Getting started (or, falling into place) on North Limestone

It is odd, in some ways, for me to be kicking off the blog for the LuigART project.  I mean, who am I, anyway, and what authority do I have to tell anyone else about this project?  The answer to the former: my name is Kris Nonn, and I have been hired by the folks at NoLi to come to Lexington to be the Project Manager for the LuigART project. Really, it is my understanding that I am the first in a succession of design and construction professionals to be brought in to lend their unique view of how to transform York Street and beyond into a vibrant, livable, sustainable, affordable place that can support as many activities and ambitions as there are rooms to house them, and more.

But that doesn’t answer the initial question – who am I?

I grew up outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and have been interested in place, the power of building to shape place, the power of building to augment our view of nature’s beauty, since I was a young boy watching light streaming in through the cracks in my cousin’s dairy barn, the pattern made tangible as the sun’s slanting yellow light fell on the haydust hanging in the air.  I studied music from an early age, first piano, then trumpet and voice, and parlayed that into a Bachelor of Music Performance degree in Trumpet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I then took a year to work on my cousin’s dairy farm (another of my loves), then made the jump down to Knoxville, TN to get my Masters in Architecture at the University of Tennessee.  I met my now-wife there, and we then lived in Brussels, Belgium and Santa Elena, Venezuela before returning to Madison, where I got a job at KEE Architecture, a wonderful little firm where I put in 6 great years getting to design a wide range of things from new 40,000 SF buildings down to a cor-ten security wall to window replacement and recaulking projects.  And at the same time, my wife Helen and I bought an 1868 frame house in downtown and decided to do everything but tear it down – new foundation, super-insulate with spray foam, solar pv and hot water on metal roof, concrete floors with radiant heat, a reclaimed glazed tile silo.  We did this all while preserving the original house frame and sheathing, lifting it, protecting it, sandblasting it and exposing it to view to speak to the history that would have otherwise been hidden behind drywall.  So, we are no strangers to the complexities and contradictions of design and construction, and what it means to be modern among so much history.  Griffin VanMeter, the esteemed and ebullient founder of NoLi CDC, heard of our work (and it didn’t hurt that his wife and my wife are 2nd cousins or thereabouts), and dangled the carrot of coming down to Lexington to work my particular brand of crazy contextual modern historicism on this first group of shotgun houses the CDC had bought.  Always having been a disciple of Samuel Mockbee, with all of his artful benevolence and contextual irreverence, and seeing this as a chance to make designed spaces affordable, beautiful, and unique, we worked out how to make it happen.  So we loaded a big yellow truck with tools and wares, and schlepped ourselves and our two boys down to Lexington, just earlier this week.  So that’s the answer to question number 1.

Question 2: what right do I have, as a Yankee from the North, a transplant, an outsider, what right do I have to tell you about this project?  I can tell you that I am dropping into a project that has already had so much groundwork laid, Richard and Griffin having already worked for years to build relationships with Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), Blue Grass Community Foundation (BGCF), Fayette Alliance, Lexington Rescue Mission, SeedLeaf, and so many others that I am just trying to keep up as they rattle off the folks involved.

I can also tell you that the core of the NoLi mission at LuigART is rooted in doing right by the community, the North Limestone community; doing right by the people to try to provide an option for owner-occupied housing where only rental options currently exist, and for about the same monthly price; doing right by the community to provide properties that are flexible, inspiring, accessible, sustainable; doing right by this archetype of the Shotgun house to not just restore it to whatever workaday and ad hoc character it originally had, but to understand its roots, its derivation, its role in Lexington and American history, and reimagine it as the embodiment and outward expression of all of those core mission goals, of living compactly, efficiently, densely, creatively, vibrantly.

I am new here, but I am glad to be here, glad to be around so many inspired and inspiring people.  I look forward to every drop of sweat and every minute of thought that each of these structures will require.  I look forward to building, not just houses, but relationships, with workers of all skill levels, with folks from the highest position to the lowest, to work together to make something we are all proud of, something we feel is right for this time, this place, and  hopefully it will become a stepping stone to bigger, grander things for this neighborhood, for this community, for these people, of which I now count myself one of.

[KMN]