THIS THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23: NOON!
WPKN 89.5FM, http://stream.wpkn.org/
Where Is Your Home? Is it Sweet? Where the Heart is? Can you go Home Again?
Duo Dickinson talks to 3 people who are fully immersed in homes – architect, artist and patron – homeowners, home creators all:
Jonathan Weinberg is an artist, art critic, professor and, with husband Nick Boshnack lives in a classic Wooster Square antique where he has just created an attic studio and regularly mounts small exhibits http://www.duodickinson.com/Images/NH_Mag_Feb__10_Reinventing_An_Antique.pdf
Before Tracey Scheer became the Board President of the New Haven Symphony, she and entrepreneur husband David dedicated several years to creating a home with architect Tom Edwards http://www.duodickinson.com/Images/NH_Mag_-_Nov__09.pdf: in the process they became great friends.
Wil Armster has been an architect for almost 50 years: his work has won any number of awards, but more importantly his 4 children have all used him to design their homes: http://savedbydesign.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/nhmag-march2014-cubed1.pdf – houses that the entire family helped build for each other.
These three home devotees will tell their stories and listeners will call 203-336-9756 and contribute to the mix as well!
At one point 2 weeks ago, alone in my car, I realized I had listened to Katy Perry sing “Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love” to me 5 times in a row.
Normally I listen to NPR or Queen or Booker T or the Wells Cathedral Choir sing “Favourite Hymns”, but that week, I devolved. I did not touch Pop, I wallowed in it.
I bottomed out.
We all bottom out: There is no donut without a hole, no joy absent sorrow, yin sans yang, light requires dark – no yada without yada…sure, but Katy Perry? I manually forced her to sing to me amid tub-thumping computer generated Brain Stem Bass with each pushed-button on my Honda Fit’s CD player. This was not ironic contrast – it was self-destruction.
Bottoming out is not limited to embracing the reptile brain and the 8 cookies soaked in milked gobbled at 11:52 (AM or PM), or that hour spent on the internet you now realize the NSA has a record of, – it’s clear that our regular giving up on self-respect now seems to be a broad basis for cultural flow. Our isolated acts of self-loathing are enabled, shared and celebrated by the huge connectivity of the 21st century.
“Competitive Eating” renders gluttony into achievement. “Sexting” makes horniness a social condition. “Reality TV” makes everything we are all ashamed of ecstatically present to show a darker, dumber bottoming out than the rest of us are wallowing in.
What was hidden shame has become giddy oversharing: yet almost everyone who is still sober knows that they want to get away from each bottoming out event. It just seems harder to avoid the lure of giving up.
The struggle to get beyond where we are in a crushingly inert economy fraught with fear is exhausting on every level. Technology proves us fools with every crash. Politics and religion have entire limbs of clay. There are fewer and fewer “can’t miss” life paths – find a spouse/have 2.3 kids/live in a Split Ranch on a 1/4 acre is as dead as a Dodo.
With higher risk, less assured reward, the unending pull of the dark side: the bourgeois nihilism of meaningless distraction has greater gravity. People spend entire weekends binge watching dozens of TV episodes as a point of honor, creating an expectation of a “On Demand” culture. Video gaming has simultaneously gone viral and Big Business – following in the footsteps of porn creating an economic engine of ick. Fall Sundays have, no lie, 6 hours of TV pregame – concussions are not the only brain damage caused by football.
We are told, endlessly not to eat food that sedates and comforts but we mindlessly gorge crap, inducing an intellectual coma that leaves us fat and guilty upon awakening. beyond food, we buy crap we never use, because we can’t have what we really want: a life that meets our hopes. Inconspicuous consumption helped create Wal Mart and Costco, – our ever-responsive free market has become an enabler of dissipating behavior.
While Big Box facilitation and technological goosing has made bottoming out easier than ever, the sweat pants default impulse has been around far longer than 24 hour fast food drive-thru windows and millions waiting hours to see a NASCAR pile up.
By all accounts, especially his own, Saul of Tarsus was a righteous dude. 2,000 years ago his freakish devotion to telling the world that anyone, everyone was infinitely loved by God virtually branded Christianity – to this day the world’s best selling faith. He was so righteous he was dubbed Saint Paul – and prosthelytizing became his sole life function.
But Paul/Saul was not speaking from on high – he was a messenger from the bottomed out. In one of his First Century blog posts/podcasts/tweets he noted “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
And I listened to Katy Perry for about a week in my car.
