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May 17, 2016

New Stuff:

In Left To Myself Vacation

In Random Stuff: Awkward

In Not (As) Fat: Fatigue Makes Fatties Of Us All

In Finding Home: Support

In The Rules:  Pitched Roofs Matter 

In Home Page: The Past Lives of Homes

The Past Lives of Homes

August 21, 2016


NOON! TODAY, AUGUST 25th! Listen! 89.5FM &  Call in: 203-336-9756

Although 30 million homes have been built since World War 2, twice as many were, and are, still among us. Most of us live in homes that are not antiques, but are also not of our era. How were these homes conceived? Making sense of the unknown past lives of our present homes with 3 extraordinary observers of historic domesticity.

Steve Culpepper will join Duo in studio and has been a Executive Editor at Taunton Press and editorial director at Globe Pequot Press. Besides publishing any number of books on homes, Culpepper personally created 2 books: “Where We Lived”and “Where We Worked” and has spent over a decade living in a 140 year old Court Street, New Haven home and runs Steven Culpepper Editorial Services, Ltd.

Joining by phone will be John Herzan who is the Preservation Services Officer  for the New Haven Preservation Trust   and served as State & National Register Coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office for 25 years . His extensive experience in helping those owning older structures cope with the trials and opportunities of managing antiquity make John’s insights invaluable to anyone dealing with the past lives of their home.

A special guest will be Christine Franck who is a designer, educator, and author. She currently serves as the first Director of the new Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA) at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning. Christine ( is the 2016 recipient of the Clem Labine Award, in recognition of her advocacy of traditional design and building.




August 21, 2016




Before & AfterLeonard Saari B&A Exterior

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Getting Done in San Francisco


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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.


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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




August 21, 2016


The 21st century has turned out to be time of great certainties. It’s just those extreme certainties are in raging violence against each other. The are few doubts about Right and Wrong – I am RIGHT and You are WRONG.

We are either GREAT or OUTRAGED on the InterWebNets where our minds and hearts have shrunk and distilled to Emotocon proportions. States of being like “ennui”, “confusion” or simply feeling “awkward” are largely left in the screaming wake of bellicose expression.

Into the InterWebNets a little reality must fall. There are times when things are neither PERFECT or TRAGIC. In fact it’s most of the time.

But there are times when unresolved futures – times that are not so much threatening or joyful as unsure and undefined. The Awkward Age is typically defined as those pre/early teens where humans are children with hormones. Where growing has not stopped but emotions are both random and unprecedented, and roles are not there to live to: Not Adult, Not Child, Not ready for sex, but thinking about it constantly, becoming smart in a sea of ignorance within a young brain, the Awkard Age is simply the breaking voice and new pubic hair invading our hearts and minds – everyone had that time in their life.

But there are other Awkward Ages: that time just out of college, first job: college spousal equivalents vaporized by, what? – but gone. I met my my wife when we we both there and now our children are experiencing  that odd period of suspension – when the dozen-plus years of school have ended and life has tilted to a threshold, not not yet become a life.

Neither fish nor fowl, feeling uncertain in an age of Extreme Definition Screamed Loud is even more awkward than it was in a quieter time. But Awkward does not end at finding the career, life partner, creating kids or “making a difference”: some awkwardnesses are just biology, like a 12 year old’s pubic hair.

I turn 61 today. What is that?

Old? Young? Wise? Lame?

Its Awkward.

I find birthdays absurd for the lucky. Survival of disease, Holocaust, or even a bad family is nicely celebrated by the reality of more years achieved. But I have been given most everything: the abilities to bring to bear, healthy children, my own health so good that an ingrown fingernail is a distraction.

If you have much, getting more is awkward – less is worse, and acheving something Great that’s of course better: but “Stay The Course” only worked for W against John Kerry, not against his sad inadequacies.

So whining about awkwardness has no brief: in a world that values certitude over righteousness, being in the crater after Great Events (graduation, turning a round number age, having a child) the odd inadequacy of “maintaining” is now more lame than ever.

