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Welcome to Saved by Design

June 15, 2021

New Stuff:

In A Year In Lent: Easter In August

In Random Stuff: A Year In Lent Soon Done

In Home Page: HOME talking

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself: Ship of Fools

In Emily’s Days: Coda

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Occupation Preoccupation

In The Rules: Architecture and The Failed Model of Genius

In Silence In SpringFlaw Flourishes

In Days ’till Spring: 40 Days

Some Are Men (and Fathers)

June 19, 2021

In 1908 Harry Dickinson met Lucy Hill. He was a bricklayer who blew out his knee playing soccer for the Brooklyn Immigrant Leagues a few years before. Lucy was a worker in a cloth making factory, newly arrived in America. Both were from England. Both were “older” for marriage in their time.

I have zero knowledge of their lives or circumstances beyond these simple facts. But they married, and in a year Lucy gave birth to George Arthur, named after Harry’s uncle who had died in a shipwreck.

By the accounts I have, it was not a happy marriage. So much so, that when Lucy found out that she was pregnant just a year after George was born, when she was 27, she found the only method of birth control she had. She went for an abortion. And she, and her baby, died, during it.

It was 1910. Harry was a brick layer. In Brooklyn. Lucy had family in Canada. George was shipped there to be with Lucy’s sisters. For five years. He would wander away. His aunts feverishly looked for the 4 year old. When they found him, they would ask him “Why did you leave?” He would answer “I was looking for my Mum.”

His return to Harry was because he had a new wife. George thought that she was his mother. For about 10 years. But the convenience ended, the truth was revealed, and the legacy of break continued.

A life of achievement followed. George was the first to graduate from high school, number two at Boys High – a great school, Then college, law school, then his own marriage. A decade of partying followed, through the Great Depression. A joy ride, at least in the retrospect I was given.

Then World War 2.

The party was over, Years of being in the military. In their 30’s George and his wife knew that all the death of the war needed to be answered with children. They had one, stillborn, then a girl, a boy, then me in the next decade.

The break of 1909 lived fully in George’s life, so in the lives of his children. His wife decided that the broken nights of drink and anger over his lost lives of academia, partying and being in New York City were not enough to end their marriage so a life of being a lawyer by day, and drinking for an hour till drunk at night became the next 20 years.

The following 20 years, through the 70’s and 80’s, were a place where the emotional breaks of the previous 50 years became physical. The daughter broke away at 18 to be in California. His sons went to second home in Buffalo, with their mother visiting and returning to their father. George visited his sons a week or two a year.

The connections between the humans in our family were never there, because the break never left. Before I was shuttled to Buffalo to high school, I would be alone, brother in college, sitting 12 feet from him during nights of drunken stamp sorting and my doing homework, and there was no connection. So leaving for Buffalo simply changed venue.

So I, and my siblings, were broken, too.

In his last months, my father stopped drinking for the first time in 60 years. I never found out what that meant to him, because he never said a word about the central compensation of a broken childhood, except that he “had to.” Along with ending his continual smoking, which he then declared “a filthy habit”.

His first two children never had children. One has never touched a drop of any alcohol. The other married twice amid booze and cigarettes and other intoxicants, found religion, changed sex, and ended her life.

I work. At many different things. Just about every day. My, our, 40 year marriage has bound the broken. We worked at being the parents neither of us had. We never knew if it was OK. But after 30 years our sons are in good places.

It is Father’s Day tomorrow. A simulation of a role model that is virtually impossible, because everyone is broken. Some more, some less.

I wish I knew more about my parents’ first 40 years, but they simply detached from their children, beyond remote (and full) support in school, food, shelter, clothing – all needs were met except our need to understand, to love, to be part of anything beyond fulfilling the requirements they knew their children needed.

It is now fully 20 years since my mother died. Parenthood was as central to my life as it was peripheral to hers. I wish I understood what her children meant to her.

Father’s Day is a broad brush that tries to paint over innumerable complexities. It creates a sentimental prefabrication that tries to end the absence of understanding that life imposes on all of us to some degree.

But the absences of our childhood remains, under the paint. Not tragic, not even sad, but there.

News

June 15, 2021

READ:

In ArchDaily: Is Apprenticeship the Way That Architectural Education Stays Relevant?

In Mockingbird: Wearing Faith

In Common Edge: Is Apprenticeship the Way That Architectural Education Stays Relevant?

