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Welcome to Saved by Design

July 21, 2017

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Hair

In Left To Myself : Being A Monk @ 16

In Not (As) Fat: Channelling The Inner Fascist

In Finding Home: Beauty

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Home Page: OBJECTS (at home)

In Silence In Spring : Thrombus

The Next Thing…

July 25, 2017

A recent world wide economic study noted that America as a whole has lagged behind most of the world in getting over “The Financial Crisis.” Duh. I know folk in Boomlet places – San Fransisco, the northwest, maybe even Boston – but for most of the rest, just like the red ocean of the Electoral Map, it’s an odd time.

Humans have multiple epochs in their lives: childhood, high school/college, mating, spawning, life with kinder, life after they leave: as our average lifespan gets longer we have more expectations than gratitude. Pretty normal.

But this last decade has been nuts.

Especially for anyone in the building industry. The “irrational exuberance” of the first decade of the 21st century OD’d and we are still in the detox mode.

In this maelstrom some in the U.S. wanted to “Make America Great Again” – we are all seeking a metronome – even a normal boom-bust cycle. If a 3 year boom was followed by a 3 year bust, we would be into our second Boom after The Big Bust – but we are still in the Sargasso Sea of Cultural Ennui.

So dinner party conversation hits the Trump Iceberg, where those finding hope in him find enraged disbelief by those who see the oddest human ever elected president. Similarly, when architects gather, the “haves” in the buiding zones are chest out getting what they deserve. The rest, the most, talk of “new expressions” or delight in surviving.

For my little office, just like in every other bust, we laid off no one, met every payroll, and still have over 50 projects. But we are down one or two employees, the project budget is perhaps 40% less than in the insanity of infinite appreciation expectations and I make the same I made in all the other busts – not much. But it’s been 8 years…

The jobs are smaller

But some are exquisite

And after getting about 10 new projects in the last few months, it’s clear people still want to create their home: but with less dollars flowing I am asked to go places and thus talk less. But I write more – even a book in the fall and maybe another in a year.

But with fatherhood more advice than protection, and no more tuition payments to make, somehow I am drawn into the realities of dealing with a legacy of Faith for those children.

The issue is not change: this always has been and will be because humans cannot leave well enough alone. We try new things: I bought a banjo I never played. We surf on the moment: some of tried to give the boom in house creation some perspective and share the potential for value before implosion. Those efforts failed.

But fewer have the Faith that binds all of us to a greater reality than our video viewing. Careers are stepping stones because the profession you commit to has fewer places that commit back. More marriages either do not happen or are simply voided. We have less connection.

We connect less with what is around us that is not on a screen, but more we are less connected to a thoughtful past or a verdant future. We are, mostly, living for the next thing. In response we are asked to enter more and more passwords to vouch for our connection. It is harder for we who have no family. Beyond my parents being dead, they were distant at birth and distracted from their children and thus their children from each other, let alone connected to their own siblings or their offspring.

When the disconnected are set afloat in a disconnected era, it’s not pretty. Being in a disconnected profession, the island is in foul weather, I can attest that the island not part of a tropical archipelago.

What is left to all of us is hope, as the uncertainties of driverless Uber cars, BIM softwear eliminating the human work that helped create hundreds of thousands of architects, and a bizarre mode of national discourse make for cyber distractions and binge watching.

And when we are left holding the bag of hope, and that bag has no Faith in it except our sense of unrequited entitlement, it’s not a comfy decade. Might I suggest what got my little firm through the the other 3 (shorter) busts and drives almost all my clients: the sense of gratitude?

While we have less, we have. While there is uncertainty everywhere, uncertainty lacks the buzzkill of a sealed fate: we are sentient, and reactive. The dye has not been cast. While the InterWebNets are choked with bile and despair and cheap co-opting: we grow weary of the noise.

The Next Thing is out there. It is as unanticipated as the InterWebNets were 20 years ago. Presidential terms end. People are devoted to creating places of joy, not fortresses against dark doom.

There is Faith, even without all the trimmings.



July 20, 2017


It’s the Architect’s Lament:

Why am I an architect? It’s easy to forget.

