to a safe space. A house that makes them feel like they finally achieved some thing. A house that they are proud of.

What about if the house had a rent to own option? What if part of the rent went toward a mortgage and a part paid government for building the house, where no down payment was required. What if your annual income was the only consideration. Where you knew eventually, this house would be yours so keeping it up would be important to you.

Imagine the difference that would make to the spirit of a human and the community?

Imagine the difference that that would make to the children who live in these houses? Instead of going to school tagged as a Newfoundland Housing kids, they would be the kids who live in the beautiful little houses.

Instead of calling them ‘Newfoundland Housing,’ we call them, ‘Mayfair,’ or name it after someone who deserves it.

I know some people would say, “Why build beautiful houses for these people? Let’s keep them oppressed because that is going to encourage them to get out of there.”

Well, how has that worked so far? It has not. The definition of crazy is doing the same stupid thing over and over but expecting different results.

We keep using the same template and wondering why it does not work.

We need to walk away from lazy and poor architecture. It is destroying the culture of this province and creating ghettos. It is destroying the very soul of the people of this province.

This is not just in Newfoundland Housing areas. Look at any new subdivision. It is the same bungalow in assorted colours. These areas are designed to remind you that you are middle class.

It is to remind you that economically, you are all the same and this is your price point. For contractors, it is less expensive to build multiple copies of the same or similar houses. It is easier to budget and hence reduce overhead when certain elements like the concrete foundations are identical for all houses. It also simplifies the sales cycle when the number of choices is reduced.

What they do not have is character, artistic skills, and design. No one walks by and goes, “Wow, now that’s beautiful!” Two thousand years from now, no one will be traveling here to admire them.

Every year charities put million dollar houses up on tickets to raise money. I do not have a problem with that. But don’t we have enough million dollar houses that people cannot afford?

What about instead of putting up a $1 million house on tickets we put up three $300,000 houses on tickets? Now, I would buy a ticket on that.

Let’s build less expensive houses that last and allow low income and the working class to buy them.

We need to go back to building beautiful things. We need to go back to building things that nurture the soul of the people who live there. We need to go back to maintaining and nurturing our culture.

This is how you change the social systems. This is how you stop ghettos. This is how you help people.

The houses that make up the fabric of our province say a lot about the people who inhabited them and will long after our time. Archaeologists study the built environment of the past to understand the effects of architecture on people.

Which begs the question: How is lazy architecture impacting our society?

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