The celebration of mere survival – continuity at the hands of unmerited Grace –  is absurd. But Everywhere. For those of us who were not at war, did not have cancer, or have not had to live any numbers of nightmares, a birthday has as much reason for pride and celebration as a sunny day.

I did nothing to survive to be 61. I am not old enough to sense the desperation of death, but I am old enough to feel its presence sooner than I am comfortable with.

Our children are grown and in a berth to sail forth, my marriage is a gift of 36 years, I have literally nothing to be upset about, everything to be grateful for,

but its awkward…





This Is Not Architecture

August 14, 2016

IMG_6844 copyArchitectural Record is a 125 year old old icon of architectural journalism. It was the flagship publication of America’s only national guild of Architecture, the American Institute of Architects for a very long time.

This month’s cover of Record is beautiful. The color, composition and design depicted is kinetic and static and balanced and its surfaces intriguing and evocative. But the cover and the cover story Is Not Architecture.

Covers of magazine used to be about eye candy, about luring an impulse purchase at a bookstore or magazine rack – but there are almost no magazine racks left, anywhere: covers no longer draw attention, they reflect editorial positions.

I know from covers. I have fought for and slaved over 8 book covers over 35 years. My work has been on covers; HOME, Better Homes and Gardens, Fine Homebuilding among them: each cover was chosen as a statement: the essence of summer, the future of the kitchen, the first interior on a HOUSES issue. Covers Are Statements.

Then what replaced architecture on this month’s cover?

Is it about a noble social effort? A breakthrough material? A fashion model? No. It is more problemmatic than these options (all previously done by architecture mags). With this cover Architectural Record effectively endorses the aesthetic fetish of most cutting edge elite architects in academia, the Awards Machine, and criticism.

The cover of Architectural Record is simply a really neat sculpture. That’s it.

Designed by architects, of course, who else designs nationally published sculpture these days?

Per the cover article:

“In the summer of 2013, when the architects Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa first visited the 11,500-acre Montana cattle and sheep ranch that’s now home to Tippet Rise Art Center, an hour southwest of Billings, they thought it looked like a lunar landscape….How could any manmade object compete with such a vast natural setting?”

There it is: architecture is any “manmade object” (I assume women can make them too, as one of the cover subject’s designers was a woman…) It’s a neat sidebar: architects who are also fine artists: but sidebars are not cover stories. In fact, the stated topic of the issue is work place design…

Magazine covers are the graphic sound bites of any given magazine’s premise: it’s essential POV. Political humans or icons are on political magazine’s home page or cover. Tech stuff is on tech mags’ covers, On the cover of American Architecture’s most respected magazine cover the message is clear:

Architecture worthy of cover publication IS sculpture.

The messaging could not be clearer: it is literal, unnuanced, and, to me, truly beautiful.

Of course, for decades, many (many) Record covers have had buildings designed to reflect the extreme reductionist aesthetics of formalism. Many covers focus on sculpture as being integrated with the buildings in the cover:

This cover is akin to Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue – which is Not about sports and this issue of Architectural Record should not project sculpture as its central message. Making sexier “Click Bait” on cyber “cover”’s is now necessary, but here “sexier” means sculpture, not building. One commentator on this piece says the next cover will have kittens or babies on it, per the Facebook Canon of clicking…

But architecture is not just, literally, exclusively about its fine arts sexiness. Architecture is the Mother of the Arts: it is not just one segment of its genetic code. Use, interior environment, safety, stability also come into play. Even a pyramid has a function beyond being a pyramid. It is inadequate, and I believe lazy, disingenuous and simply a lie to effectively equate architecture to any “man made object”.

Making a building disappear to gain the pop, power and beauty of the Record cover is sophistry: buildings are not sculptures: They Are More.

Sculpture is about shape, surface, space, allusion, light, all those ineffable things that make this cover image beautiful.

But It Is Not Architecture.




August 5, 2016

Architects deal with gravity first. If the design in mind won’t stand without freaky expense, it’s just not viable. If the design is not thought thru, and the building is simply unstable it’s a hazard, not a refuge.

