Perspective on menhaden net reel location

February 9, 2021

I have been reading about the conflict around the location of the net reel on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Complex and wanted to share some background relating to the process that was used to determine that the Lewes Historical Society should move it.  I understand the need to apply the standard of “rhythm and scale” to evaluate this object.  I want to share that this interpretation of using rhythm and scale as grounds for removal of the net would not make sense under the original intent of that language.

This phrase, as employed by Lewes code, originated in the initial drafts of the Commercial Architectural Review Commission as authored by Pisha Eliason and myself, and was passed by our city council back in the ‘90s. Its inclusion was not arbitrary, but based on readings from the book by architect Christopher Alexander and popularized by his 1977 book “A Pattern Language.”

A masterful treatise, this book described components of living daily life as comprising patterns that we process continually, and should recognize and adapt to in our community planning.  How we live and enjoy a space should be what we design around.  It recognizes that daily life should be interesting.  Like sunshine for a park, some important design elements are not just the bricks and mortar that make up a building.

Our committee was concerned with maintaining a quality streetscape we would all enjoy.  We employed those “rhythm and scale” words specifically to analyze the relationship of mass to a location under consideration. At that time, there was a massive, towering grey block structure lurking behind the Dairy Queen that was dense and four times the size of anything nearby. The net reel is airy and about the same size as, or smaller than, nearby structures. In evaluating the net reel for its scale, one would notice this object fits in very well with the size of the buildings on site. Thus, it seems, under our intentions, the net reel would definitely conform to the code for scale as we wrote it. 

Rhythm, one could observe, is best created by the absence of sameness.  As you view the net reel by scanning the block horizontally from across the street, or by passing the block, afoot or on wheels, it provides a very positive rhythmic element. Our mix of Colonial and Victorian architecture has contrasts to make Lewes more human and charming. We searched out ways to support diversity on our streetscapes and worked against the boring sameness of monolithic structures mirroring each other.  So, the net reel actually provides desired rhythm rather than detracts from it. 

Obviously, anyone on a committee can see the reel in their own context. But as an old antique who was there at the beginning of this “scale and rhythm” dialog, I thought to provide some clarity for folks who might want to know the original intentions of those words as the city moves forward with its current quandary.

Cliff Diver is chair of the Lewes Public Arts Committee and has served on numerous Lewes panels over the years.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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