In creating a discussion for other architects a couple of months ago it became clear: Beauty. As an architect I have my face ground into determining or discovering Beauty every day. I am finally finishing the house you see in this piece. It was a decade of efforting Beauty.


I fail at making Beauty every day – life compromises getting beyond itself to find the Beauty that’s given to us without merit or reason. As a Christian, I have no doubt that God lives in Beauty, and, yes, I am often dumb to it. But as the pics show, Beauty is an unrelenting mission for most of us.

But Beauty – the undeniably compelling, inspiring, rejuvenating, thrilling truths of experience – are often simulated by architects, but ape-ing Beauty never works as a meme. Prayer is similarly elusive. I find it very hard to pray more than “I’m sorry.” I never ask for Beauty.

In designing things as an architect there are an infinite number of ways to be disconnected from the reason I became an architect in the first place. There are very few rational recommendations to build Beauty. It costs money, and even more time and always involves risk.


Joisting with clients, contractors, codes, money, even abstract aesthetic morality can deafen me to the Beauty that’s possible in every move. Any number of architects lose themselves in these battles. Every fight can become a black hole of flaming, snarking douchebaggery that takes what you care about and screams “LAME!” back (especially when attempting Beauty.) It becomes so insane that several intimates I love just throw puppy pictures at Instagram to stay in touch and have let all other portals go dark.


The problem is that after a couple of recent years at Cultural Volume 11, I think we have forgotten about the tangible truth of Beauty. It’s easier to trash what you are not part of. Architects make an intellectual living with all the other fine artists trashing those and the projects they do not mimic or venerate.

Hating on “the Other” is a safe place for more folk – including we architects who are not comfy inventing beauty, but rather refine cut-and-paste aesthetic sound bites into their buildings into an art form.


Just like them, I forget Beauty. It is the architect’s lament – even though creating or revealing Beauty is my every day devotion, I forget that God lives in Beauty. And is just not in the aesthetic playpen of architecture.

Like porn for the Supreme Court, I only know Beauty when I see, feel or do it – silently overwhelming all the other stimuli: it is Beauty. I cannot conjure it up, argue it through, build it – Beauty just happens.


Beauty is real. It can be felt, but it cannot be binged. It can be fought against for a while because it’s easier to be in full flight mode than deal with it. I know.

All the compensations, machinations, arguments mean less than the obvious truth of my reason to have this autonomic, unquestioned devotion to the purpose of making this – making Beauty.

Here in the northeast, ennui is defendable. But there is hard-edged Beauty, too. In art, music, children, nature – even architecture – because God is there too, often crystal clear and obvious despite ourselves. Ennui cannot coexist with Beauty: it is the one switch that is neither Fight, nor Flight, but Truth.



July 19, 2017

duoonly-hometime-fbheader-1b-851x315_wTHURSDAY, July 27 – NOON! on WPKN 89.5fm Live! or Stream

We all want “our” home. Some want it so badly that they find a way to design and build their dream. Even fewer hire a designer to create a unique reflection of who they are. This very special Home Page focuses on a real life scenario where a homeowner and a designer joined forces to build a place to live in New Haven. Both will be in studio to relay their story, but it’s your job to review the photo’s below to go where radio can’t: image and space.

Designer Colin Caplan met editor and journalist Nina Lentini on one of his “Pixxa & Pints” bike tours. Both are gregarious. Both love pizza and architecture. Caplan trained to be an architect at Tulane, writes books about New Haven and beyond organizing tours has been an employee of numerous local architects, Both Colin and Nina talk to strangers. The rest is recent history.

Nina and her significant other Richard Norman had a tiny lot in New Haven, and Caplan created a very clear shape and an allusive skin, evoking many client fantasies as well a fantastic interior space and large window corner opening up to the backyard. Through humor and commitment, a dream was built.

