Guided Tours for Learning about Architecture & Local History in Western MA

Guided Tours for Learning about Architecture and Local History

Take a tour of the historic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield during the annual Housatonic Heritage Walks on Sept 24. Hear the story and history behind this historic theatre and movie house from the guilded age.

Buildings are designed with both form and function in mind, therefore, architecture can teach us about artistic, as well as practical trends. Changes in architectural styles of homes can reflect changes in lifestyle. Similarly, some historic structures fall out of use due to changes in economics and industrial trends. Architectural learning can also support placemaking as individuals gain a greater understanding of how their communities have developed over time. Several upcoming events in September and October will provide opportunities for individuals and families to learn about history through the lens of architectural structures.  Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Ruins Reveals Local History and Culture

Exploring Ruins Reveals Local History and Culture

Eyrie House Hotel

Scattered throughout western Massachusetts are remnants of the homes, industries, and culture of the past. Historic buildings line our downtown neighborhoods, stone walls crisscross the now forested hills, and old mill buildings have found new, modern uses. In addition to the still-visible, preserved and/or re-purposed signs of the past are a handful of ruins, speaking volumes about the human history surrounding both their creation and their eventual demise. By safely exploring the ruins of local fame, families can explore local history and culture as a microcosm of national history and culture. Additionally, explorations of such areas can illuminate the ways in which nature eventually reclaims land, no matter what has been placed in its way.  Read the rest of this entry »

Gingerbread Houses: Edible Architecture Brings Families Together

Gingerbread Build: Designers and Dreamers Create Edible Homes

Building a gingerbread house is a fantastic way to include creative folks of all ages in creating a delicious, well-engineered work of art, along with skills in architectural design, engineering, communication, and collaboration.

Is there anything better than the sound of children happily discussing whether gumdrops or gummy bears make for better foliage in a confectionery garden? Grown-up architects debating the merits of Lifesavers vs. melted lollipops to convey gothic stained glass? The hum of conversation and laughter as designers of all ages bring their inspiration and creativity to bear on gingerbread walls and roofing material and piles of buttercream mortar?

It’s time again for one of the best-loved holiday traditions ‘round these parts: Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Gingerbread Build!  This year it takes place on Saturday, December 5th, 2015, from 1-4 pm at the Eastworks building in Easthampton, MA. Read the rest of this entry »

Greenfield: A Town with an Innovative Past, Present and Future

Take an educational trip right into Greenfield’s innovative past, present and future

Taken from the upper story front porch of the Grand Trunk Hotel in Turners Falls, this image shows the trolley near Second Street and Avenue A (c.1890), an example of trolly use in the Pioneer Valley. – Courtesy Image.

The Pioneer Valley Institute is offering a day tour of the highlights of Greenfield on Saturday, June 7: “Spring into Greenfield: A Trolley Ride Through our Town’s History and Architecture.” The town’s trolley bus will be the mode of transportation for the day, and is a reminder of the active trolley system available 100 years ago throughout the Connecticut River Valley.

Greenfield, its buildings, its industries, and farmland, offers a complex story. This hub town for Franklin County is the site of fine examples of architectural design, of industrial innovation, and of current efforts to retrofit Greenfield’s fine older buildings to conserve energy for the coming decades. Greenfield was a crossroads for train freight service and will soon see restored passenger service. Waterpower and fine farmland attracted early settlers and investors, and innovators and businesses continue to recognize opportunities in the town.

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UMass Exhibition Examines Changes in Historical American Landscapes

A Genius for Place: American Landscape of the Country Place Era
A Panel Exhibition from the Library of American Landscape History

The UMass Amherst Libraries are hosting a traveling exhibition called “A Genius For Place,” on view now through May 10th, 2014.  Organized by the Library of American Landscape History (LALH), the exhibition illustrates and analyzes the chronological development of North American landscape design throughout the “Country Place Era,” or the period of time (1890 to 1930) between the Gilded Age through the end of the Great Depression.  During that time, many wealthy American families, convinced that their hectic, crowded, and unclean city lives required periodic retreats to the fresh air and far-ranging vistas of the countryside for renewal and recovery, erected country “cottages” (some of which were more extravagant than the average mansion today).  Of course, these homes were not complete without elegantly sculpted garden paths, man-made reflecting pools, outdoor courtyards, and a spectacular view to top off the experience of nature-filled country life.  Landscape architects creating the perfect outdoor environments for their clients employed a wide range of techniques, structures, and both modern and historical iconography in their designs.  It was a transitional moment, both for the country as a whole and for the practice of landscape design.

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Robin Karson, founding director of LALH, sees the Country Place Era as a significant time in the history of American landscape architecture: balancing on the cusp of the twentieth century, still weighted with the ideas and traditions of bygone years.  One such was the notion of the genius loci, or the “spirit of the place.”  While in some cultures this spirit takes the form of a protective, guardian-like presence, Western cultures more commonly use the phrase “spirit of the place” to refer to a site’s distinctive energy or aura.  In her book A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era, Karson suggests that landscape architects during this time were guided by the genius loci to preserve the natural beauty and quirks of the original landscape while injecting more modern, experimental architectural elements into their designs… Read the rest of this entry »

Baking and Architecture Meet Literature in the Berkshires

Lenox Library’s 7th Annual Gingerbread House Competition: Storybook House

Families, groups and individuals are invited to participate! Click on the image to download poster. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Think of your favorite book. Now imagine the house that you think the characters from that book might have lived. Now, imagine that house is made out of gingerbread.

You just designed an entry for the Lenox Library’s gingerbread house contest!

This year’s theme is “Storybook House”- entries can be anything from a traditional gingerbread house a-la Hansel and Gretel to a delicious gingerbread Hogwarts! There will be prizes for many different categories, and after the entries are judged they will be auctioned off to raise money for the library and its programs. This is a great opportunity to practice basic architectural (and baking) skills and exercise your creativity! Deadline to enter is Nov. 16th. More information is available at www.lenoxlib.org.

Design Studies with “Beyond this Window” at D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield

Design Studies at Springfield Museums’
D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts with
Beyond this Window: Paintings by Briana Taylor
on view through Jan 8th, 2012

Taylor’s paintings document the seemingly insignificant architectural details and reflected light that often go unnoticed in ordinary objects. By recording the aesthetic properties – such as shape, form, light and shadow, color and depth – of these everyday artifacts, she preserves images of contemporary material culture.

Paintings by local artist Briana Taylor are currently on display at the Springfield Museums’ D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.  The subjects of Taylor’s paintings include everyday objects such as glass jars, marbles, and painted surfaces, and her work focuses on properties such as light/shadow, shape, form, and depth.  The show portrays images of material culture and inspires visitors to consider the shape and function of everyday objects.

A visit to the exhibit, accompanied by some discussion of the work (and, for older kids, perhaps some comparisons to other pieces) can be used as a way to introduce children to the principles of architecture, art, and/or design.

For more information, as well as museum hours and admission information, visit www.springfieldmuseums.org.

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