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June 28, 2015

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: The Power of Know

In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk

In Finding Home: Caitlyn & Bruce — Architecture & Building

In The Rules:  How Tall is Tall? Getting the Low Down on Height Regulations 

In Home Page Living Solo: Agony or Ecstasy? 

The Power of Know

June 28, 2015


My parents were a Jazz Age couple, the Kit Kat Club, The Onyx and 21 were where they wanted to be, but World War 2, thence children, suburbia and any number of decisions ended that life focus by the time I was born.

But their Party Time friends were a legacy they did not reject. My brother’s godfather was “Uncle Louis” ironically Jewish (my father was fairly anti-Semitic) and “single”. Very early on we kids all knew he was “a homo” (the word “gay” still meant elderly folk be happily amused by something). He was funny, nice and my parents and he laughed almost the entire time he was in our presence.

Like the rest of their friends Louis’ time in my life was limited by my parents’s choices, as he ceased visiting in the 1960’s, but my mother was a decorator in New York and had many “queer” friends – odd how that word was whispered then, trumpeted now.

Knowing Uncle Louis, knowing he was gay, liking him, seeing my parents like him, was one of the billions of data points any child gets dumped in their empty brain by observation, thought and conclusion. Having seen my father eat sardines dumped from can onto Pepperidge Farm, slathered in Hellman’s,I could never, ever, eat them.

Knowing what I knew, when I was leaving my pot-scrubbing gig at a Cornell frat in 1974 and saw Risley College’s Gothic presence, I asked the sophomore next to me what it was, he shrugged and said, “oh, that’s the Gay Dorm.” My mind raced, I remembered someone had said Risley was co-ed, 50-50, and not knowing any gay women (well I knew them, I just did not know they were gay) I was totally psyched to live there: any number of gay men increased my odds at finding success in a place where there were more available females than men interested in them.

When a gay student had relations with his soccer-playing roommate in my freshman dorm, my small all-male dorm went a little nuts: it was a jock-heavy place (2/3’s of the occupants had been captains of high school varsity teams (including me)). Several loudly wanted to put a beat-down on “Hairy Fag” as they now called him, the soccer player’s mother was bereft and came to pick him up, and confided in me that her son would be “turned” by “this homosexual”. For the same reasons I became a Resident Adviser I talked to the angry dorm mates, distraught Mom, very confused soccer player, and “Hairy Fag”.

There was no beat down, the soccer player remained in school, though relocated,  everything passed on, without change in the hatred of the presumed seducer by a few in the dorm, the confusion of the seduced, the terror of the soccer player’s mother and the orientation of the former roommates. When the initiating gay roommate asked why I was so comfortable talking to him and my fellow athletes who wanted him beaten, I shrugged and noted that I knew both worlds, and yet was not gay, and did not want to beat him.

Knowing tempers reacting.

It is easier to react than to think. The extreme reaction against any definition of “marriage” by an overwhelming majority of the population evaporated as the “who cares” attitude of millions of gay people was just in the day-to-day of the ebbing Greatest Generation and Boomers.

The former group was churched into definitions that meant marriage was a specific and necessary construct. The latter group, my Boomer brethren completely voided any structural necessity for marriage. sex was part of life, not marriage, children were optional and single hood was a choice, not a sad result.

The fact that a word “marriage” had a definition that precluded legal status for the gay members of  future generations who value marriage even less than we Boomers would seem to mean a “who cares?” attitude by both gay and straight about changing its definition would be a natural outcome.

But knowing tempers reacting. Gay partners needed civil agreements to confer tax, death, medical and ownership rights to each other. Words matter and the clumsy “Domestic Partnership” had zero hope, love and permanence of “Marriage”. “Partnerships” happen all the time – transactions, deals, and quid-pro-quo’s are legalized and defined.

Bloodless, fearful, and cynical “partnerships” are anything but “Marriage”.

Once millions stopped being like my “Uncle Louis” -closeted, compartmentalizing every emotional, sexual, and romantic reality into a lock box – and simply said “Who cares?” and hundreds of millions began to know humans as just human, like them – not a different specie – “marriage” made sense, and “partnership” seemed pretty silly.