In Mockingbird: Biking Just As Fast As I Can

In CT Insider: What if CT realtors focused on sunlight and orientation rather than features and style?

In Mockingbird: The NFL Draft and Grace

In Common Edge: How the Practice of Architecture Survives Artificial Intelligence

In Mockingbird: Time Traveling With God

In Mockingbird: Known Unknowns

In Common Edge: Architecture and the Age of Creative Disruption

In CT Insider: Lost in translation: Deciphering the design jargon with an architect

In Mockingbird: Her Grace Is All She Has

In ArchDaily: The Religion of the City: Cars, Mass Transit and Coronavirus

In Mockingbird: Wind (and God)

In CT Insider: With spring around the corner, decks are on the mind

In Mockingbird: A Year of Lent (and Counting)

In Common Edge: The Next Generation of Architects Will Remake How We Make Things

In Mockingbird: Now What? On the President, the Pandemic, and Love

In CT Insider: How COVID-19 ended the 20th century architecture

                                                                                                             

Recent Images

                                                                                                             

 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.

                                                                                                             

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

                                                                                                             

Black Windows, Corian Countertops, Avocado Appliances

June 9, 2021

Black windows are crisp, even edgy. Corian countertops with integral sinks are nearly miraculous in their seamlessness. I even remember the pop of seeing “Avocado” colored appliances destroy the Arctic White of the kitchen appliance world, along with “Goldenrod” and “Coppertone”.

But those gimmicks (along several dozen million Palladian windows) are now visually soundbites of their eras. Media in the House-selling Hype Machine creates herding trends that relentlessly push the hip cool of being on the edge of what captures the power and giddy empowerment of home ownership. The cliches of the last decades have all jumped the shark and revealed the cynical trend porn used to market product. I think those fads will soon to be followed by today’s obsession with black windows.

Why do we need fads to validate one of our most fundamental interests, creating our homes? The terrorizing risk of the largest investment and debt we all face is overwhelming. Dependability in that investment is often necessary, or the liability overwhelms the joy of home ownership.

We look at buying a car in a similar way. If we thought about the full (huge) cost we would never be able to save all that cash and put it into a machine that degrades from the moment you own it. Instead, we think about the monthly payment of a lease or a car loan and judge how that small piece of the automobile’s outsized price tag fits in our budget – even though the total cost of the paying off the loan is far greater than the insanely high cost of a new car.

Black Windows distract us from the huge risk of owning a home. We can float down the river of trend, fad and hype and be washed into acceptance of our extreme risk, distracted by the eye candy of the moment. As an architect I am happy to fulfill my clients’ desires, and integrate the popular soundbites of the home hype machine into what we help them create.

But I also show the alternatives, because despite the Group Think of Bubbles, Houzz and Real Estate Brokers, what is snappy today is funky tomorrow. An anonymous broker pulled me aside at a showing last month and confided “I have already had buyers reject the Black Window Thing – it’s already dated.”

What never goes out of fashion is our fondest hopes and the reality of whatever land and community that our homes live in. The gist of making your place can be found in trends. I have an exquisite 32 year old Corian sink/countertop vanity in my home, and I love it. But the “look” of images that are now offered on millions of screens is just a shorthand for the hopes of our essential human desire to have our own place.

The basic need to be sheltered is only matched by the giddy empowerment of having a “cool” place. A good designer can see both realities and provide perspective and options. No one wants a home that becomes a landfill of avocado, black and Palladian junk.

Our homes are too important.

HOME Bubble

May 23, 2021

GREAT PODCAST! https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-home-bubble

If you are older than 40, you remember the first seven years of this century. For many reasons, not the least of which was greed, the peak buying years of the Baby Boom Generation perverted the basic human need to have a home we love into a fevered housing boom, then a worldwide economic crash in 2008. In the previous 30 years there had been about three other housing bubbles, and their inevitable bursting to housing busts.

But the 2008 housing bust lasted a decade in Connecticut. Low or no growth in prices, slow construction activity, and a depressed reality that the extreme cost of Connecticut homes had topped out, perhaps forever, made for chastened expectations. Then another bust, Covid-19, ended any number of home renovations, sales, building. It was only natural that mandatory sequestration stopped many things people do every day, including thinking about our homes – new or renewed.

