Thursday, December 22, 2011

Richmond’s Own House of Design (December 21, 2011)

Nestled quietly on the corner of Monument and Davis Avenues is a beautiful mansion, the Branch House, that is home to the Virginia Center for Architecture.  The Virginia Center for Architecture is the only Architecture museum in the Southeastern United States.  The residence was designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed what is now the Science Museum of Virginia (formerly Broad Street Station), the National Archives, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

A Lego model of the Branch House (Virginia Center for Architecture) using more than 1,000 individual Lego pieces. Photo courtesy of Natalie Porter.
Although the mansion is beautiful, other than several small purple flags with the current exhibit name (Design 2011), there are no outward markings designating the building as a museum.  As I cautiously pushed open the very heavy wooden front door, I was almost afraid that I had the wrong address.
Admission to the museum is free and the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday, with shortened hours on the weekend.  There is free street parking available on Davis Avenue next to the museum.  The Museum has one exhibition at a time, but has regular special programs, including free brown bag lectures and behind-the-scenes tours with a paid admission.  There is also a gift shop which sells design books and books depicting the history of Richmond and Virginia.
The current exhibition, Design 2011:  A Retrospective of Winning Work, features design projects in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. in the areas of architecture, interior design, and historical preservation.  The exhibition is housed on the main floor of the mansion in the gallery and great hall.
One does not have to know a lot about architecture to really appreciate the designs that are showcased in these exhibits.  One shining example was Virginia Commonwealth University’s Dental Clinic in Wise, Virginia.  The clinic seems to almost melt into the surrounding landscape of trees due to the design choices of the architects.  Another favorite of mine was the LumenHAUS at Virginia Tech, built by the Virginia Tech Solar Team.  This net-zero building optimizes efficiency and responds automatically to weather conditions.
In the studio of the mansion was a multicolored Lego model of the Branch House (pictured).  Built with over 1,000 Legos and displayed in a glass display case, a blue sign explains that Legos originated in Denmark, a country at the forefront of design.  Legos allow builders of all ages to design to their heart’s content.  Surrounding the model was “The House That Pope Built,” an exhibit depicting the history of John Russell Pope and the Branch House.  Also included is a brief history of Monument Avenue.
As I walked around the back of the house to look around, I noted that the beautiful grounds would be an ideal setting for a garden party or a wedding.  Although young children might be bored, if you are looking for a great way to spend an hour or two, the Virginia Center for Architecture is a wonderful addition to any afternoon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Home For The Holidays Or “Are You Dating Anyone Yet?” (12/02/2011)

The holiday season is upon us and for the LGBT community, it can be filled with more angst, emotional, and psychological pitfalls than for the average person.
Even if our nuclear family members accept that we are gay, extended family members may not be so welcoming.  Because of the lack of acceptance of who we are, I think LGBT individuals become extraordinarily good at choosing and building our own families, made up of friends who become much closer to us than our blood relations.
That is because our friends accept us for who we are, warts and all, and we can live our truth around them, without fear.
Most of us would not be here today without our friends, our real family that we build bit by bit, stone by stone, when we begin the coming out process and lay the foundation for our new life.
I may be an outlier, but very few of my friends had an easy time of it with their families when they came out.  Some of them, years later, are still not allowed to bring their partners to their parents’ home.  Others are asked to please not mention their boyfriend or girlfriend around extended family members.
Now granted, there are many heterosexual individuals whose parents may not like who they are dating or who they married, but for the LGBT individual who is banned from bringing their partner home for the holidays it is not about the person they are dating and everything about who he or she is.  That is the difference that some do not understand.
When you are asking the LGBT person to deny who he or she is, when you are asking the LGBT individual to lie about who he or she is, when you are asking the LGBT individual to bite his or her tongue when Aunt Millie asks if he or she has met the right man or woman yet, you are asking him or her to commit a crime against his or her soul.  And that crime will not go unpunished because it is a crime against one’s self.
At a certain point, all of us will look at ourselves in the mirror and decide that the lies must end, a moment when we realize that when family members are asking us to pretend to avoid family conflict what they are really asking us to do is slowly kill ourselves with self-hatred.
For that is really the choice, giving in to the fear of hate or loving ourselves enough to embrace who we are, all of who we are, and live our truth.