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December 16, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Imponderable

In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk

In Finding Home:  Home Home on the Metaphor

In The Rules:  INSULATION: A Swamp Yankee Primer 

In Home Page  THE FIRST THANKSGIVING: and the last, for some…

INSULATION: A Swamp Yankee Primer

December 16, 2014


At one point this fall, every state in these United Sates had a place below freezing within its borders.

Mammals need help keeping warm, and humans set a 98.6F standard for survival. Huddling around the fire only works for a few million years, and then our species had had enough: we had to build places of warmer air if we lived outside the tropics.

Pitching a tent helps, putting a fire in the middle of it helped, but the hole in the middle to prevent choking to death kinda wrecked all but radiant warming. Chimneys limited the warm air leakage, as did windows and doors, but the skin of the airbag, the outside of our tent, can help the air we warm to stay warm longer. Insulation turns tents into homes.

Like religion, any simple truth can become Fundamentalist Zealotry: knowing that better insulation can save heat, and thus money, we often go over the top and spent so much money to create an airtight vault of warmth that our great grandchildren might be the first ones to realize any net savings when the costs of monthly bills are cross referenced with the price tag of Insulation Overload.

Here are the basics of insulation in terms a Swamp Yankee could appreciate: Swamp Yankees are the Real Deal of Sustainability: bamboo flooring does not turn a McMansion into an earth-saving statement of Environmental Responsibility: and Swamp Yankees, who never throw away something than functions, never spend for show and always invest in things that save in the long run, exquisitely understood the finite nature of our lives and possessions.

Rather than practice a religious environmental belief system of Good and Evil, Swamp Yankees knew that getting the maximum benefit from using minimum resources meant you could get thru a winter. In that spirit here is a fact based overview of saving the heat you pay for, by letting less of it out of your house into the the world.

There are 3 ways where effort holds heat in:

1) Sealing Leaks: like rain thru a flat roof, once you have a hole, stuff flow through it – and homes have zillions of places where things come together – siding, foundation, around windows and doors, where vents and flues go through roofs and walls: like a boat, leaks make your heating plant bale heated air into your home to keep the temperature up: it’s kinda crazy not to caulk and fill everything in sight.

2) Wrapping Your Home Tightly: if you have sealed every hole in a sweater, but the knitting has huge voids in the weave, it’s like having a boat with a screen hull: like adding layers when you sit in the stands to watch a winter sport, homes like a skin that is layered: house wrap, sealing/lapped siding, a vapor barrier under your Sheetrock all keep the outside out, and the inside in.

BUT: Zealotry in Faith kills people and wrecks lives in the cause of salvation: losing perspective means that shrink wrapping your home makes the inside subject to mold, disease propagation and crappy air quality: if you seal it up you need to let air come in: but that air can be heated as it comes in, and air can be expelled to let the mix of your interior atmosphere be a healthy recipe.

3) Now we get to the fluff inside the down jacket: insulation. The Kardasians have proven more is not always more. Beyond a certain level, insulation is useless, and the value of insulation has 2 aspects: the temperature inside, and how you feel it. Truth be told, there is a food chain of value in insulation: and its top-down: heat rises, so more spent the higher you get the more is saved.

The KING of effectiveness in insulation efficacy is the cavity above your top floor: under the roof, but below your attic – unless you have vaulted ceilings that’s in the ceiling above the spaces under the roof. In the Temperate world more than R-50 (about 16 inches of Fiberglas) is like conceptual art or Tinkerbell: ya gotta believe in its subjective beauty if you use too much insulation because its benefit is not in energy saving.

Similarly, walls are great to insulate, but even minimal code-compliance, R-24 or R-28 is an OK bang for the buck. Similarly, floors feel very cold if under R-30′ but they do not lose as much heat as walls and tour roof.

Most absurd in the Canons of Insulation Fetishism are is the overfocus on windows and doors: of course a tighter sealing window is a better window, and a door that leaks less air is a good thing. But weatherstripping that makes operation tough, or actually rips apart the sealing gasketry in its use is simply stupid. Storm windows may be a pane in the patooty and ugly, but they work.

