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Architect Chris Parkinson shows off models of the mobile studios proposed to be constructed and placed throughout the city.

Pittsfield Writers Residency Project Mixes Art, Architecture

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The designs were inspired by five major authors who wrote in the city of Pittsfield. Once constructed, the studios will be large enough for a writer in residency to work out of during the month of July.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The pieces are all coming together for an art and architecture project that will bring writers to the city to work in mobile studios inspired by five major historical authors.
Architects Chris Parkinson and Tessa Kelly are launching an exhibit at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in September to show exactly how the project will work. The two have designed five portable structures that will be placed in various parts of the city and authors will take residencies next July, working out of those structures.
The designs are based on the places Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in while they were in the city.
"In literary history and American history, they were considered part of the renaissance of writing and all of them were writing in and about Pittsfield. That's a historical narrative and we thought about bringing these studios and bringing a residency program," Parkinson said. "We are taking a historical narrative and bringing in new writers to write about Pittsfield. It makes it a very contemporary and alive. It is both a reminder of the history of the place and a new alive energy of creativity in the city,."
The project is funded by a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and is coupled with local fundraising — with a goal of raising $200,000. In the spring, the one-room studios will be constructed and in July and authors will be invited to stay in the city and use them as work space. 
"Basically what they are are small spaces someone can go and write, have a desk. They don't have electricity. They don't have a bathroom. But, they are a little work space for someone," Parkinson said, adding that the buildings with different designs will be around 10-foot by 12-foot. 
The "mobile studios" will be made of cross-laminated timber and placed on a steel substructure, which is anchored by helical piers. For the first year, the two have picked the locations — two at Arrowhead, one at Canoe Meadows, one at the Springside House, and one at Pittsfield High School — but in the future the structures will be placed in various locations throughout the city, being stored during the winter.
"The designs are loosely based in some way on the original authors," Parkinson said.
Kelly and Parkinson looked at pictures of the places these authors originally stayed locally and used aspects of those locations in the design of the structures. In the fall, they previewed the concept and have been working since on fine-tuning the drawings and models to conform with the logistics of moving and actually being used.
"The designs have been evolving based on logistics and usability," Parkinson said.
The exhibit throughout September will showcase those pieces and designs. Last fall, the concept was presented and Parkinson said while there was a lot of excitement from the public about it, there were still questions on whether such a project was possible. The exhibit will show off the material, the designs, and models of the five structures.
"This exhibition is to help people understand how these things are going to become a reality," Parkinson said. 
There will be a reception on Sept. 23 to celebrate the next steps in the project. The concept does an array of things: it is public art, it is history, and it is modern.
"One of the hopes is through word of mouth and people understanding what is going on, they see these structures in the landscape, they also think about this historical narrative of writing, they think about this a place where new writers are coming. There is a whole slew of ideas we hope this project makes people aware of," Parkinson said. 
When the new writers in residency are here, Parkinson said there will be an array of programs and exhibits coupled with the program for the public. 
"The plan is to have them here during July, either three or four weeks, and there will be a whole litany of programs and lectures at the Berkshire Athenaeum, historical society, Hotel on North, there are a lot of partners in the project holding events. The studios are really for the writers and private spaces, the program is really a celebration we are hoping the whole city engages in," Parkinson said.

Throughout the month of September, an exhibition will show off exactly how this entire project will come together in 2017.
Those looking to be writers will be asked to submit an application, samples, and letters of intent and the five will be chosen by a panel. The application period is slated for the fall. 
"It's an open application. It will be online. You'll have to submit some writing samples, a CV, statement of intent, what you are going to work on," Parkinson said. "It is a little unusual in that you are asked to spend some time in these studios."
The idea came from Kelly's graduate thesis and evolved from there. Eventually, the city's former Director of Cultural Development Megan Whilden suggested applying for a grant to make it happen and the city sponsored the grant application. 
"This project started by us wondering what could young architects do for this place that doesn't necessarily have the new development and a ton of excess economic resources or a ton of investment in new buildings? But, the one thing we thought about this area has in spades is a rich history and legacy and cultural importance," Parkinson said. 
The focus on the 19th century authors is just the latest piece in a four-part project focusing on the city's history. The larger project focuses on the Mohegan Indians, local paper and textile mills, General Electric, and the 19th century authors, all historic pieces that have contributed greatly to the city's urban fabric.

Tags: architecture ,   art installation,   historical figure,   local author,   residency,   

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