Skip to content

Welcome to Saved by Design!

April 23, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff:  A Week’s Thought Experiment

In Not (As) Fat: Spring Roll

In Finding Home:  Unforeseen Circumstances by MidModReno

In The Rules:  Words

In Home Page: Home Page


April 23, 2014

Under Construction:


Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 12.41.00 PM


Recently Completed!


photo-1 photo-2photo1 2013.07.07Update3photo-1


The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.


In The New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty Is Buried Building

In The New Haven Register: Yale’s Evans Hall: Overdressed for Success

In New Haven Magazine: Cubed

In New Haven Magazine: Finding Design

In The New Haven Register:  Pearl Harbor Bridge in New Haven Extension of Greatest Generation’s Legacy

In Hartford Faith & Values:  An Elevator on Orchard Street

In The New Haven Register:  Are Neighbors More Neighborly when there is Greater Density?

In New Haven Magazine: Lawyers In Love

In Ink Magazine:  Architect Duo Dickinson: Celebrating 35 Years of Good Design for Everyone

In New Haven Magazine: A House of Homes

In The Source:  Duo Dickinson, Architect at Large

In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes:  On the Indian River

In The New Haven Register:  Aesthetically inconvenient Mudd Library faces death sentence

In Connecticut Magazine: Elements of Surprise

In The New Haven Register: Real Icons Aplenty in New Haven

In The Mercurial: Erosion Revelation

In Architecture Boston: Post-Modernism and Intelligent Design

In Design Bureau: Steve & Frank

Archive: Real Life Survival Guide



On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes



On Home Page, Binnie Klein & I debut our new radio show. Listen here!

On A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!


Unforeseen Circumstances

April 19, 2014

Our wonderful builder Scott Striby has found yet another unpleasant surprise: while replacing a skylight, he found that someone cut through a support beam to put in the old skylight!

Even I know that’s not kosher. Read more and see photos here.

Easter vs Reality

April 18, 2014

The Internet has ended editors. Anyone writes everything. As fact checking becomes a civic obligation versus a job role, the mind hive acts like a vicious immune system to purge the body cyber of errors. Somehow Spell Check has liberated all of our egos to create a collective Thought Check, where verification equals validation.

Earlier this week I spelled Jimi as Jimmy and the instant correction direction ensued. 

So it is with anything that is floating, without the imprimatur of validated truth: no videotape no trust. So it’s not surprising that in the realm of religion, in Christianity’s most precious nestled days of faith – the Triduum in Holy Week – I have to say that the word “Easter” is not about bunnies or eggs: it’s derived from any number of spellings of a Saxon Goddess.

Co-opting Pagan dates, rituals and names was part of the Early Christian  Survivalist Playbook. If Christ was videotaped everything would be a lot easier. A dash cam on the Centurian’s chariot would have validated that we weren’t trusting, we were fact checked: no Jimmy’s for us, only Jimi.

But no, there will always be Jimmy’s, misremembering facts, projecting your prejudice into the fact stream: and this is why the weirdness of all those incoherently uncoordinated “last words” of Jesus are far more impactful because the fact checker was not part of the editorial board when the Gospels got real about a century after the events happened.

“Easter” puts a gloss on a complicated set of facts: some historic, most human: a guy who was pissing some people off was killed by a government who did a lot of that to keep order in a place they weren’t native to. His dead-as-a-door-nail carcass was put away for eternity: but then it gets weird.

Rather than lockstep history (otherwise known as propagandizing), rather than fact-checking, we are left with messy, incoherent contradictions, and thousands of Div School dissertations trying to coordinate the cat herd that is the Bible.

The facts are simple and completely imprecise and incomplete: after this public figure was killed over a long period of time 10 feet up overlooking a hill, seen by a lot of people in mid death, something happened. 

No matter how frustrating it is for the fact checkers in each of us, what happened is not an event 2,000 years ago, what happened is that we are now factually connected to a reality that is not dependent on Spell Check or video: You either know that something is within you that does not believe the Fact Checking of our lives: grades, resumes, bucket lists or where our kids got into college or the measurables are sufficient. If the factoids rule, no one who bases life on them would care what anyone else believes: but the fact checkers care very, very much that this God thing is wrecking it for them.

The chaos of unchecked truth undermines the rest of our belief in social control of information, but it is part of humans. Or at least it’s part of me. Easter may really be named after “Estros” [have at it checkmates], several unco-ordinated, contradictory and vague recaps are all we have in fact check land for this “Triduum” to hang its truther cred upon, but I have to, have to, go with the fact within a few billion humans:

Something Happened – and like the urge to correct and be be correct, the reality of Faith is a data point that Spell Check should put into the Human Dictionary


Trying To Get Ahead of the Past – Janis, Jimi and Jesus

April 15, 2014

The internet tells me someone named George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Religions are fraught with fulfilled prophesy: miraculous enactment of ancient predictions. The New Testament takes this even farther: Jesus ached to create a predicted future from an enumerated past.