But a funny thing happened, we were all force fed our homes as our one place of working, learning, eating, working out, even connecting (now through our computers). Collectively many of us found that we loved our homes, but they can be improved upon. So as soon as the bonds of lock-down were loosened, a rush to revise where we live began.

The mortgage rates are still low, the houses that are up for sale (AKA “inventory”) is low – the lowest since 1963 according to the website “Meanwhile in Markets”), personal savings are up after a year of no where to spend income, and, “Voila!” a housing bubble. This means prices of everything related to homes, construction, home prices, even fixtures are exploding, and often, impossible to obtain right now.

Three Real Estate and Architecture Mavens join HOME PAGE to give us all a snap shot of where we are in a crazy moment of our hone-based lives.Leigh Whiteman Is a real estate broker and leader of The Whiteman Team at William Raveis Real Estate. She has been selling real estate up and down the Connecticut Shoreline since 1988 and has helped her clients Todd Gould has lived on the Connecticut shore his entire life. He has been a broker/manager/owner for 27 years, from a family that has been involved in Real Estate for generations, and lives the market. Martin Pedersen helped create The Common Edge Collaborative , and was Executive Editor at Metropolitan Home for 20 years, seeing many (many) Booms and Busts.

Occupation Preoccupation

May 15, 2021

I have no hobbies.

Oh, today I will plant perhaps a dozen begonias, 3 bleeding hearts, and assorted other summer plants. But this beautiful Saturday morning I will spend 3 hours driving to and spending time with strangers to look at a potential deck site for a couple. We have, as always, over 50 active projects in my architecture office, and I have 6 employees. Over 30 years.

But this morning I look at a deck job.

Why?

Many older architects with work would think that this is a “better” job for someone under 65. But no. They ask, I answer. I want. I see a huge project in my hometown, which is nothing I could design, and want to be the architect. We have 3 large, prominent, good works being done, all started pro bono years before COVID, now in full fee and construction. But I wince at the fourth, a casualty of “better dealing” the architect choice when I was seen as less useful – dismissed with gratitude.

Why don’t I have gratitude, and just go on?

Why do I live in the gifts that I have been given, did not earn, and still feel entitled to everything I do not have?

Perversely, my aspiration is not for fame, it is for usefulness. Having a wonderful family, health, and mostly enough money, I might be OK with simply taking weekends off. Or a vacation. But that satisfaction has never been there, unless in the guise of exhaustion.

If I can do no more, then I have done enough.

When I have been ill, there was no frustration, because I could do no more than I could do. When I lose a job, but maxed out trying to get it, so be it. But when a place is offered, or a place is made without an offer, I leap to aspiration.

I wish I knew why I am spending the morning looking at a deck job.

Ship of Fools

April 23, 2021

It was a Saturday in the fall of 1965. I was 10, without friends, at home, as usual. My father was sorting stamps and coins for his collection upstairs, my mother was ironing, brother working at a per store, and a year ago, my sister had driven her VW Bug to California.

It was like any other Saturday.

I was on no sports team (we did not do sports), not in the Boy Scouts (my brother had done that), had no instrument to practice (piano was 3 months, at 6), no homework. The Saturday cartoon shows were over. So like other Saturdays I asked my mother if I could go to the movies.

“Sure.” She handed me a dollar (it would be the 1pm matinee).

As on many other Saturdays I walked to downtown Dobbs Ferry. Along the crazy busy Rt. 9/Broadway, then across to Cedar Street, then to the little movie house. A 15 minute walk to spend two hours away from whatever home was.

I had no idea what the movie was, it did not matter. But it did.

The movie was the dark, complicated, violent, sexually active “Ship of Fools”. There was no movie rating system in 1965, no parental interest in where I was going or what I was seeing, so I just took my ticket and was, well, aghast.

I really did not know what sex was. But this was sex, clothed. I had no idea that there was rape, or even hard violence. But protracted scenes revealed them to me. It was disturbing. It was the world outside of my Mad Men Suburban family in mid-denial mid-sixties – in my face for two hours.

The walk home was long, slow, silent.

What is this, where women are beaten and beat back, and men push themselves in their faces and on their bodies? At home, I was there when the yelling happened every night, booze was a ritual, my siblings were absent. I was there on that ship. But this ship was complicated.

And painful to watch. But I watched it. And understood little except how much anger and pain there was.

It was a long walk home.

“How was the movie?” Asked my mother.

“Fine.” I went to my room.