According to Caplan:

“The client, empty nesters from the suburbs, wanted to build a small house on a tiny lot. The lot was a garbage strewn property in a transitional inner city neighborhood, once the site of a multifamily apartment house. They wanted a design that stood out from others on the street, made of early 20th century multifamily frame housing and apartments. At first they suggested a modular designed unit, but it was determined to be too constrictive. Art Deco style was indicated early on as a favorite. Clients also liked the idea of escaping the facade design on the rear of their house. As we developed their program for a two bedroom, on bathroom 700sf house I considered the context of neighboring designs and scale, sunlight, rain & snow, spacial balance & materials. Project needed zoning relief on the rear and passed its hearing. During construction changes were made to value engineer certain systems and fixtures. Original exterior skin on facade was to be stucco, but was changed to a fiberboard composite sheathing.”

Cost was a factor: and bidding got it to around $200K  – the winning bidder knew Nina in High School – Matthew Bowman. A two year process created a tangible piece of love in the new world of empty-nesters. The openness of the interior and the graphic pattern of the exterior make for humor, surprise, memory and connection to the owner’s lives: as well as the window wall bonding house to the land, inside and out.

Even in a post Housing Bubble, House Happens.


July 11, 2017


Gold Model

Getting Done in Westchester



Stairs Going Up

Goetsche Stairs



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.



In Mockingbird: Suburbia at the Mid-Century: Church

In Common Edge: Does the New Traditionalism Have A Point?

In Mockingbird: Giddy Godless Weddings

In Common Edge: What’s Happened to Architectural Record’s Record Houses issue?

In Mockingbird: On Being Fat (and Life’s Other Unavoidable Criteria)

In Mockingbird: The Girls of Whitehaven: Love and Friend Requests in Cyber Space

In Mockingbird: Taking a Dip in the Dark Side

In Common Edge: Building Madness: How the Boom and Bust Mentality Distorts Architecture

In Mockingbird: An Irrational Lack of Fear…

In Mockingbird: Designing Justification: A Conference Talk Preview

In Common Edge: Confessions of a New AIA Fellow, or “Getting the “F”

In Mockingbird: Something Missing (In Recovery Services)

In Common Edge: Imitation, Innovation, and the 700th Cantilever

In Mockingbird: April Fools! College Admission and Parental Validation

In Mockingbird: Politics, Fragility, and the Self-Made Life

In New Haven Register: New Haven Is Putting Its Money Where Its Modernism Is

In Common Edge: Separating Architecture From The Building Arts Produces Soulless Structures

In Mockingbird: Alternative Faith: Click Crack, Fakes News, and Good News

In Common Edge: The Uneasy Relationship between Architect’s and Money

In Mockingbird: Pray for Voldemort?

In Issuu: Masonry Design JanFeb2017

In Mockingbird: Rite One – Law & Order

In Mockingbird: The Academic Terror Dream

In Common Edge: Is Architecture as Fractured as our Politics?

In Hartford Courant: New Interest in Iconic Pirelli Building

In Hartford Courant: Final Touchdown: Hand HS Coach Steve Filippone Passes The Ball After 37 Years

In Mockingbird’s Mockingcast Podcast: Special Episode: The Holiday Survival Guide

In Common Edge: Is Cost Architecture’s Weakest Link To Reality?

In Common Edge: The AIA’s Tone-Deaf Response to the Election of Donald Trump

In Common Edge: The BIM Moment: What We’re Losing in the Robot-Age of Architecture

In Mockingbird: The Big Mo: Feeling and Rationalizing ‘Momentum’

In New Haven Register: Why spend $60 million on an ugly building

In Common Edge: What Architecture Has in Common with Organized Religion

In Mockingbird: What is Faith? A Look at the Religiosity of Football Fans

In U.S. News Real Estate: How to Design and Build Your Own Custom Home

In Common Edge: What Do Architects and Commercial Fishermen Have in Common?

In Common Edge: In Architects We Trust? 10 Trusts Worth Busting

In Common Edge: Donald Trump as Architectures Nightmare Client

In Unorthodox: Just the Two Of Us

In Hartford Currant: Yale’s Edifice Complex: University is Building a Modern History for its Future

In Common Edge: Modern Restoration and the Veneration of Its Hero Architects

In Common Edge: When Intellectual Diversity Mattered

In Common Edge: Why Architecture Doesn’t Do More Pro-Bono Work

In Common Edge: The AIA’s Response to Crisis Call In the Stars

In Common Edge: Will Architecture Have Its Donald Trump Moment?

