Wild Yonder

I just got back from camp. Oh, what a difference a day makes.

So my friend Meredith, and her two friends Heather and Kaitlyn, were talking awhile back about summer camp, and how great it was, and how someone should start one for adults. And, because they are the kind of people who make things happen, they did.

This, friends, is not just any camp. It’s not “glamping,” but it’s totally a camp with all the really good stuff you can get your hands on. Like, I stepped on the Bridge Bus, which made its first stop in Raleigh, and Kaitlyn introduced me around and I had a beer in my hand before I made it to my seat. A Cack-a-lacky from Fullsteam. “Hm,” I said. “This is better than the camp I remember.”

It was a good long ride out to camp, and we stopped and picked up people in Durham and Carrboro, and then we drove on to a farm out in Pittsboro. On the way, there was the traditional Assigning of the Nicknames. We had to go around and answer a series of questions, and the nickname was determined by consensus. The questions were, “What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had?” (Sears Tower Skydeck). “What’s your hidden talent?” (Honky Tonk.) “What’s the last vacation you took?” (Driving Route 66.) “What’s the worst trouble you’ve ever been in?” (I got pulled five times last year.) “What survival experience made you feel like a badass?” (Camping solo in a Maine Nor’Easter.)  I got done answering my questions and someone yelled out, “Miss Awesome!” and that made me feel like I fit in just fine at camp, although they circled around Honky Tonk and then landed on Nor’Easter. Which is a pretty great nickname.  Another guy got to the last question and said, and he was not even making it up, “Well, I was on the rescue team that helped bring the Apollo space mission home,” and the crowd got really quiet, and someone said, “Dude. You WON that question.”  So his name was Badass Apollo for the day.

Let’s see, after we arrived there was a nature walk.



It was on edible landscaping, and most of the stuff you can eat is really good for you.  Violets are heart healers; elderberry is antiviral; you can make pesto out of chickweed (which is great because it’s all over my yard); rosemary is good for memory; and you can make a relaxing tea from lemon balm.

I learned some things. And then we went inside and drank more beer while we did arts and crafts. This is fun, Sean from Fullsteam is an Eagle Scout. He wore his Boy Scout shirt and brought his plaque. And his derby cars. That is the Real Deal.


Arts and crafts was campfire sticks for later. Yeah. I put glitter on mine.


Then there was a  pretty fascinating session down in the kitchen, where we learned to make salves/balms/lotions from natural things, and seriously, you never smelled anything so good. That is, until you walked outside after that and they were making popcorn over the fire.


You could stand around eating popcorn with compound butter while you learned how to make infusions out of Covington vodka. And then we make cocktails. I TOLD YOU grown up camp is great.


There was a little free time, and then we made hobo packets for dinner. That’s Meredith, tending the fire. There was sausage from Rose’s Meat Market, with sauces made by the guys from Pie Pushers and Mateo.


Our campfire sticks looked pretty sweet, all in a row.


And night fell, and the mist rose.


And, yeah. That’s Django Haskins leading the campfire songs. I’ve been to some good campfire singalongs before, but when he opened with “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” I knew we were in for something special. And it was.

ImageI could go on: the homemade marshmallows and graham crackers and Videri chocolate for s’mores, and the sparklers, and how people passed around flasks of the good bourbon while we sang, and the nice things people said around the camp fire, and the frogs off in the distance, and how the crowd was just overall effortlessly amiable and interesting and welcoming. Happy campers, all.

I booked this camp day a few weeks ago, having no idea at the time how badly I’d need a day away from everything. I tend to do this thing were I say, “I should step out of my comfort zone! I’ll totally step out of my comfort zone and try something new!” and then I recruit eight or ten friends to do it with me, and it’s fun, but at no point does anyone have to step more than six inches out of their comfort zones when insulted with a crowd of friends eight or ten deep. I’m making a conscious effort these days not to do that every time. I adore my friends, each and every one of them, and I also know that, as someone who is inherently very very very very shy, at least when I’m out of my comfort zone, I need to show up sometimes under my own steam, without bubble wrap, and spend my new experience meeting new people and learning new things. It worked out great.

And so. Beautiful day in the woods, what with the nature and the fresh air and the good people and the amazing food and soul-stirring music and the arts and crafts and healing herbs and rising mist and all.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Even With A Killer To-Do List

It’s a mixed report here.

