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Welcome to Saved by Design

September 15, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Breaks , Extremity Too

In Not (As) Fat: Expectation

In Finding Home:  Getting Your Home: The 3 Options

In The Rules:  Two Paths

In HOME PAGE Past: Present: Future

Extremity, Too.

September 13, 2014

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

James Wright

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home,
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on my late childhood, when extreme circumstances of a toxic family begat extreme reactions of everyone involved

Recent football news obsessions in national non-sports  media center around the extreme behavior of NFL players – punching a girlfriend, giving a switch to a child, any amount of Molly/booze/weed imbibing. The flurry of chiding piling on of outrage over obviously egregious acts – crossing the line into evil – seems to treat football as a trigger where the game is a binding catalyst for the Dark Side.

Just as in Wright’s poem above, for me, the extremity of the complete commitment of football was a perfect complement to the surreally dark extremities of my family. This is only seems reasonable if you have experienced the sport. As I noted in yet another post there is no way to understand why the devotional benefits of complete emotional investment are worth the extreme pain inevitably part of playing at every level. Suffice to say that a few players have glory associated with the pain, but 90% on those on the field revel only in the sense they are, together, greater than any less extreme combination of bodies and souls experienced in the rest of our days.

The willingness to go through the unending drudgery of training, the grinding repetition of practices, the pain experienced by most everybody on every live play, practice or game only makes sense in the crucible of devotion that results. Pain and effort weave these young men together as a knot of faith in a greater reality – transcending the sad limits of isolated lives and bodies.

So into this inherently extreme pressure cooking incubator of young male character come every human condition: arrogance, fear, love, sacrifice and, yes, the capacity for evil. The cancer of coaching abuse at Penn State by a devoutly evil man was not due to the extremity of football – it was due to the deeply evil realities within the perpetrator that used the trust football facilitates to engage heinous betrayal of that trust.

Young men who have traded their entire lives on using their bodies to gain dominance over the limitations we all live in – social, financial, emotional – now find themselves painted with the broadest brush of superficial judgment: football creates violent predators.

Easy answers tend to melt away when facts can be made part of the what we see around us: In my home town of Madison Connecticut, about 70 boys out of about 200 8th graders, become 50 playing freshman high school football become 20 graduating seniors become 5 college players. Out of about 10,000 college seniors who play football, perhaps 200 of them end up playing in the pros in each year – tinier and tinier selections of genetic gifts with mental focus finding the spotlight of the NFL and the status as “Role Model”.

Into this rarified air come another tiny minority – the thuggish cluster of jackasses, some of whom are no doubt juiced up with the chemicals they view as necessary to play at this level, and this tiniest of minorities becomes the launching pad to dismiss all the gifts the devotion of the 99.95% who experience football have grown up with, and saved me.

The sad truth is the extreme media focus the NFL begs for, uses and abuses cuts back on the league when the humanity of the players and coaches gets the lazar focus the league otherwise so heavily lusts for. The pomposity and hype of all professional athletics deserve all the reality checks they unwittingly create for themselves, but the absurd connection of any specific activity to the human capacity for evil is just too dumb to be accepted.

All humans have the capacity to wreck the lives of those around them. Those who live a life centered on necessary extremity: surgeons, litigators, police and others have more stress than most and thus less bandwidth to cope with the capacity for darkness that we all have within us. The greatest stress humans experience is in war: combat reveals that any athletic endeavor is a pale pantomime of high risk behavior. In that reality we begin to see domestic violence, suicide and social dissociation in our real-world warriors that costs lives in tragic consequence that corresponds to the overwhelming extremity of war’s insanity.

In simulating warriors, football players engage in a self-serving delusion that is an absurd reductionist connection to those who lay out their lives in risk for a greater good. In presuming that any sport, football or otherwise, feeds evil outcomes, the human condition is similarly dumbed down for easier understanding. It is easier to think less and judge more – and it throws reality under the bus of lazy assumption.

Extremity in focus and devotion results from circumstances present in every human life: my circumstances were extreme, but not unique:  finding an extreme devotion as a flywheel to a distorted home life’s fears and stress had extreme consequences: risk, pain, huge time spent in a short-term reality – but it helped me survive. Extremity is not evil: humans have that option independent of their devotional dedications.Bullies are cowards masquerading as warriors: but anyone’s capacity for evil acts are there without football. but pigeon-holing Ray Rice’s depravity to a dumb jock’s inherent thuggery gets all the rest of us, who are capable of equally brutal acts, off the hook.

