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July 8, 2010
6:00 pm
Architecture Today in Chestertown and Beyond
A Lecture by Kathleen James-Chakraborty, Head, School of Art History and
Cultural Policy - University College Dublin
Sponsored by The Chestertown Spy, Chesapeake Architects
and The Bookplate
Kathleen James-Chakraborty Examines Local Architecture
Posted by Natalie Butz on July 10, 2010 · 1 Comment

Kathleen James-Chakraborty, professor of Art History at the University College Dublin, gave a lecture on Chestertown architecture to a full house last night in the back room of the Book Plate on Cross Street.

Dr. James-Chakraborty, a native of Chestertown who grew up not many steps away on Queen Street, wove memories of her childhood into the lecture to illustrate how architecture helps define the culture of communities.

James-Chakraborty said downtown is now more oriented to the tourist passing through than a person living in Chestertown. She remembered growing up and having a grocery store on the corner of her street whereas now, there are very few shops downtown devoted to the daily needs of residents.

“The town is over 300 years old and yet, one particular [architectural] chapter stands out in the town’s mind, at least as long as I’ve been alive, and that’s the 18th century,” she said.

Professor James-Chakraborty, who taught architectural history at the University of California at Berkeley for 14 years before moving to Dublin in 2007, said she strongly believed in the merits of historic preservation, but that she was also old enough to know that not everything that looked colonial was necessarily historic. She stressed that the commercial core of the historic district is not colonial and often, “preservation focuses on facades.”

The trap that is easy to fall into then is preserving heritage at the expense of removing the more modern buildings and public spaces that help nourish the social environment in the community.

“The immediate past is always what’s the most in danger,” said James-Chakraborty.

James-Chakraborty also touched on issues such as: How do you appreciate the past while progressing into the future? What innovations can contribute to the welfare of the community? And how can we move to a slightly bigger scale and still feel contextual?

Given the recent closing of so many long established and much loved institutions in Chestertown, such as Andy’s, Feast of Reason and Towne Sporting Goods, among others, as well as the development set to happen at Stepney Manor, such questions are no doubt on everyone’s minds.

Although James was surrounded by colonial architecture growing up, she chose to focus on modern architecture when she attended the University of Pennsylvania, and where she received her Master’s and her Ph.D.

“I’ve left the 18th century pretty far behind me,” James laughed.

The event was sponsored by the Book Plate, the Chestertown Spy and Chesapeake