Mr. Cassette and I feel very fortunate to own a smart, little, early 1940’s cottage that we very much love. Most of the house still upholds its original integrity, save for a few missteps. A previous owner, decades ago, decided to undertake some unfortunate updating, or “remuddling,” a fitting phrase I recently learned from Kristine Gerber of the Restoration Exchange Omaha. The main thorn in our side is the half-story attic interior “upgrade”, resulting in new 1990’s windows, carpeting, track lighting, ceiling fans, cheap woodwork and a miserable, acrylic insert shower in the sad but oddly spacious bathroom, which might as well be called a Crying Room. Is it shocking to hear what part of our 1941 house is not aging well? For those of you long-suffering the reassembled portions of your older home, is it a surprise to know that all of those newer windows of ours need to be replaced? Which light fixtures and woodwork in our house look worn out and not in a Wabi Sabi way? While the original 1941 features in the house continue to shine year after year, the 1990’s renovations are shameful. Why even said windows are misting up as I type. Oh…no, that’s just condensation trapped between the cheap panes.
This leads to a larger issue for me. It’s one that you may disagree with but I’ve just got to ask it. Why are the windows on new apartment buildings so substandard and small? Why are there so many new ugly apartment buildings popping up in downtown and midtown? I believe we are missing opportunities to be beautiful, to build structures of lasting value. I realize not every structure can attain historical status. But what I see around me, in great number, are throwaway buildings being slapped together, lack of quality materials and sad boxy designs, developers getting away on the cheap and neighborhoods left with disposable structures that will deteriorate in 15 years. Much like our half-story attic recast, cheap and quick isn’t cutting it in the long run.
Blackstone Union at 41st Street and Harney
From the OWH—“At 401 S. 41st St., a 39-unit structure of about 42,600 square feet will rise five stories with one level designated for parking. It replaces a 1913 house that had been converted into apartments, and will have a courtyard for tenants to grill out and congregate. This Harney Street building will feature a high-tech study area that caters to UNMC tenants. Each of the sister complexes would have brick as primary material, to fit with the character of the historic Blackstone.”
No, not quite. This looks nothing like the beautiful aesthetic of the Gold Coast area or anything along Farnam Street. Blackstone Union is too big, and unsteady for this space, like it will teeter down Harney. The windows are tiny, flat and flush without any treatments or eye for arrangement– like an above ground basement. I get that UNMC students need more housing. The location is premium. Blackstone Union has got the safe proximity to campus, usability, and convenience elements down tight. The interiors could be incredible for all I know. I do hope that’s where the money went.
Like many large apartment complexes being built across the country, there is a very silly design format happening. First, start with a big box of brick or wood with other boxes on top with a blend of other facades. Follow that with a mixed bag of small, patchwork, pierced window openings, bizarre framing protrusions, often large metal beams and unstable Juliet balconies and other seemingly unusable balconies. And like a cherry on the top, more decorative wood accents or pieces of metal. The most perplexing thing is this homogeneous look is literally everywhere and I have not seen many neighborhoods where it fits. How is this architecture or urban planning? It’s just superficial decoration on top of a big rectangular box and cheaply so.
The Skye Flats at 50th and Underwood
I was originally very worried about the scale of this new midtown mixed space building. Skye Flats are large and awkward looking as you drive east on Underwood. Following the Potpourri Box Model, it initially appeared to be a monstrosity, too big for a little downtown Dundee. But then something happened. I began to see the fine details appearing, like the attention to brickwork,the pilasters, the slightly recessed windows–almost as if it had been an original of Dundee that had recently received some rehabbing. There is a care, vision and use of quality materials with an attempt to fit the historic neighborhood. Trendy? Yes. Denver has its own “Skye Urban Flats.” The west side of the building, with its lack of windows and seemingly haughty shoulder shrug attitude about the strip mall next door, is unfortunate. But I believe that this structure will become an accepted part of the neighborhood over time.
Skye Flats are a different story when viewed from the heart of Dundee, facing west. There is a harmony from a distance.
Hyatt Place Omaha/Downtown-Old Market 540 South 12th Street
Don’t even get me started with this one.
As I type there are even more Mixed Sizing Box Model plans in the works at Blackstone Station, the One at 35th and Dodge and countless others. Potential talk of turning the Lyman-Richey Corporation at 46th and Dodge into apartments has begun. Stay tuned.
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