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September 26, 2017

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In Random Stuff: 30 years ago…Today

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In Finding Home: The Next Thing…

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Silence In Spring : Astonishing…

Entertaining Renovation

November 17, 2017

DuoOnly-HomeTime-FbHeader-1b-851x315_wTHANKSGIVING! LIVE! THIS THURSDAY the 23rd! NOON! WPKN 89.5FM http://www.wpkn.org live streaming!

You might not have noticed: its the holidays: a bunch of folk who have renovated their homes will be on air describing how their renovations changed they way they entertain, and how This Thanksgiving is impacted!

Bringing the World Into Your Home, when you have made your home better for the world and you – and THANKSGIVING!  LISTEN!!!

Ceremony

November 11, 2017

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Today the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1940 Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America were used to mark the death of my sibling: it was devastating – and not for its liturgical poignance and expertise.

For the last 35 years, I knew none of my sister’s friends. She died last month without a will or direction. But it was clear, from personal inspection that Dora’s passing was an encounter with an isolated hoarder’s existence in a life that had collapsed around work.

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So it was a tender scenario to honor and register that life to the the Christian legacy my pre-transition brother had, and I hope had sustained in his life as my sister. But that was just the context for the extraordinary gift of love that simply happened this morning.

We gathered in a 1,000 seat building in the choir pews up at the altar, very comfy for the dozen who were expected. Just before the 10AM service the doors opened up and first 8 then 4 then 2 then 1 came in, and filled all the choir pews. My sister’s office, en masse, came from 100 miles away to be with her this last time, based on the one call I had made to a supervisor the week before.

No one already there knew them.

We began this traditional ritual with the stark, cutting words that make me wince and squint across the centuries to the universal end of presence in this world:
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and then a wonderful homily by the Rector, based on what he knew was a difficult life with what remained of her family in the estranged 15 years since the transition from Win Dickinson to Dora West happened.

But this morning an unexpected thing just happened: The power of presence in the packed choir pews changed a ritual into an encounter with what we all have within us, but most often avoid. It is hard to openly embrace a faith in our inability to control, define, or even understand our place confronting the end of existence in this place. The openness and embrace of these strangers in our midst, those who obviously loved my once intimate sibling, changed everything.

I rose to add a simple stream of memory before we completed the liturgy and walked my sister’s cremains down to her final resting niche.

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The flood of their love hit me with a force that was not understandable then, or now. I had to change how I was to offer my thoughts with a simple truth; “I cannot tell you how much your presence means for us today. It is a gift, an act of Grace and love no words can express. You have come a long way simply to be part of a person you know, but is a mystery to me and I am beyond grateful.”

I then offered what I had already written:

Thank you for coming today, a deep thanks to Luk, Walden, Elise

Services like this are for the living and connect the living to the incoherent mysteries we all confront at the end of life.

Today, this is the last transition in a life of changes.

I was raised with Win Dickinson until I was 18, so I can attest that his early years had more than their share of pain and disappointment.

That truth was clear 30 years ago, when he insisted on giving something like what I am doing now, a memorium, at our father’s funeral. My father was neither understanding nor kind when it came to many things. That shaped my brother’s life, to the point, that upon my father’s death, Win rose to create the hero father we never had: a full construction our mother never understood.

However I never knew Dora West, she absented herself from the lives of those who knew her as Win Dickinson – so I prayed for her, here, every week for the last 23 years.

Dora’s transitions over the last 50 years were in hope of creating a life she wanted, and I hope she found peace. The truth is none of us are owed any outcome and get what we think we deserve. We really do not control much. God has given us life and we find our way here on earth. Whether it’s the gifts we have been given or the burdens we endure, we did not earn them.

Dora’s life here is now over, and in the end Dora silently relied on her brother to effect this transition. But despite all our efforts, the last transition is not up to anyone here. This last change is between Dora and God, the God that made her, and us, that heard her prayers, that is here now, then, and always.

I clutched the box of cremains and we then walked down to the end of the church, singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” – two groups – the Connecticut Episcopalians, a caucasian bunch and those from The Westchester Bus Company who were primarily black, in equal numbers, joined in incoherent but deep connection to a soul now away from us, and not fully understood. I slipped her vessel, built by the shop I had worked for for 9 years, 30 years ago, into the Columbarium I had helped create a decade prior where my wife and I will be all too soon. Prayers, straight from Thomas Cranmer and the 16th century accompanied the Protestant Music as my sister’s friends looked on, some weeping.

