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  • Writer's pictureGM Shay

The Lesson of Galveston

One of the most inspiring books that I own is Galveston, A City on Stilts. Published in 2008, it photographically and succinctly narrates the grade-raising of a Gulf Coast Island after the ravaging storm of 1900 where at least 6000 people perished. It would seem to most as madness to propose the raising of all remaining buildings which amounted to nearly 2000 structures on 500 city blocks. The effort also included the complex city infrastructure of water, sewer, and gas lines, as well as a streetcar system to a new height of 17 feet at its highest point. Ambitious beyond belief, but they achieved this plan and constructed an impressive 3-mile protective concrete wall against the sea, as well as a new bridge to connect the island and mainland.

Their story is of epic proportion and provides irrefutable insight into our human capacity, as well as the collective good that can come from a project divined to aim high when a community is at risk. For me, that a grief-stricken town of 30,000 could so comprehensively re imagine and resurrect itself seems like an experience worthy of study and emulation.

I know intimately of the Great Storm because I was born near Galveston and would frequently enjoy the yields of their colossal efforts. I was however of the “Space Age” and sunning on the beach as my father, an aerospace engineer, endeavored at a different mission. With stars in his eyes, my dad aligned his vision with another legendary project called NASA. He was one of 60-70 freshly graduated engineers that began a space program on the bay waters of Houston. And although he was a 5th generation hill country boy, rooted in central Texas, he pulled up his stakes to work on a boundary-breaking project.

The emerging theme of this introduction is that the impact of an inspired environment becomes infectious and life changing. Inspired environments cause one to realize the significance of committing oneself to a larger purpose. It is this very impulse that brings me up to date, and why I now live in Savannah, GA. Why I am working at GM Shay.

My career experience is as an interdisciplinary designer. I have been trained as an architect, a stone sculptor and a traditional stone mason. I have labored to combine these disciplines during a period of almost 30 years, and I have recently arrived in Savannah to live amongst industry giants once again. I say this with sincere intent. Savannah inspires, and for me it is a feeling that I have known before, a feeling similar to the sweeping emotion felt in my first job after architecture school.

Long ago I was hired as a restoration project manager at The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in New York City. My role was to restore churches within the Diocese and beyond. These parish projects helped finance the construction of the Cathedral, but also I was rewarded by the fact that they were quality-driven projects due to an intrinsic standard set in their historic materials and methods. I grew to appreciate not only the edifices, but the philosophy and sumptuousness of the craft. I began to realize that not only did I admire the form of these buildings but how finely integrated the philosophy melded with the technology. Throughout my career this appreciation of historic architecture has swelled, but remember I am also spawned in the “Space Age”. This means that I have felt an equal pull and sensitivity to the contemporary world that we inhabit. In fact, I have grown to feel most passionate about developing a harmony between these disparate worlds. If counting, perhaps I have more dedicated portfolio projects to the preservation or rehabilitation of historic properties, but in this next phase of my career, I am aiming for a technologically expanded experience. Indeed, this dream is why I have relocated to Savannah. I wish to join the forces of Savannah’s spirited place and to honor its enchanting environment. I also wish to labor in a community known widely for its vibrant creatives, thoughtful preservation practitioners and urban designers.

Savannah, it’s been a long road to get here, but I am glad to have made the journey.



GMShay is proud to welcome Holly Kincannon to our team and appreciate her welcoming words and fresh perspective.


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