The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
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 A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!
A New Show Debuts!
It will be a LIVE hour of radio on the home – in design, the human condition, literature and humor: there will be music, recorded features, and YOU, the engaged participant of one of the Big Three: we all eat, wear clothing and come home. Home Page will look at houses from a new perspective in a time where a new normal has made Dream Homes more dream than possibility. To find our way home, we need to know what we value – and what we value depends on where we are in life: allow me to engage you, dear reader, in a thought experiment:
Find Your Home in this List, leave a comment about where you are: we may just use it on the show!
Homes Get A Life - where are you?
-home design and where we are in our lives – a series of pieces describing the prototypic home requirements as our lives evolve
The First Place - IKEA, paint and plants
The Coupled Launch - When Which Bed, Closet Space Allocation, and Combining Kitchens measures the balance of domestic gravitas in a relationship
The Plunge - The first owned home and the balance of money, style and neighborhood
The Family House - When children become the client – hiding, choreographing and celebrating the chaos that is the pre-teen home
The 20 Year Home - The diapers are gone, homework has begun – when a home must seamlessly accommodate the overwhelming schedules and changes of full on family-raising
The Half-Full Nest - They go away/they come back – when bedrooms are museums and flop houses – combining the SRO and middle age in the family home
Will We Stay or Will We Go? - Whether the 20 Year Home becomes the rest of your life home – the criteria for selling and finding a new place or renovating for the rest of your life
Making Home Fit Body - As our bodies “evolve” our homes have to, or they become places of frustration versus safe harbors – the tools that can make any home a hospitable place for easier living
The Place of Rest - The ways a home can accommodate become a comfort when you have finally reached a time of reflection and repose
Mammals eat and sleep more during winter. Despite fur, humans wear clothes. Those clothes collide with that eating when a certain -tightness- evidences itself.
Despite working out every day, eating only when hungry, when that hunger satiates towards the fat side of the ledger and there are no lawns to mow, no amount of intermittent snow shoveling overcomes the extra calorie count when you eat the same amount of brownies as you formerly ate kale.
The second collar button is snug, the pants button buttoning requires sucking in and pulling over in a Tai Chi movement that only subsides with compression that is Under Armor Worthy. This gets old fast (like me). The cure is both simple and stupidly absent from winter larding.
Eat Less Move More
So Lent this year involves weaning. Less volume, less calories per ounce. More muscles moving more minutes. The Bow Flex is back to a daily relationship, and the biking that wrecked the internal gearing 3 times in the last year has seen a radical fix: fusing its guts to the highest resistance. For 90 minutes. Every Day.
This is not self-flagellatory, this is corrective. This is refocusing from a winter white out that added an inch (when I say that, it means 2) to a waist that is comfy with pants I will not abandon. Everything still “fits” (and when I say”fits” I mean “binds”).
Being a Cradle Frozen Chosen, Lent has a legacy for me: it’s supposed to be a time when abstinence focus attention on what you value – religio-speak calls this “mindfulness”. This ain’t “mindfulness” this is undoing too-fullness. Denial of gluttony is a life-long undercurrent for me – but being gluttonous never leaves you, you just deal with it.
Eating is not an addiction -it is a joy and a mindless nervous tic. Defeating the tic, while experiencing the joy is the sweet spot of control without regret. Binding clothing is not worth binding your stomach, or sucking subcutaneous fat out from your distended body bag in a gut-less make-up call, but it does motivate shutting the pie hole upon occasion and moving the whole body more.
Lent denies joy to gain insight: unbinding my waist band gives joy using what I have always known – it’s easy to eat too much and move too little. But sometimes old methods have new meanings.
This is a new time for those who are in the home-determination mindset: to do anything, you have to break the cycle of fear that is paralyzing a very large segment of those who formerly thought it was prudent to enhance your greatest investment. Here’s a pep talk for those who want to do something, but are on the fence (or worse, the ledge).