Buildings are built as protection first, all other aspects come after that benchmark. Job One is providing safe harbor in a world fraught with dangers – weather and human. Families are also about protection, so where families live is a doubly sensitive reality. Homes protect what needs protection most: the love and care for our intimates.

As an architect it would be a lot easier to design homes if nothing changed. But families age-out children. A baby is born. A job moves home. But functional accommodation has relatively simple answers for any building. The first design criterion for a building to be modified is that it is stable to start with.

With 21st century engineering humans can pretty much build anything anywhere with stability: but it often takes huge resources, and the right structural design. In San Fransisco the design of a very large expensive building, the 58 story Millenium Tower, saved money by not extending its supporting piers to bedrock, and having a large underground transportation hub built next door, the building has sunk 16 inches in less than 10 years and tilts a bit.

But humans are the essence of adapting to survive: so our buildings reflect that. The little house you see at the top of this piece was built in 1935 on the east shore of Lake Chaplain, a huge body of water carved into rock by natural force. Humans may adapt, but we are also prisoners of our specific perspectives: when this house was built, it was on solid rock.

Since the last ice age ended, the east edge of Lake Champlain – a sedimentary stone coming close to slate – has eroded by water (flowing and freezing), tree roots growing between laminations and the actions of humans. But when a member of the family that owned the cottage’s site set to build a 500 square foot studio on the edge of the rock ledge 20 ft above the water it seemed like a great idea. Building on stone with an incredible view.

But soon after its 1935 construction some of that rock began to subside to the lake below – to the extent that when invited to a party a few years later the building family member would not venture to the lakeside of his little construction. “I know what’s under there” he said of the living room extension, now held up on posts over the water.

Building on anything, sand, stone, values does not mean much if those things change under you. Growing up in the most traditional nuclear family imaginable, it was a breaking shock to see its foundation simply vanish as the drinking life of my father, so joyous in the 1930’s became so desperately unhappy in the 1950’s.

The cottage you see in the picture has had several underside restructurings, and over the last 21 years I have inspected those: I can warrant nothing has moved – the rock, for now, seems stable. But that cannot last.

There will be a time when support will fail, despite all good accommodations, and the little house, and it’s exquisite stone mantle fraught with shells and sacred bits of memory applied by its first occupant in 1935 will either be moved or removed…

The stability of anything relies on its support: airplanes use the zillions of molecules in the atmosphere for that: when constant in their orientation those molecules allow for a smooth flight, when moving too much those molecules create “turbulence” – just like stormy seas for a boat or eroding rock under a little cottage at the edge of a lake.

Foundations moving do not matter much when on flat land, but building at the edge of a even a small precipice means that any movement, any instability, any lack of sport can be disastrous.

So our little cottage we visit once a year has radical care and attention that the other 70 little structures on the site do not need to stay stable. In the places of fragility care must be taken. Designing and renovating buildings, the resolution of gravity is primary: in the creation and care of relationships stability needs to be fundamental, or doubts are legitimized.

Instability is a fearful thing, in buildings, in cultures and in the people who create both. A crazy election makes for instability in the out years, causing fear and making people look for buttresses for their views and values.

Erosion is not limited to the shores of Lake Champlain. At 6 I knew my life had no foundation as my parents were in a free fall of coping, buttressing the breakage they caused, making no safe support for their children or each other. The results in my life, and thus my family’s, are the belt-and-suspenders overkill applied to any future possible instability.

We have perhaps created a presumption of support in our children akin to that of the Millenum Tower. My children rightly assume their parents’ constancy and support. But it is only so ardent and extreme because we had so little of it ourselves growing up.

When things went south in my childhood it was scary, but not unfamiliar: what is known becomes normal – just like the struts holding up our little cottage are invisible when you are inside it, all is well in a family until you can get some perspective and see the extremities needed to support a dangerous instability.

There are no cracks in our cottage’s sheetrock walls and ceilings – I look for them every year with keen attention – just as I look at my children’s lives – looking for signs of danger.

So far, so good.

