Perfect Imperfections

In a time when building codes and construction methods produce buildings that are perfectly level, plumb and square, I miss the comfortable imperfections of the past. It’s not that I’m knocking today’s construction, but I find it hard to imagine that in a hundred years buildings will have the same character as historical buildings do now. Will they still be as perfect then as they are now? Will future generations look fondly at steel beams, corrugated decking and concrete as I do about the imperfect features of today’s older buildings? The wood stairs, that are worn to a curve by every shoe that had climbed it. The rail that is burnished to a fine patina. The inviting warmth of small spaces and low ceilings. The totally impractical undulations of floors affected by the settling of foundations and less than adequate framing.

The other day I was in a new cheese shop made to look like a deli. Everything about it was perfect, from the engineered wood floor, to the casework, to the white drywall ceiling. I couldn’t help but remember the grocery store my mother shopped at when I was a kid– it couldn’t be more different. The wooden floors creaked at every step, the wood display shelves were dark and worn, and the best part was the mammoth maple-cutting table and sawdust-speckled floor of the butchery.

These things mimic the imperfections of nature and add a certain feeling. Perhaps I am showing my age and feeling nostalgic, but I have always been fascinated by older buildings such as barns, post and beam factories. Any structure that wears its memories in the senses of the observer. Any visitor to the Tocci headquarters in Woburn might have an idea of what I’m talking about. From the swayback roof to the worn brick and timber façade that seems to evoke an almost fantasy like edifice. The interior with its signature tile, exposed beams and time worn, floor that moves and creaks with every step. It is certainly not perfect, and some may find annoying, but to me it has life and a story.

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