There has been studying. There has been testing. There has been basketball. There has been success. There has been failure.

The very worst part of the Architectural Registration Exam process is that it has turned me from (somewhat) normal Katherine, back into Grad School Katherine. Those are two very different people. Most of us have a default stress personality which is a flip-side, alter-ego, evil twin. My evil twin is prone to dangerous to-do lists, excessive scheduling, and powering through. My evil twin is driven and perfectionistic and scares the hell out of me, and it took me at least a couple of years after graduation in 2009 to calm her the hell down. In fact, I got a “Happy Anniversary” from WordPress the other day, for when I signed up to start a blog in early 2011. That, a year and a half after graduation, was an attempt to a) see whether I liked writing enough to do it consistently (I do) and b) hold myself accountable for getting out, exploring joyful and creative and interesting things which were not achievement-oriented, and having some fun again (I did.) I felt sort of normal and human again, pretty quickly after that.

But now I’m testing, and I can tell it’s making me crazy because my to-do list on the computer has gone from the basic weekly tasks, to a three-page word document including a million incremental steps for each task, which is attempting to control every moment of my time for the next month. I made myself stop at a month. That is at least some sign of humanity. I can also tell it’s making me crazy because I was in my office a week before my last test, and my throat suddenly hurt, and then I realized for about ten seconds I was not able to take a deep breath, and realized that although I’ve never had a panic attack, this is 100% how they start. So I stopped thinking about how I was going to fit 6 more exams in before June, and I got a cup of coffee, and I took two days off from studying.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Balance is Hiding

I feel a little better today.

Not because of the brutally cold winter rain taking place at the end of a brutally cold North Carolina winter, and not because the exam stress has let up; in fact, it’s gotten much worse, but I’m getting used to it. Getting up an hour early to study at my desk before work starts feels like a reasonable thing to do now, and racing home at 6 to walk the dog and study until bedtime has become more feasible, but only if I have managed to run a week’s worth of errands and make a week’s worth of meals and have a week’s worth of  work outfits ready to go during the weekend. It’s fine. It’s temporary. I hope it’s temporary.

I skimmed back over the last few posts, and wow! Someone is working through some serious architecture anger. It’s not the first time since the crash of the industry a few years back that anyone has expressed any disillusionment. It may not be the last. But the key is, I’m working through it. Fighting the process has only been making it worse, although I daresay embracing a really bad attitude has been enjoyable enough to make it more entertaining. For the record, there was a really fun post in the middle of all that, one which involved a Pie-Off and Secret Celebrity Judges and a huge party, and it was a smashing success for all concerned. About twenty-five people had pie hangovers for three days or so, but we survived to tell the story. And I DID tell the story, and I hit “publish,” and poof! Gone. It disappeared into the ether. Never to return. I was too tired to start again.

After the party, I picked up my books and studied some more. Did I say at one point I wasn’t even going bother talking about these tests? Oh, gentle readers, I hope you weren’t optimistic enough to fall for that. Sorry. It’s happening again.

The first exam was last Friday, and I was feeling very false-confident, fake-it-till-you-make-it about the whole thing. I put on a black leather jacket and confidence-building boots, and I went and got my nails done with the thought that, if I had to sit and type for four hours, at least I could steel myself with some reassuring Girl Armor. I chose the vampiest red they had (actually a color called Wocka Wocka, which was a big point in its favor) and then I had a very nervous lunch and downed a sixteen ounce coffee at Third Place, and went to take the exam.

Prometric Testing is not really concerned about making you feel like a Special Snowflake. In fact, you are made to feel accused and shady the whole time, and other than all of my motor vehicle infractions, I am not used to being particularly shady. It’s not pleasant. They made me take off my black leather jacket, leave it in a locker with my keys, sat me in a chair at the end of a row of people, and we scooted down one-by-one, musical chairs style, closer and closer to doom.  I wanted to turn to the guys on either side of me and say, “What are YOU in for?” but I was afraid that would get me extra monitoring from the testing staff.  When it was my turn, I was fingerprinted four times on a special keypad, security wanded, had to show that I had nothing hidden in my boots or pockets, and was told that I would be videotaped for the duration of the test.

