January 26: Of Salad Dressing and Charitable Architecture

2016/01/26 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1925 Paul Newman was born.

Yes, that Paul Newman (d. 26 September 2008).  The actor with all the awards.  And the race cars.  And  the salad dressing.  And the awesome, wonderful, marvelous humanity.

In 1982, still about three decades before retiring from the silver screen, Newman founded his line of foodstuffs with the policy that all proceeds after taxes would be dedicated to charity; so far, that’s over $430 million and counting.  In 1988 he founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut for children fighting serious illnesses.  Now several camps operate year-round and serve an excess of 15,000 children every year, free of charge.

The camp’s idea is simple: host a typical, fun, messy camp experience full of horses and inner tubes, painting and hiking, marshmallows and campfires.  But doing that for children whose lives are conditioned by cancer or HIV/AIDS is not simple at all; designing a medically sophisticated environment that does not allow the threat of health issues to impose on the fun of camp was also no simple matter.  HRBA Architects managed the challenge of the project with buildings that serve serous technical, hygienic and medical needs without looking a smidge like a hospital. The dining hall, cabins, theatre and other structures blend a colorful vernacular approach with accessible classicism that is robust and playful rather than precious and scholarly.  All the buildings look like they are there to contribute to the fun, and screen the potential for medical intervention and treatment.  The little buildings above, color-coded for the different arts and crafts, are arranged around a grassy center that is a popular meeting place for group activities, and which does not at all look like it doubles as a landing pad for helicopters in case of medical emergency.

Critics sometimes discount architect Thomas Beeby for historical literalism, participation in the  suspect Post-Modernist movement, maybe most of all for appearing to have fun with his work and hoping that his buildings serve the twee purpose of making ordinary people happy.  In this project, he hit the pitch-perfect note in service of these kids, and to fulfill the vision of a remarkable philanthropist.

image: arts and crafts lodges at the Connecticut Camp (from this source)

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You are currently reading January 26: Of Salad Dressing and Charitable Architecture at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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