The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT is finished!
In the New Haven Register: Architects Performing a Glass Act
In the Hartford Courant: Before & After: 1700s Madison Home Gets $200,000 Makeover
In The Mercurial: Erosion Revelation
In The Episcopal New Yorker: New Chapel for Incarnation Camp
In New Haven Magazine: One Year Wonder
In The Boston Globe: Empty Nesters Carve Out “Boomer Caves”
On CORA: The Great Debate
In The Living Church: Grace in Built Form
In New Haven Magazine: Building a Home for the Hendersons
In Architecture Boston: Post-Modernism and Intelligent Design
In Proud Green Home: Just Say No to 72 Degrees
USA Today includes my advice and a reference to Staying Put in Homeowners Keep Renovations Simple, Budget-Friendly
On A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!
On NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook, Duo and Tereasa Surratt talk with Tom about summer cottages. Listen here!
On the most recent episode of Real Life Survival Guide, we discuss healthy eating. Listen here!
Curtis Wayne of Burning Down the House, Charlotte Barnard and I chatted this past weekend on defining home. Click here to listen!
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT MY NEW BOOK, STAYING PUT:
In Cottages and Bungalows: Five Ways to Turn Your ‘Starter’ Home into Your ‘Forever’ Home
Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Read this book before a single nail is pounded.” Click here for the full review.
A great feature in Houzz with lots of photos! Staying Put: How to Improve the Home You Have
The Washington Post: Remodeling Trends Shift with Housing Bust
In US News and Word Report: Is the Weak Housing Market Altering Our Idea of Home?
Pilar Viladas with the New York Times writes, “These pages are crammed with good advice (avoid gutters at all costs; add wide eaves instead) and realistic assessments of the way we live now.” Read the full review.
The Internet is the reincarnation of the Tower of Babel. In trying to create an elevating access to universal communion, we seem to have facilitated explosive division. Each and every POV has become an F U. The unfiltered open flood gates of raw reactions and self righteousness has not allowed for communication as much as it has radicalized the loudest voices. While most of us sit and watch the cyber road rage with annoyance or mystified distance from the snarky flaming hatred, there has been, to me, a defining of ourselves that is both clarified and dangerous.
There have always been Teams – affinity groups we gravitate to - to be with those who like what we like. Book clubs, March Madness betting brackets, those who fish, golf or watch Downton Abbey. You volunteer to be a part of it, you can leave as desired, it is all based on shared, versus imposed, values.
There have always been Cults – superteams where affinity has transitioned to messianic prescription: Cultists often believe that if you have a different set of values than theirs you are best ignorant or at worst, dead wrong and dangerous in your denial of The Truth. You are recruited, you are signed up, you are committed to the Cult’s survival and ascendancy. Think most old timey religion, new timey politics and Red Sox fans. And if you leave the Cult, if you betray the Truth, well, you are both damned and dangerous.
The Internet, technology’s ground game, has rendered many Teams into Cults as the loudest voices that were once muffled by paper and phone line transmission are broadcast at Level 11, ear-splitting radicalization, worldwide, 24/7/365.
Our culture has seen some Cults flow to Team status. In the northeast religion has become completely optional, with no negative connotations to disbelief, let alone nonattendance, likewise marriage. Our military has become better as it has become voluntary. Choosing to do something makes the doing a reflection of your values, being compelled to do something usually reflects someone else’s.
Today, cultural dissonance seems newly invigorated by its unfettered platform of technology. Just like those descending the Tower of Babel, the loudest voices in cyberspace talk more, listen less, and seem to understand no perspective but their own.
But occasionally technology renders Cults into Teams…
This new pulpit has created some problems for professions that traded on the perception of value as much as in the value they offered those who might purchase their services. The bright light of debunking pretense and affect that is the mother’s milk of the flash-mobocracy of the Internet age and has eroded the mojo of many professions. Lawyers need to confront Legal Zoom with the most aggressive advertising since Crazy Eddy. Every doctor has millions of second opinions on WebMD. And architects have lost the mystic power of the pen with every click of Sketch Up.