After all of that, the test wasn’t that bad, except as soon as I sat down I got a sniffle and was afraid to ask for a kleenex, so I was just the most annoying person in the room until the break. The mandatory break was excruciating- they make you get up and leave for fifteen minutes, and you get fingerprinted and wanded again and turn your pockets inside out on the way in and out, then you sit back in the row of plastic chairs and stare at the clock until you go back in for the second half.

I finished an hour and a half early, and that included checking all of my answers and verifying every single measurement on the drawing section. I wasn’t sure whether that signaled disaster or success. But I passed.

The first one was probably the Least Pleasant exam of the seven, the most deadly dull and irritating. Partly because it was the first, and starting hard things is, well, a hard thing, but also because it’s all contract documents and liability and construction administration. That, in fact, was most of what I did at my last job. It’s possible that had something to do with my bad attitude about that particular test. The next two exams are probably the Most Interesting, and they deal with actual design issues. The drawing sections are getting more challenging, and there are a lot of ways to fail immediately. After that I have the Scariest, and then the Hardest of the seven, and then the last two are Highly Technical, and Highly Intimidating, and then I’m done. Unless I have re-takes.

Nobody cares about any of that. It is, in fact, all pretty deadly dull, but it will eventually be over and I can return to better things. Fletch would like that. He’s the only person who is less happy about the Architectural Registration Exam than I am. (See? See how I wrote that without cursing? Surely that represents progress?)


So, I believe I mentioned that I was earmarking the first quarter of this year for preparation and regrouping. I’ll have to say, cruising into March, that it’s been fairly successful.  I’ve eaten a lot of salads, started a novel, done some long-range planning at work, and done some unpleasant paperwork, from exam registration to taxes to paying off my credit card. I’ve been to the dentist, gotten contact lenses which actually allow me to see clearly, and gotten the full-body scan at the dermatologist I’ve been putting off for a year or two.  She removed two offending freckles on the spot and sent me to a plastic surgeon for the other one. I thought that was a bit extreme, until I saw the seriously impressive Frankenstein scar I have now, and I dreaded all of that but it’s checked off the list, too. I spent an hour and a half last weekend wrestling with software to convert iTunes so I could use them on my new phone- and now I have music, and therefore- ZOMBIES, RUN. I’m ready to start again.

In preparation for all my Zombies, Run missions, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga to try and get my knee where it needs to be for some easy running. I’ve been so frazzled and scattered I haven’t been very mindful in class, but just being in a quiet room for 90 minutes once or twice a week has been a big help. Just before the first test I had reached the point of anxiety at which my hair was tingling, which is probably not all that healthy. We were doing Dancer’s Pose, which involves holding your ankle and kicking back as hard as you can and reaching skyward with the other hand, until eventually you tilt forward and see your foot over the top of your head. It’s hard, and most people fall out a lot, because trying to pull your foot up over your head is not always a graceful maneuver.

The teacher was watching us fall out of the pose and get back in, and fall out immediately, and she reminded us that we should be kicking backwards with all our strength, while reaching forward with all of our strength, and that eventually we would even out.

“You’ll find the balance hiding in the tension,” she said.

It’s so easy to lose, and so hard to maintain, and she is so right.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Weight of My Not Caring Would Sink A Ship

Studying for my seven architectural registration exams is going great. Thanks for asking.


Fortunately, nobody I know is foolish enough to be asking, at least not more than once, because I want to think about this as little as humanly possible, pass each stupid exam by a point, move on with my life, and then never think about this again.

Yes. My attitude is poor. I taught school for a decade. I know a poor attitude when I see one. I know a counterproductive attitude when I see one. I won’t even go through the whole thing again, my disillusionment and financial angst at paying $250 to apply to START these tests, or the $210 I’ll have to shell out for the first one, and each of the six more after that. The $10 that almost broke me was the last $10, the fee to access the practice software for the test. You can access it for free if you have a 1980′s era computer, but if you have a modern-day, newfangled 64-bit computer? The testing board is not set up for that.  $10 please. You’ll have to use the cloud. Whatever the hell that means. I no longer care. I cried one single tear of rage, paid the software fee, and started studying.

