Historical Society’s New Exhibit Looks Forward — Not Back

Since 1889, the Westport Historical Society has focused on our town’s past.

From now through the end of 2017, it’s looking ahead.

Specifically, to 2067.

06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” is not as outlandish as it seems. The Historical Society’s exhibit — local architects’ ideas about this place, half a century from now — includes intriguing aspects, like what we’ll do with parking lots once we move around in driverless cars.

This contribution — from Roger Ferris + Partners — focuses on the Saugatuck River. In the future, it could be a unifying element between the east and west banks. New buildings, parks and community features will be constructed on both sides — and the river itself will be revitalized.

But there are some back-to-the-future elements too. One contribution, for example, envisions neighborhoods filled with clustered housing, walking paths, open space and farms providing much of the food — a way of life that Westporters centuries ago might recognize.

The intriguing exhibit had its genesis last year. Andrew Bentley — a member of the WHS advisory board, and a man committed as much to the future as the past — wondered what would happen if the organization cast its eye beyond old houses, toward new ones.

The WHS asked 40 architects who live or work in Westport to submit ideas about what this place will look like 50 years from now.

Andrew Bentley

Bentley chose 50 years because it is the Goldlilocks of futurism. Ten years from now, we’ll still have single family Colonial homes. A hundred years may bring Jetsons-style stuff.

Five decades, Bentley says, is “the sweet spot. Architects can release their inhibitions, without being crazy.”

More than a dozen responded. The request was open-ended — and so are the concepts.

Mounted on the WHS walls, they range from a full town plan, to a school design, to new street lamps.

They include a beautiful S-shaped pavilion and park behind Main Street, in space freed up by new modes of transportation. There’s a high-speed ferry terminal, linking the Saugatuck River with New York.

Homes may be made of innovative materials. One way to avoid teardowns is building houses using modular pieces, like Legos. Instead of demolishing entire structures, they could be modernized by replacing outmoded parts.

Some projections are practical. Others are fanciful. All are worth seeing.

Architect Robert Cohen drew this bridge. He foresees it linking 2 Coleytown gems: the Newman Poses Preserve and Blau Gardens.

Each contributor has been invited to present an hour-long “brown bag talk” about their visions, with Q-and-As to follow. They’ll be scheduled weekly, throughout the fall.

Bentley hopes that the exhibit spurs attendees into thinking about what Westport can be.

At the same time, he says, it will help us appreciate the talents and visions of the architects currently living and working here.

This is a very intriguing and enterprising project.

And perhaps — say, 50 years from now — the Westport Historical Society can revisit it, with a retrospective of what the town thought 2067 might look like, way back in that crazy year of 2017.

(The “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” opening reception is this Friday, September 22, 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 31. For more information, click here.)

18 responses to “Historical Society’s New Exhibit Looks Forward — Not Back

  1. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Looks to me like more of a revenue generating project for architects, developers and contractors. Leave the river alone, please. They have “reverse engineering”. Why not “reverse architecting.”

  2. I love the passion but am a little uncertain how closely this exhibit meshes with the Westport Historical Society’s mission to “celebrate” Westport’s history. At a time when what’s left of our historic resources are under tremendous pressure, I’d love to see the Society revisit the decision it made back in the 1990’s to suspend its involvement in direct preservation advocacy.

  3. OMG!

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    You can’t have much of a future if you have little regard for the past.

  5. Bonnie Bradley

    Hmm… The inference seems to be that “once we move around in driverless cars” we won’t have to worry about parking because… On reaching our destination we will exit the vehicle and it will take off alone to find a distant parking lot all by itself? And what if each car takes up three spaces to fend off other driverless cars which might ding its doors? Curses! More parking lots needed…

    • Robotic parking elevators have existed for the car-obsessed for years.
      Doubtful that Westport would consider such an eye-sore-high-rise, since a subterranean option would be increasingly damp — like a brown bag lunch.

  6. Hopefully, the architects and developers have calculated the sea level rise over the next 50+ years.

  7. There was a very interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times (Sunday Review, page 4) entitled “The Suburb of the Future” discussing how technology, revolutionary design and planning can transform suburban living. It noted how a profound change of vision for the future is so close to being achievable. Kudos to the Historical Society and to Andrew Bentley for being ahead of the curve.

    • Yes, an interesting article. But, what’s an “exurb”?
      Who can afford to live in a city, suburb or “exurb” today? How do they afford their “vacation homes” as well? Poor kids.

  8. I’m glad I won’t be here to see this.

  9. Jeanine Esposito

    I love this project! I’m perplexed by the negative responses to seeing creative ideas. These are not plans being put before the P&Z for approval –
    rather a way that presents creative ideas, visions and possibilities as a catalyst for discussion and further imaginings. There will be a future Westport 50 years from now and we should certainly be open to imagining what that could be in a way that is creative and fun. Thanks, Andy, for doing this!

    • I have no issues, generally, with creative thinking. I just don’t understand how this initiative fits with WHS’s stated mission. I’m also troubled by the exhibit’s implicit message that non-renewable historic resources hold little value. There are five historic districts in the downtown area. Does the Westport Historical Society endorse their destruction to make way for an orgy of concrete and cluster housing?

  10. Seems to me that the Historic Society has attempted an ambitious and highly laudable endeavor- and I can’t believe they of all groups would be blind to our historic imperatives. Of course there will be ideas people think ridiculous, but with out dreams to challenge you, we all lose the possibility for wonderful new solutions. The iconic and trans-formative Sidney Opera House was born of a rejected pencil sketch from a Scandinavian architect…..

  11. To have “no issues with creative thinking” but then to offhandedly characterize the concepts in this project as an orgy of concrete and cluster housing does not exactly reflect an open mind. The WHS should be congratulated on this effort. Change is inevitable and there is indeed room for both preserving what is of historical significance and evaluating new ideas and concepts that will benefit Westport and its residents.