While the Covello Senior Center is a remarkably lively place, and the food is all cooked to order and served twice a day to a devoted crowd of seniors, the Dining Room was tired, oppressive and noisy. We were asked by Lonni Tanner, as part of her See Change initiative, to rethink the Dining Room and parts of the public space leading to it. The peculiarities of the funding calendar forced us to very quickly design and plan a renovation that included materials for which donations could be sought.

Because the central AC system was non-functioning, and the unrated suspended ceiling concealed exposed structure above, we needed to address the fire protection of the structure while we sought to enlarge the space and uncover the full height of the north facing windows. We quickly came to the idea of stripping the room back to its bones and adding solutions that addressed the AC and sound issues.

Large ceiling fans helped move the air while window units cooled the space (all to be replaced by a full HVAC system in the capital renovation now being planned) and a 7’ high band of washable sound soak panels helped address the reflectivity of the space without resorting to carpet or acoustical ceiling tiles.

The Dining Room, once it was expanded to its full height and refinished throughout, still lacked a sense of connection to the seniors who use it everyday. We looked for an added element that could create an emotional bond between the users and the place.

In Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects she writes "We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with." Objects carry both ideas and passions and it was with these notions that the Dining Room photo mural at the Covello Senior Center was imagined.

A room, even a carefully crafted one, is still foreign to the users until they have personalized it, made it their own. When the room is a bustling dining room, the first newly renovated space in the center, it seemed especially appropriate to encourage its personalization for the users.

Conceived by Carin Goldberg and executed by her, Lonni Tanner and the photographer William Coupon, the photomural is a composite of meaningful objects presented as ‘photo-paintings’; portraits of objects that are as intimate as portraits of their owners.

Users and visitors were transformed into contributors, just as the renovation was transformed from a beautiful and comfortable space into a chapel of memories. Now visitors enter with a sense of ownership and pride, and a jolt of emotion that no simple room can provoke.

Goldberg, who had worked with photographer William Coupon, suggested that he photograph meaningful objects solicited from the entire senior community that uses Covello as their second home. A call was sent out, in three languages, to the community to bring to the center small, but very meaningful, objects from their lives. The objects were as personal as they could be, sometimes carrying with them heart-rending stories of loss or triumph, or memories of moments from lives that had never before been displayed publicly.

The connection is therefore intensely personal and yet displayed in the most public manner imaginable. The objects beg for explanation, and the owners now have an opportunity to talk about their pasts in ways they may not have imagined.

Spaces can be created with the greatest of care, yet remain disconnected from their audience. The Covello photomural is one of the ways we hope to bring personal connections between built spaces and the people who use them.