They loved her.

At the finish, I met every one, deeply hugged people I did not know – heard halting words of love and appreciation, then retired for a 10 minute debriefing before about 10 of his posse – most knew nothing of a life when she was my brother, they had no clue about the actual facts of her passing, even though her best friend from work had gone to Dora’s house when she simply failed to show up at work, and called the police who found her dead in bed. Their open faces and wide eyes received whatever I could give.

There are complications and imponderables that I tried to convey: unresolvable realities that are present, but those are irrelevant to the greater reality of what we were experiencing: for that 30 minutes we were immersed in the love that knows no location, situation, circumstance, judgment or expectation. We were exquisitely different and fully together in the most essential reality of the human condition: Death and Faith.

We knew that we knew not much about the facts of her private passing, but we felt the power of acceptance, devotion and forgiveness that overwhelmingly binds us to the greatest truth of our lives: the abiding irrational love of the God that made us.

It was elemental, and it was devastating – at least to me. Senseless love across geography, tradition, history: transforming but essential. Powerful and incoherent. Just love. Just God.

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30 years ago…Today

November 1, 2017

FullSizeRenderIt was a crisp Monday morning, Nov.1, 1987. I opened the door to the converted rented garage and surveyed the 5 places to work I and a couple of young interns had put together over the last 2 months. It was the first day in 9 years I had not gone to work for a great good architect and woodworker, who had accepted me as a partner three years prior, then a named partner one year before I left. I had realized my need to control and create would have been an insufferable burden to any partner I might have.

I was about 1/2 mile from the one bedroom house we had built 3 years prior. My wife had graduated from law school and had a great job. My third book was underway, and I had work as an architect at age 32. I had been licensed for about 5 years, passing on my first taking of the 5 days of testing. I had about 20 active projects, about a third of them building.

It was a good time.

It was the Reagan Boom, even though we had just endured “Black Monday” a few weeks prior, where the stock market dropped over 20% and 500 points in one day, leaving it at 1,700. That freakout signaled the near future, especially for architects, and became the second bust in the housing market I had experienced since I graduated a decade ago.

I received referrals from a much more successful firm in Greenwich, who did not wish to do renovations, just new buildings. The woodworking shop I was associated with and co-owned by my partner did a lot of their millwork. They firm’s founders were only a little older than me, and became friends. They were jovial great good expressively crafty architects, dismissed by the shallow as “traditional” – so occasionally the renovation referrals did not become jobs for me.

But there was another difference in our work. I am almost obsessively committed to opening up design to complete client input and partnering through a design, bidding and building process that often takes longer as we offer multiple options and solicit feedback. The result was, and is, that we built over 70% of what we start, versus about 50% for the more traditional design process of selling a design to the patrons, with no options presented.

In the next 2 months post the stock market crash I kept all of the 20+ projects in my office, staffed by 3 others – while my friends saw their staff of 14 be reduced to 6. Their projects, all larger than mine, reduced from over 20 to under 10. They, of course, kept a brisk publication exposure and within a few years were bigger and brighter. The founding partners have retired, the firm goes on. I remain the same.

So went the next 30 years: 3 more busts: S&L, Tech Bubble, and then the 10 year cave-in of the Housing Crash we are still living in. We lived through each boom after the first three busts – where bad ideas by clients were vetted, explored, often blunted, but sometimes were built.

We went from 4 people in 1987 to 6 or 7 today, sometimes having an extra hand or two in boom times, but never laying anybody off, or missing a payroll: ever. I pay every person working for me, including interns, by the hour, double time for overtime: and we have had over 40 employees, with any number going on to great careers. I am happy to have those employees do their own freelance projects – in my office on my equipment, if desired. There are no hard office hours: outside interests are just fine if I know about them. We have had 1,000 payrolls all handwritten checks by the same bookkeeper.IMG_2119

We made every mortgage payment on the present office building purchased 28 years ago, paid it off, but still have a credit line that never seems to go away. I think I can make payroll next week without dipping into it for the first time in 18 months, but that has yet to be determined. I take one week off every year, needed or not.

But we did all this while breaking the rules: beyond the “open book” process of complete transparency I am committed to working for all those who need it: regardless of job size, type, style preference or location. Or the ability to pay.

