From one angle rendered in drawings, the design by Galvan Partners for four new houses on Union and First looks good (top). From another (above), its uniform massing and pedimented Greek Revival styling has a cramped, necropolis-like quality. But on balance, I’d say nicely done and (if it were up to me) full steam ahead, since the site is one of the most damnably depressing in all of Hudson. Except for one problem: the developers stated preference for HardiPlank® instead of wood for siding, which ensures that once built it will all look more Target than Tara, as authentic as a roomful of drag Scarlett O’Haras .
Authenticity of materials is especially important when building in the landmarked districts of towns and cities, where the brick, mortar, stone, and wood can be seen and felt all around you. Sometimes you can almost hear it too. Louis Kahn once wrote that he asked a brick what it wanted to be and it said an arch. Ask HardiPlank® what it wants to be and it will say “a cookie cutter suburban townhouse development.” (It’s called HardiPlank ® –ok I”m going to stop using the ® symbols now– not because it’s hardy or hard, although I’m sure that it is both, but because its inventor is named James Hardie. I assume it’s a plank but it doesn’t have a bit of wood in it; it’s made up of something called fiber cement, which is NOT harvested from the lungs of longtime Columbia and Greene County residents as rumored.)
Contrary to the developers’ protestations at Historic Preservation Committee hearings, HardiPlank looks and feels different than the wood used on genuinely old houses. The difference, perhaps subtle at a distance, will be more obvious in this case because Galvan wishes to build fully to the street wall and is seeking a zoning variance from the city to do so. One condition before granting their request should be that the houses be made of materials that pass muster when experienced as closely as the developers wish theirs to be. The preservation committee should not hesitate to Press Hard™ for the real deal. –Scott Baldinger