Another layer of glass beyond 2, exotic gases between them and vice-gripping closers all save energy in a laboratory: but they are not free: and glass as an insulator works about as well as vertically striped outfits are slimming on the morbidly obese: theoretically efficacious: but not effective enough to pay for itself unless you are in a colder climate than 90% of the US.

Insulation against your foundation or under your basement slab does not hurt or cost much, but dirt is the best insulator, so below 3ft, that insulation is not doing much.

Types of insulation is a whole order of magnitude beyond this note’s scope: but the more you pay, the more it protects, but sometimes more is too much…

How you feel in your home is the reason you bought or built it: feeling is physical – being cold is subjective: but feeling emotionally should be held at bay: basing spending precious assets on how you feel about the spending ain’t no Swamp Yankee mindset.



December 16, 2014


As seen in NY Times 12/2/2014


photo photo (1)                                                                              lynch 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: Millennial Meme Housing Sprouts in New Haven

In Hartford Courant (login required): “Christmas in Connecticut” was Perfect for War-Weary 1945 American Moviegoers

In Room One Thousand: Sixty Panes of Faith

In Behind the Walls: The Not So Tiny House Movement (Part 1)

In AIA: It’s not the Media: It’s the Work

In New Haven Register: Quarantining Architecture

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!


December 14, 2014

Two years ago bullets and insanity killed innocents and their protectors. Despite all efforts over 40 more school shootings have happened since.

The terror of the worst happening to the most beloved among us rips at anyone who lets that image in:


But the deepest terror is not that guns and mental illness defeat all rational tooth-and-nail efforts to never let this happen again: terrible inevitabilities abound all around us, war being the poster child.

The deepest terror is that the seed of darkness within humanity is so deeply planted that no social herbicide can kill its growth in a few of us. Yet we have to fight all aspects that fertilize that seed with a fury that matches its potential to wreck any reason for being – love being chief among them.

Turning love into grief happens repeatedly in every life – but another human ripping apart the tiny bodies of the powerless is so heinous that there is nothing more important than its prevention.

But we do not seem able to do that. We are not in control of what we want most to control.

Powerlessness is our deepest fear. Our abiding lack of ultimate control, our own passing from everything we see, feel and love around us, terrifies us. In some way that terror might have motivated the killer of those babies, at least taking control of his own end – but who can know?

I wish what I wrote 2 years ago was wrong…but it was not wrong…



Dec. 19, 2012

by Duo Dickinson

The unspeakable nightmare of Newtown created instant momentum to prohibit guns from our culture, prohibit violent videos from being seen by the young, prohibit those whose mental state endangers the rest of us from being around them. We are desperate to prohibit the reenactment of this groundhog day of senseless death from occurring again.

This automatic impulse has a built-in reality check: Has prohibition ever worked?

Believe it or not, I have never done any drugs stronger than the nasal decongestant Afrin. I have never smoked a cigarette (even when I was “of age.”) I’ve never played any video game (violent or otherwise.) And although I drank to great excess in college, I did not drink until I was “of age” – at 18. I have never owned a gun, or wanted to, or understood why people do. Being alive at 57 and having committed no obvious atrocities, I may be the living embodiment that prohibitions might keep us out of mortal danger.

It is absolutely clear that alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and guns are the instruments of death and unmitigated personal devastation for millions of people. In terms of alcohol that reality allowed a hundred and fifty years of pervasive e alcohol abuse in the United States to be tackled head-on with an amendment to our Constitution that prohibited its use. The “war on drugs” is at best an act of discouragement, with no “victory” at hand, and tobacco is as legal and regulated as booze.

Being the child of an alcoholic, I saw how alcohol wrecks families and ruins lives, permanently. Seeing any number of my compatriots blunt their potential with drug use, I can tell you that I am not sure what the net benefit is. Seeing pictures of 6 year-olds who were shot 11 or 12 times with hollow point bullets in a happy suburban town by an upper middle class privileged white male, it is hard for me to believe that guns have any meaningful positive purpose in any of our lives.

But is it possible for our culture to preempt tragedy?