I, on the other hand, would give anything to forget my growing up and am depressed when I see myself autonomically playing a tape of my parents’ mouthing some attitude or preconception (usually involving the imperative to mow your own lawn). Jesus had to ride an ass into Jerusalem, or he would compromise…: what? Who was keeping score? It must have been like the various political storekeepers certifying that the votes of lawmakers follow the prescribed path, whether left or right.

Who among us would like any length of our lives recorded, graded, replayed? The dramatically non viable relationships of the entire 1970′s were crystallized in my several long term romantic errors where hope and sex drowned out perspective. I careened around paying off academic debt, and creating significant bar tabs.

But in the end, my parents had detached from me years and years ago, and reattachmeant was simply not possible: so my decisions happened in the blank slate of a mind without my parents’ history as a set of guideposts.

In response to my uncharted flow from about 13 on, I (and my wife) conspired a path of extreme perspective for our kids. They have avoided the nightmares – at 22 and 24 they are ready to roll as adults – but at their age I was illegally driving, imitating a state of adulthood because I had no history to reference and repeat.

In fulfilling parental prophesy how have we warped our kids?

How many asses have they ridden because their Old Testament Parents noted that it was required? Neither has tattoos, a drug record, or even made a notable asinine act – they now have a clean platform to dirty up their adulthood upon. That is one destiny. And a better one than living a life in growing surety that you would die young.

Like Janis, or Jimi, or John Belushi, Jesus had a sense his extreme life was leading to an even more extreme end. In living a life over thin air, I never had a sense where I was going, but the survival imperative scared me to a platform that, in the end simulated my sons’: no drugs, no tattoos, no extreme asinine acts amid the thousands of calculations.

My focus on survival was because I had no net, my boys’ survival was helped by having one, and Jesus had the full-on net of expectations embedded in arcania, ritual and symbol.

I wish I knew what that was like…


A Few Days – a serial sequence of thought

April 13, 2014

I am not comfy with declarations of “Holy”. I am the embodiment of the profane: beyond launching F-bombs at the drop of a sound bite, reveling in the trappings and measurables of achievement and wanting to eat bacon at every meal I am immersed in the here and now.

Even though I only have bacon one August morning a year in a remote Vermont location, away from the Fooderazzi, that is no “Holy” act.

Even though I work my 58.5 year-old tendons and cartilage to lactic acid overdose virtually 7 days a week, this is not “Holy”.

It is the opposite: in occasionally doing what I should do every hour of every day I live falling short. The sense of “shortness” is not from some canonical grade sheet or ethical purity screed: its just what I feel I know about me. So in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter I have qualms about these 7 days being “Holy Week”, or even the 2,000 year old guilt trip of the Passion Story where jealous dolts screw Jesus by springing the cool renegade.

Its easy to mock the Bible: I see glibsters club the bible’s baby seals of food/sex/gender absurdities with smug derision, because, you know, its all so completely lame. Their smirk turns into righteous outrage if you note that a combination of 4,000 and 2,000 year old stabs at history, faith and politics might need a little less 21st century quarterbacking – “you guys are killing women! wrecking human love! shielding sexual predators!” – and preventing me from ever eating bacon I might add…

But listening to The Passion read today the deadly dull truth is pretty unglam, unglib and definitively unholy: humans have not gotten very far from those lame descriptions of ancient jackassery:

Like Pilot, I push to get stuff done, do not fall into the shrill self-justifications of splinter groups with an agenda, and I am mostly unmoved by the plaintive cries for mercy in a cruel world – however I never try to screw anyone and I do work my ass off to make things better for things I believe in, - but those passive positive acts have nothing to do with staring at a crucifix or reading the Bible.

Its not about being “Holy” or even trying to be like Jesus – its the truth – the fact – that while I live in the here and now, my genetic hardwiring is based in what I feel. Inescapable, ignoble, unholy. I would be pretty pissed that some guy off the street gets the death penalty for,…what? But I would stay away from him when he was getting railroaded.

Just like the Disciples.

So in these few days of “Holy” week I do not feel some special bond with the sacred, I feel the grinding bum-out that we humans are as  obsessed with the immediacy of survival now as 100 generations ago, that the easy acts are those of cruelty, that generosity or altruism is either ignored or undermined by the suspicion that whatever seems to be too good to be true probably is.

