Roofless: in memoriam
Posted on 6 May 2011 by Justin Ruckman
Roof structure missing. Windows not maintained. Insufficient exits. Inadequate lighting.
The ordinance violations read like an autopsy. A roof? Roofless – the monicker bestowed upon 1209 Parkwood Avenue — didn’t feel the need to be so constrained. Art shows, concerts and charity fundraisers felt a home under the stars.
Born seventy years ago, the slab and block building originally served as a cleaners. Some say one of the first, if not the very first, cleaners in the city. In its final years, Roofless ceased commercial use and transformed. Roofless not only hosted art and music events but inspired art and became art itself.
In the shadows of Uptown’s towers and multi-million dollar corporate art projects, Roofless provided art and culture to a neighborhood too often overlooked. All were welcomed and many joined in the fellowship and sharing. Roofless represented what it means to bring grassroots art to the underserved.
Fire dancers danced, drummers drummed, bands jammed. Neighborhood residents and artists alike mingled and chatted over covered dish dinners. What would appear as an uninhabited structure one day would be transformed into an art gallery the next. In fact, it was known as a “gallery for [con]temporary art.”
Two of the biggest supporters of Roofless were Bryan and Jennifer Shields. The Shields teach design at UNC Charlotte, and their independent study students used roofless as the basis of various architecture projects. Boom mounted lights and retractable canvas awnings – designed by students – breathed new life into the venerable structure.
“These reclaimed post-industrial sites can not only provide a space for community interaction and cultural exchange, but serve a didactic purpose, becoming a physical timeline illustrating the past and present of a site and culture,” states Bryan Shields on his website.
The Shields had also worked with urban planners and community members to design a green, sustainable, small business incubator using the existing structure of Roofless. The design for Parkwood Green incorporated shipping containers, canvas roofs, water collection and solar power. Unfortunately the design did not have time to materialize.
Roofless was razed by the city in early January; victim of a new city ordinance. According to WFAE, “The ordinance took effect last April giving the city authority to inspect privately-owned business buildings and demand improvements for safety and appearance.”
Shortly after the loss of Roofless, WFAE reported on the impending demise of other historic structures in Charlotte such as the Davis General Store; all victims of the same ordinance.
Debating the merits of the controversial ordinance is perhaps best left to bureaucrats and politicians. Dreamers and designers like the Shields have moved on to yet another rehabilitation project.
In February, the Shields and UNC Charlotte student Cherish Rosas stepped over gravel and broken bricks as they toured their new project. From a fire escape they took notes and made observations, re-imagining the post-industrial plot as a shared neighborhood cultural space. They will return after spring classes to continue their vision.
Like flowers sprouting though pavement cracks, artists and designers are continuing to bring new life to overlooked industrial spaces in the forgotten shadows of Uptown.