"The quality of our joinery"

I came away from the Thursday morning session on “The City of Continuity: New Urbanism and Historic Preservation” with a lot of interesting ideas. But my favorite phrase was from Ann Daigle, who’s working with the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to help train a new generation in the traditional skilled building crafts to help rebuild New Orleans. So much depends, she said, on “the quality of our joinery.”

Now at one level joinery is fine carpentry, and as a specific trade, carpentry is included in the training program, which is intended to “build the capacity to build.” But at another level, joinery is about connection more broadly: traditional architecture connected to the place where it developed, in terms of both cultural and environmental factors; skilled tradespeople connected to the work they do, and able to put the pieces together, whether by executing fine molded plaster ceiling medallions or doing the grittier, dustier work of lead abatement.

Ann had lots of pictures of her New Orleans apprentices, in class from 8 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. six days a week, studying the city, learning to understand the structure of lots and blocks, capturing patterns of architectural detail in their notebooks, and wrangling with geometry, as taught by British architect Jon Allen. The apprentices even had a course in life drawing, with a nude model.

Her report was an encouraging word from New Orleans, where the need remains so great. And reviving traditional building crafts seems like such a promising way to create satisfying employment for young people, especially, who need to find a way to make a substantial contribution in a global economy.



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