[OPINION] Time To Rethink Architecture, Design Choices

Longtime Westporter and alert “06880” reader Elisabeth Keane keeps a sharp eye on this town. She’s not pleased.

Elisabeth writes:

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at Bridge Square. The formerly charming historic waterfront has turned into absurd “farm-style” buildings. Yellow and green paint, and tin roofs and windows befit the “style du jour” architecture. (Most builders and architects are on the same design page, in the same design book.*) It is ugly and inappropriate.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

How did this type of  renovation (certainly not an improvement) get past avoid the town’s guidelines?  Yikes.

Are there any architectural guidelines for Westport?  The architectural charm of Westport is being devastated.

They ruined Sconset Square too, which used to be charming and New England-y. Now it resembles just another somewhat upscale strip mall, with tin roofs and black-appearing windows. I know it is still under construction but…

Sconset Square (Photo/Dan Woog)

Not to mention the sketch I saw of the the former Westport Inn (aka Delamar Westport).

At this rate, I don’t have high hopes for rejuvenating Main Street either. I think those uninspired strings of lights along both sides of Main Street more closely resemble the rows of lights strung up for a week above street fairs in the city. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for me those undistinguished strings of lights do not convey any artistic, unusual or thoughtful way to light our Main Street, in this still artistic and talented town. Did anybody consult a resident or local lighting professional (perhaps theatre or movie lighting) for advice?

Then there’s the chain link fence at Veterans Green. Seriously? One  might want to have that special place accessible.

Speaking of Myrtle Avenue: Whoever will be doing it better be very careful restoring Town Hall, and not messing up the exterior or interior.

And speaking of interiors: I hope the current interior decorating fad in public buildings will fade soon. Restaurants for some perverse reason seem to follow along lamely, with hard surfaces everywhere. The noise level is through the roof. Sound reverb requires everyone to speak LOUDLY. Seating is hard, not comfortable. The high bar stools are not for everybody — maybe in a corner of a bar, but not in a restaurant.

Restaurant ambiance is more than the food; it involves comfortable seating, and conversing in a normal tone, not yelling as at a sporting event.

*Design book: Look at all the houses built c. 2003-2005-ish, with faux Palladian windows. Is there really only one architectural design book? It’s cheaper that way, and it shows. I can only imagine what our most skilled and creative architects must think as they see these things…

16 responses to “[OPINION] Time To Rethink Architecture, Design Choices

  1. This architect is certainly entitled to her opinion. I think Bridge Square was a bit grimy and needed to be spruced up. Sconset Square looks beautiful and inviting. In fact, a few of my out of town friends have said what a lovely place it and most of downtown is to shop and dine. To say “they ruined it” is a bit harsh….has she offered her services to the town, I wonder?

  2. Carl A. Swanson '66

    As Kubrick once said, “ask 100 questions, the answer to 99 of them is money.” Herb Baldwin turning in his grave.

  3. Virginia Bolla

    Could the RTM be causing this? And the black building where save the children used to be

  4. Matthew Mandell

    RTM? That body has nothing to do with architecture or design. The ARB, Architecture Review Board does, and they actually have sent Bridge Square back to the drawing board because they didn’t like what they were seeing there .

  5. I disagree with this opinion! Change can be difficult for some to accept but renovation of buildings that were in disrepair, dilapidated and disjointed is good for Westport. I’ve lived here 60 plus years and have lived walking distance to downtown for the last 11 years, in fact we walk through town and around the Saugatuck River once or twice each day and marvel at the improvements! I think downtown and Saugatuck feel fresh and vibrant and as though they are coming back to life, ready to great all the new young people and families who have recently moved here. I do have fond memories of the downtown of my childhood, streets crowded with people going to the Remarkable Bookshop, Klein’s, Max’s, Ships, Country Gal, the movie theater. I don’t remember any of these buildings for their architectural beauty, (accept maybe the Remarkable), I remember the vibrancy of a downtown filled with other people! I’m thankful for all the new younger people bringing their vision and renovating Westport for the the present and the future!

  6. Tracy Porosoff

    I respect Ms. Krane’s appreciation of local architecture, but I am a little confused about the need for our local governing bodies to regulate the appearance of private property when individuals are allowed to clear their properties of established trees and other greenery so they may build houses to the maximum size permitted. Clearcutting, or “scraping” properties negatively affects the environment, causes flooding and water damage to neighbors and alters the appearance of neighborhoods. Shouldn’t we be protecting our treasured trees rather than proscribing what color a shopping center may be painted?

  7. Agree the chain link fence at Veterans Park was a lazy and regrettable choice. When it was (re)installed some years ago, I was informed by town hall that it was “temporary” pending a recommendation for a new, more appropriate fence from the Historic District Commission. Right.