ITS NOT NUTS TO ACT: if you really can’t stand your life location, there are options BUT you have to be ALL IN or you CANNOT GET HOME – you will be consigned to live like a refugee for the foreseeable, miserable out years. To get all in you have to pick a path and COMMIT - here are the New Normals to subvert the Dominant Paradigm of fear.
There are 3 basic options:
1) BUILD 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-dependent 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 arm wear.
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.
YOU are the catalyst for Action: but these are the New Insights that may become conventional wisdom as the New Normal ceases to be new…
Perspective + Information = Hope
IKEA can only help so much when you hate where you live. Ditch the snarky jokes about doomsday black hole of bumming on your crib: You Can Do Better. Whether it’s a crappy apartment, a condo from hell or the bedroom you grew up in, if you hate where you live there is a way out. No magic bullets or magical thinking, happiness is not a new paint color away, its finding out what works to get a place of your own.
We have been force fed the failures of the last generation who screwed things up trying to get rich in the housing bubble. “Flippers” bought crap, gave it a gloss and ripped off those who thought there was no way any owned home could ever be worth less than they paid for it. Developers made bad building expensive with hype and painless rip-off financing. Real Estate Agents went along for the ride as long as the checks cleared. Bankers, - well, we all know what unnatural acts they committed on the whole world’s economy.
Boomers and the Greatest Generation got screwed when Magic Equity evaporated, leaving only Real Debt, but Millenials, Echo-Boomers, and anyone under 40 who had not bought in is left with the Depressive side of a BiPolar Manic/Depressive housing boom-bust bubble. They have tons of academic debt, no home equity, live like undergrads in commuter schools – or just with undergrads in shared apartments: They are pissed, bored and hopeless about where they live.
They eat out every so often, buy cool shoes, but never think that where they live could be somewhere they love. But they are no different than the 1979 family confronting 22% mortgage rates or the 1987 couple that lost its down payment in the stock crash or the 1999 guy who saw his sweet condo walk away when his “equity” in a tech start-up became vaporized.
The big difference now is attitude: no one believes it’s possible to overcome a gigantic black hole of value that is the housing market, but even the “Me Generation” found out they did not invent a New World Order. The New Paradigm of home ownership is really the Old Timey Way: – if you want it badly enough, you can get to a place you love to live in: but the old saws that comforted the 1979, 1987, 1999 homesteaders are bogus:
- It’s not “Location Location Location” – its finding crappy sites in great locations.
- It’s not “Contemporaries Never Sell” – its Good Design Always Sells.
- It’s not “Good Schools Raise Property Values” – it’s spending the right amount in any community.
- It’s not “Resale Value” – its spending at a level you can live with, now and in 10 years.
- It’s not “Never spend less than twice or more than 3 times the lot cost on a new home” – its thinking about what you can spend now, in five years and 10 years and what you can ultimately have.
- It’s not “Curb Appeal” -it’s designing a landscape and an interior that is truly useful (and lovable) – because if you do, others will.
- It’s not “Architects cost too much” – its defining how much design is worth to you, and getting a designer who is transparent.
Extremity is not a new virtue. Pilgrims, Nazi’s and Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid swilling compatriots all believed in absolute truths that alienated them from others. Architecture has its versions of extremity, but it’s a mistake to be distracted by “style”, no matter how extreme its expression.
When buildings are set into our culture it’s the motives and values of their design that impact our living with them far more than their “style”. The values of “imitatophobia” – fear of being imitative- are ascendant in haute architecture, where any allusion is perceived as creative incompetence.
During my 35 years designing buildings the currency of valuing work has skewed into unthinking validation of what is perceived to be “innovation”. But declaring pure motives can imply not believing what your eyes clearly see. Glass buildings are energy efficient. Flat roofs are sustainable. And any scintilla of allusion, let alone imitation, is denied more quickly and definitively than when Peter through Jesus under the cross 2,000 years ago.
The origins of rejecting precedents, context or even familiarity is, ironically enough, quite familiar.