Whatever you believe about the focus of St. Paul’s later life, it’s clear that humanity’s one saving grace is instinctive humility. Without a sense of where we aren’t, we cannot aspire to a better place. When things go our way, we naturally leap to “I Am King of The World!” – but instantly, automatically, humans sense the flip side, and sense it might be all a sham – and then ingest 8 cookies soaked in milk.
I know I will eat those cookies, with my reptile brain in full control of my hands and mouth: but that undeniable failure, like the dozens of unachieved benchmarks I experience every day, are not Satan – they are just the casualties of self respect in a greater, lifelong struggle.
I wish I knew what “victory” means in that struggle – but I do not: http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/mission/ but having seen one true and abiding bottom: http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/extremity/ I know the small but grotesque failures of any given day are not revealed evil, but punctuating laziness amid the mission.
That’s because bottoming out is not about self-destruction, it’s about self denial.
The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
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 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!
This is the fourth set of construction photos for the house on Oak Hill Road in Livingston, NY.
This summer we adjusted our construction schedule and slowed the house down in order to build simultaneously a barn that will contain a woodshop, an architectural studio, and falconry facilities. The barn will be completed in the spring. The house exterior and landscape are finished. Remaining interior work includes installing appliances and finishes in the bathrooms and kitchen. Some of the final touches involve complex metal work, which we hope to complete by Thanksgiving.
The metal we are employing comes from salvaged brass screen frames from the windows of a defunct institution. This recycled metal offers a number of advantages. It reduces the house’s carbon footprint because the longevity of metal lowers the energy required for maintenance, and because using recycled materials decreases the embodied energy requirements for construction. In addition, the weathered metal’s rich patina of colors and textures gives character and beauty that new materials can’t match.
We will share construction photos of the kitchen and barn in the next couple of months. Hope you are enjoying the fall leaves!
Houses and humans are a binary. Both need each other to exist, and, with food and clothing, homes allow for our survival. But clothing can be haute couture, food can be gourmet, and our homes can be mansions. The essential can become the over wrought. In our huge cultural bandwidth from ascetic to hedonist, from survivalist the hegemonic, humanity effortlessly straddles extremes.
The architectural play pens of Mod/Trad, form/function, and style are tempests in the home values teapot as compared to the single central concern of almost every housing consumer: Cost. The cost imperative is not just the affordability of buy-in; it’s the subsequent over-mantle of monthly mortgage, utilities, taxes and maintenance. If we own where we live, that liability is open ended, and in a Great Recession, its implications are scary. Into the contexts of our collective fiscal fear and predilection for extremity, comes a reductionist ethos that has bedrock appeal: Own Less.
When your largest possession is our home, then owning less means living in less. Just as philosophy can become religion, “less” can become “tiny”, and if our values are reflected by what we own, extreme values are found in extreme possessions.
The Tiny House Movement has hundreds of heroes – it has matured from fun diversion into alternative reality into a well-reasoned ethic with thousands of exemplars. Its devotees indict our full-fat house history, and at its fringes prescribes a spatial anorexia that verges on the messianic. The rationale is not arguable: 40 years ago our families were rounding up to 4 humans and our homes were rounding down to 1,500 sq.ft., now families are rounding down to 2 1/2 souls, but our homes have larded up to over 2,500 sq.ft. Viewed in logical terms, it pulls at our puritanical Swamp Yankee heritage of “waste not, want not”. So, for some, guilt over domestic gluttony created a backlash.
Clearly the first decade of the 21st century created homes that needed to shrink to fit. The smaller the home, the easier you can build it yourself, the less financing you need, the lower your energy costs, taxes, utilities, upkeep are, and perhaps most importantly, the more each tiny home builder can get control in a time of threat. The smaller your house is, the less liability it presents: as our futures become more uncertain, being able to know and understand every stick and cubic inch of where we live is an anchor against a changing world.
The anti-consumer counter culture of the 1960’s spawned the Whole Earth Catalogue, full of yurts, teepees, communes and other ways to run away from suburban sprawl. One of the catalogue creators, Lloyd Kahn wrote “Shelter” in 1973, extending that perspective and architect Lester Walker took that a step further in 1987 with “Tiny Tiny Houses” a book of intricate beauty and gutless message of brevity having wit in home design.
In 1983 McGraw Hill asked me to write a version of this human impulse, “The Small House” and its 1994 sequel that advocated that all new houses, no matter what their builders’ desires and requirements were, could go on a diet. Sarah Susanka got Oprah’s attention and blew the doors of shelter book sales with a series of “Not So Big” books.
