On the quality of design

Ever since the building boom of the 1920s and the subsequent depression of the 1930s, Rockford’s quest for quality architecture has never quite recovered. For the last 70 years, “Economy” has always been the password for constructing any type of building in our community. Creative and imaginative design has sounded too expensive and something that was not affordable. Unfortunately for the community, that type of attitude and thinking has led us to mediocrity and uninspired buildings. That “keep it cheap” thinking has resulted in the community having an inferiority complex about itself and has now resulted in disinvestment in our community.

Good, quality, design is a hallmark of successful and progressive communities. The building boom of the 1990s was the era of big boxes moving into our community. They also provided the same curb appeal of a box. They have not enriched our community, nor has it been their purpose to do so with their architectural design. Our newest office structures are also one-story boxes with little or no design. Local developers have not seen the value in creating outstanding architectural design.

If Rockford is to pull itself out of a malaise of mediocrity, it must look at itself and its approach to architectural design. We have a great opportunity downtown in the River District to create a new image for our community. With the advent of the new federal courthouse, and the new Justice Center, we have a grand opportunity to shape and mold the future impressions of our community. There are also many other projects on the horizon, such as the Burpee and the Discovery Center expansions, and other riverfront improvement projects. All of these projects need to have creative and exciting designs that push the envelope of design. They need to be inspiring and progressive in their appearance. We need to focus our efforts especially along the river, which is our community’s greatest asset.

Outstanding architectural design can be utilized to power the imagination, to uplift and excite our citizens. If we fail to do so, our community’s future is at risk. The lack of risk taking in our architecture has left us uninspired and wanting change.

If we are to create a new future for our community we need to re-establish our sense of community, pride and that pride can come from its architecture. We must demand from developers and our public bodies only the very best of design. We must be willing to accept and pay for good design. The cost of good design is minimal compared to the cost of mediocrity. Our community leaders must be willing to step up and demand the same thing. I believe there is a ground swell of support to make a change for our community and that change revolves around requesting and demanding better design that can wow and inspire our community.

Gary Anderson is owner of Gary W. Anderson & Associates Inc. Architects in Rockford.

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