Architect views old local buildings as saveable

My work in Rockford and the support of my co-workers at Bradley & Bradley Architects & Engineers has mostly shaped my association with the community. My education at the School of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis first cultivated my identity as both an expressive individual and a socially responsible citizen. From the first day of Bob Hansman’s Arch 111: Introduction to Design Processes I class, I was challenged to incorporate the cultural and social dimensions of architecture and the built environment.

An architect is hired to create shelter, a basic human need, and it is up to the architect to shape the physical world using the careful composition of light, color, and materials to create a unique experience for the user. More significantly, as I began to learn in school, the architect is not only a designer, but also an agent of change and a leader with the potential to shape the future of our world, improving and enriching the environments in which people interact.

Unlike other professions, an architect has the immediate satisfaction of seeing how ideas come to life through buildings and master plans that affect how people live and work; this profound realization challenges the architect to use their skills in a positive way by reaching out to the community in which we live.

An architect must build responsibly and act responsibly as a citizen of the larger world, shifting the focus from the individual building to its impact on the entire community. My professors, through their own practice, showed that architects lend time, talent, and specific knowledge to civic and non-profit groups that seek out ways to improve the quality of life in the community.

This is why, upon graduation, I became active in the River District, first as a member, then board member and chair of the Preservation Committee, and now as an officer. The framework study presented by the River District has identified catalytic areas of development that could spur additional development.

Several buildings in these particular areas have been featured in the media recently, including the Elks Club, Amerock, Tapco, Armory, Reed-Chatwood, and Ingersol. These extraordinary buildings, which have become part of our collective memory due to their good design, quality materials, and excellent craftsmanship, have all sat vacant for many years, precariously waiting for a responsible architect and developer to give them new life.

The rehabilitation possibilities are limited only to one’s imagination. With some imagination and TLC, these buildings can become jewels on par with the Coronado Theatre, and downtown can be a lively 24/7 community, rather than a 9 to 5 area. There are other numerous vacant buildings and warehouses in the Rock River Valley that could become the building stock of future developments. Due to development realities, not every building can or should be saved.

No building, neighborhood or city can be revitalized overnight, and this is exactly what keeps me active in the Rock River Valley. My education was just the beginning of what I hope to be a lifelong commitment to using design as a positive basis to change communities and lives.

Alicia DiBenedetto is an intern architect at Bradley & Bradley Architects & Engineers, PC in Rockford.

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