We do pro bono work, a lot of it: upwards of 30% of the work in the office, keeping one or two folk busy at my donation. We are now finishing a 10 year effort where I gave about $100,000 of time to give the kids in our town a better place to play and perform:

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Besides this anomalous devotion to working for everyone, with no posturing, agenda or “higher truth” of advocating a Canon of Modernist or Historicist aesthetics, we have had over 1,000 projects – about 300 not-for-profit efforts, for about 600 homeowners for homes new and remodeled,  and 100 other commercial or consulting efforts. We have built over 700 things, ranging in budget from $5,000 to $8,000,000. In today’s dollars the building costs range from $150 per square foot to over $1,000 per.

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Because we tailor our service, and thus our fees, to what is wanted by our clients, we have learned to generally work on an hourly basis with clear projections of what our costs would be. For not-for-profits we work for what the funder can pay. Despite the range in fees, our work tends to break rules for building costs as we work directly with builders to maximize the value of construction, no matter what the budget, as in this house almost done in California:

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We have work in over 100 markets in about 15 states, on the water, inside skyscrapers, in the woods, inside a room, out in a field, anywhere. Now almost all our work is by word of mouth. I write for a bunch of interesting platforms (seen in those sidebars to the right of this piece) and have written 8 books this just out:

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I write for several publications, including my blog, where this is, which has received over 20,000 visits this year alone and almost 130,000 visitors since it came to be. We just retooled our website, started over 20 years ago – using a barter system with a designer: a nicer version  www.duodickinson.com  for a nicer home.

We have won about 40 recognitions/awards from organizations, after being asked to compete I won a “Fellow” appellation in the AIA this year, I had a full feature in the New York Times about 20 years ago gaining 700 inquiries over a decade and a bunch of jobs. I helped create the Congress of Residential Architecture that bloomed, expressed a full-on Paper to the AIA, and died in the crash. I am just on the faculty of the “Building Beauty graduate program at UNIsob, in Naples, Italy. I have a radio program, and I podcast with others. TV happens from time to time, and I speak a lot (a lot of this is in the sidebars to the right of this piece or at the bottom of this page under “News”).

The model has worked. We started with the in-house Diazo printing with ammonia, a $1,800 fax machine and Mayline drawing on mylar and now have 9 computers with multiple hard drives and scanners and printers and, for me,  200 emails in and 100 out every day. From one bedroom my wife and I have built 3 more, conceived, received, sent forth and received back two children, each of us has had hospital stays, I have larded up 1/3 of myself, lost it, gained some back, now back to the weight I had in 1987 (still somewhat fat).

Thank You: your reading this means you have been part of all of this last 30 years in some way – a gift.

DDA 30 years hi res

dark early…

October 29, 2017

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It was exactly 48 years ago in downtown Buffalo, New York. Being late October, before Daylight Savings Time rolled back the clock, it was deeply dark.

In the black night, I cracked awake with a fevered start: glanced a dim “7:34” on the clock – yelled “SHIT” and jumped out of bed, no shower, popped on clothes, grabbed books, and ran to Main Street to catch the 7:51 Niagara Frontier Transit bus to get to school by first class at 8:30.

Out of breath, I saw no one at the bus stop. It was silent. I looked at the watch I had feverishly slapped on my wrist – it said “6:45”. In my assumed incompetence, I had not seen the actual time, but presumed I had failed.

I was 14 and alone on Main Street in 1969 because my mother was home several hundred miles away with my father who had never left, and my brother was in the room next to mine in deep repose, his body processing the remnants of whatever substances he had taken, inhaled or drank the night before.

As I walked home, I was breathing heavily, recovering from panic in the dark, my mind racing over my assumptions and terror. The bruises, stiffness and crotch rot from the last 2 months of my first football practices were manageable, but more present now that the adrenaline abated. It was silent and the night was only broken by street lights – the dawn was over an hour away.

I entered the dark, silent house, trudged upstairs in a blackness that was not just the absence of light. I was alone.

My bed was a mattress, my clothes were in a dresser and there was a box of my other stuff in the naked room. My light was the central ceiling bulb set in the cast 1870 plaster rosette, 10 feet above. The silent home smelled of oil fired furnace soot, as the heat had popped on in the last week or two.