Instant Time

April 17, 2021

Yesterday and early hour seemed like a day. It was quite wonderful.

Other times hours are instantaneous, but worse, sometimes memory becomes present tense.

Time has to be perceived to be recorded in our minds. That perception can be as murky as insomnia, where a minute lasts an hour, or 4 hours becomes a minute, or some trigger makes 60 years cease to exist.

A smell makes a locker room from 40 years ago return. Bells bring Buffalo to Connecticut. Instant mashed potatoes makes Thanksgiving 1966 any day I eat them.

Music does the same thing. A song by The Who makes me the Captain if the Football Team again. But the triggers are not always positive.

A song that was never a favorite came over our speakers one night, “My Name Is Luka” by Suzanne Vega. It is in the words of an 8 or 9 year old abused child. Not a great hit, but heard in our rotation, because we saw her sing live, once, a decade ago. Most probably just know that it is a snappy tune, well sung, nicely arranged. But what caused it to be written, what causes this to be written, is that memories are implanted more deeply the earlier they are plowed into the furrows of the brain.

If you hear something late at night

Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight

Just don’t ask me what it was

Just don’t ask me what it was

Just don’t ask me what it was

I think it’s because I’m clumsy

I try not to talk too loud

Maybe it’s because I’m crazy

I try not to act too proud

The words were heard. Tears erupted to water those memories, as fresh as when they were made, that made the words mean more than melody.

I also hear 1966 whenever “Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield” is sung: the words, literally screamed off the hymnal – then and now. It was and is 1966 because a complicated, even cruel, childhood made whole parts of memory fear. Those years never left physical damage, or even discomfort, but nightly screaming and daily intoxication made the day-to-day fully terrorizing.

We are sometimes tender. Not most days now, but often in our tiny years. Vulnerability makes pain validate fear, and the scars of the fulfilled promise of pain can become fresh. Some simply do not go away. Some are brought alive instantly despite uncounted time whatever pain is relived.

This has been a year of Luka’s. Children are, this year, fully at home living with the broken in sequestration, and I am pretty sure that more will become broken in a place of no retreat.

Those days are not understood, because children have the understanding offered to them. I could pray then, it is harder now – because I am OK. But in my 6 year old brain I do not deserve that status. So when I pray now it is fleeting, caused by triggers of unmerited Grace, and I utter “Thanks, Sorry.”

The rituals and constructs of centuries of humanity confronting the reality of God found in the infinite moments of weakness, fear and pain have deep meaning to those who were part of the huge social engine of church. But now, a new generation simply does not go to church. Now a newer generation has been scarred by this last year of isolation and fear.

I know God is there, because I cannot deny Him, no matter how hard I try. I try by every achievement and triumph. But the failures of the past well up in a second of smell, eating or taste. Or happen in an email of rejection or the silence of failure. Those vulnerabilities, soon fully manifest in an old body and mind getting older, are the places fear is fulfilled.

That is where God is, too.

Time

April 12, 2021

Slide to see 45 years time travel

HOME: Small?

April 12, 2021

PODCAST https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-home-small

The New (Old) Lure of The Small House:

A dozen years ago we had the McMansion Overdose that crashed the world economy in the Great Recession of 2008. Then we rode the pendulum swing to Love The Tiny House (until we had to actually think about how we live.) Now we have been force-fed the Stock House of the last 70 years of mass produced Suburban Homes in Covid Isolation.

Our culture inevitably rediscovers reality, despite our mood swings. The reality is that any home that grows to more than 3,000 square feet is a misfit for the classic American Dream Family. But home offices are now Normal so we work at home, all the time. People live longer, so generations combine. Children feel less need to detach, so they live at home with their parents longer, often for a decade after returning from college. Divorce is now the norm, so homes have alternating occupancies of singletons and blended families within their walls.

But we are having fewer children. But we are buying food and fungibles in bulk. We may need fewer cars. We may be creating our own energy. A Zoning Revolution is coming to suburbia where Accessory Dwelling Units are dropped onto existing single family home sites, and multiple, attached housing complexes are being proposed anywhere. everywhere throughout the country. Mixed signals have replaced The American Dream.

How Big Should A Home Be In The Change Time?

Great writers and architects Dale Mulfinger and Dennis Wedlick join Home Page with a great young architect Geoffrey Warner: Their experience and insight will give perspectives all of us in the COVID Cauldron may find useful. JOIN US!