Jay Shafer and Greg Johnson literally went the extra mile by countering the extreme static deadness of McMansions with tiny, crafty, sheds-for-living on wheels in an early internet obsession, the “Tumbleweed Tiny House Company”. Marianne Cusato was in the right place at the right time, and 308 sq.ft. “Katrina Houses” became a cultural symbol of coping with a natural disaster that also put a mirror to our ultimately disastrous focus on “more” in 2005.
The recent OCD Design compulsion of using shipping containers as full size home Lego’s is yet another architect playpen that has a fascination in the moment, but may go the way of millions of roof-top mounted hot water heater feeding solar panels – good intentions that were just too clunky.
There are monetary costs in owning any home, but there are also costs to the quality of life when you reduce your living pattern to fit into an SRO: for some the costs are joyously endured, but for how long? For most living in a space far smaller than a garage forces a full rethink – a good thing. But if this new home suit is too tight, you cannot return it for a larger one – you will probably do what every generation has done before ours – expand its too-small-ness to fit.
Good ideas that save resources are popular in all economies, but in our present place of bottomed-out, permanently limited expectations those values get new urgency. The Green/Sustainable versions of rejecting mindless glut are approaching conventional wisdom, versus counterculture, and “downsizing” has a popular cache for empty nested Boomers.
There are now thousands of Internet voices railing against the excesses that were proven totally bogus in 2008. When our darker angels of greed and hubris helped developers sell size over value, our common capacity for distorting common sense in our own self interest was, once again, etched in folly.
But if “Less is More” is “Tiny” best?
Where culture leads, popular culture exploits – and, now, of course, a new reality TV show, “Tiny House Nation” has debuted and that may just signal a jumping of the shark for this quirk-cum-salvation, where thoughtful circumspection about our shared values morphs into a freak show of extremity.
As noted in this piece: http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/architectural-fantasy-leagues/ I , like a lot of pretentious architects submit work to be judged by their “peers” in design competitions, and I have perhaps one of the worst records in recent history at winning them.
Judged by a few others of my ilk, I know that there are virtually religious differences (think Suni/Shia), and my work is not viewed as following the most recent Canon of the most popular archi-theology: http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/canon-1-the-truth/ But when propitiously heretical jurors are chosen, I enter more, when the State Religion of Millenial Modernism has packed the jury box, I offer up fewer projects for judgment.
So when a few like minds decided to judge unbuilt housing projects last year, I entered many and won a lot: http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/living-in-my-dreams/
Similarly this winter when an awards program had folk who I knew grokked my vibe, I entered and won Big (well, I won highest honors in the largest category) http://aiact.org/awards-program/business-architecture-2014-awards-2/
I know how this works because I have been a jurist many, many times – and this spring sat on a jury http://aiact.org/awards-program/aia-connecticut-alice-washburn-awards/ of heretics who had fun picking some heresies (even for a “preservation” focused program).
This year I saw one out of the 3 juror’s in a CT competition was quirky enough to, maybe, “get” me. So I entered a buncha stuff – but AFTER submitting, 2 out of the 3 jurists changed, including my presumed like mind, and I knew I was cooked: I won, as usual, Zilch: http://aiact.org/awards-program/aia-connecticut-design-awards/aia-connecticut-2014-design-awards/ and as usual, except for some tiny and preservation projects safe, defendable, familiar Modernist work was celebrated (deservedly – but predictably).
Others of a non-flat-roof/plate glass/sculpted sensibility mostly lost too: http://aiact.org/awards-program/aia-connecticut-design-awards/aia-connecticut-design-2014-awards-submissions/ – and many submitted many more losers than me: schadenfruede!
This phenomenon is well-known and has even spawned a “make-up call” of a popularity contest alternative where civilians are allowed to vote project awards: http://www.aiact.org/outreach/peopleschoice.php – even someone as hungry for validation as me finds this pander too transparent…
That said: here are my losers:
Why do I submit to these competitions, knowing I will, more often than not, lose? Why do I write this? Why do I want to build for people, instead of design for myself? Because I am incomplete without being in a greater venue: a recipe for never-ending discontent.
As magazines winnow to a few, as books become oddities, as conventions become for the very few devoted acolytes, venues in the 20th century model of public recognition become exclusive, predictable and defensive: the recession that is strangling them has, as its abettor, the technology that affords the alternative of an open-ended spew of everything, good, bad or indifferent. There are now infinite opportunities for professional selfies – just like this: unvetted, unmediated, but available to billions who may (or may not) bump into yet another byte of data…