I had, for ten minutes, known what I and my siblings had been told, – that we were apt to fail, to make mistakes, to simply screw up. It was inevitable – our incapacities were simply part of who we were, failure was simply part of our lives.

My 19 year old brother could dull that drone with drugs to the point where he was simply not present – despite technically being in loco parentis for me as I attended a day school 20 miles north of downtown Buffalo. To escape that conclusion 5 years ago, my sister had taken a VW bug to California, only to return to our hometown in Westchester to marry a man, who she then divorced with the help of my parents, but now lived with – then and now. For my mother, her avoidance was being a moving target via her circuitous transit between homes. Our family thus orbited my father, whose lode star was a Wall Street legal practice, and who was drunk after 6:30 every night.

We were all alone in the dark.

But this AM the black pre-dawn was an unmistakable metaphor for an early life led in dark isolation. In retrospect, the 6:45AM alarm had not gone off yet, but I had fulfilled the inevitabilities of incompetence we were schooled in and assumed I had snoozed through it. I was first scared, then terrified, and then simply hopeless as I returned to shower, re-dress, then calmly catch the bus.

I would come to master football, have a nice pair of refinished rooms in the attic above my stark 1969 bedroom, find a deep and abiding friendship, college, career, marriage, children – but my brother went from salvation to salvation, never finding the answer to the indictments he suffered. His talents were simply broken by fulfilling the expectations of incompetence so loudly and unrelentingly conveyed to him in the years I knew him.

His own nice room on that upper floor became filled with cigarette butts, leftover cans and trash, Playboy posters and “stuff”. Since he kept his door tightly shut, I only heard the sounds of rolling and smoking joints, the occasional loud music, but mostly experienced his absence as he was most often “out” – skipping classes at Buffalo State or being a clerk at Delaware Camera Mart, photographing weddings, or going to places I never heard of.

His solace, then and for the rest of his life, was that he always – always – paid his own way. Perhaps his last salvation was, after the passing of my mother more than 15 years ago, that he used the money left to him to become a woman. A full change I never saw, because some things did not change.

Despite all efforts, he, then she, simply opted out of all contact. His life appears to have continued to be self-medication and work. In this way perhaps he-then-she unknowingly emulated our father’s final years. His room never ceased being a place to discard the leftovers of his-then-her living, fully immersing him-then-her in the rejected pieces that had been used and then abandoned.

I know this because my sibling died 4 weeks ago today, and, after they found him, I was found by the local police. In the intervening weeks I have sorted through some of his life, and am still dealing with its meaning. I am still, largely, in the dark. His place of living was filled, often to the ceiling, with discarded pieces and parts. There are signs and evidence of a deep isolation and devotion to desperate control.

I process these intense evidences that are in a vacuum, and part of me lives in those rooms – back before the sun came up in 1969, and a couple of weeks ago when I broke into my brother’s repossessed house. It will take some time for me to accept the scenarios that are now so extreme.

My fears are now tempered by 62 years of survival. I know the unmerited gifts of love and Grace that seem to have escaped my brother-turned-sister, and the sustained and sustaining isolation seem as dark and hopeless to me as that late October morning.

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JERKS

October 27, 2017

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Weinstein, Ailes, now Franken…

I have never, ever, even understood the imperative to be sexual with the uninterested. Of course I have never owned blue jeans or sunglasses, or for that matter smoked anything or owned a gun – so maybe I am just not in sync with large orders of activity – here by so many men…

But I know others believe I am a jerk. They told me so. I am directly expressive with many folk: hugs, kisses on the cheek, even lifts and backside slaps. No, its not about gender, I am a jerk to all humans who seem to be with me in jerkdom.

But to some this activity is simply wrong. I have forgotten that a time or two and have been thoughtlessly ebullient and after the fact I know it was both stupid and senseless. I was told. Beyond apologizing, I am not sure what else I can do, but I know for a few I am Harvey Weinstein insensitive.

Its all because in 1979 a fellow football coach was physical in his expressions of bro-dom. He was the first to give a hug, punch a shoulder, slap five, all that. Although I always was free with physical expression, his hugs of everyone felt right to me. It was a sexless gesture of positive regard. So at 23 I opened up a bit and I do think it has been a good thing.

Except when it wasn’t.