Part of our inability to prohibit mayhem might be uniquely American. Everybody who came to America had a genetic predilection to buck control and grab their destiny. It’s a favorite argument that “the rest of Western Civilization” wholly supports healthcare, education and a social safety net so America should too. And there are obviously moral judgments involved in all attempts at prohibition. Same-sex marriage and certain sexual acts were once viewed as being “destructive” to our culture and thus were legally prohibited until our generation. But outlawing guns, tobacco or alcohol (or, now, gay marriage for that matter) does not “fit” who we are.

My typical American response to the tragedies of Newtown was that I felt badly that the gunman had killed himself because I would have loved to have seen him pay a lifelong sentence of psychological (or more deplorably on my part, physical) retribution and that same response, whether it is to the heinous acts at Penn State or acceptance of the death penalty, seems distinct from “the rest of Western Civilization.”

The desire to control human activity at the margins to provide safety for the multitudes is problematic here for simple reasons. Who decides who is quirky and who is psychotic? – and, then, if and when a sociopath is made benign? We have gotten to the point where there are about as many guns as there are adults in the United States. A great Cabernet makes a steak taste better, even when we had Prohibition. There are those who see the immoral and unsustainable use of meat as a food as indefensible, but neither wine nor steak are on the path to prohibition. As we slide into a time when marijuana will be viewed with a similar amount of regulation as that Cabernet, we want to make guns as intolerable as chemical weapons.

But the undeniable virtue of our desire to make things safe has to be cross-referenced with our ability to know what we can (and cannot) do. We clearly don’t get it right when everyone in the world believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that proved to be a fantasy. We clearly couldn’t keep America from drinking, despite the full power and force of the federal government and a constitutional amendment, and we probably can’t keep lunatics (like Adam Lanza) separated from guns purchased by his perfectly sane and carefully conscientious mother.

The bottom line is that we all want to feel better about ourselves. We want to do something in the face of things beyond our control.

We saw the alcoholic destroy his life and his family and the lives of those around him, so we tried to prohibit everyone from having access to the alcohol which was viewed as the agent of their destruction. If we were a logical society, tobacco would be outlawed, but a new study shows, that despite every impediment to limit it’s attraction and availability, the percentage of smokers has plateaued to 25% – and holding. Why not prohibit a useless toxic product after 50 years of knowing that it will kill you? Despite tens of thousands of preventable deaths a year, having the freedom to engage in risky behavior has so far trumped mandatory safety for most of us.

And yet when we see the faces of 20 exquisitely beautiful 6 and 7 year olds the impulse is to take guns out of the hands of everybody.

In all these cases, the cow has left the barn. The 100 million people that drank and were still drinking during Prohibition are mirrored by the 270 million guns that exist and will still exist after the most draconian of gun laws imaginable.


December 11, 2014

When I wrote my first book in 1982 it was 500 or so pages of xeroxed, manually typed, hyperbolically affected, tortuous prose, swaddled in a “Manuscript Box” – an item now living with buggy whips and Dodo’s.

Unlike my previous efforts that were merely critiqued by professors, this tome was ripped to shreds by a young freelance editor living somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen. The mangled verbiage was left in its stress-positioned violation of the Geneva Convention, but it was aggressively filtered through a Feminist sieve.

While all my abstract pronouns are now all gender-free, the hangover of 4.5 years in Ivy Architecture School Land is yet with my wordsmithing. However the unpacking of that verbal baggage has had its entire sequence turned on its head. In all things written for public consumption, perspective used to be applied before publication: now expression in all forms, including writing, is trending towards “blurt first, think twice”.

Now regularly writing for about 5 venues there is no shortage of reader feedback. Most people seem to like most of what I launch at them, but almost inevitably, the feedback starts with a gush, and ends with a slightly pained caveat: “I love your writing, but sometimes….” – as the words awkwardly trail off I finish their thought with: – “but it gets a little freaky….” Clearly an accurate assessment as a relieved smile always follows my honest intercession.

The Commentariat is usually surprised at my stark acknowledgement of my awkwardness’s. The truth is, having slowly bootstrapped most of my writing’s affect out of the sludge of self-indulgence, like the funk of an old car interior, its smell lingers in everything I write. As Popeye so nobly proffered, “I yam wut I yam” and what I write would be even more uncomfortable if I aspired to a neutered voice.

