The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
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!
The vast majority of American homes have a “traditional” and namable identity. Whether it’s “Colonial,” “Arts and Crafts,” “Shingle Style,” or “Bungalow,” the broad brush of History paints 90% of the homes that are built on spec in America today. The bottom line in all of this is pretty simple: the more repetitively reproduced those homes are, the more predictable their designs are and the cheaper they are to build. The cheaper they are to build, the more people can be seduced into buying them. In this world, all specific client preferences and adaptations are relegated to an “options” list – similar to a potential upgrade for any appliance, whether it’s more memory in your laptop or a GPS in your car. “Design” is limited to a plug-in sensibility one step up from Ford’s “You can have it in any color you want as long as it’s black.” Ultimatelly, the design motto for the vast majority of for-profit spec home builders is: “You can have it in any style as long as it’s traditional.”
The public face of a customized alternative, architects and custom architectural design, has a hype all its own: fine arts “Modern” – “contemporary” in real estate broker parlance: its “My way or the highway” messaging is directly akin to high-devotion preservationist antique homes – where history reels in and overrules creative accommodation of the way you live. The cost of design services alone deters most people from even considering the option of an architect.
Creating better homes and open aesthetics happens when buildings are style blind. Functional layout and response to the site should create a home’s shape, and how it presents itself to the world. Style should be the last element that is considered in the design of any building – it is the needs of who uses it and the requirements and opportunities that the site presents that should essentially shape every building that is built everywhere. But unfortunately, it is easier to set building design to the default setting of “style.” – whether lockstep adherence to “tradition” or following an architect’s tone-deaf muse. Whether political or aesthetic, “Correctness” tends to reject people for ideology.
But there is another way – a middle way – listening to the twin realities of what is, and what is desired, and acting with confidence that your needs come first and your home adapts to them: but you need knowledge to get to the bottom line of what you value: Good designers will charge less if you know more and you hire an engaged consultant versus an empirical designer.
In the end, its up to you: if you have more fear than discomfort you can go along and get along. If you hate where you are enough to spend more than the minimum, any investment can use advice of counsel. If you are ready to throw caution to the wind and express a central value: finding joy in your home – partner with a designer and builder who share your core commitment, versus just cashing in.
Its a tough time for risk: but that makes the rewards all the more ecstatic….
1) NEW – Maximum Control – Maximum Risk
-beware the “Cost Per Square Foot” estimating rules per thumb: every site is different and every homeowner is different.
-without a survey, fully vetted (subsoil, zoning, wetlands, septic) BEFORE purchase you are buying a mystery
-like battle plans, stock plans never survive the first wave of action: vet every design notion on the site, with an independent designer
-beware the developer builder – zero reality checks.
-beware the design-builder – almost zero reality checks
2) REMODEL/EXPAND – Obvious Realties With Hidden Harms & Benefits
-what’s behind walls can kill dreams – punching and repairing holes is cheaper than buying a pig in a poke
-adding on has all the risks of site-dependant building new (see above)
-what you have does not guarantee what you can get: number of bedrooms, size of finished area, height, and footprint may become illegal if you do anything outside the existing walls
-seaside modifications almost always trigger Federal Code Review with HUGE design and budget implications
-you cannot build the site: no amount of remodeling turns sow’s ears into Kate Spade armwear
3) RENOVATE/DECORATE – Going With The Flow – Less Control, Money, Risk
-you can contract more, do more, and spend less: but that mean you get very little done, and end up hating the project
-decorating does not redesign anything but what you see
-new surfaces can mean new structure – not about discovering rot, but about making sure what surfaces you use can be supported.
This week: “HomeWork: When the Office Comes Home” (part one). Binnie Klein and Duo Dickinson talk about the agonies and ecstasies of the home office. Journalist Dorri Olds will join and talk about what its like to work from her Chelsea, NY home.