Welcome to Saved by Design

September 8, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Architectural Inequality

In Not (As) Fat: Expectation

In Finding Home:  Getting Your Home: The 3 Options

In The Rules:  Two Paths

In HOME PAGE Past: Present: Future


September 7, 2014

Sometimes change is permanent.

Parents feel closer to antiquity as they drop off children into new academic crockpots of offspring evolution. Most feel even closer at graduation when the 4 year cookery is served up. Then even closer at offspring marriage. Yet closer at offspring offspringing into parenthood.

But those are evolutions of a continuum: parent:child.

There are changes that terminate continuums.

One son lived a decade in orchestras, the other on football teams. Both had high level skills for their venues, but the NFL and professional musicianship are only available to the tiny minority of the tiny minority who play football or music beyond high school.

Yes, the musician teaches, and sings, and may play informally for the rest of his life, the athlete may coach, but neither will ever describe themselves as a player again.

Breaks happen. Despite our desperate attempts to rationalize everything, to take the heat off, to vitiate the potential for irreversible error, we make choices, or choices are made for us, that close doors. In the Pollyanna make up call of feel good yada yada new doors may open, but some doors are shut tight in front or behind us.

Like everyone else, I engaged in romances that grew to the point where they killed themselves: Growing up with another person for a year or six can term limit the relationship: It ends. The door is closed. Did its experience facilitate the next relationship? I guess. But that path ends.

Breaks are ends, not means.

I feel the absence of football every day, 40 years after it ceased. Not tragic, not Walter Mitty, but it is present in its absence. Its end got me nowhere, its presence changed me. I will never draft again, the computer killed that craft. I know buildings, existing and designed, because I drafted for 20 years, but I have not graphically determined a building in 20 years – and that is a permanent break.

These breaks resonate in technologically violent overthrows of continuums that once enveloped millions. No horses to ride, no vaudeville to entertain, no rabbit ears on TV to curse. Many breaks are quite positive, but for most of us hard stops are hard to take.

Some breaks are liberating: literally in laws for the oppressed. Most breaks induce ennui. I know the 20 years of being the parent of dependent children was the one period of my life where there was a single, focal, undeniable priority:  Protecting, nurturing and encouraging children.

That overwhelming, all-consuming macro/micro/OCD life organizing Prime Directive broke a few years ago, not at the college drop off, but in the taking up of self-determination with which children fire their life concierges.

The good and bad news is that, like every other life evolution, the older you get the fewer breaks lie ahead. The Ultimate Break is there, always, but since its aftermath is definitionally distinct from the life we live everyday its presence is more frame than portal. As shared relationships begin to inevitably break in death, those changes are permanent – and I am incapable of processing their resonant impacts.

But the dozens of small and large breaks we all experience are the inuring layers of perspective that give us functional coping, if not understanding.

Many of us seek permanencies amid the breaks: politics, hobbies, health, religion: but things we seek can be lost. The things that are embedded within us are unbreakable. My relationships with what and who I am genetically devoted to are unbreakable, as they are not choices but extensions of my little piece of reality. But they are a precious few.

So both sons broke with dominant life foci in the last year, never again to provide priority fundamentalism in their lives. The absence of what simply cannot be continued may induce nostalgia, and pain and longing, but resignation  does not mean depression – it just sucks.


September 5, 2014


lechmodfrontsendakmodellynch 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!

Past: Present: Future

August 31, 2014

Houses are time travelers, – each is built for a brave new world, personal or cultural, and inevitably change to provide useful and comforting shelter as they age into new generations.

In his “Poetics of Space” Gaston Bachelard, uses homes as universal symbols that “satisfy both pride and reason – two irreconcilable terms.” Homes embody history, reflect the here and now and project a future for every occupier.

Homes are a human product: they mirror values set in very specific places for very different families – but they also freeze time at the moment of their completion, only to see the passage of time change them.

Homes often embody hope and focus to the future, homes often embody the past and they wrap us in history. New England is filled with truly antique homes, and new homes striving for the provenance of history. Parts of Long Island and Connecticut have iconic Mid Century Modernist homes – once extremely edgy, now venerated as windows to architectural passion.

The pungency of  extremes – venerated age in an ancient Colonial, or the denial of any past or present in a Modernist future-focused art piece limits marketability for mass appeal, but heightens the fetishistic desire of their devotees.