The first few studying sessions did not go well, in that the angry black cloud over my head prevented any information from getting anywhere near it. The larger problem is that, after a 10 hour workday, arriving home at 6:15, trying to walk the dog, feed us both, and sit down by 7:30 and study, I have very little left in the way of mental or emotional resources. The lowest point so far was a couple of weeks ago when I took my study guides to Lily’s on a Saturday and thought I’d sit in a corner with a beer and a slice of pizza and enjoy some pale winter sunshine and pleasant background noise.  I was so miserable and frustrated and angry that I realized I was in danger of crying in public, and then that I was actually crying in public. It was very localized, and you wouldn’t have known it was happening except for the occasional removal of tears in a super subtle way and the fact that I was hiding behind my hair and staring intently at my book.

And then I felt stupid for feeling this defeated about taking a series of exams which are MY CHOICE, nobody is making me do this, nobody is even ASKING me to do this, and nobody but me will ever care if I DON’T do this. So I’m doing it, but nothing says I have to attempt any measure of grace about the process. After crying into my beer at Lily’s, though, I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself and decided I had to Cowboy Up. In fact, I bought a t-shirt. I wear it when I study.


“The only way out is through,” Julia told me the other day when I was in full-on rant mode.

“Not true,” I told her. “There is a really, really, really easy way out. It does not involve me taking any tests.”

I’m taking them. But not gracefully.

For my first test, the Whose Fault Is It exam, I’ve made it up to “mediocre” on my practice tests, so I think if I took it right now I’d pass, barely. I have a little more time. I’m finding that the most obnoxious part of the test format, so far, isn’t the deadly-dull content about contracts and litigation and spec writing. It’s that it’s so, so poorly written, deliberately obfuscating and with lots of tricky tricky little word puzzles. No educator would be allowed to use an assessment instrument this badly written, and as a former educator, I find it mean. I’M STILL DOING IT. Still without grace. I am at peace with that.

Yesterday, though, I flipped through the hundred-page architectural history review booklet. That, right there, is a test I would love to take. I’d love every minute of preparing for it. I wouldn’t have to prepare, though, because I aced Architectural History and a-plus aced World Architecture, and then I was a TA for both classes, and I loved it all over again. There isn’t an architectural history exam in this series of seven. They don’t even consider it important enough for an exam, they just throw a question or two into each of them to see who went to grad school. And to me, architectural history around the world is the whole point of architecture. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why people build what they build, how they inhabit the public realm, what matters about each culture enough that we carve it into stone, from the dawn of time up until right this minute. The history of architecture is the history of humanity, and that is why I did this.

There were a hundred pages of hand-illustrated buildings in that review booklet, from prehistory up through the most famous examples of modern architecture, and as I flipped through it, I realized at one point or another I had visited well over half of them. The Erectheion. Giza. Sagrada Familia. The Pantheon. Fallingwater. And I got chills thinking about what architecture does, when it is done well.

Ask me about the difference between a performance spec and a prescriptive spec. I can tell you. Ask me where the footings go in relation to the frost line. I can tell you. Ask me what type of insurance each party in a construction contract must carry. I do not care about any of that. But I can tell you.

Or. Ask me what it’s like to walk through Zanzibar’s Stone Town, with the buildings so close you can touch them on either side of you and it feels like a maze, especially if the undersea cable to the mainland is cut and you’re navigating by candlelight. It’s magic, and the hand of every culture that passed through it is visible, and it’s a beautiful urban space. Ask me what it’s like to climb Borobudur at sunrise. It’s terrifying, and the weight of what you feel radiating from it will knock you back a step or two, and then you reach the top and you’ve never experienced anything so peaceful as the sun rising over the valley mist.  Ask me what it feels like to stand inside the Farnsworth House, which makes no sense from the outside. It’s utterly connected to that beautiful little river, which you can’t see from any pictures of the house I’ve ever seen.  Ask me how people behave when they stumble from the narrow walled streets of Siena into the wide public space of Il Campo. They go a little bit wild, which is what happens when you give people procession, compression and expansion. It’s astounding to watch. Ask me what happens at dawn of the winter solstice at dawn inside Newgrange passage tomb outside of Dublin. I can’t tell you that for sure, because you have to win an annual lottery to get in, but on a regular day? You feel like a druid with powers to summon the return of the sun, its warmth, the cycle of new growth, and a return to spring.