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- there is a fine line between genius and narcissism
Last Week Citibank paid $7,000,000,000 to head off federal prosecution. “The banks conduct was egregious” noted US Attorney General Eric Holder. The bank had taken unsustainable projections of inflated U.S. house values into the capital markets with a ferocity that ultimately demanded retribution when those projections were revealed as delusional and bankrupted millions of homeowners. Fraud is criminal, greed is not. The greed that caused Citibank’s “egregious” misrepresentations that might have been found to be criminal is not an isolated manipulation of delusion.
In the early 17th century the Dutch found tulips to be desirable and bought every and any bulb they could find. The price went up to the point where Wikipedia notes “At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.” The only reason the price of tulips went to insane levels was the greed of the sellers who knew that they could get more money for them than was in any way “reasonable”.
There have been 10 recessions since World War II. Every one of them was based on greed. In the late 1990’s I sat between two 20-somethings on a plane who spent the entire flight gushing that their tiny tech companies would pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars “when” their companies went public and their stock options could be sold. Their greed was giddy – and deluded.
In theory we have come out of the Great Recession. Do you feel it? I don’t. Absent a new bubble of “irrational exuberance” the emotional recession we still feel has a direct effect of the economic exuberance we act on – whether as validated greed or justified debt.
Citibank, and many other financial pressure cookers, took an essential – a place to live – and surfed the wave of housing hype provided by realtors, large home builders and mortgage brokers to turn homes into 17th century tulips..
Architects, like doctors or lawyers, are licensed to “protect health, safety and welfare”. Architects design fewer than 5% of the homes in America, but we are the only objectively state-validated “experts” on construction, and as a profession we were not ahead of the insane valuation of homes that lead to rediculous risk in one specific building type.
I and a few other architects wrote and spoke on the craziness during the 2000’s housing boom, but most just surfed the same wave as Citibank, cashing the checks of the deluded. The public welfare suffered more at some marginal level because architects, who knew better, didn’t speak louder – and often added to the hype that inflated the bubble.
Housing starts are up to 1,000,000 per year – jumping from 300,000 4 years ago, but less than 1,800,000 of 8 years ago. Houses are one of the Big 3 Necessities (food, shelter and clothing) so there is never nothing spent on places where we live – and with a population of 300,000,000 that level of home building may be sustainable.
But no one thinks they are going to retire on the growing value of their home anymore, no one thinks borrowing over 100% of a home’s current value is a good idea. Architects are still grossly underemployed, with firms hiring and firing as jobs come and go, with no faith in ongoing work.
And another bubble, the slowly inflating Higher Education Bubble has blown up to the highest cost in history. This year 20,000,000 are enrolled despite, or perhaps because of, The Great Recession. Education might have become the Big 4th Necessity, with its debt-fed, ever-increasing price tag becoming another drag on the hopes of people under 30.
Just as people buy cars and houses based on their monthly payback of the debt they cause, versus their actual total cost, students jump into academic debt. Architecture students are no different: but their “irrational exuberance” is itself a bubble given the grim uncertainty of actually getting a job in the profession.
At the peak of the last building bubble, 2007, 5,781 students were awarded architectural degrees in the U.S.. After 6 years of The Great Recession 6,347 degrees – a record number – were awarded. This is a 10% increase in the face of several analysts declaring architecture one of the worst-hit professions during the Great Recession.
The Architecture School Bubble is based on the same hype as theater arts, fine arts and music degrees: “Follow your bliss” – even if there are almost no prospects for prosperity: this is noble. And if your training facilitates personal expression: acting in community theater, playing in a band or painting a landscape the cost of those educated obsessions is nothing.
Building anything costs a lot. There is a fine line between narcissism and genius. Self-created, economy-independent geniuses like Frank Lloyd Wright for architects or Steve Jobs for tech start ups make self-indulgence feel like investment. Narcissism and greed are not unrelated. Citibank and universities are more than happy to provide a vehicle for both. Unfortunately in the end, a tulip is just a tulip, architecture schools are not graduating 6,000 Wrights a year and bubbles inevitably burst.