Q: You were an architect in New York City for years. Do your experiences in that field find their way into In this Rain?Read the entire Q & A.
A: Absolutely. The physical fabric of the city is important to me, and endlessly fascinating. I tried to make In this Rain as rich in New York's sensory impressions as I could.
Q: Well, it's very rich. Anything specific?
A: Yes: an astounding encounter I had with members of the local community when my firm was working on an addition to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, years ago. The original building was a red-brick classical structure of the kind New York built for schools at the turn of the last century. We thought it was a handsome building, though it needed repair, and we planned a harmonious addition, respectful of the original and of the surrounding built context -- also red brick, tall windows, sloped roof, that sort of thing. The public agency client had us present the proposed design to community representatives.
They hated it.
They told us they thought the original building was a witch's castle and they didn't want any more of that: they wanted glass, steel, openness, a building that would tell their kids they were welcome in the 21st century. I was blown away: these people -- bus drivers and nurse's aides -- were reading architecture. They were taking meaning from design without any education in how that's done. And the meaning they were taking was different from what we'd intended. That taught me that one of the things we'd been told in architecture school was true: buildings speak in very powerful voices. And that another wasn't: a person has to be taught the language they speak in order to understand them.
The Page 69 Test: In this Rain.