Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The House That Rouse Built

Yesterday we had a contractor come over to the house to look at doing something with our back patio area, which is a mess. For years I suffered the indignity of living with damp, muddy "indoor/outdoor" carpeting until I just lost my mind and ripped it all out. Underneath the cement was cracked and ugly from years of moisture. It was not the improvement I had hoped for.

As the contractor left I joked with him that over the years we have done so many repairs that eventually none of the original house will be left. We've replaced appliances, the furnace/ac system, the hot water heater, repainted most of the interior, put in all new floors downstairs, all new windows, a new kitchen, replaced almost everything plumbing-related, put on a new roof...

Is it Preservation? Restoration? Transformation? We're trying to keep up with an aging house that wasn't remarkably well-constructed in the first place. These houses went up in a hurry. The Rouse Company made agreements with only a few builders and they had carte blanche to throw up neighborhoods in the New American City. A friend who is an architect said to me privately, "most of what went up was a lot of crap."

If you live in a house of that era you know what I mean. You can love it all you want but you are constantly dealing with weird issues that stem back to its conception. The contractor who is helping us with back fence issues said to us that in many ways Columbia was built a bit too soon for the kinds of design it used--better construction materials came along in the following decades that would have looked better and held up longer over time.

C'est la vie. We love our perennial fixer-upper and we have enjoyed updating it in ways that make it more like "us." The fact that it's so small means that the updates are smaller in cost than on a larger house. And that's got to be a good thing.

Our house, our neighborhood, our village, our Columbia--a product of their time. Proof of someone with a great vision and yet evidence of flaws that are ongoing. So my view of Columbia is not that our task is to be preserving perfection. We're clearly not perfect.

Our relationship with our community should be like my relationship with my house: ongoing, with all the love, frustration, hard work, and transformation it requires.





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