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October 28, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Ebola, Architecture, & Quarantines

In Not (As) Fat: The Body as Architecture

In Finding Home:  Oak Hill Rd Construction Photos, 10-14

In The Rules:  Building on the Water 


Ebola, Architecture, and Quarantines

October 28, 2014





Occasionally, the truth comes out. Age helps you to tell the truth, so does jet lag. But extreme beliefs are often uncontainable in any context. At a press conference this week, an 85 year old and just off the plane Starchitect, Frank Gehry raised his middle finger to the press and blurted:

“’Let me tell you one thing. In this world we are living in, 98 per cent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it. Once in a while, however, a group of people do something special. Very few, but God, leave us alone.”

It was a cry for quarantine – perhaps of Good Architects from The World, but in truth, Gehry’s cry was for the world, and its messy context, history and culture to be put safely away from Great Architecture’s playpen (the “us” in his blurt). Some have said it was a rant against the mediocrity of Modern Architecture, but it was, to my ear, more of a plea to sequester bourgeois infections from the divinely inspired designs of “us”‘.

Architects who execute “something special”, i.e. Fine Arts Architecture, definitionally demand attention. But in truth Fine Arts Architecture’s present radicalism is insignificant to most of us. If a building’s design is clueless, we can still use it without threatening our existence. Intellectual tone deafness may be offensive to sensibilities, but it’s not dangerous.

Gehry’s anger is nothing new, but its delivery system, The New Media, has radicalized every dissonance and disagreement to create a zillion emotional and intellectual quarantines.

“Radical” is a relative term, but if someone can kill you, you naturally view them as radical: we have a huge justice system to protect us from willful violence. That same primal protective instinct creates Pandemic Panic: AIDS a generation ago, Ebola now.

But in this time of instant, universal oversharing of everything the “Radical” perception gets stretched to any number of less instinctive realms of primal fear. Fox News is destroying America. The Tea Party will kill innocents.

Fear creates the Quarantine Imperative. The instinct to protect via quarantine is not limited to criminal behavior or disease. In 1942 Americans who happened to have immigrated here from Japan and for three centuries Africans forced to be slaves were both effectively imprisoned to “protect” Caucasian majorities. Fear is at least as powerful a disease as Ebola.

Society used to compartmentalize those it feared with stereotypes, prejudice and cultural apartheid – now the different are made evil. We quarantine the different into caricature. We have an infinite number of Social Justice Systems convicting those different from us to the hard time of demonization.

Architecture is no different than any other fine arts closed-loop belief system. Those who live within its Petri dish of self-reinforcing ideology feel safe in their distinction from the mediocrity of the rest of the culture. If Gehry was not fearful of a reality he could not control, a reality around everything he has ever built, he may not have been quite so pissed off.

The Tower of Babble known as the internet takes differing perspectives into radicalized confrontation. Into this new paradigm Fine Arts Modernism has new license to isolate and neuter it’s competing aesthetic alternatives.

Like Fox News or MSNBC the architectural press quarantines any architectural apostasies into non-existence for those who listen to the echo chambers of academia and journalism. Schools reinforce this Starchitecture system and the alternatives become marginalized – such as Classicism which lives in a few schools and publications, or, alternatively, un-Modernist voices are crib killed, like Post Modernism.

Fine Arts Architecture does not eat its own: it simply shuns its bastard runt children, quarantines them into a place that goes unseen: consigning them to the rest of the world Gehry railed against. The next question, then, is who is quarantining whom?



October 28, 2014


photo photo (1)sendakmodellynch model


Under Construction



Recently Completed!



episcoglassphoto1johnsongardenphoto4photo-1IMG_9634 (1) (Copy)


The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.


In New Haven Register: Weeds on New Haven’s Oak Street Lawn

In New Haven Magazine: Back Yard Forward

In New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty is a Buried Building

In New Haven Register: Tulips, Architecture Students & Bubbles that Burst

In New Haven Register: Flood tide of rental housing could change New Haven’s landscape

In New Haven Magazine: Still by the Sea

In New Haven Magazine: Preserving the Past for the Future

In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: Boy Was It Worth It

In New Haven Magazine: From Family to Farm

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!


October 28, 2014

home page

THIS THURSDAY, Oct. 30th! (Eve of All Hallow’s Eve)



“Be afraid…Be very afraid…..” 

Halloween Homes: when homes become scary: the hidden dangers, strange stories and mysteries you have found in your home: CALL 203 336 9756!

HOME is…?

October 26, 2014

home page

Duo Dickinson hosts an architect, an artist and a true home maker for an hour of defining the various ways home can be perceived, made and modified – we missed Binnie Klein, but muddled thru – accommodating necessary WPKN fundraising in the first few minutes and at a couple of interludes during the broadcast: HAVE A LISTEN


October 25, 2014


Most historians credit the first Homecoming as a pitched battle of football teams between Baylor and Southwestern University in 1909. The idea is as simple as a Kegger: when the football team comes back from a road trip for a home game you throw a party.

