Last month we participated in “Woodlawn 2.0”, a design forum held at the Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth Maine. The subject of the design forum was the imaginary renovation of the Black House, which is the central feature of Woodlawn. In fact “Woodlawn” was the name given to the property on which the Black family built their home. Mr. Black was a lumber baron. He knew George Washington. The house he built in Ellsworth has columns in the front.
Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to imagine getting hired by a contemporary Mr. and Mrs. Black. They would be an older, affluent couple planning on living in the Black House. Of course, when the Black House was built, the kitchen was in the servant’s wing. There were seven fire places and one bathroom. What would the Blacks ask of their architect to turn the house into a home for modern living?
It’s a good question, how to renovate older homes with outdated, obsolete or even missing contemporary amenities. We saw this project a bit differently. Why would somebody choose to renovate a museum? Would someone who wanted to own the Black House as their residence actually renovate the museum? Isn’t there something slightly unethical about this?
We thought so.
Our response was to create in Mrs. Black a credible fiction: She is Claudia, the young runaway from “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”. In Claudia Kincaid we found our perfect foil: a girl with adventure, who loved art, who had in fact lived in a museum, if only for a week. What has she done since middle school? She has become affluent enough to buy the Black House and have it as her own, personal museum.
What would she ask of us? To keep the Black House intact; do not change a thing. Rather, add a place for her to live, loft style, while she creates sculpture of her own. The original Black family built Woodlawn to showcase their cultural street cred. She would resurrect the Black House as a place of art and culture. Most importantly she would preserve the past, while adding to it. Her goal is to let the Black House continue its trajectory far into the future. It was once a residence, it then became a museum. It will again be a residence, but will again become a museum. In this way, we saw our project as Woodlawn 3.0.