Of course political movements focus, legalize, process and promote an agenda, and every agenda is intended to change the day-to-day we experience.

But in most cases, the day-to-day leads the movement in the rest of the population: I knew “Uncle Louis” for every year of my life until I was shuttled off the Buffalo at 13: funny, smart and energetic. He was not a different specie. He, like my parents would have been shocked that “marriage” would ever be anything but man-and-woman.

Because they never knew anything else.

But knowing can undo movements too. Most of now know babies are babies and not internal organs pretty early in their creation. We know know more about why some of us are “crazy”. We can see into our genomes and predict behaviors.

What do we do with that knowing?


June 27, 2015



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As Seen in the New York Times, 12/2/2014



Under Construction

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Recently Completed!

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The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT

Click here to read about the project.

CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY

Click here to read about the project.

CEPHAS-Existing-001-copyCephas Ext4aCephas Ext2Cephas PR Dwg4ps


In Hartford Courant: What CT Has Is History- Don’t Neglect It

In New Haven Independant: Architect Couple, Institute Library Snag Awards

In Hartford Courant: History is Precious

In New Haven Register: New Haven’s Court Street is ‘like its own little town’

In Hartford Courant (login required): Smart Home Design In A City That’s Neighborly

In New Haven Register: Villas on a ridge, New Haven’s Hillhouse Avenue

In Townvibe: Simple Pleasures, an Artful Blend of Modern and Traditional

In Hartford Courant (login required): A Classic Street Ages, But Retains its Beautiful Bones

In New Haven Register: Forum: Yale, Pearl Harbor bridge projects show branding matters, money follows

In New York Times: Everything and the Kitchen Sink

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!

ReRun: Add “Roof” to the list below:

June 19, 2015

day 37


Knowledge tempers fear, and unknowables are terrifying.

You could make a case that all of medicine is just a specialized lab course, where humanity finds out how we are going to die.

Of course things get fixed in medicine: miraculous cures, heroic triumphs over all odds, exquisitely skillful surgeries – but while all of these extend the lives of the patients involved the baseline is that life is a terminal condition. “No one gets out alive” said the framer on a job site where I had just heard that my father had died.

So the acts of humans with no discernible purpose who not only end their own lives but in the process kill complete innocents is terrifying.

War is complete cultural, social and political madness: humans put every effort into killing other humans, knowing there’s a good chance they will end their lives and never benefit from whatever fruits of war happen. But there are perceived fruits: power, defeat of those who will oppress you if they get power, saving your people from death or slavery. 911 made sense in that mindset.

There are reasons.

But those who just happen to be flying on an airplane with Zaharie Ahmad Shah or, now, Andreas Lubitz or just going to the school Adam Lanza once attended end up dead without any plausible reason.

“He must have been crazy” is an explanation. It applies to me gardening a salt poisoned, shade bathed patch of rock too. It does not provide a reason for acts that are inexplicable that end innocence with death.

The idea that a singularity can eliminate a whole is the essence of anarchy. Humanity as a species uniquely relies on rules to survive and push forward. When those rules are distilled, refined and given full devotion, Mother Teresa happens. When there are no rules, nothing is valued, and life is purposeless, Shah, Lubitz and Lanza happen.

They are the single cancer cell that “happens” for reasons we begin to sometimes understand to a level where cancer has become more hated than feared.

But more often than we’d like our understanding does not prevent the same outcome as the victims of Shah, Lubitz or Lanza. Their actions have no registration with the most basic understanding we share: There should be rules we can understand.

That single cell often kills all the other cells that allowed it to exist, and then ultimately itself: to what end? Completely senseless.

Religion, law and science try to give a matrix of understanding to the senseless. But no level of faith in anything can make sense of the nonsensical.

If you want to see the other 39 pieces in this stream, click:


June 13, 2015


as taken by my father in 1959

The presence of absence is undeniable.

Fatherhood is celebrated this time of the year, but the love of my children, beyond all hope and expectation, does not change the complicated things my own fatherhood, and that of my Dad, visit upon me daily.

It was only when my wife and I had children that I, in my late 30’s, came to know how much children need.