Alumni return and relive. Football teams have rallies. Students feel and alumni feel justified in mental distortion.

As prepare to depart for the first (and last) intentional Homecoming without a child in full participation, I realize returning to a home port happens everyday to everybody at some point in their lives.

As babies humans receive and arrive fresh everywhere they go: the sense of return comes only after memory develops. Feeling the fulfillment of memory: living in nostalgia real time, Homecoming can be eating your favorite meal, seeing Field of Dreams again (and again) or just seeing someone you have lost touch with.

But it involves physical contact and experience – embodying memory in context.

As with everything fraught with conditions of emotional intensity, Homecoming can fail to live up to expectations, be fearfully anticipated, or simply suck. The person you once loved is a jerk. The apartment you rocked it with in your New Urban Life is a dump. The football team loses 38-3. In the rain. With drunks.

But most daunting are the Homecomings you do not control. When you have to go to a Thanksgiving of freaks you have to call relatives it’s nostalgia writ psychotic. When that pain in you knee returns in familiar despair. When you find yourself alone. Again.

Coming home has the rosy glow that home is sweet, that its where your heart is, that you can go home again. But places have value based on their reality, not on desire. Truth be told, many of us want our children to be Mini-Me’s – psycho-homecomings of ego extension. Absent cloning and a replicated upbringing to yours, your children are just who they are.

When I drove by a place of deep despondency I had not seen in 35 years I was literally going to a home I was had, but it was like touching a hot stove, not a portal to a place of safety and nurture:quite the opposite?

Homecoming may have a great brand, but like any other experienced reality, it’s complicated.

More complicated as we get older (and old). More places we have left. More places to return to, whether we like it or not. And the Final Homecoming – the Big Return is to a place we have never been, all know is coming and have spun any millions of “takes”, rationalizations, denials and romantic dodges to skew its completely alien truth: we, and all the living, stop living this life.

Whether we are running away from home, becoming lost forever, or returning to a state of Grace is unknowable. Faith is hope, but memory is truth: but a subjective one. That same house I visited a few years ago was a place where another family grew up after we left in happiness.

Reinvention has particular necessity in desperation. But renewal in Homecoming happens too. I created the only home I have ever wanted to come home to, but I leave it so briefly, only short term memory is involved. As the years go by, that type of Homecoming might be the most sustainable.

Building on the Water

October 25, 2014


Water – Living in love with it, without breaking your heart (or budget) The romantic allure of waterside living is undeniable, but back in Colonial times no one wanted to live on or near the coast who could afford to live inland. The coast was fraught with danger – storms, flooding, disease and wind are more severe on the water than inland. Those perils still exist, but are managed today, and living by the ocean, lakes or rivers has gone from scary liability to desired asset.

Managing risk by the water means better building practices and stringent code requirements for new construction and major renovations of existing homes. Those codes stringently mandate structural design standards, setbacks from water, and site design limitations, all intended to minimize the impact of flooding and on any coastal site and wind on the oceanfront.

Most regulations set maximums – how tall your house can be, how big your footprint is, or how many bedrooms you can have. But regulations that make it safer to live by the water require minimums – most classically a minimum height of a home’s lowest floor above where a high tide, flood level or tidal surge might get to. Similarly safe distance to the edge of the water is prescribed, and even the nature of the finished grading is reviewed and verified not to direct water dangerously towards your neighbors.

From foundations up to design requirements to resist high winds water focused home design plays by a whole separate rule book from its landed compatriots. In those “high wind velocity” areas the actually type of glass can be prescribed, and in the most dangerously exposed areas (as determined by the Federal guidelines as required by FEMA) protections for all the doors and windows – expensive shutters or plywood panels that could be installed when storms hit.

Even if you are living lightly by a marsh, far away from any windswept ocean or flooding river, the water on your site regulates where your septic can be, how you can add onto your home, or the level of your basement. Because all regulations key on where the water is as a line on your site plan, and what level your land is, a survey will be required to nail down what limitations are present on your site, and an experienced local attorney could be necessary as well.

There are several essential ways homes near water have to have their aesthetics shaped by where they are built.

These dimensional and structural requirements often require licensed engineers to determine what standards apply and then design to those standards– and architects can really help in accommodating the lofting of your home to the appropriate height as required.

The brutality of the weather on sites on the water mean painted surfaces are not a good idea as the sun, wind and rain tend to erode any coating. So masonry, vinyl, natural wood shingles and increasingly PVC plastic are often the default settings for exterior cladding.

Doors and windows that open and close by sliding simply do not seal as well as doors and windows that swing on hinges.

Simple roof shapes that avoid valleys (folds in the roof between gables and dormers) resist water.

Roof overhangs and porches shed the intense sun and drenching wind-driven rain that often accompany waterside sites. 

Where you build can have a huge impact on what you build – and no more so than when the forces of nature threaten your home. The beauty of water is undeniable, but its dangers prevented our ancestors from valuing it –until technology made its dangers less daunting. But those technologies have impacts on the design of the homes that bask in the undeniable allure of waterside living.


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