Ask me what architecture means, and I could write a book about that.

Think I’ll take a few tests first.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yes. You’re All In It.

*peeks head around corner*

Oh! Hello. It’s been awhile. Long enough that I feel awkward, like I bumped into you in the grocery store when I just dashed out to get something embarrassing like toilet paper, and I haven’t washed my hair because it’s Sunday, and I still have half my pajamas on under my sweater. And then I do the nervous-talking thing, because that’s what you do when you run into people and you’re half in your pajamas, and you talk yourself into a hole and then everyone wants out of the conversation.

All of that is to say, I haven’t been writing much. More correctly, I have been writing quite a bit, just not right here. It’s not personal, and I’m doubting anyone has really noticed, anyway. But I write 40 hours a week now, and I like it and can you believe they pay me for it? Salary plus benefits, plus free coffee and a lovely view? But after an 8-6 day of writing, I’m cross-eyed and used up, sometimes. And I walk Dawg and get us both fed and then lately I sit down and study things like contract administration and architectural liability and specification codes, and I am so toxic about this examination process that I am trying to keep that contained over here and not unleash my vitriol about it all over the internet. Again. 

Abrupt subject change, I have been wrestling alligators all weekend. Not all weekend- some of it I spent on a chain gang, using a pickaxe to upturn rocks that were 3/4 of the way buried in hardscrabble dirt. Part of the weekend I was on a ship adrift in the Bermuda Triangle, wishing for wind, or celestial light by which to navigate. There might have been an albatross. I don’t know. At one point I was rock climbing with a heavy, heavy pack, and I was pretty sure I was going to plunge to my death, but I didn’t. When I needed a break I swam the English Channel and back.

All of that is to say, I had a lovely weekend. And I am slam exhausted, as if I had done any and all of the things above, and not just sat in a lovely place with a lovely view and typed, which is what actually happened.


I started a novel.

When last I dumped a great deal of awkward emotion upon you, I believe I mentioned that this was the only Life List goal to which I was willing to commit this year. I am proud and relieved to say, I have achieved it. Not the novel. The starting. The starting was terrifying.

The weekend, though, was exactly what I needed. If you’ve known me any length of time, you probably know exactly where I would go to start such an endeavor, and that’s where I went. It’s not a secret place, and it’s not my place, but I’m also not going to talk about it, because now it is my Special Occasion Writing Place, and I’m not sharing my little part of it. There was a river, and good coffee, and that’s all I wanted.

I don’t have any plans to get all precious about the process, really. I know that the best writers make space for writing in their everyday lives, and they do it consistently, and that’s how you get a book written. That, eventually, is what I will be doing. But I believe you have to start something important with at least a little bit of ceremony. The starting gun, the Nascar flag, the Opening Ceremonies, whatever. So I went, and found a river and enough solitude to sit quietly and gather some thoughts. 

I told Scarlett O’Hara what I was doing, because she goes all worst-case-scenario when you try to be evasive, and if I hadn’t told her she’d just have imagined something far more reckless and tragic than writing a novel. Her first question was, “AM I IN IT?” and my answer was, “Well, you are NOW.”

And, we have an opening scene.

Kidding. There was a lot of cursing after that, on my part, but after feeling unjustly accused and writer’s blocked and interfered with, I was able to issue a reminder that a novel is, by definition, FICTION. And that I would never, ever, ever be discussing it again.

And here I am discussing it, but only enough to say that, in my humble opinion as a professional writer, a phrase which I throw around a lot when I’m trying to prove that I Am Qualified To Do This, a good novel is about nobody, because it’s fiction. And it’s about everybody, because it’s no good at all if there isn’t something universal in it. Is anyone going to recognize themselves? No. Will it be recognizable as a story of its place, and of its time, and of its writer? Will the characters feel things all of us have felt, in some form? I surely hope so. 

So, you know, if you all want to go ahead and pick out your pseudonyms, and your favorite personality foibles, and exactly what it is you plan to be doing in this novel of mine, go ahead and shoot all of that my way. It will save me a hell of a lot of time, and will really speed this process along. Because I have no plot, no defined characters yet, no idea what exactly is to come; I do, however, have twenty intense pages of notes, themes, character fragments, and ideas. And some of it, unless I am mistaken, has potential. Some of it is good, even.

