Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s Cascadia Weekly “On The Level” Column; Published 10-31-07

Last weekend I did something so very strange in Paradise: there I spread the ashes of my best friend, Michael King.  He had asked that, upon his death, Deb, his widow, would join me in depositing his ashes in Paradise, a very special place within Mt. Rainier National Park.  Deb and Michael spent their honeymoon there; Michael and I spent many an alpine adventure there.

We followed Michael’s wishes but we couldn’t get as high as we had hoped for because the road was closed at the existing visitor center.  You may have been there: it’s the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center – the round one that looks like a flying saucer!  Built in 1966, it’s slated for demolition next year.  In its stead there’s a new and improved visitor center being built next to the historic Paradise Inn.  Hence, the access road to the Inn and new visitor center is closed to the public.

My weekend there was appropriately focused upon our loss, and celebration, of a dear friend.  For years Michael was my mountaineering partner; for years he was a WWU mental health counselor and clinical director.

Something was eating at me upon my return to town, and as Michael’s memories transitioned to my here-and-now, it struck me how ludicrous it is that this 41 year old visitor center is going to be torn down.  In a national park; a land set aside in perpetuity; a building that won’t even reach its 42nd birthday.

Yes, conditions are extreme at 5,400 feet.  Buildings, and everything else, get hammered.  But we know better how to build for perpetuity; we knew better.  We can do better; we should have done better.

We must do better.

So the new visitor center is touted to be ‘much smaller and significantly more sustainable’, characteristics completely aligned with my hopes for all of our structures and things; yours and mine.  Much smaller and significantly more sustainable.  The monies we save by building small can be focused, instead, upon energy efficiency and a long life cycle.  Buildings and things aligned with perpetuity.  Quality, not quantity.

So much of the work A-1 Builders does would be unnecessary had things been well built. As obsolete as the visitor center are relatively young homes we work on that already need repair or replacement for similar reasons: poor design; poor workmanship; reaching for more square footage instead of quality space; minimum cost………….

Structures can be built to last forever, so long as the components that have a finite life are maintained and replaced as needed.  Yes, to do so – to afford this — means that we need to build small.  To do so means to challenge the American Dream that has gotten us to this place of planned obsolescence: big lots, big homes (or 2), big cars (or 3)….. gobble and rebuild; gobble and repair. Gobble, gobble……..

I wish I could find a polite way to say this but I can’t so I won’t.

The American Dream has become our Global Nightmare.  Somehow we need to wake up the dreamer and change the dream before historic landmarks, our homes and our economy collapse around us.

If we as a species are to remain in perpetuity, our built environment needs to achieve a new and improved dream that is founded upon ‘much smaller and significantly more sustainable’.

I ask you to create the future, don’t consume it.

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