That was not an easy realization. The extremity of dependence, the fragility of confidence, the factual lack of physical and emotional resources of my young children were not charming or cute to me. The reality of their  reliance upon our parenting scared me, and revealed the incapacities that were, and are, still with me.

Unfortunately my own lack of emotional resources made the normal vulnerabilities of my young children an abiding sadness. In seeing their unalloyed but natural fear in every unknown, or the ecstasy in every modest happy circumstance the damage of my early childhood was discovered as if it had happened 5 minutes ago.

The ignorant cope because they cannot hope to control what they are incapable of understanding. I could not understand my Mad Men childhood until I received the knowledge my coping had pre-empted.

There was literally nothing tragic about how I grew up. No illnesses, no poverty, a WASP family in Westchester at mid-century. Private schools, too much good food  , both parents together, mother working at whim, not necessity. Two older siblings who made the mistakes I could learn from, and a modest gift of intelligence that I could burnish into an isolated place of confidence.

But the flip side was the unseen actual world Mad Men distilled: alcohol was as usual as the morning cereal, but it started at 6:30pm and went until 12 or 16 ounces of it had been consumed – usually by 8 or 8:30. Then bed, or sitting at a desk, smoking relentlessly and sorting stamps until sleep.

Early bed meant a secondary element: that anger, fighting, and screaming had exhausted my mother and father into an early bedtime. I was never the cause of any anger, but I did know, know, that in some way, somehow, I should make it better. But that never happened.

The accrual of this 7 day a week, 52 week a year routine of dysfunction meant that at 13 I was sent to Buffalo, to be with a brother who had experienced this anger machine for 5 more years than I, and had born the brunt of its damage.

My mother thus discovered a place to be away with defendable justification: she went to Buffalo every 6 weeks for 6 weeks to be with “the boys”. It was really only after I had been out of Westchester for a few years that I knew she was not coming to be with us, but to be away from my father.

Of course this meant my father could also, defendably, live away from his children, in whom I think he felt great sadness at his own incapacity to understand or help. He loved to watch New York Giants games on our black and white Zenith- with the tuning fork remote control. But when I felt the need to try playing what he watched he was incapable of understanding or encouragement, although he did profess amazement at the one game of mine he saw (I was motivated).

When he missed seeing all the things all the other parents saw because he was “earning a living” he had cover, but no solace. In a pale echo of his isolation, the natural absence of our children empty nesting us by going away to college gave me the whiff of the desperate incapacity he must have choked on every night in Westchester as I lived out my high school years in Buffalo.

The alcohol could not have made the absence any easier, but what do I know? He was missing, and I have to believe he knew it.

The choice to be “right”: stoically earning a great deal of money and spending it on private schools, a second (actually third) home in Buffalo and supporting his family was, in truth, the only way the alcohol consumption could be sustained and bring on sleep. Alone.

Missing me play Nathan Detroit, missing all but one college visit with me even though I went to his beloved alma mater, missing any connection with my day-to-day was easier than the alternative. Hanging onto control by separating himself from the risk of parenting meant his life had the purpose of being the Lawyer, the bread winner, the stamp and coin collector for the collection he would give to his children upon his death.

When he refused to co-sign the modest loan I needed to graduate a semester early from architecture school because, (in a drunken slur), I was “a bad risk” it simply made real what our mutual absence meant: he had missed most everything about both of us.

Missing is not acting out: he was never cruel or even angry with me: unlike my siblings. He just knew that I had gone away, or he had, but that, finally we were missing.

When I paid the loan back by dint of dangerous high paying work and I then had no money, and no desire to risk my life any more, no girlfriend and no prospects, he allowed as I might spend the fall drawing up my thesis in our Westchester attic and look for work in New York.

But in coming home at 22 for a few months, it was clear we were still missing each other. We had gone different ways so early that being together was now, and for the dozen years he lived on, simply not possible.

This is not tragic, just sad. It was sadness then, and bizarrely, inexcusably, it is sadness now, abiding in me, for no good reason. Our missing each other justifies no inadequacies I daily evidence, nor did it make me a better parent: because missing, for me, and I am pretty sure for my Dad, teaches nothing except absence.

