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Kreis: AIA Vermont


(Host) What qualifies as the best examples of excellent new architecture in Vermont? Commentator and architecture buff Donald Kreis has been thinking about the latest crop of candidates.

(Kreis) Every winter, I find myself eagerly awaiting news of what was this past year's best new architecture in Vermont. And this year, like most years, I ended up crying in my beer.

The Vermont chapter of the American Institute of Architects bestowed only one honor award for 2012 - on something created by the design-build firm in Richmond known as Birdseye. You can find their project, called Cantilever House, on Lake Dunmore. Only - you can't find it in any real sense, because it's a private residence and not a public building.

Let's face it - Cantilever House is stunning, especially if you share my enthusiasm for contrast over conformity. The shapes are rectangular, the colors are black and grey, the materials are glass and metal and finely cured concrete. And as for the second floor that does indeed extend considerably beyond the first floor - well, everyone who has ever climbed a tree and explored one of its limbs knows that cantilevers are cool.

The sad thing is that we hardly ever get architecture this good when it comes to buildings we all can visit.

On the other hand, there's consolation to be had in the runner-up located in my hometown of Norwich. Ever been to Freeport? Once a classic Maine village, it is now a pseudo-place - a mere district of outlet malls and souvenir shops - thanks to the presence of a famous and ever-expanding retail empire that was founded there.

Norwich, however, remains a classic Vermont village notwithstanding the famous food retailer based in MY town. And for that we owe the retailer in question, King Arthur Flour, our thanks. The architecture firm of Truex Cullins in Burlington won a merit award for its expansion of King Arthur's headquarters, now itself a virtual village of kitchen supply, cooking classrooms, a bakery, and a cafe. Full disclosure: it's also where VPR's Stetson studio is located.

The riff here is the traditional Vermont monitor barn - and so it should be. Everyone who ever visits me insists on checking out King Arthur, and it just wouldn't do if they ended up at another Cantilever House. But the details at King Arthur are contemporary. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here - as I said, I like cantilevers - and compare King Arthur Flour with Xanadu, the lakeside mansion of Bill Gates, designed by world-class architects James Cutler and Peter Bohlin. The exposed framing at Xanadu is so lavish and artful that you don't even notice it lacks historical precedent.

And the site plan at King Arthur Flour is also impressive. The components form a friendly courtyard and the complex as a whole forms an enclave that doesn't threaten to spread like a weed into downtown Norwich about a half-mile away. Whenever we fail to turn a piece of Vermont into another Freeport, and build something new and graceful instead, I say it's time to break out the plaques and trophies.