That said, I am very lucky to have had almost 30 years of editors aggressively grinding upon my stilted overkill. But the last 5 years have loosed the dogs of spontaneous expression, not only for me, but every writer with a Yahoo Account. As recent epic fails of Newsweek and The New Republic scream: this ain’t your 20th century literary world no more.

I may be a pretentious, sloppy and overwrought writer, but every writer, good, bad or bland has become naked before the billions of readers that wordprocess their product. Where once a managing editor tasked, an article editor edited for style and content, and a fact-checker made sure spelling, names and details were reality based, now one human usually does all three tasks, and that means none of them are fully realized.

Unless I am writing for this wee blog where my lunacy runs the asylum, now I pitch almost all my article ideas to overwhelmed editors: receiving assignments from editors is now the exception, not the rule. If the idea I pitch is approved, what I submit gets some editing for length, but there is virtually zero back-and-forth after submission. Now I see the edit for the first time in print or online. I am now, sadly, my own fact-checker for almost everything I write.

The package-to-plate has gone from months to hours. Reader reaction has gone from letters to instantaneous combustive screaming rants in chat-room “comments” sections. Instant gratification is baited into embarrassing revelation beyond journalism. Incredibly unattractive words, images, ideas and yes, people, explode onto billions of glowing screens simply because they can. No one asked for, edited or reviewed these spontaneous emissions – until after the damage is done. Every typo and error is laid bare: but salvation has become clicking on a link masked by the word “Edit”.

The recent mea culpa’s for grotesque incompetencies of non-editing by Rolling Stone and Lena Dunham’s publishers are just corporate manifestations of a cultural cascade down to nursery school etiquette. Just like toddlers who act out now and regret later, we all seem to be trending towards asking forgiveness only after unfiltered stupidity has already done its damage.

It could be said that the “Edit” button has become a Cultural Icon. The act might have become a literary anachronism, but circumspection and perspective is a dying cultural concern. We are all feeling more empowered to express, react and assert: we project, respond and retort: we vent, flame and snark. The only filter is hitting the “Send” button. Blaming technology for the seductive Internet encouraging our baser blurt response is like blaming the cake for getting fat.

How we communicate just reveals what we value, and we seem to value self-expression far beyond thoughtfulness. The need to exult in our own righteousness turns spirituality into judgment, disagreement into violence and ignorance into assertion.

Writing has become the rambling drunk at the end of the bar: unfiltered, unfocused and only heard by those in close proximity. No thought is needed, no composition is required, only production.

“Edit” has been largely rendered retroactive by social impatience, buried by technological expediency, and fully forgotten by the profitability of indifference to content. “Expression Uber Alles” writes a code where immediacy is more important than truth, impact is valued above meaning and collateral damage can be mitigated by the push of the “Edit” button.

Pulping books used to be the DefConn4 response to unmitigated incompetence in writing and editing, as retractions left the printed error present on our desk, forever. the “Edit” button allows for infinite mulligans, make-up calls and do-overs – and error is an expected part of our cultural expression. We are becoming a do first, review later culture where wall-sticking and flag-pole lofting trump taking a breath.

This just follows a flow where sex is detaching more completely from love, love from marriage and marriage from having children. The bondage of social and moral contracts is being vaporized: we are trusting personal judgment over the protections of higher purpose as defined by any number of codes of behavior. These codes, commandments and laws are administered by educated believers in positions of power, and as we begin to see the inevitable corruptions of power, those edicts seem more power trips than windows to truth.

Editing was one of those protections of a higher purpose by educated believers in positions of power. Their sway was contractual and facilitated the writer’s mission to write for more than him or herself (thank you, Ms. 1982 Editor). Now most editing is afterthought, my words are inflicted with a hope I did not screw it up too painfully before I have a chance to mitigate the damage for future readers.

Fortunately my spontaneous blurting is not perpetrated solely in hubristic egomania. I was asked to write in this venue by an editor at the New Haven Register 4 1/2 years ago, as the paper was trying to broaden its marketing into the “new” publishing world – a decade behind the curve.

