Saturday, December 10, 2011

Steps to Narthex Complete

I was surprised the other day when I noticed that the repaired steps at the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex had finally been graced with railings. Back in August, I had asked “Where Are the Railings?” so it was gratifying to see that railings had finally been installed.

As I have come to expect of “improvements” at St. Paul’s these days, there is a downside to the new railings. Although they seem very competently installed—they are sturdy and do not look like an afterthought addition—they do not match other railings and seem, well, excessively elaborate, calling attention to themselves, rather than to the building. (A fellow parishioner described their fanciful curlicues as “ froufrou.”)

Here is what the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex looks like now:

Mayfair Drive entrance to narthex
Mayfair Drive narthex entrance with new railings (click for larger image)

Of course, the railings are not totally dissimilar to the railings on the front steps, on the steps leading from the sidewalk to the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex, or on the steps at the entrance near the church office. All have similar balusters, with heavier balusters at the ends. Whereas all the other railings have handrails that terminate in a simple curve—see photo below—the new railings end in ungainly extensions supported by extravagant, curvaceous wrought iron constructions. Rather than looking like appliances one might see on an English country church, the new railings seem more appropriate for a New Orleans whorehouse.

Railing on front steps
Curved railing on front steps (click for larger image)

Detail of new railing
Detail of new railing (click for larger image)

Detail of plan for steps
Detail of plan for steps (click for larger image)
How do these architecture disasters happen? Plans for the project were posted without comment in the undercroft in September 2010. (See “Good News/Bad News.”) Those plans—see detail at right—carry this note: “WROUGHT IRON HANDRAIL TO MATCH EXISTING” In no way do the new railings conform to that instruction! Of course, as I noted in my post “Construction Progress?” the plans also carry this note: “NEW CONCRETE STEPS, BROOM FINISH, TINT CONCRETE TO MATCH LOWER BUILDING STONE COLOR TYP [typical]” The new steps in no way match the limestone of the building. One wonders if St. Paul’s hired an architect to draw up plans for the steps but saved money by not engaging the architect to oversee construction and assure that it was consistent with the plans.

I am very anxious about the projects being funded by the recent capital campaign. (I plan to discuss this in greater detail in a future post.) The rebuilding of the narthex steps was planned without a call for parishioner input—I would have argued for limestone steps to match other steps to the building, even though the steps being replaced were concrete—was not completed according to the architectural plans, and required at least 15 months after plans were drawn up. Will other projects be executed with equal nonchalance?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Some Unwelcoming Practices

In describing my experience at the St. Paul’s Thanksgiving service—see “Thanksgiving Review”—I failed to mention some things we do that are unwelcoming. I want to redress that oversight here.

Particularly now that we are facing months of cold weather, the cloakroom off the undercroft will be getting a lot of use. Why is it that no one seems to think of turning on the light in the room to make it obvious to everyone, even visitors, what the room is for? Given the location of the Coke machine, it would be easy for someone to think the room is for vending machines. I use the cloakroom a lot, and I usually throw the light switch when I enter it.

This leads me to another observation. Unlike most people, I often wear a hat. Even if I’m not wearing a hat, I may have a book, music, or other baggage with me that I need to park somewhere. Unfortunately, the shelf above the clothes hanger in the cloakroom is often taken up with junk that no one seems capable of finding a place for. This is inconsiderate. Also, there may be mops or other objects in the cloakroom. This is not an inviting environment for member or visitor. The cloakroom should be inviting and functional. It seldom is.

I tried—unsuccessfully, it turns out—to convince Jane Little that she wanted to join me at the Thanksgiving service. Jane spends most of her time in a wheelchair, and being in her wheelchair would certainly have been a prerequisite of her attendance. The obvious place to park a wheelchair in the church is in the first pew in front of the pulpit. The modesty screen is truncated there to allow placement of a wheelchair. I noticed Thanksgiving morning that the end of the piano was nestled into that spot, making it impossible to place a wheelchair there. Such a welcoming gesture!