Architects have traditionally had all the bravado of someone who has low-self-esteem. Like the fashion model who never feels pretty, or the bully who is scared of being found out as a wimp, we have pushed our profession forward on a tide of cool. While I think of us as a Team, many, if not most architects have the sensibility of a Cult – where the importance of what we do is absolute, and its lack of acknowledgement is evidence of personal or cultural stupidity.
The black garb, groovy eyewear, and syntax that has all the pretension of fine artists smothered in the pseudo-scienctific jargon reminiscent of economists or social scientists confirm architects’ desperation for validation from the world. In its absence, we settle on conferring to each other – with lectures, awards, books and magazines we simultaneously create and are the audience for.
Architects have had a growing sense that their role has been threatened by a sea of competing professionals – LEED barkers, Interiors Experts, Design-Build technocrats, and any number of unlicensed, unregulated, un-AIA’ed “consultants”, “designers”, ”managers” – who can essentially do the generalist job of architect by slicing off a thousand cuts of the pie bit-by-bit. The fear is palpable in the circling wagons of academia, media and AIA chapters to staunch the bleeding that most obviously is due to economic collapse, but, in truth is the fruit of a changing world – fruit that other professions have been poisoned by as well.
That fear of losing gravitas is compounded by the uncontrollable world change of universally accessed and user friendly technology, the present day version of the steam engine rendering millions of oxen irrelevant. It has made architects deeply disturbed that what they do will die because technology facilitates pale, soulless mimicry of our craft by those who do not know the full impact of their software manipulation.
We have a stark warning sign in the allied profession we all use, and sometimes participate in as part of what we do: photography. The profession of photography has seen technology degrade its Cult into a Team. Photographers had the keys to the kingdom of making images that are in focus, color-corrected, bright, clear and vibrant. It once took years of education, apprenticeship, technological facility and a real level of dexterous craftsmanship to create reliable photographs that represented the real world in two dimensions.
The Fine Arts Cult took a long time to embrace photography because of its craftiness and technology, and the irony is that just when it was unquestioned that photographers can be fine artists at the highest level of expression, the mystical techniques that enhanced their Cult have been rendered toothless by technology.
My brother tried for 2 hours to teach me how to use his Leica in 1970. It was impossible. Now my iPhone takes better images than my brother ever could (he is now a dispatcher for a transit company – despite his knowledge and skill as a professional shutterbug). The Brownie or Polaroid was able to freeze a memory, but it was one in a million that the results could be so error-free and lustrous that anyone could be moved by your personal image. That has changed and camera ads now show everyone as a National Geographic hero of photo documentation as the equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars and decades of experience to use has become a $200 purchase and a 20 minute tutorial.
Architects see their collaborative friends, photographers, those whose ascendance rode up to the heights of Mid Century Modern Hubris, brought low by the microchip… fees falling, copyrights impossible to protect, every human who can push a button making undeniably “perfect” two-dimension captures of the temporal world. In the absence of the Cult of exclusive access, the art of great photographers shines on, but with the back ground distraction of zillions of competing random images by the rest of us.
Architects see our friends in free fall, as we are stumbling ourselves. Are we making buggy whips, or do we have the innovative courage to take our gifts into relevant viability? Will our abilities, like the abiding inspiring appeal of religion, marriage and the military for some of us, shine through the software alternatives to us? Will a Team survive if a Cult can’t? Everyone can snap a shot – and perhaps soon, anyone can design a building…
-fine arts architecture has left the building
One son loves opera, studies Italian to better appreciate it, and has sung it at the highest collegiate level (in the chorus). This spring he sang in Verdi’s Falstaff, where at the end of the production a choral fugue is said to be one of the great triumphs in music. I love music, especially romantic classicism, but attending the performance made me realize that I just don’t “get” opera. Especially three straight hours of it.