And that, gentle readers, is where I have to kind of set this all down for now, because I have seven fucking architecture exams for which I must study, starting with the Whose Fault Is It exam. But beyond all of that, I now at least feel like there’s something better, and it involves creating, and thinking about more important things than litigation and waterproofing and ventilation tests. It involves real life, although everything in this book will be made up, wrought from this little brain, typed out with these two little hands, and I hope parts of it are good.

I can’t remember when I’ve been more worn out. Night, y’all.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dance Party in the Bathtub

I had a meltdown in the bathtub on Saturday.

More correctly, I had a meltdown before we all got in the bathtub, and then a very small one during, and a couple more after that.

I’ll back up.


Saturday was Life List workshop with nine of my favorite people over in Durham.  Julia figured that January was a good time to get together and talk about our Life Lists, and a couple of people wanted to work on creating theirs.  We brought copies to pass around, and there were props and keynote speakers and a photo shoot.  We made a big chart on the wall of all of the items we’ve accomplished since we started our first lists on an epic weekend car trip back in 2010. Some things were really small. Some things were really big.  All of them are important.

Last year the Life List felt out of reach. I set it aside and focused on smaller things.  I checked off some big ones anyway, by surprise. Looking at the Life List again this year was fine.  Until we got to the part where we each had to talk about the 5 things we’re hoping to accomplish this year.

Meltdown #1.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Prospect and Refuge

Like a lot of people in Raleigh, I said goodbye to Sadlack’s this week.


I said goodbye a few times, actually.  On a random day last week it hit me out of nowhere that I absolutely, positively, right that minute, needed to have one last California Club.  It was only missing my friend Virginia, who always used to split those with me when we were working long hours at our desks across the street at the College of Design.  Sometimes we’d take turns running over to pick it up.  Sometimes we’d walk over together, swinging a wide loop past Global Village on the way to fuel up on coffee.  Sometimes, on rare occasions when nothing on our desks was on fire, we’d sit outside and eat for a minute. A stolen minute.

Sadlack’s closed for good on New Year’s Eve, and there was a band playing, and I wanted to be there for at least a little of that. Julia and I dropped off a car on the way to the evening’s events, and we had a cheap beer in a plastic cup before we went to dinner.  The crowd was full of people we’d seen onstage, people we know from hanging out on Raleigh patios and sidewalks, people we’d seen behind the counter, and people who need to feature prominently in someone’s novel.  It’s always been the kind of place where you’d see anybody.  Professors, drifters, college kids, downtowners on lunch break, hipsters, oldsters, and once, I swear, I shared a table with a zombie. Julia and I went though a litany of Sadlack’s memories over beers, while we read the scribbles on the walls which are about to come down.  Favorite shows, favorite bizarre conversations, favorite characters, favorite near-misses, favorite rainstorms. The time I got serenaded by a very nice crazy man who wanted to sing me a whoooooole ballad, line by line while I tried to pay my tab. The time Dawg ate a piece of gum off of the sidewalk, winning the all-time Grossest Thing championship.

Three of us peeled away from a nearby house party around eleven, just to stroll by one last time and hear a song or two.  The Backsliders were playing, and there were bunches of collards hanging from the ceiling.  The crowd was deep.  I never attempted to make it off the sidewalk, where I stood in a pile of PBR cans and leaned on a telephone pole while Julia and Willow wrestled their way into the bar.


And then it was over.  The music fizzled out around 11:15, and the crowd thinned, some, and we left all the handsome cowboys and drifters and music fans and professors and a little bit of everything else in Raleigh milling around the sidewalk.

I wasn’t, like, a Sadlack’s regular.  Not a weekly, or even a monthly patio person.  But when I needed Sadlack’s, it was there- during design reviews after sleepless nights, when I just wanted to go hear music on a patio in the sunshine, when I spent a few weeks unemployed this spring and nobody judged me for having a beer at noon on a Wednesday with Dawg.  When we had exactly 100 days left of graduate school, some of us took a long lunch and had beers before studio, and I climbed on the Sadlack’s wall and took this picture of people I love to mark the occasion:


This post isn’t really about everyone’s collective nostalgia over losing a great local hangout, though.  Buckle up. It’s about architecture and placemaking.  (Do you believe at one point I thought I was starting a blog to write about design? That did not pan out, and it is nobody’s loss.)  I went to a presentation a couple of months back about biophilic design, which is, in a nutshell, design that loves nature, and celebrates what people love about nature.  It’s kind of interesting, and it’s about more than just growing green walls or views of trees.  It’s about nature IN the space, and natural analogues, and the nature OF the space, all three. Nature in the space might be as simple as plants or fireplaces or a water feature; natural analogues might be a column which echoes a tree trunk like in an Aalto residence, or a complex fractal pattern in the tile, or something wave-like in the artwork.

