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Town Hall design doesn’t say ‘civic structure’

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

Reviewing images for the New Town Hall (in greater detail on the Chronicle website than in print), I am increasingly optimistic that the new town hall can ably fulfill its duty as Shepherdstown’s new civic seat.

A closer inspection of the King Street elevation, however, leaves one wondering how the architecture distinguishes itself as a civic building. Aside from the flagpole and the steel and glass canopy, this principal facade all too easily mimics the King Street face of the China

Kitchen and all of the secondary facades at the corners of Church and New streets.

In the presentation to win the contract to design the new town hall, architect Andy Singletary presented a compelling case for why the new town hall should remain on its existing site – an essential contribution to a thread of civic structures along King Street.

Aside from its place, the proposal does little to compliment that modest analysis. The stepped gable of the existing town hall does better than the proposed materials and massing in proclaiming its civic duty. That single gesture is, importantly, intricate with its mass – the stepped gable is not mere appliqu and it presents a serendipitous civic echo of the stepped gable of the library.

Susan Nash of the Historic Landmarks Commission notes that “A lot of thought has gone into materials.” Yet no such evidence of any real consideration is revealed, aside from the ease at which diktats have been plucked from inappropriate precedents within the 19th century vernacular architecture of the region.

The essence of this building’s mass and character needs revisiting. The architect and committee should “test” the current scheme with canopy and flag pole removed and be honest about what they see. (Indeed, these elements are easily removed and too easily deleted or weakened when the budget ax swings.)

During this exercise, if those involved in the design do not find themselves looking at an inappropriately modest facade – a secondary facade of an architecture which rings no civic notes – then they have dismissed or missed the subtle brilliance of the existing town hall,

rejecting it and the architect’s thoughtful urban analysis as their bellwether.

Richard Anderson

Blue Goose Lane