Most of us find ourselves living in the moment of coping with the here-and-now of our homes: simple registration to a neighborhood’s context, functional fine-tuning within the safety of a known style and tight budget. The vast aesthetic reality of our housing stock is softly age-ambiguous: domesticated and comfy, versus edgy or antique.

Provenance from the past or a visionary designer is the exception to the rule of finding safety in a real estate pigeon hole of type and style. Beyond physical comfort, the fiscal comfort of bankability manifest in a Ranch/Cape/Center Hall often trumps the thrill of the historic or the art piece.

Do you, like architect Le Corbusier, see your home a “machine for living” – future focused?, or do you feel, as theorist Christopher Alexander wrote, that our houses should embody “a timeless way of building” -“same today as it has ever been”?

OCD Gardening Part 3

August 31, 2014

garden map

The map above represents 30 years of effort. Its rationale was conveyed in :

And the West Side of the site was chronicled in:

The east side, wilder, weirder and actually has vestiges of what we overcame to create our place on this temporal plane. Here are the efforts at managing a brutal patch of earth: 


11) (actually 14) E-Mailed Ferns.  Itching to do something in a newly cleared space, I found a source for large, oriental ferns from Seattle.  Upon planting, they spread relatively slowly, but seemed quite healthy until the onslaught of the newly liberated tidal salt water (see above) managed to kill 70% of them, leaving a clump nestled between two rocks now quite a “nest”.


12) (actually 15) Choir Boy Gulch  – using 12 year old choir boy labor 10 years ago, an odd tide accepting inlet has been lovingly infested with Swamp Iris – 2 varieties: invasive and passive – the passive ones have withered, the invasive have rocked it


13) (actually 16) The Remediation Garden.  In creating the Barn of Fun, the excavator decided that the silt fence designed to keep disturbed soil out of the salt marsh should actually be put through the salt marsh.  Not surprisingly, the Wetlands Officer required me to remediate this condition with a natural gardenscape of indigenous plans which have largely worked.


14) (actually 17) The Hosta Highway: getting a new 2/3 acre for a septic system for the Barn of Fun meant the septic line had to rip threw the interlocking rocks, roots and overgrowth matt – creating a place for 400 $1 hostas in Memorial Day Weekend 200o. the last few years have seen a wane of hostas and a rematting of roots – We  deposit spent Xmas Trees at (H)


15) (actually 18) The North Forty.  This new septic field easterly plateau was dubbed “The North Forty” due to relative remoteness. With great protest from my family, we spent the better part of a weekend scratching at the fairly uneven (but level) ground to sew grass seed that actually took – instant meadow!  Apple and pear trees (labeled on map) were planted that never bear fruit. Wild flowers are mowed around as are odd fern-ish things (V) and something that looks like creeping strawberries – we have had several daisy crescendo’s, but sadly not this year. This counts as 2 gardens as I attempted to create a vegetable bed (I) at a central, almost sunny spot by using bags of manure and bales of peat moss over the last 5 years: only a tough asparagus plant survived (from the 12 planted) tomatoes died laughing at me but Moonflower from seed do grow – as does the blackberry push – which feeds the birds.


16) (Actually 20) Epimedium!   A miraculous discovery – this Chinese plant can tolerate poor soil, no sun, and little water, thus it is perfect for my inhospitable landscape.  I created a large patch of it in the darkest, driest portion of the property.


17) (actually 21) Parking Lot Border.  Soil had to be trucked in, and hostas began, but a mysterious toxic patch (J) next to the shed seems to kill almost everything and Epimedium has been brought into service.


Failures.  Poppies attempted survival for four or five years, but they finally gave up the ghost.  Aguga (a technically “invasive” plant) worked for several years, but now only appears randomly (and mowed around).  “Creeping mint” lasted about a month.  Three “Wild Woodland Orchids”, at about $100 each, were marginally successful for two or three years and then simply faded away.  Ours may be the only site in all of Connecticut where the state bush, the Mountain Laurel, is unceremoniously killed by the site’s inhospitality. I tried to create two small vegetable gardens (you could count them as Garden 18 (actually 22), in memoriam, amongst the small interlocking rocks, two areas of about four feet wide by eight feet long where all the existing roots and “soil” were lifted up, the organic material sieved out, and new very rich soil created only to have sun-deprived strawberryless strawberries and one dinner’s worth of potatoes the first year, then one or two pumpkins that ended up being eaten by animals. These beds have been given over to some nice volunteers.



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