New (and old) Urbanism

June 8, 2015



New Haven and Hartford are but 41 miles apart. They are almost the same size, (17 and 20 square miles, respectively) and each city harbors about 130,000 souls. Hartford has 2 legacy industries, government and insurance, New Haven lost one (guns) but Yale remains.

After these factoids, the similarities begin to fade.

Hartford’s residents have a median income of around $30K, but New Haven’s residents have almost twice that amount (not surprising that the Ivy League pays better than a small New England state government.)

New Haven was a leading lab rat in the mid-20th century “Urban Renewal” experimentation that wiped clean entire neighborhoods, Hartford had less wholesale clear-cutting.

But today Hartford and New Haven join all of urban America as it undergoes a sea change in public perception. The Greatest Generation used the largesse of federal highway construction in the 1950’s that in Connecticut saw fallow failed farmland sprout hundreds of thousands of quickly built homes to invent suburbia. We Boomers kept on ex-urbing, carpet bombing our developments with McMansions.

The Boomer spawn, Millennials, see the excesses of energy, time, and money poured into commuting, lawns and mandatory automobiles and say “Nope”. This generational rethink takes on a religious fervor: “sustainability”: saving the planet from the Great Satan of Carbon. Kill the car, shrink the house, forget a mortgage: move back in-town, rent, walk to everything and feel the vibe. When combined with empty nested Boomers seeking to downsize and be as hip as their kids, it becomes a marketable force for investment in new housing.

But cities like New Haven and Hartford have not focused much on an influx of residents for over 70 years. This new housing herding creates product where human desire demands it.

As we found out in the crash of ’08’ housing is at the core of our economy, so big risks are often made, and rewarded if they reflect the market or are crushed if manipulated beyond the reality of people’s desires.

Hartford and New Haven are both in the middle of this changing tide but are corresponding with radically different approaches to accommodate the new influx.

Hartford is reusing abandoned buildings, using over $160 million Capitol Region Development Authority funding allocated via non-profits and a posse of private developers to potentially create over 1,000 new units in over 10 existing buildings in the next few years – all involving some affordability requirements, often intended to keep city workers (teachers, police and firefighters) in the city.

The Historic Preservation ethic is part of this approach and a core principle of “sustainability” is the canon “The Greenest Building is the one you do not tear down.”

The new housing being considered and built in New Haven could not be more different than the Hartford approach. There are about a dozen projects either in construction, approved or going for approval – all slated to be online in the next few years. Almost all are new construction, using “five-story wood-frame structure over podium slab” approach that makes the cost of building affordable enough that market-rate, unsubsidized rental housing makes economic sense on paper for another set of privately funded developers.

Of course private developers will build market rate new housing in Hartford, and of course there are subsidized affordable housing projects being created in New Haven. But the two cities are generally addressing the same opportunities and problems with radically different means to an end.

That end? Re-inhabit a small New England city downtown. Sometimes comparisons are odious, sometimes they reveal deeper distinctions. Did the scorched earth of New Haven’s “Urban Renewal” era soften resistance to building new? Does being the center of state government make subsidized housing a preferred option for Hartford?

Is the new value of knowledge that leverages start-up technologies make Yale and it’s like an facilitator of reasonable risk for private developers? Does the State of Connecticut’s never ending budget angst make private investment a greater risk when budget balancing potentially means layoffs by the city’s Big Dog employer? Or does it just it just come down to the fact that more folk have more money to spend in New Haven than in Hartford?

Both cities face the probability that overbuilding in the next couple of years will suppress the return on investment of their developers- unless the tide of New Urbanists overflows each city’s recent history. If one approach works while the other fails a national trend will have a local reality check.

Caitlyn & Bruce – Architecture & Building

June 2, 2015


Being a decathlete is extreme. 10 sports to train for and compete in over 2 days. Two days doing many things: running short, medium and long distances, jumping long and high, throwing heavy, long and sharp, vaulting with a pole assist. Running a marathon is extreme too, but the extremity is not in complexity, but in simplifying focus into one act: running a long way faster than the others around you.

The act of building is like a decathlon: extreme focus on many things: gravity, weather, materials, sun, cost, durability and, yes, aesthetics. Classic Fine Arts – painting, sculpture, photography – use a few things to do one extreme thing: make beauty.