    The string of lights does seem like it’s saying “this is all we could think of”. Those were sort of cool 20 years ago. But now it’s a tired design trope.

  8. Michael Nayor

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Ms. Keane is entitled to her opinion but it is just that: an opinion. This does not make her criticisms necessarily correct or even in good taste.
    Progress may be difficult at times to accept but tastes do change. What was once acceptable, quaint and charming may not be that way today. Nostalgia plays an important role in how we perceive things. But holding onto the past is but one aspect of the manner in which society progresses.

  9. Donald Bergmann

    Sensitivity to appearance, architecture and land use is crucial, whether from Town bodies, the public or any one individual. Our ARB tries hard and does a pretty good job with commercial structures, though the ARB has no actual power. The ZBA can often be a force to control some ugliness by denying certain variances, e.g. as to signs, roof lines, of course height and coverage. It is important that people weigh in on what occurs, always civilly and with intelligence. One major matter now coming up is the dramatic and rather huge proposal for Saugatuck Center. I believe it is far too dense, tall and generally overbuilt. I hope many express their views. In general , the present P&Z Commission is inclined to be supportive of what I will simply refer to as “development”. I ask all to direct attention to that Saugatuck project.
    Don Bergmann

  10. Melissa Ceriale

    Go Tracy! You are so right on our need to focus on the trees and our environment. I love that you mic dropped that into this discussion. Yes, we all have different opinions and they are just that. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Elisabeth raises some good points. I have heard comments (and agree) for years on how Main Street has lost so much charm and appeal. Restaurants are way too loud. Thank you for bringing this topic up for discussion.

  11. Matthew Mandell

    Bridge Square is not about “progress” or accepting change. It’s about the rehabilitation and needed renovation of historic buildings. It’s easy to slap on the latest and greatest and make it look shiny and new. It’s hard to take the time and effort to recapture New England character and the waterfront aesthetic.

    The ARB works hard to ensure Westport remains a visually unique community. These fine architects volunteer their time to do this. They clearly have an issue with what has been done so far as does the writer of the letter which started this thread. I look forward to see how things move forward and have confidence the work in the end will be a positive for all involved.

  12. I applaud Elizabeth Keane’s comments . As a fifty year resident of Westport. and an artist, I have watched, with dismay, the AWFUL changes in the building of new homes and new stores.It’s been gradual but recently has sped up in ugliness. I regret the tear-down of interesting architecture in the name of space and amenities leading to the strange esthetic that Westport is architecturally becoming. Accepting change is a necessary given, but accepting changes that ruin a town’s character is unacceptable. New ‘group’ housing is prison-like, new storefronts becoming pastiches of Rodeo Drive,ugly, cheap strings of lights on Main Street speak of holiday leftovers, formerly charming Sconset Square has become a place to park and buy.if our zoning board is culprit or allowing this to happen,what can be done about it? I, and MANY other long time residents feel powerless. Why isn’t there a possibility of allowing interested residents some review of upcoming architectural proposals? The growing population mostly remains Westport Wonderful. but the ‘growing’ architecture is becoming ‘Anytown’ USA. God forbid someone should decided that Compo Beach needs to be changed,in ANY way. That would be the end of This town- it’s been tried and failed. TG.

  13. This is a matter of taste and opinion. Notably, architectural design is often the marker of an era. Twice lately, I have heard people say that this is their new Hamptons. Albeit there is nothing wrong with the Hamptons, this is not, (nor should it become – IMO) just another upscale shore line hotspot. Historically, Westport characteristics include creativity, the pursuit of community and a drive to stand apart with offerings only found in cool places like Westport, CT.

  14. Hooray for Elizabeth Keane! We don’t live in a charming own any more. I never feel at home in the Bedford Square development. How did it get here?

    • Carl A. Swanson '66

      Not mundane, merely ordinary good folks who unfortunately, think they are very special because of their zip code.

  15. Hmm. I just had friends from Savannah bist earlier last month and they fell in love with Westport. At the end of their visit they said how lovely it must be to live and and wishes they could as well. I guess all of this is in they eye of the beholder. I celebrate all that we have and as far as I can tell these differences are what the American values stand for. I don’t want to have a town where government and regulators tell us how to live. How to design our buildings or what color our roofs should be. Sconset Square is never was a nice addition to the town, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying what Town has to offer or enjoying what the current owners are doing with it now. I was an architect for many years and affected many downtowns with our projects – some people hated our work and others feel it is priceless. Chain link fences are rarely good though, I must agree. Although I am thankful every day for the chain link fence that provides our dogs with a safe place to play. I hope our neighbors don’t hate us for our chain links.

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