Fresh ideas about design
Every community needs a Weavers Way. Not literally a cooperative market with fresh produce and locally sourced food (as nice as that would be!), but a place that a community can call their own. For the Philadelphia neighborhood of Mt. Airy, Weavers Way Co-op is a reflection of the values and ideas of the people who live there. But it took 40 years to get where it is today, and the journey wasn’t always easy.
Working with the Weavers Way Co-op has really resonated with me. I’m no stranger to community-based projects. Having volunteered in my own neighborhood with the Powelton Village Civic Association, I’ve come to realize the importance of community input into any neighborhood-focused project. When a community has a stake in the outcome of a project, the end result is almost always improved. Furthermore, knowing that a project has been impacted by community participation fosters pride and ownership.
As an architect, I think it is easy to assume that we know the answer to every design problem. And while architects have a lot of knowledge to bring to the table, some of the most egregious design mistakes occur because of a lack of communication between owner and design team. In the case of Weavers Way, it was easy for us to assume how the store should function and look. But Weavers Way is no ordinary market. Our original concept design for the Mt. Airy store renovation eliminated unsightly overhead box storage and space-consuming “basket counters” throughout the store. But elimination of these critical components would have impeded service, angered customers, and ultimately crippled the store. With important feedback from the client, overhead storage and basket counters were maintained incorporated into the new design.
But beyond client feedback, customer views played an important role in shaping the design of the store as well. After all, Weavers Way may have evolved into a sophisticated market, but it is still a membership-based cooperative. Even as finishing touches were being applied to the newly renovated space, curious customers were quick to offer their suggestions and ideas. And in many instances, those recommendations were graciously accommodated. It was heartening to be a part of a process where feedback could have an impact, and I think that is precisely the reason why the residents of Mt. Airy take such pride in their little corner store.
The Weavers Way Mt. Airy store isn’t perfect, as no renovation could ever be. We constantly joked with management that we didn’t make the store any larger, and the store still maintains several quirks. But Weavers Way is a reflection of the community that surrounds it, and with a happy and growing customer base, I think that is the best feedback an architect could receive.
George Poulin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
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