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Ken’s View: Hats To Make A Comeback

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Great news. Hats are making a comeback. How do I know this? Because as an editor, it’s my job to have my finger on the pulse of many things. Also, because someone sent me an email saying hats were going to be big, so it must be true. Somehow this person deduced that architects, building owners, and contractors would have a keen interest in headgear.

Now, I don’t doubt that some of you out there are wont to cover your noggins with some sort of chapeau from time to time, but the occasional hard hat aside, I don’t know that headwear is much of a professional concern. I mean, I’ve heard of fishermen’s hats, cowboy hats, and the like, but never an architect’s hat, much less headwear specifically for a building owner or a contractor—save for the aforementioned hard hat, of course.

On the other hand, if hats are to make a comeback, perhaps those who plan and manage buildings should include some thought of what to do with all those hats belonging to those who visit or inhabit their buildings. Custom, perhaps long lost, tells men that they should not wear hats indoors. It is impolite. Women of the day were exempt from that dictum. Well, that’s something we’ll have to sort out if hats come back in a big way. Nothing is simple.

Anyway, hat storage in buildings could become a big issue, depending on the type of hat that makes a comeback. Will they be crushable little numbers you can stuff into a pocket or purse, or will they be the structured fedoras and Stetsons of yesterday’s men’s fashion? But think about it. Indoor storage for outerwear in most public places is spotty or indifferent at best. Coat racks are generally inadequate, although some upscale restaurants may still offer to take your wrap–for a fee. Otherwise, figure it out for yourself.

By the way, does anyone remember cloakrooms? They were narrow rooms in which you could stash your outer gear. We had them in the elementary school I went to, and we never thought it strange that they were called cloakrooms, even though no one we knew wore a cloak.

I’m rambling on about fashion accessories only to point out that what’s old sometime becomes new again. That’s certainly the theme of this month’s feature about renovation and adaptive reuse. At one point in our history we had a mania for making everything modern and either demolished or covered up architectural treasures. At least many see them as treasures today. Then, they were just ugly and old fashioned. Old fashioned was once the kiss of death for many a building.

Nevertheless, buildings have been adaptively reused for centuries, perhaps as long as there have been buildings. It brings to mind Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, in which he chronicles how buildings adapt to changing requirements. Buildings, he says, begin changing as soon as the first occupants move in.

In that sense, there’s nothing new to see here. Yet, where change—and adaptive reuse—once seemed to have more to do with making do with what one had, a case of economic expediency, the new attitude seems to embrace adaptively reusing buildings for their own sake. Because older buildings are interesting. Because they reflect history, give a sense of continuity, and contain details that often cannot be replicated because of cost or simply because the trades that created them have been lost.

Happily, restoring old buildings and putting them to new uses seems to make more economic sense these days. Developers see a lucrative market and the justification in going to considerable lengths to preserve what is attractive to would-be tenants.

It often requires a good bit of imagination, however. Take banks, for example. We don’t have banks any longer, at least not the big marble, terrazzo, and brass edifices of yesterday. Well, hardly any. Most have been abandoned for a plywood-and-laminate counter in a supermarket. What do you do with that massive vault in the basement? Dragging it up the stairs is clearly out of the question.

Or consider train stations. Generally big and grand and suited mainly for trains and large crowds, the one in Omaha sat vacant for nearly 40 years. Given the damage that time and weather had wrought, it’s remarkable that a TV station repurposed it for its studios.

So, even if the hat renaissance turns out to be a big flop, at least we have the satisfaction that a bit of architectural heritage is being preserved in cities and towns across the country. – Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

Mar/Apr 2020 Digital Issue

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