In New Haven Independent: Visionary Bromances

In New Haven Independent: Architecture Becomes a Lifestyle

In New Haven Independent: That’s It?

In New Haven Register: Battered Homeowner Syndrome in New Haven

In New Haven Register: New Haven Knights of Columbus building – an icon reclad

In Common Edge: Why Architecture Needs More Building Architect Critiques

In Common Edge: Architects Design Just 2% of All Houses – Why?

In Common Edge: Death & Architecture

In Common Edge: Sprinting to the Past

In Hartford Courant: Deborah Berke, First Woman To Lead Yale’s School of Architecture

In Common Edge: Architecture Has Become a Lifestyle Choice

In Daily Nutmeg: Creation Story

In Next Avenue: Aging and Your Home: The Coping Quotient

In New Haven Register: When Things Go South – Design Can’t Save Bad Building

In Hartford Courant (login required): The Classroom of the Future

In New Haven Register: When Branding Becomes Blanding in New Haven

In Home Living Magazine: City Living: An Award Winning Renovation

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 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


Being A Monk @16

July 10, 2017


This is an evolution of a piece at the behest of a friend, who read the first piece and noted that I had become a monk for 6 weeks: I went with it

“I’ll see you in August.”

My mother shut the door of our 1968 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon, yet another time, after three years of serial withdrawal, returning to Westchester County, the bosom of New York City Suburbia. I was remoted up north, so she could serially remote herself from her marriage.

It was June in downtown Buffalo, 1972. It was hot. I was 16. It was a couple of weeks into the summer after 11th grade. The previous fall I had been voted one of the 2 captains of my high school football team, that had, again, won our very small private school league championship.

I had become self–sufficient, really only requiring my parents money to survive. Coming to Buffalo, my life had ceased to have its weekly island of church. Even when my mother was visiting, about half-time, being a mid-century Low Church Episcopalian simply ended. My guess is that those weekly jaunts, without my father, were the micro version of my evacuation.

Once gone, I was out of sight and out of mind to who was left south: just as was my father when my mother was in Buffalo. This was an unspoken, largely irrational gesture of accommodation of my family’s dysfunction (my father drank). But it’s real impact for me, largely unknowable for 20 years or more was that my four years in Buffalo were a situation facilitating sanctification.

I only realize this now, 45 years later, because Mockingbird has given me the perspective to understand beyond a self-help manual. Unlike a 10 Step Program, my “self-actualization” had a “spiritual” basis. I just thought I was surviving.

I knew, even at the time, in the absence of parenting, but with extreme edges of devotion, that I was left to be a monk in downtown Buffalo. Mockingbird defines my summer of 1972 as a “sanctification” :

“The concept of “sanctification” is taken from the Latin word sanctificare, which is a combination of sanctus “holy” and facere “to make.” Sanctification, then, refers to the process of becoming more holy/righteous/good/etc, of growing or maturing in faith.”

But to a 16 year old who wanted to play, it was the last chance to crush it. I had played some on my football team, less as the year went on. Not being a natural athlete I had played in the fall of 1971 because I was ready, because I worked out the summer before. I also played because I focused on the thing I cared more about than anything else – being good at football. This summer could command my full measure – to give me the benefit of the doubt.

My other focus, my best friend, was leaving, too. She was a classmate, and she summered in the Adirondacks. My co-inhabitant of our house was my 21 year old brother, who worked – and never said much to me if he was around – and when around he was often remotely in the hands of mind alteration.

So, this time when my mother left, I was alone, again.

In the previous spring I had discovered that the University of Buffalo had a program for rising high school seniors: if in, you could enroll in any undergraduate course. Including summer courses. Heaven. I applied, and got in.

I did odd jobs on my block for expense money, but my parents agreed to pay for any courses I could enter: remarkably inexpensive at a state school 45 years ago. I entered two 400-level, max credit courses. Both courses were 5 days a week, for 6 weeks, I wanted to do this because I was into school: grades were a thing I could do.

One course, reading and discussing about 24 Shakespeare plays, met from 7:45 to 9:15am. The other was about the history of Britain from the Magna Carta to The Bill of Rights and met one building away from 9:30 to 11. The professors were remarkable, the topics fascinating – it was a complete immersion.

