The five of us kept worrying aloud whether we would be able to find an architect willing to take our $350,000 and give us a one-room building out back where the children could play.
It seemed to us a small sum for a school construction fund - unless we allowed ourselves to think about where we were going to get it. But that would be the job of the Fund Raising Committee. We were the Architect/New Construction Committee, and we just hoped that the fact that the new construction business was bad might encourage an architect to consider our little project worth his while.
Georgetown Day High School is not the kind of school where you can board your horse. The halls are not thick with talent scouts from rich universities' athletic departments.
Still, the students do need a place to toss around a ball, and the traffic has gotten too heavy on MacArthur Boulevard.
We do have an excellent drama department, but we would like to see the students exercise their creativity on something other than theater-in-the-hide-and-seek, played among the columns in the first-floor lounge.
We also have this odd bit of land out back, where the parking lot is. The day had passed when a school can claim it doesn't need a parking lot because it will tell the students to bicycle or walk, but we thought that someone might consent to build us a theater-gymnasium above the lot.
Because the location is such that the building will hardly be seen, our committee wasn't so much concerned with esthetics, so long as there wouldn't be anything to offend the neighbors. Our concern was to get something equally usable for tragedy as for basketball.
We sent away for the American Institute of Architects' booklet "You and Your Architect," dedicated to "those contemplating a construction project." We followed the rules listed under "How Do I Find the Right Architect?"
This meant that we had to part with the seductive idea of getting free sketches from eligible architects. There was much mumbling about "getting a pig in a poke," even though all of the committee members were in professions which do not give away free samples. What reconciled us was the threat of getting a lovely sketch done by someone who didn't know the terrain. When Australia got a perfectly lovely drawing for an opera house from an arhitect who had never seen Sydney, it turned out to cost $120 million instead of $9 million alloted to fit the design to the territory.
The booklet advised doing extensive interviewing, so we set up appointments with six distinguished architects who said they were interested.
One turned out to be. We wished he had said so before the five of us rushed out from our offices downtown in midday to wait for him in vain at the high school. But perhaps it was just as well, since he had laughed when one committee member asked him whether a fancy multi-level facility he was doing for another school wasn't inaccessible for the handicapped. "Absolutely," he said, "but the whole school is old and inaccessible." In view of changing laws regarding the handicapped - never mind the moral issue - his answer sounded a little like a car dealer pushing a fancy model which he knew wouldn't pass inspection.
The other five architects were enthusiastic. One team told us repeatedly how much they enjoyed doing "fun buildings." We asked about a project of theirs with a reportedly leaky roof. They shrugged and said it was probably the fault of the roofers or some other construction team; that, true, they had "supervised" the building, but "supervising is not superintending, you understand."
That was all we were expected to understand. When I asked what type of flooring would do for sports and still take having sets dragged over it. I was told, "Even if I did tell you, it wouldn't mean anything to you."
They showed us a lot of slides of fun buildings. One of the partners suggested that a hexagonal gym-theater might be fun.
The next one was for fun through color. The firm said it had studies to prove that teen-agers preferred primary colors to somber colors. We saw slides with great yellow super-arrows on the walls, and wondered how anyone could concerntrate on hooking basket while spotting that out of the corner of the eye.
Another prospect recommended "vibrancy" and "drama" through the use of skylights. Actually, we had hoped to achieve vibrancy and drama more cheaply, by filling the place with kids.Their drama necessitated blackouts, and their vibrant sports are better done without beams of sunlight in odd places. We couldn't afford a glass roof like the Houston Astrodome, which ended up painting its out because nobody could see the ball.
Then there was the team that showed up - also in the middle of a busy working day - with slides of yachts bobbing in the water, a lone guitar propped against an empty conversation pit, skiers climbing a mountain, and Man Walking on the Moon. (The last is available from the gift shop of the Air and Space Museum.) This took two slide machines and a separate sound machine to supply recorded guitar accompaniment.
At first, I thought they were showing us their work, and felt that anybody who could do that snow-covered mountain could do my school's annex and day. But it turned out that this was only "to show where we're all coming from," and I was told, "Don't worry about it."
This team is big on exposed pipes and exposed plumbing. One of our committee members got so enthusiastic over the sliders of these that he argued later what fun it would be to let them to a schoolroom "with exposed wires."
But we picked the sixth architect, who warned us that the building might look like a box, but talked about versatile, durable flooring.
I feel badly that in my speech nominating him, I stressed the fact that he hadn't promised us anything original or dramatic or vibrant. I meant it as a compliment.