When is a place more than just a space?
Architecture, engineering, construction, and owner (AECO) professionals design and build structures. There are many types, each serving different purposes, and built using various materials and architectural styles.
These structures are built to industry codes, specifications, and ASTM standards however, oftentimes, especially after standing for many years, they become more than four just walls and a roof.
On a simple and personal level, one only needs to consider the home they grew up in. In many cases, this home has been out of the family for several years. Those who lived in the single-family ranch or colonial house know it has a bigger significance than the stud walls and drywall that has been repainted over time. A house is more than just a physical space. A building, especially a home, can easily transport someone back to a different time. As a result, it can sometimes seem like a living thing.
The same can be said for commercial spaces and structures as well, even if there is no personal or direct connection.
I remember, many years ago, going on a road trip to a baseball game with a few friends at (the original) Yankee Stadium in New York City. It was my first time there. While I am not a Yankees fan (no hate mail, please), walking into and through the stadium—often referred to as “The House That Ruth Built,” in honor of the iconic baseball player, Babe Ruth—was very inspiring.
In that stadium, decades earlier, New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig gave one of the greatest speeches in sports history when he announced his retirement due to the debilitating effects of the disease which 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.”1
This is what I felt being in that stadium; the structure was much more than bleachers and steel beams—even if I had no personal history with Yankee Stadium.
About a year ago, I ventured to purchase a house because of this very same truth: certain structures have a significance much greater than its layout, front door, or bedroom count.
It is a terrace (row) house in Liverpool, England, built in 1949. At its core, it is no different than the thousands of other buildings built shortly after World War II. Except, now people visit and walk through this home, traveling from around the world to do so. Some have even claimed it is on their “bucket list” to visit and stay there.
The subject home is a key part of rock ‘n roll and music history. It was the home the Beatles’ member, George Harrison, grew up in, and the very house was a regular rehearsal spot for the Beatles. Harrison, along with his bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, used to gather there to play guitar and work out song lyrics and harmonies (pictured above).
To many people, this fact is irrelevant. However, for some—especially fans who have been playing Beatles songs for 50-plus years—being there is quite a surreal experience. Sitting in a 3- x 3.6-m (10- x 12-ft) room, where those three historical figures sat, talked, and sang, is a prime example of a built environment being more than its dimensions and components.
So, as AECO professionals work to deliver homes, commercial buildings, and gathering spaces, they should keep in mind, in some cases and for some people, they are creating something a bit more. For a variety of reasons, these people will have a real connection with the space and the building. This is the prime goal of architecture and building design, even if sometimes AECO professionals do not start their day thinking about the potential lasting impact of their work.
1 Visit baseballhall.org/discover-more/stories/baseball-history/lou-gehrig-luckiest-man.
Ken Lambert is director of industry development and technical services for the International Masonry Institute (IMI). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.