Public Comment

Reviving Berkeley Restaurants in Tents on Burned-Out Building Site: How It Could be Done

By Thomas Lord
Friday February 10, 2012 - 03:46:00 PM

There's plans afoot to perhaps reboot Raleigh's and Intermezzo using modified shipping containers and tents in lieu of a more elaborate structure to get them going quickly. A third restaurant may enter the picture.

I think that's clever and has a lot of relevance to the local economy as impacts the 99%, so to speak.

So I wrote this open letter to the architect: 

Dear Peterson,  

Your materials choices here—tents and shipping containers—refer to a contemporary aesthetic that anticipates a post-apocalyptic, grim, meat-hook future. "Let's skip the earthquake and go straight to the tents." So I see you as an architect getting out in front of this dark future. Prettying it up. You have made excellently realistic choices with a solid chance of appealing to the youth of today who rightfully suspect that your voluntary selection of materials may yet reflect their own inescapable necessities before long. We all might soon be living in shanty-towns and shipping containers, so, yeah. This. Opening weekend will be huge, knock on wood. 

What I want to caution you about here is the problem of Authenticity. 

The grim, meat-hook, shipping-container future that haunts our collective nightmares is to be made bearable, they say, partly by three elements: 

(1) The crafty and improvisational repurposing of at-hand materials in an era of personal scarcity and against a backdrop of indifferently oppressive corporate dominance; 

(2) The semi-reliable provision of half-decent beer, food, and collective self-entertainment as form of distraction from the unending dark void which is become our collective near future; and 

(3) Productive participation, not passive consumption, as the primary role in local community. 

Now your design sets off on the right foot for (1) and (2) just fine, if you ask me—but it's on the question of the (3) that I think you need to think about the problem of Authenticity. 

The essence of your design is that nothing precious is risked. The structure can go up quickly and provide community function - - but it can as easily be taken down and replaced. By this same logic it can continuously change, in form and function. 

Now please turn that into a cycle, at least for a while. Let this structure be continuously remade, and its use be continuously tweaked for as long as it lasts. Many of the kids these days, partly thanks to the Burning Man and Shipyard and other blow-hard types, are acquiring all kind of relevant valuable crafts in metal-work, glass-work, painting, music creation, music presentation, video projection, cloth-work, yadda yadda yadda..... Damn do-gooders, what with their doing good all the time and such. The culture which is the authentic host of the "maker" aesthetic to which your design refers is also host to a wealth of up-and-coming craftspeople whose ongoing participation in the structure you propose would give you (3)—that Authenticity—"productive participation, not passive consumption, as the primary role in local community". Let the users hack and evolve it.