The nature OF the space is the one that interested me most, though.


The nature OF the space, even if it’s not natural, per se, has a lot to do with how we feel about being there.  In particular, biophilic spaces offer prospect, refuge, mystery, and risk or peril.


Prospect, in architecture, is a place to stand and look out at a distant view, to watch the world go by, to watch the seasons change.  It doesn’t have to be from a great height.  Just a few steps up from the street is perfect, if it’s a pretty interesting street.  At Sadlacks, there were a few different levels, so you could pick your prospect.  You could slide right in from the parking lot at ground level, and as the sidewalk sloped down, you’d feel like you were up high sitting on the concrete wall.

Refuge is just as important.  Refuge offers you a place to sit and feel sheltered, a little bit enclosed.  The best is when you have prospect AND refuge at the same time.  Sadlack’s patio.  Sheltered under an awning and behind a concrete wall, with an atmosphere that’s just a little cave-like. It’s human nature to love that.


Mystery? Totally.  Physically speaking, there was nowhere at Sadlack’s that you could stand and see the rest of Sadlack’s.  From the patio you couldn’t see the inside and the barstools; from the barstools you couldn’t see who was down at the low picnic tables in the sun or hanging out on the corner, and you could never ever see into the kitchen.  The thing about mystery in architecture is that it’s enticing.  You want to peek around the corner to see what you’re missing, take a few steps up and see what’s happening on the patio, stroll inside and see who’s wandered in there.  Lots of little nooks and corners and places to squeeze into a seat, with sun for those who want it and shade for those who don’t.  You want to hang around and see what’s next.

Risk or peril? Tell me Sadlack’s didn’t have that in spades, in the very best way.  In architecture, risk or peril might be something like the glass observation box at the Sears Tower, where you can walk out and feel a little giddy and terrified even though you’re perfectly safe.  A view of danger, with no actual danger.  That little thrill that reminds us all that we are still very much alive, and that it’s a great thing. Sadlack’s always had the air that, hell, a fight might break out over darts, or the seriously sketchy guy who kept asking your age had put himself in grave danger by asking you one time too many and you might have to deck him and get yourself arrested, or you’d at the very least find something dirty written on the chalkboard wall.  You couldn’t consider it a sterile environment, socially speaking, and I’ve never enjoyed sterile environments much.  That element of anything-can-happen at Sadlack’s was so great because at the heart it WAS such a safe place- safe for every type of person who wandered in to take a seat, hang out on the patio, and be welcomed, from design students on up to every other kind of Raleighite you could name.

So that’s my two cents.  I’m not opposed to hotels, or even change, as a general principal.  And the people of Sadlack’s are worthy of every word that we could write about them, but this one isn’t just about the people.  It’s that, on this important corner at the crossroads of the Bell Tower and Cameron Village and downtown Raleigh, there was a really great place holding it down. It was a place everyone could use, a public place, a gathering place, and a welcoming place.  It’ll be torn down, and than corner will be occupied by something else: something designed for a handful of people, which isn’t likely to offer much to the people who walk past it every day, and isn’t likely to be a local landmark or make a mark on Raleigh’s culture or create memories for students or offer solace to someone who needs a quiet place to rest and have a cheap beer and a good sandwich.  It might not be a blank wall, exactly, but it’s probably not going to offer prospect, and refuge, and mystery, and peril to very many people. That spot needs some charm and character and placemaking.

We’ll see what happens. There will be other adventures, other great places, other gathering spots for a cross-section of humanity.

Pouring a little libation over here as we pause to reflect, though.  Out with the old, with all the respect it’s due, and may Sadlack’s continue to prosper and nourish people in its new home.

Happy New Year, y’all.  All good things ahead.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment