Top Five: Local Architectural Attractions

by Matthew Bushey, July 7, 2010

posted by Matthew Bushey, AIA
We are all enjoying our beautiful (albeit brief) Vermont summer, so I thought I would share my top five local tourist attractions geared specifically for those interested in architecture and interior design.
In my last article, I looked at five top picks for design hotels. This time, we’re staying much closer to home, with a list suitable for those of us planning a staycation, or for visitors to the Green Mountain State. Vermont is well known for its natural landscape, but if you’re looking for a slightly more unconventional design-related attraction, the local area has a few things to offer.
These are all family-friendly attractions, suitable for the roadside adventurer in you. So between your visit to the Ben and Jerry’s factory and that day hike on the Long Trail, be sure to check out these alternative tourist spots for architecture and design:
The Mad River Valley has long been the epicenter of the Design/Build movement in Vermont, dating back to the mid-1960s when a group of young architects settled in this area and began experimenting with new theories and methods. This Vermont-based movement was characterized by organic forms, hands-on processes, and natural materials.
The improvisational spirit of this area continues today with the ongoing work of the Yestermorrow Design/Build School. Yestermorrow has been teaching design and construction for over 30 years, and they often reach out into the surrounding towns to build creative small-scale structures. These include picnic pavilions, playhouses, bus shelters, treehouses, bandstands, and more. They are all carefully crafted and beautifully eclectic.
You can see a lot of them if you visit the neighboring towns of Warren and Waitsfield, along scenic Route 100. Click here for an album of many of Yestermorrow’s community projects.
2. 1950 HOUSE, Shelburne Museum
Located at the Shelburne Museum, home to the grounded steamship Ticonderoga and the historic Round Barn, is another lesser-known but just as entertaining architectural attraction: the 1950 House. Here you can actually pay money to go to a museum to experience a fully-preserved 1950s-era residence. The 1,000-square-foot ranch house is just as it would have been 60 years ago, with late-1940s and early-1950s design and decoration. You are free to open the cupboards, look in the refrigerator, or sit down with a copy of LIFE magazine. It’s just like a trip to Grandmas’s house, only here the Shelburne Museum has taken the effort to preserve this piece of Americana for our benefit (and amusement).
If you pay a visit the 1950 House and find it to be strikingly similar to your own, then perhaps you should give TruexCullins a call. We can help you with that.
If architecture is the transformation of basic building materials into structures that offer a specific spatial experience, then I call this attraction the ‘Architecture of Corn’. The Great Vermont Corn Maze is the largest in the state, with 8.5 acres and about 2 miles of trails defined by that ubiquitous summertime crop. It opens on July 31st this year, and runs thru October.
But wait, you say, this is supposed to be a list of the top five examples of the built – not natural – environment. Even though the medium here is the common corn crop, I would say this is a wonderful example of purposeful design, with a very explicit mark of man-made ingenuity. This is Experiencing Architecture the Vermont way.
4. FARM BARN, Shelburne Farms
Shelburne Farms is a 1400-acre working farm dating to 1886 and is now a nonprofit environmental education center, and National Historic Landmark. There is much to see and do on the property, but the most dramatic moment for me is always when the tractor-pulled wagon makes its way from the visitor parking lot, rolling up the gravel path of the Frederick Law Olmstead-designed landscape, and turning the bend to come into view of the majestic Farm Barn, looming large over you.
The Farm Barn was constructed in 1890, and in the 1990s it received a major upgrade, allowing it to continue to serve as the main headquarters for Shelburne Farms. The building houses a variety of functions and wraps an almost-2 acre courtyard. The historic Farm Barn stands as a beautiful backdrop to the many events that occur across the grounds, at a scale appropriate to the vast site.5. WORLD’S TALLEST FILE CABINET, Burlington, VT

Perhaps the oddest attraction you will find in the city of Burlington is the World’s Tallest File Cabinet. As a designer of workplace interiors, I can’t help but marvel at this uncommon monument honoring that most common of workplace chores: filing paperwork.The structure was built in 2002 by local artist Bren Alvarez. It seems to grow out of a vacant, weedy lot on Flynn Ave, on the south side of town. The file cabinet is a tribute to the ‘Southern Connector’ – the local beltway that was never built: there are 38 drawers stacked upon themselves, representing the number of years of paperwork that the project accumulated.

Time –and rust- are taking its toll on the metal monument. If nature doesn’t claim it, other forces may finish it off instead. The sculpture sits in the path of the proposed road, and the city has promised that the project is finally moving ahead, after decades of stalemate. I hope the city has made accommodations for this work of art. If not, be sure to stop by to see this attraction before it is relegated to the archives.

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