By Scott Boylston
One hundred and eighty years.
Seventy one years.
What will the next time span reveal?
The above list represents the entire lifespan of the wood that has been used for the windows that were put into one of the sliding barn doors of the E.34 Greenhouse earlier today. It’s been 2 years since we started the design/build of the project; 5 years since we reclaimed these very windows from Strathmore Estates; 71 years since the houses that originally held these windows were first constructed; and 180 years (or thereabouts) since the trees that supplied that wood were saplings.
Who in your family was alive when those saplings took hold? Do you have any idea? Is it really possible that we don’t have any idea of what such a span of time means to our own bloodline? Are we that deeply trapped in the present? And if so, isn’t there a preciousness to the fact that the material realm can help us remember not to forget such things?
Whether it was Cicero or Shakespeare who first coined the phrase ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul,’ the truth of the matter is that windows are also pretty good windows into the soul…of a person, a community, or even a city. We can tell a lot about worlds within simply by looking through a window. Windows reveal interiors for those on the outside, yet they also provide vistas of what lies beyond for those within. They mediate our reality if we bother to consider the implications of what we are seeing.
In December 2009, we posted a few images of what we found when we went into some of the homes that were originally built in 1943 for Liberty Ship shipbuilders. Time had not been kind to the buildings, nor to the residents of this chronically crime-stricken neighborhood. We hoped that the photographs we shared in an earlier post—our 5th post—would “provide a glimpse into Savannah Gardens as a place, not of wood, but of soul.” The image below was taken a few months later (in early 2010) by Pimprae Hiranprueck, at a time when Emergent Structures was delving deeper into the material reclamation process at Strathmore Estates.
This haunting image speaks to the desolation that had crept into the lives of residents in this neighborhood, yet theses same windows that had illuminated the interior of decaying homes are now being used to help grow food in an adjacent neighborhood.
Five years ago, the window sash were lovingly reclaimed by volunteers, and beginning 2 years ago they were refurbished by a crew of volunteers and Savannah Tech students. This slow, painstaking process allowed all involved to consider the value inherent in renewing these framing devices for our lives.
Once completed, the E.34 Greenhouse will provide vocational training for special needs high school students. It will provide fresh produce to the elderly residents within the neighborhood who would otherwise not have access to fresh food. And it will be a meeting place for the community.
The windows in the structure will once again provide a vista of hope; of a community working together to improve the futures of its own residents. We’re excited that the construction of the E.34 Greenhouse is nearing completion. It represents not only a new beginning, but a reflection of the soul of this great city of Savannah. Very old and previously neglected wood providing the frames through which we envision our shared future; this is the poetry of material reclamation.