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October 25, 2014


Most historians credit the first Homecoming as a pitched battle of football teams between Baylor and Southwestern University in 1909. The idea is as simple as a Kegger: when the football team comes back from a road trip for a home game you throw a party.

Alumni return and relive. Football teams have rallies. Students feel justified in mental distortion.

As prepare to depart for the first (and last) intentional Homecoming without a child in full participation, I realize returning to a home port happens everyday to everybody at some point in their lives.

As babies humans receive and arrive fresh everywhere they go: the sense of return comes only after memory develops. Feeling the fulfillment of memory: living in nostalgia real time, Homecoming can be eating your favorite meal, seeing Field of Dreams again (and again) or just seeing someone you have lost touch with.

But it involves physical contact and experience – embodying memory in context.

As with everything fraught with conditions of emotional intensity, Homecoming can fail to live up to expectations, be fearfully anticipated, or simply suck. The person you once loved is a jerk. The apartment you rocked it with in your New Urban Life is a dump. The football team loses 38-3. In the rain. With drunks.

But most daunting are the Homecomings you do not control. When you have to go to a Thanksgiving of freaks you have to call relatives it’s nostalgia writ psychotic. When that pain in you knee returns in familiar despair. When you find yourself alone. Again.

Coming home has the rosy glow that home is sweet, that its where your heart is, that you can go home again. But places have value based on their reality, not on desire. Truth be told, many of us want our children to be Mini-Me’s – psycho-homecomings of ego extension. Absent cloning and a replicated upbringing to yours, your children are just who they are.

When I drove by a place of deep despondency I had not seen in 35 years I was literally going to a home I was had, but it was like touching a hot stove, not a portal to a place of safety and nurture:quite the opposite?

Homecoming may have a great brand, but like any other experienced reality, it’s complicated.

More complicated as we get older (and old). More places we have left. More places to return to, whether we like it or not. And the Final Homecoming – the Big Return is to a place we have never been, all know is coming and have spin any millions of “takes”, rationalizations, denials and romantic dodges to skew its completely alien truth: we and all the living, stop this life.

Whether we are running away from home, becoming lost forever, or returning to a state of Grace is unknowable. Faith is hope, but memory is truth: but a subjective one. That same house I visited a few years ago was a place where another family grew up after we left in happiness.

Reinvention has particular necessity in desperation. But renewal in Homecoming happens too. I created the only home I have ever wanted to come home to, but I leave it so briefly, only short term memory is involved. As the years go by, that type of Homecoming might be the most sustainable.

Building on the Water

October 25, 2014


Water – Living in love with it, without breaking your heart (or budget) The romantic allure of waterside living is undeniable, but back in Colonial times no one wanted to live on or near the coast who could afford to live inland. The coast was fraught with danger – storms, flooding, disease and wind are more severe on the water than inland. Those perils still exist, but are managed today, and living by the ocean, lakes or rivers has gone from scary liability to desired asset.

Managing risk by the water means better building practices and stringent code requirements for new construction and major renovations of existing homes. Those codes stringently mandate structural design standards, setbacks from water, and site design limitations, all intended to minimize the impact of flooding and on any coastal site and wind on the oceanfront.

Most regulations set maximums – how tall your house can be, how big your footprint is, or how many bedrooms you can have. But regulations that make it safer to live by the water require minimums – most classically a minimum height of a home’s lowest floor above where a high tide, flood level or tidal surge might get to. Similarly safe distance to the edge of the water is prescribed, and even the nature of the finished grading is reviewed and verified not to direct water dangerously towards your neighbors.

From foundations up to design requirements to resist high winds water focused home design plays by a whole separate rule book from its landed compatriots. In those “high wind velocity” areas the actually type of glass can be prescribed, and in the most dangerously exposed areas (as determined by the Federal guidelines as required by FEMA) protections for all the doors and windows – expensive shutters or plywood panels that could be installed when storms hit.

Even if you are living lightly by a marsh, far away from any windswept ocean or flooding river, the water on your site regulates where your septic can be, how you can add onto your home, or the level of your basement. Because all regulations key on where the water is as a line on your site plan, and what level your land is, a survey will be required to nail down what limitations are present on your site, and an experienced local attorney could be necessary as well.

There are several essential ways homes near water have to have their aesthetics shaped by where they are built.

These dimensional and structural requirements often require licensed engineers to determine what standards apply and then design to those standards– and architects can really help in accommodating the lofting of your home to the appropriate height as required.

The brutality of the weather on sites on the water mean painted surfaces are not a good idea as the sun, wind and rain tend to erode any coating. So masonry, vinyl, natural wood shingles and increasingly PVC plastic are often the default settings for exterior cladding.

Doors and windows that open and close by sliding simply do not seal as well as doors and windows that swing on hinges.

Simple roof shapes that avoid valleys (folds in the roof between gables and dormers) resist water.

Roof overhangs and porches shed the intense sun and drenching wind-driven rain that often accompany waterside sites. 

Where you build can have a huge impact on what you build – and no more so than when the forces of nature threaten your home. The beauty of water is undeniable, but its dangers prevented our ancestors from valuing it –until technology made its dangers less daunting. But those technologies have impacts on the design of the homes that bask in the undeniable allure of waterside living.

Welcome to Saved by Design

October 22, 2014

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Bottoming Out

In Not (As) Fat: The Body as Architecture

In Finding Home:  Oak Hill Rd Construction Photos, 10-14

In The Rules:  Two Paths


HOME is….?

October 19, 2014

home page


WPKN 89.5FM,


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

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 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: – 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!


October 18, 2014


photo photo (1)sendakmodellynch model


Under Construction



Recently Completed!



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The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.


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!

Bottoming Out

October 11, 2014

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: but having seen one true and abiding bottom: 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.

Oak Hill Road Construction Photos, October 2014

October 8, 2014
by Allan Shope

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!

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