Many fine artists have found their voice in alienation. Disaffection clarifies one side of your perspective – what you hate puts you in a place away from that reality. But humans also find comfort in being with other humans. The cascade from tolerance of like-minded coalescence creates movements out of insights. Perfection is only conceptually possible, people and buildings all have virtual feet of clay.
The 4 Gospelers of the New Testament have odd distinctions, but they and their fellow ancient zealots presented enough of a unified perspective that 2,000 years have netted a few billion followers who have radically different cultural legacies. So when manipulating color and light trumps form and iconography becomes “Abstract Expressionism” or when white planes, frameless voids and rectangular geometry becomes “Modernism” individual radical innovators like Kandinsky or Le Corbusier had their personal, idiosyncratic and oppositional extremities become places of gathering for parts of the creative class.
Fundamentalism is not limited to religion. The last generation of architectural celebration has radicalized as much as our politics have. “Moderates” are now viewed as traitors by both “Progressives” and “Patriots” alike. An invigorated backlash to conventional architectural Modernist orthodoxy has become radicalized in a few schools and a flock of firms: “Traditional Architecture” is viewed as the Tea Party by main stream Modernism, and has taken on an aggressive defensive posture that has real teeth. Even if overtly imitative following history seems more intellectually legitimate than imitating innovation.
As with all fundamentalism the Yin-Yang of Only New and Only Old are just 2 sides of the same coin: defendability via intolerance.
But, as stated, it’s not about how a building looks, it’s the essence of the values it embodies that becomes problematic for our culture when irrelevancy is too great a byproduct. But any legacy can become as unthinking as historicist replication, and aesthetic correctness can be as judgmentally thoughtless as any prejudice.
The common signature of the dominant Modernist legacy is a contempt for recognition of context and celebration of craft as pandering to lazy “vernacular” cliches that mongrelize genius. Even the whiff of precedent can be seen as sell-out.
Zaha Hadid is the human personification of architectural ascendance in the world today. Her conceptual work led to veneration, veneration led to commissions, commissions led to awards and more commissions, and along the way, ideas became built. Now, once again she has to defend a design. Not because its dissociative from gravity, buildability or any context, but simply because it’s clearly allusive to something other than itself.
The FIFA World Cup will be played in Qatar in 2022. Hadid has created a design (above) that by any definition is biomorphic, and by implication vaginal. The Hadid response to Time is outrage over the notation of the building’s obvious capacity to be viewed as referential: “Its really embarrassing they came up with this…That’s ridiculous.” She plays a gender card too: “Honestly, if a man had done this…”
Truth be told male architects have had to address their maleness in relationship to the skyscrapers they design, so while sexist, the allusion to anatomical realities of a designer’s inspiration is not anti-woman. Also true is that all buildings convey allusions they cannot control. More intellectually legitimate would be the building’s allusiveness to the work of Santiago Calatrava:
Whether you like the aesthetics of any given building or not the millions of other structures and cultural realities that envelope any object are part of how it’s viewed. Absent imitation, it’s absurd to denigrate any allusion, implication or reference that anything has for another as devaluing its embodied creativity.
Loyalty oaths can be assertive or defensive. Orthodoxy and canon both assert and pre-empt. But when work that is canonically based in a model of innovative purity has to fend off charges of precedence, allusion, or more heretically, imitation the allure of fundamentalist innovation – it’s obvious New-ness is not obvious.
Truth be told, The New is always born of, and in and with The Old. To eschew any relationship with any entity other than the brain of the creator is beating against the ultimate tide: reality. Even theoretical subatomic physics has to register with the laws of gravity. The most rarified poetry has words. The Newest Music uses some instrument. Art has to be perceived to be appreciated – and the media of all creation has the baggage of this world, not a conceptual one.
When the creator efforts the unprecedented, the media is part of the message, and the media is of this world. If it quacks like a duck, looks like a cigar, or walks like an Egyptian whatever you have created lives in this place and experiences the time of its realization and the out years after – like it or not.