When I forget or misread the recipient the response to my jovial, open embrace is uncomfortable and intrusive for those I stupidly impose myself on. I have no agenda or motive other than sharing happiness, but clearly it’s simply wrong for some. As I walk through my 63rd year, I get that, and I also know that sharing happiness is usually a good thing.

But human contact is a tricky thing. Orthodox jewish female friends simply cannot shake hands with me, let alone touch in any way. My high WASP friends awkwardly hug back. But the confusion of being physical and male dominance is real, and the last 40 years of my observation of it only makes my malaprop more embarrassing.

Before Coach Morrell was my full-on chest-bumping friend, I experienced Cornell’s architecture school in the mid-1970’s. One female professor and a small minority of female students and a host of white male faces. The sea of older male professors caricatured awkward male ick towards the female students. Often it was simply lame and embarrassing, but occasionally the power plays were real and grotesque.

I was a Resident Adviser during those years in my college years at an arts dorm – even that low level status allowed me to see both predator upperclassmen and sense the vulnerability of those I helped through their college years. It was the ’70’s, I was in my late teens/early 20’s, sex was everywhere – but using others was, and is, a near total buzz-kill for me and off the table.

I broke into publishing in the early 1980’s with my first of bunch of books, and the weird male-female dynamic in my publishing bosses was truly stilted and uncomfortable. Back then architecture magazine staffs were often male, universally white and the locker room, familiar to me, seemed just wrong when all we were all efforting was writing about buildings…

Now I have female employees who encounter the pungent stank of gender-based attitude – assuming incapacity in the construction world  when I simply impose a standard that my office speaks for me, so listen no matter who is talking. The attitude seems almost quaint in its denigration, but its there and I pull rank to kill it to get things done.

But I can be a jerk despite all this history. I see how plain gross the media figures are, and I cringe that I have even a whiff of that, even if gender-neutral. Intentions are invisible when actions are unwanted. So I apologize and try harder.

News

October 24, 2017

Process

Gold Model

Getting Done in Westchester

Inside/Outside

 Entry

Sherman Stokes Entry

Getting Done in San Francisco

                                                                                                                 

 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.

                                                                                                                 

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Archive: Real Life Survival Guide

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WATCH:

On WTNH News:  Madison Architect Sheds Light on Solar Solution for Homeowners

On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes

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AT HOME & kids

October 24, 2017

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NOON! Thursday October 26th! 89.5FM STREAMING http://www.wpkn.org

They come and go and come back: our children.
If you decode to have kids they change everything including the place where you live.
First you create a terrarium
Then a playpen
Then a workshop
Then a restaurant, study hall and laundry – and an Entertainment Center
Then a vacant room,
How do homes react to parents having kids?
Buy one?
Move to a bigger one?
Make a bigger one?
Create space(s) for every need and desire?
Change the entry, kitchen, family room? basement? Attic?
and when they leave?

Today HOME PAGE welcomes 3 families in the form of one of each’s founding members: – an empty nester, mother of a preteen/soon to be an adult, and the mother of a young family: the full spectrum of “life with kids” If you decide to have them, your children they change lives, forever.

In studio is Eva Geetz : Today, we welcome Eva Geetz in studio: Eva is from New Haven, CT, where she’s earned a local reputation for being contrary. She has become fairly good at making yogurt from scratch since then. Has yet to make homemade ketchup or Smith Island Cake, but did recently attempt piecrust for the first time and Jane Stern rated the resulting chess pie 95/100. She writes about life as she knows it, now and then, at thisoldhausfrau.com and a self-proclaimed “East Rock Matron” who is full-on accommodating all the stresses and joys proclaimed by all

Calling in will be Kurt Andersen – renouned writer, critic and Dad. Kurt’s ‘s latest books are Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-year History and, with Alec Baldwin, You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump. Kurt is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast Studio 360. He also co-founded Spy magazine, among other startups, and served as editor-in-chief of New York. He has been a critic and cultural columnist for The New Yorker and Time. He has also created television shows and pilots, and written screenplays and stage plays. He currently contributes regularly to Vanity Fair, Time, and The New York Times.

Lastly calling in is the younger side of Child Invasion: Fiona Boucher – Fiona is a graduate of Smith College. After working in fundraising for a number of years, she quit her job after her second child was born to spend more time with her boys. She lives in Hamden with her husband Justin and their two young sons.