I don’t feel Easter as a redemption: I feel that for one brief day the truth, the reality of Grace, unmerited love by a God whose kid we humans either killed or let die, can be accepted. Like weddings or births or graduations that transform years of  grinding effort or fearful waiting, Easter is going to happen, and we kinda know its because in the end, things are not dark, hope is not delusional, and whether we think we have a choice or not, we are unconditionally worth loving – despite our unholiness….




April 12, 2014

Language is an inspiration and a trap.

Like music, the words we use are as confused in their expression as we are in our motives for using them – written or spoken, they are received with every ounce of prejudice we have baked in our brains.

A Columbia Provost “air quotes” academic jargon to break the ice with a rapt audience of newly accepted MSW students (including my son). She was hoping to show her humanity by mocking the edu-speak these best and brightest had been bathed in for the last few hours. But most of these students do not get the joke and dead pan her schtick.

What you say or write is only one half of the equation – everything said is heard by other humans, who hear every word with a different filter of expectation. David Brooks writes a 600 word piece on the flip side of our obsession with happiness – and is pummeled for hidden agendas, hackery, previous columns and just general anger at him.

No matter how words are heard, having a common language does not prevent obscurity. Proprietary information is inherently off-putting – lawyers, doctors, academicians routinely rely on professionally correct/culturally obtuse words to give their conclusions cover against common sense.

Repeating the same words over and over makes their sound a fact independent of their content. This is how billionaires burn money during elections.

Mindless mangling the Pledge of Allegiance or the Lord’s Prayer turns distilled meaning into rote sounds.

Any number of IRS, Federal Reserve, and economics professors have turned dollars and cents into philosophical arguendo fodder.

When deeply personal sensibilities are proffered in the poetics of prose, things can convey a darkside for those who are unmoved by their lyric intent. Thomas Cranmer’s 16th century words in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.”  touch me like few other assembled phrases. But their deep humility and supplication was seen to be so demeaning for proper self-esteem maintenance in 1979 that the politically correct lexicon safely vaporized them for a new version of the same service.

But architects have no editing authority to protect our hubristic megalomania from full-on self-parodying absurdity. Patrik Schumacher is a front man for the world’s hottest starchitect: Zaha Hadad. Love it or hate it, their work has a POV. Simply put, Form Uber Alles: shape IS meaning: content and context are foils to abstracted shapes and the incidental spaces they define.

I find this aesthetic to be laughably self-serving and simple-minded – that’s just me – and I am clearly in archi-world’s minority view, a view largely unspoken as it might mean defending abstraction: which is as rigorous as an intellectual treatise defending your favorite color.

But my making light of the lite-ness of the Form Uber Alles doo-loop is just me. But when the designer rises to object to another “take” on architecture, in this case the Pritzker Prize being awarded to Shigeru Ban, a Japanses architect, who, like me, does a lot of humanitarian work, the words Schumacher uses deliciously unveil the narcissistic vapidity any architect can fall prey to: but when culture, context or client is seen as sad distortions of architecture, the tone deaf arrogance is priceless:

“Architects are in charge of the form of the built environment, not its content…We need to grasp this and run with this despite all the (ultimately conservative) moralizing political correctness that is trying to paralyse us with bad conscience and arrest our explorations if we cannot instantly demonstrate a manifest tangible benefit for the poor – as if the delivery of social justice is the architect’s competency.”

One baby step deeper, and when you read more of the Starchitect’s words, the ideas are laid independent of the sculpture his firm massages into consensual ooze with the camera:

“We need to understand how new forms can make a difference for the progress of world civilisation. I believe today this implies the intensification of communicative interaction with a heightened sense of being connected within a complex, variegated spatial order where all spaces resonate and communicate with each other via associative logics.”

Meaning: “my architecture is the progress of world civilization”…while “content” is not part of what architects should deal with…

Words always have meaning – intentional or by default: when intentionally obscuring, deadened by rote or fear, or heard with a frenzy that crib kills thoughtfulness, language is a blunt instrument for our own shallow intellectual laziness. Words do not die: they hang in space, they cannot be wished away, especially in cyberland.

We may try to write our own rulebook so we can never lose the games we play, but the infinite competing voices of the internet ultimately pre-empts propaganda from its swamping override of other attitudes: with a byproduct of the screaming hive allowing benign prose to elliptically become benighted by those who loath the writer, a la Brooks.

But when genuinely held values are offered up without apology as truths they have a simple bar to clear: are they valid in the world beyond the speaker’s?

Architecture has seen practitioners endlessly redefine what makes legitimate or innovative buildings: but inside baseball rationalizations do not hold water beyond buildings if they are blissfully contemptuous of what the rest of experience in the buildings the practitioner creates.

And So It Goes.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 93 other followers