That editor is long gone, that paper has lost almost all layers of middle management and editing, its moved from its own huge, owned building to a rented office. And I write this knowing a rewrite will happen, naked, by me, writer and editor, in front of anyone who cares…

Fat & Drunk

December 1, 2014

A friend, whose height has nothing to do with his weight – and not in an anorexic way – and who loved Marlboro’s would diffuse the tension when visiting a new doctor for the first time by looking the physician in the eye and immediately asserting, with conviction: 

“I’m fat, and I smoke.” 

As a BMI challenged person who does not smoke, I find the realities of overeating and occasionally having a drink, or 3, an intriguing conundrum. I do not drink to get drunk or eat to get fat. Fat and drunk are the undesirable collateral consequences of very pleasureable experiences. However, inevitably, I get affected by alcohol and eat too much. 

A reader responded to something I wrote that asserted that no one I knew smoked dope because they liked the taste. The reader’s response was that he/she loved the taste: then proceeded to say that she/he didn’t smoke it: just ate and vaped it: After receiving this negative declaration I resisted declaring “I rest my case”. 

I love great food, but I can also mindlessly eat junk to self medicate via the full-bellied reptile brain glow of surfeiting. But I never drink to feel altered, but occasionally do. The acts of eating and drinking are fundamentally blissful, but not when the pleasure center of my brain turns off the Type A Control Center. Like the rats that starved to death when offered cocaine or food (and chose the coke), the feelgood of food and drink has dangerous potentialities. 

When I eat 47 Triscuits watching “Chopped” – not only is the irony obvious, the laziness, boredom and lack of self-love are mirrored in the tighter clothing.

When an exquisite combination of flavors happens to contain ethanol and I have too much, too quickly my brain becomes a mini-Black Hole: bending light, sound and my tongue into contortions of embarrassment. 

But it is clear that the danger inherent in eating/imbibing can channel my inner Al Haig: “I am in control here” was just as valid for him in his powerless state after Reagan was shot, as it is when the third drink appears or I have dessert. The danger of overdoing it is part of the act of focusing so lovingly upon those flavor bombs. 

The best alcoholic experience I have ever had was after a long hot summer day. I was early for a meeting of friends at my beloved Temple of Ethanol, 116 Crown in New Haven. Sitting alone at the bar, silently, without query, a Manhattan was slid over to me. That one sip allowed every muscle in my near 60 year old bag of flesh to relax: my blood alcohol level probably went up .000001%, but I was deeply loved in that taste. 

Would that deep delight be the if 68 more sips would render me a slobbering jackass? (Versus my 24/7 state of sober jackassery). Would the ecstatic ingestion of the 6 course dessert dinner at Field House Farm I had 2 weeks ago be less ecstatic if the contents had no calories? 

Does risk focus attention?: duh. Why would anyone, ever, ride a motorcycle if the attendant risk was not thrilling? Do the risks of gluttony and getting drunk resulting in obesity and killing or embarrassing yourself (and others) make eating and drinking at a potentially gross level more thrilling? 

Humans tend to wreck beauty (think black velvet art) and Bacon-Flavored Lays potato chips and Bud Lite are heinous corporate simulations of the beauties of food and booze intended to make more money via encouraging mass-consumption at a seductive price point. 

The greater truth is the potentials for alcohol poisoning and gout derived from over-indulgence are greatly reduced when the delivery systems of alcohol and animal fats are a bit pricey, as are 6 dessert dinners and drinks at 116 Crown and for this, I am both grateful and sad.

THE FIRST THANKSGIVING: and the last, for some…

November 29, 2014

home page

Did you know that Native Americans crashed the first Thanksgiving, thinking it was a battle? (gunshots in celebration sound more like war than “HAPPY THANKSGIVING!”)

Did you know that Native Americans had Summer and Winter Homes?

Did you the first Pilgrim settlement reoccupied a Native American site that was abandoned when all of its inhabitants were killed by European diseases?

Did you know the First Thanksgiving lasted 3 days and was the Last Thanksgiving for the Native Americans the Pilgrims encountered?

Guests Don Rankin and Allan Saunders tell us the truth about the All American Feast on HOME PAGE:




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