Another son is devoted to football, has started at guard for the last 2 years in college. He noted to me last week that the fundamental steps he takes on a tight pull have changed – I was delighted as I knew what that meant – arcane but real – just like the choral fugue. Listening in to our conversation, my wife had the same reaction as I did to Falstaff – having an intense desire to share in the joys of a child, but with no natural facility to “get” what gives him joy, – beyond his evident joy.
I am immersed in architecture – not the inside baseball/AIA world of “professional practice” – but in the energy of building and the extreme joy of my clients as we partner to realize something that has scary costs, high-risk trust in its ultimate utility – and real thrills when the built thing embodies beauty in the eyes of the beholder that matters most – the owner.
But architecture has several worlds. My tiny part of it involves building – versus teaching or creating unbuilt conceptual art. Fine arts architecture has left the building. It is living in a world of rendering, cyberspace, graphics and maquettes – with an occasionally built piece of exquisite occupied sculpture whose costs to fabricate and maintain are simply not part of the design criteria.
Building means knowing how things go together well enough to create a design that can be built for the money at hand. Techniques and materials have to be generic to be affordable. But the same lack of “getting it” that prevents me from appreciating a vocal fugue, or my wife from the joy of a drop step when pulling on an inside run afflicts most of those who teach or critique what I do when it comes to architecture that celebrates how it is put together, like this:
It’s a handicapped ramp for a music school. It had to meet federal codes and local approvals. It had to be affordable and resist the blunt force trauma of kids and total exposure to the elements. So it has cheap elements (all the wood is super-stock pressure-treated pine) and more expensive parts (all fasteners are stainless steel) and is touched by design beyond code (the waves of its edge).
Is it art? (Using the same software that makes images that exist only in cyber space). Is it carpentry? (Using identical techniques and materials as millions of decks on tract houses). Or both? Do these definitions, in the end, matter?
Should I judge the artist-architect who primarily builds in cyberspace and words on his or her own terms, or on mine – and vice versa? Does one “truth” fit all? There seem to be irreconcilable differences between those who are devoted to a truth that relies on a buy-in, versus those truths which are, dare I say, self-evident.
These “truths” (like the choral fugue and the drop step pull) can only be “heard” by those who “get it” – the beauty of common craft used artfully seems completely out of fashion for those who live in the fine arts land of academic and critical architecture.
I can’t see the beauty of the fugue’s raw fusion of theater and music, my wife is incapable of seeing the elegance of the pulling guard’s choreography – but they are, in fact truly moving “truths” to those who “get” opera and football.
I know I “get” architecture, but I am not always sure that my profession’s “thought leaders” “get” the “truth” I live every day, and for the last 40 years.
From the article: ”We know that, with only a few exceptions—African termites, Baltimore orioles, Pritzker laureates—architects are people, too. Why should there be, as there so often is, such a great divergence in our likes and dislikes?”
A great piece by by Tim Culvahouse, FAIA. Read the article here
The bottom line for me is that I learned that refined carbohydrates are the Great Satan. If I eat them regularly I get fat. If I put a strangle hold on them, I can take my mass off the table.
This inconvenient truth (sorry Al) is probably why I even exist in the here and now. A few thousand years ago some short hairy relative survived a bad winter on a few rancid tubers and thus was able to reproduce– permanently locking into my own genetic code, and that of all my future mass-challenged offspring, the mechanism that allows for an effortless carb-to-body fat transition. Thanks, Dad.
For these out years I have kept these paradigms acknowledged, but not always followed, mostly to a good end, so far:
1. Keep your belly full, but with things that won’t make you fat.
2. Move your body.
3. Don’t think high calorie foods can be limited to small quantities.
4. Take the damn vitamin.
5. It really is all about you. If you base dramatic and protracted change on getting a better verdict from some perceived judge of who you are, their approval will never be enough.
6. The delivery system is as important as the food. Burgers, deep fat fried chicken strips, candy bars, potato chips, and peanuts are fabulously successful as dietary saboteurs. They’re just so damn easy to eat. Their bite-sized, grab-friendly nature allows for instant gratification without any thought or preparation.