But I was immersed in football too.

I was slow of foot, so I had worn 5 pound ankle weights for a year when I was not working out or sleeping. I had no driver’s license, so I rode my bike everywhere, rain or shine or dark of night. For several years I rode to the Downtown Buffalo YMCA where other high school athletes, off duty police and interpersonally ambiguous middle aged men were. The kids and cops worked out – the others seemed to watch.

So there was my summer: mornings cycling 10 miles up Main Street to classes, then cycling to our house, changed, had a large shake of protein powder, 6 raw eggs, vanilla extract, honey and skim milk, back on the bike cycling down Main Street to hit the track and weight room for 3 hours: then back home by 5 to study, sleep at 10 and wake to do it again. Weekends were working out and studying.

Six weeks seemed like an endless sea of time. I had 24 hours a day to do what was necessary, and only what was necessary. It was bliss. Letters from my friend, living with Cromwell and Shakespeare, sore and crushing it in the gym.

I had no friends, no family, no hobbies, no social life. But I had two things to do as hard as I could do them. In rotation: Mind, Body, Mind, Body. School, Gym, School, Sleep. 24 hours a day for 46 days. I went to bed exhausted. Mind racing, thinking of the next day

I never said a word before 7:45AM or after 11AM, and I was largely silent on weekends. There was no questioning: This was Right. I could do this. My grades were good, the class discussions intense and fun. My Leg Press on the old Universal Gym Weight Machine as completely maxed out, and my bench press was finally approaching my weight. I came to run, with the ankle weights, for an hour without distress – pushing to go faster on the 1922 banked track around the basketball court.

I could do this.

I may not have a family, I may not have straight A’s, I may not be the best player on my team – but I could get better.

I could get better.

Like those monks who have remoted themselves from the here and now are, I was intentionally pursuing sanctification. I fully immersed myself in dedication. I meshed with oblique academia for 4 hours a day, then I immersed my mind and body, completely, to do what I knew was right and good – to completely control my young life.

I had rejected distraction in the noise of the world to create an all-consuming day of maximum application of my mind, body, and yes, spirit. If you asked me if I was a Christian in 1972, I would profess confusion. There was no confusion here: I had created narrow perfection: I was in a place of sanctification: albeit with worldly means and motives.

But clearly, somehow, I had faith. In denial, control, focus, – in extreme limitation I fully launched into silence.

I was, for a short time, a monk. There were few questions. There were some answers. Those before me on the practice field in August paid a terrible price.



July 9, 2017


Maybe its because my mother went to her grave at 4 score and more years ago with dark brown hair self-applied with Alberto VO5 and a plastic bag – all smelling of a lab – but I do not get the attention paid to hair.

I am 61: my hair is leaving the top of my head – flying off into my comb, but my eyebrows, ears and nose are rampaging in unabated hair explosion.
(not me above) But there is a huge money and time dump being spent by so many people that I completely do not grok, that it is clear I am quite tone deaf.

Others have the same relocated hair and heavily manage it with shaving

Or others have their hair turn gray (as I presume my mother did) and dye it
or worse “Hair in a Can” or fake hair, or surgically relocated folicles, or baseball hats.


Others (mostly male, but I make no assumptions) take enormous pride in having carefully sculpted beards – “hipster” beards –

But lately, the arbitrary, often DIY primary color hair coloring on usually normally frumpy unhip humans is virtual self mockery

All of these flailing efforts are the extreme manifestations of our entire culture somehow buying into the idea that hair is either an opportunity for self expression, or experimentation, or fixing a flaw: Its like a huge social tattoo that can be removed.

I cannot see how time can be thwarted, how I cannot be as lame as I am, how a “Look” makes me into a different person. If I am right the zillions of hours and dollars spent are just another backstroke against tides of inevitabilities that all of us feel compelled to do.

Cutting, coloring, shaving, sculpting is at best temporary, and looks infinitely worse without even more hours and dollars dumped into upkeep.

This stuff grows.

I know because I have to cut my nose hairs when I sense I am distracting people, but who is fooling who?