About the Project
Over the course of a decade, The New Deal was responsible for reforming the economy, helping millions get out of poverty by creating jobs, and building hundreds of thousands of highways, schools, libraries, homes, airports, parks, and post offices in thousands of cities all across the United States (Living New Deal). The New Deal brought electricity to rural communities, planted 3 million trees around the country, created Social Security, and enabled the construction of many buildings in your hometown or the city you might live in today. Click here to see (some) of the projects created as part of the New Deal: https://livingnewdeal.org/map/
As part of the New Deal, about 1,500 post offices were built or expanded in about ten years (again, there’s probably one near you). 30,000 buildings were also designed by the same architects during the same period; and yet, many of these buildings (about ¾) still operate as post offices in their original building built as part of the New Deal.
Designing 1,500 of anything is a difficult process; so designing 1,500 of the same building, while also designing another nearly 30,000 other buildings must have been a monumental challenge! And yet, here we are, 80 years later, and many of these buildings are so beautiful, useful, and , they are still performing their original function. In order to employ as many people as possible during the Depression, the government hired artists and craftspeople to paint murals, create sculptures, and incorporate beautiful wood and metalwork into these mundane community projects.
So what is it about these buildings that they have lasted so long? Why do they continue to be loved by local residents even 80 years later?
Despite lots of interest into the New Deal with dozens of books, articles, and museum exhibitions, there have been few studies of the buildings that were built, and none specific to the post offices. We are seeking to change that, using our personal and academic backgrounds to study these buildings thoroughly. As a poet and a future architect, we will be able to look at the physical characteristics of the building, how it interacts with its setting, how people interact with the building, and how the art remains a vital part of the experience. In addition to photos that we will take together, we will produce brief podcasts for each, Sarah will be writing poems at each post office, Ben will be making drawings. These will eventually be compiled into a book, while also be shared through social media so that you can follow along in real-time. In addition to research and reading conducted this past semester as an independent study, the architectural material will also be incorporated into Ben’s Masters in Architecture thesis in the fall.
This summer, we will embark on our first road trip across the country, covering parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and Tennessee Valley over 5 weeks. Whilewe will be staying with friends and family as much as possible, and otherwise sleeping in campsites or couchsurfing, as current graduate students, we do not have the means to support this work as thoroughly as we would hope.
Because the post office is such a democratic part of the country, we hope that our project will also be “by the people, for the people.” This isn’t a corporate research project into how to deploy stores all over the country, this is a project to understand how our government created spaces for the community to gather in, that still remain in use today. They are sites for communication and exchange, and they are the rare government facilities that give-and-take goods, not just money.
Please help back this project so that we can engage in this important academic and creative work; as thanks, we have a number of incentives that will also keep you engaged in the project during and after the trip.
Ben is a Master in Architecture student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, entering his final year. He has wanted to be an architect from an early age, always playing with Legos, drawing, and going out of his way to look at interesting buildings. Throughout his academic and professional career, Ben has incorporated spatial and architectural analysis into his practice. As an undergraduate at Columbia, mapping analysis informed many of his architecture studio design projects. In graduate studios at Harvard, he has used site and building comparisons and diagrams to look at Boston’s boring but beautiful triple decker housing, and the Boston Seaport’s visual and physical accessibility. Professionally, he has used comparative analysis studies to test different building massing options, and helped work on a competition for the upcoming redevelopment of a New Deal college football stadium in Virginia.
Sarah is studying poetry as a language of (dis)abilities, and place-making through her Master in Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts Boston. This work continues the dissertation project she completed as a MA in Creative Writing and Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. She began a process of place-making through a creative methodology of walking in London, so she is excited to take the practice to a national scale! The experience of buildings have always been part of her creative writing, and she has always loved visiting post offices, especially ___.
Dates: July 23, 2018 – August 31, 2018
You can see our rough itinerary above, and we plan to visit post offices in, near, and between:
- Northampton, MA
- Albany, NY
- Saratoga Springs, NY
- Syracuse, NY
- Buffalo, NY
- Cleveland, OH
- Toledo, OH
- Ann Arbor, MI
- Detroit, MI
- Grand Rapids, MI
- South Bend, IN
- Chicago, IL
- Milwaukee, WI
- Green Bay, WI
- Minneapolis, MN
- Fargo, ND
- Chicago, IL (again)
- St. Louis, MO
- Nashville, TN
- Knoxville, TN
- Asheville, NC
- Roanoake, VA
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Harrisburg, PA
- Philadelphia, PA
We are open to suggestions of post offices along or near this route, so if you have suggestions of really interesting New Deal post offices, or you can host us; please let us know!
In addition to valuable research and data that we hope to collect, it is important to us that this project demonstrates to other people the power and beauty of these buildings, including you. To help that, and thank you for your contribution, we have some incentives:
- Free – If you can’t afford a financial contribution, please follow us on Instagram / Facebook / www.newpostoccupancy.com, or list to our podcast “New Post Occupancy.” They will all be available free, and please share with friends or colleagues who will appreciate this project.
- $5 – Shoutout of thanks on our social media and website
- $10 – Above incentives, plus shoutout of thanks in the back of our forthcoming book
- $15 – Above incentives, plus you’ll be allowed to join our weekly email list with bonus pictures
- $25 – Above incentives, plus we will mail you one of our postcard poems with an image of the post office on one side and a poem on the other; postmarked from that location
- $35 – Above incentives, plus digital access to a set of posters we will make from the post offices we visit
- $50 – Above incentives, plus we will send bonus podcasts + videos of the post office
- $75 – Above incentives, plus we will send you a printed copy of one of the posters (contact us for shipping outside of the continental US)
- $150 – Above incentives, plus we will send you a copy of the book when it’s ready (contact us for shipping outside of the continental US)
Since we have yet to make the book or get it published, we can’t offer it to any of the smaller incentives at this time. BUT, if you give at any incentive level, and when the book is ready, you will be able to preorder the book early at normal retail cost.
We know this is a risky investment, and that it is weird to fund someone else’s road trip. But this project is really important. Hundreds of these beautiful buildings are threatened as the USPS shrinks and sells off property. In communities around the country, the post office is one of the few remaining public buildings. The New Deal post offices especially, are reminders of what happens when communities come together to build something. The architecture and experience of these buildings have left impressions on billions of visitors, and the art recalls an era of optimism and success in the face of adversity. Before these buildings disappear, or we embark on a new infrastructure building project, we need to document and understand how thousands of buildings should be designed and constructed.