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No Building is Better than Its Finishes

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2007, at 04:21PM
The Mandel Eric Richardson [Flickr]

The Mandel, at 7th and Olive, is a beautiful building. Built in 1917, it has a great brick face and some amazing architectural details. The building is currently being renovated, with upstairs lofts and ground-floor retail. It's in a great location, just three blocks away from the new Ralphs and right in the middle of a burst of activity in the Historic Core.

And yet, The Mandel is turning out to be a perfect example of a great building unmade by poor finishing touches. Three exterior touches in particular make me cringe: the Pottery Barn chandeliers, the non-rounded corner, and the very pleasant sleeping nook. Each is relatively small, but makes a big difference in how the building feels.

Welcome to Pottery Barn

The Mandel The main residential entrance for The Mandel will be on Olive street, toward the rear of the building. It's a recess entryway, and recently the developer installed a pair of chandeliers that simply don't make sense.

First of all, who hangs chandeliers? I may be no history or architecture buff, but these simply don't feel in any way to match the character of the great structure that they're hanging on. Stylistically they're even completely different than the sleek deco looking fixtures used inside the retail hallways.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and he noted that the chandeliers feel like someone had the Pottery Barn catalog and $200 to spend.

Corner Space Gone Awry

The Mandel I absolutely love buildings with rounded corners. It's a touch that'll take a fairly plain building and really make it pop, particularly on old brick structures like this one. The Mandel is a great example, as is the Douglas at 3rd & Spring. For The Mandel, that corner space is supposed to become a 7-Eleven.

The beauty of a rounded edge is completely shot when you take pedestrian space and chop it, creating only a narrow ramp out of what should be an airy approach. Though I'm sure there was some accessibility regulation that mandated the ramp, there simply isn't an excuse for the final product here.

A rounded corner is great because you can hit it from either direction. The developer here has chosen otherwise. You'll enter the corner from 7th, and you'll do so by squeezing by anyone coming down. The wasted brick space is larger than that given to the ramp.

A Sleeping Nook

The MandelOn the building's 7th street side, just where it meets The Brockman, is a space that I'll call the sleeping nook. Seeing this space just after the scaffolding came off in November, I knew immediately what it would be used for.

It's a recessed space leading to an emergency exit door, which according to fire code must swing out, and according to some other code probably can't swing into the sidewalk. The result is what you see here: a nice little nook for homeless individuals to sleep in. In this photo the edge of a blanket gives proof that it was being put to that very use this morning as I was taking pictures.

The Big Picture

None of these three touches are big deals in the grand scheme of converting a building. They're the little things you don't even think about, and yet they're three things that make a world of difference in how the building is perceived.

It's important for developers to remember that even a great building can be sullied by bad little finishes.

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