In playing or singing a solo piece of music every aspect of the expression and appreciation is focused on one singularity: the performer. In choral or symphonic works of mass performance orchestration weaves with virtuosity to make a singularity out of complexity.

Bruce Jenner mastered the decathlon like no American before him: his obsession was focused but broad: strength, speed, endurance and precision – all at the highest level. He has now focused on the solo singularity of finding himself – amid the extreme cacophony of the Kardashians and his own legacy as a symphony of male athleticism.

The deepest sort of personal discernment, commitment and transformation is distilled to the cover of Vanity Fair. Celebrity, hype and gloss triumph over the most complex human realities. Just like the 1968 Wheaties box distilled athletic complexity to a two-dimensional sales gimmick, the extreme complexities of the human identity become crystallized into Annie Leibovitz’s fashionista portrayal of Caitlyn Jenner.

Its easier to deal with a book’s cover than its contents, an ad jingle becomes an ear worm more easily than a symphony. A sculpture is easier to understand than a building.

But the recent popular celebration of celebrities, music and architecture has trended towards mind-numbing superficiality.

Taylor Swift’s latest hook, the size of a Kardashian body part or the coolest swoop or blob of a Hadid building focus attention with an electric extremity. Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn becomes a graphic, rather than a story with decades of complex and subtle realities.

A building that aspires to sculptural expression similarly turns away from the realities of “Why” and “How” and narrows its focus to only “What”. No room for the way a building adapts to a site, a use or a budget. We have no way to know how Bruce became Caitlyn either. We have a magazine cover to hold up to a cereal box.

The difference is we all use the buildings that are designed for that use: and all have an actual site, surrounding culture, build from materials, and deal with an environment it. It really does not matter to the magazine/reality show/cereal company how Bruce or Caitlyn got to be useful to their purposes of grabbing attention to make money, they just care that people are drawn to superficial extremity.

Buildings should not be the car wreck that slows traffic in rubber-necking passing lurid curiosity.

Buildings should not be an earworm of dumbing numbing self-referential internal rhyming and rhythm.

Buildings should not be the gloss on the cover of shallow titillation that makes buying the magazine or logging into the website or tuning in a reality TV show an impulsive tick.

Caitlyn Jenner should not be reduced to a photograph: but she has let herself sell-out the depth of her evolution to be, for many, just another freak: despite 50 years of the deepest sort of introspection, and most extreme form of self-expression.

Yes, music includes ad jingles, architecture includes McMansions: but the popular and the sensational are distractions: sadly our culture is treating our deepest forms of expression – including architecture – as sound bite simple trivialities: distractions that demand the lowest level of understanding or investment.

But music has room for jingles, jazz, hymns and symphonies. Fine arts are abstract, photorealist and conceptual. Writing is poetry, fiction and journalism. Huge bandwidths of perception, expression and presence exist in people’s lives. The projection of architecture into the world is packaged into two exclusive realities: Fine Arts Sculpture or Imitative Developer Pandering.

The projection of what architecture is to the world by the industry’s press and the AIA is as stilted as if TMZ was on all channels all the time: All Caitlyn, no Bruce. I think to know Caitlyn you have to know Bruce. I think Bruce without Caitlyn does not recognize the way Caitlyn came to be herself. TMZ only wants to titillate not explicate.

Cheap thrills have always been with humanity, but the mass wall of sound that the new media floods everywhere 24/7/365 at Level 11 makes the trivial overwhelmingly present. The superficial becomes dominant. The effect overwhelms the cause. The image becomes more important than what made it.

But buildings, unlike a painting, protect us, allow us to work, cost us a great of money and many humans effort to create and maintain.

But the buildings now projected as “important” are as important as the cover of Vanity Fair: they are startlingly evocative, like Caitlyn Jenner, and are presented, intentionally, as having no backstory, depth or explanation. Unfortunately all are built with technology, materials and sites: the denial of which make for extreme misfits.

When reality is denied now, there are consequences later: Bruce had to become Caitlyn. Buildings can be sculpture, but they also exist in an environment, culture and are built of materials and are used: to present them only as sculpture is to present Caitlyn, or any person, as just a magazine cover.



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