The Case For Trumpitecture

August 2, 2016

does architecture suffer from having its own private server? My favorite description of Donald Trump was made in the previous century: long gone Spy Magazine dubbed Trump a “Short Fingered Vu…

Source: The Case For Trumpitecture


July 30, 2016

imageBeing the first week of August, I, and available family, take the week “off”. It is vacation: an imposition of relief that I still find out of place in a life defined by work. This will be the 21st year of removing myself from the office for a week.

I find that my awkwardness about taking one week off a year must be learned behavior as my wife and children found and find our annual week off an an unalloyed joy, whereas I find it another task to obtain, until a few days in, where the task shifts to avoiding extreme weight gain via extreme (for a 60 year old) physical activity. This is no burden, it is a New England version of paradise on multiple levels.

My attitude that not working is undeserved and indefensible was learned in a childhood defined by extremities.

But extremities in mid-century were not so extreme: total fealty to a job was expected and rewarded: and absent technology and in the full glow of a century of post-industrial WASP suburban entitlement, taking August off was not a luxury, it was what was done. My father was the lawyer, my mom was the housewife decorator, and they had three kids in Westchester. But unlike other families we did not take vacations.

We belonged to the Ardsley Country Club (pictured above). In theory it was because it had a golf course and my father loved golf. But he never played when I knew him. He loved jazz and never went to a jazz club in my time with him – although his Hudson Line commuter train coursed through Harlem twice every day.

That train brought him home, where he immediately drank himself to bed – sometimes there was some screaming involved. Our weekends were spent doing things – my father not golfing but sorting stamps and coins he collected and cores. Until 5pm. In the summer I was frequently dropped off at “the club” and took dance lessons there with girls wearing white gloves. But athletics, music or “enrichment” weren’t requirements for children, and thus their parents, in mid century Whitelandia.

So we only took two “vacations” during those Augusts in my time with my parents: both involved secondary realities: my Dad visited a client in Florida, with all three kids in the back of a 1959 Cadillac driving all the way down and back – me playing with Matchbox toys on the floor. We also visited upstate New York on the way for my mother to visit her family in Buffalo before her father passed. Both of these happened before I was 6. After that, the club sufficed.

A few Augusts were spent working on a broken down second home in Connecticut (purchased wholesale from the client visited in Florida). Before the second home and around those road trips my father spent August days, versus working day nights, sorting stamps and coins and mowing the lawn. Drinking happened only after 5 but was focused and effective.

It was hard to have friends in a place of life re-ordering to compensate for a drinking life, so I read a lot, watched TV and twice was sent to sleep away camp when I was 8 and 9. I loved it – it was hard fun, but it was fun. But somehow my parents “forgot” to sign me up in subsequent years. I learned that continuity of place and pattern for them were necessary to maintain a semblance of functionality.

So, for me, it took innocents to make vacation a reasonable focus of effort: at 3 and 5 our boys needed a place of memory that was not the familiar pattern of home, school and work – and my wife’s upbringing often centered around cruises and island time – so she took the lead and we found our place.

Our boys are now men, have jobs that prevent joining us, but the pattern persists. Three faxes a day are replaced by wifi 24/7. There is no office time, only a phone call or two, but 6 or 8 employees and 40 or 50 clients are a flow of devotion that is harder to end than accept in a reduced emphasis.

One year, despite extreme programming an employee simply did not execute work that was required – not by me, but by the State of New York: so after failure to fax the work that he did not do, the entire week became my job to remotely overcome his firing and execute the complete restructuring of every other schedule in the office to get deadlines met.

That lack of even a slight break meant the next year was definitively compromised in terms of my energy and perspective, caused by 2 years with no break. That quiet exhaustion showed that my aging reptile brain had rewired itself into expectation. Just like my father.

He had adapted to a lifetime of drinking until incapacity and thence finding a place to maintain his coping – and that place largely prevented vacations. So the Ardsley Country Club was in the wings, a broken down house needed an upgrade and soon all kids were gone. Continuity triumphed over change – for good or for ill.

Now I seem to have found a continuity of annual change, even without children. I think it is a good thing. I know my wife loves it, and would love other times away. That is not part of my capacity to rationalize, let alone afford.

Puritanism persisted for several centuries, and its essence of personal unworthiness abides in me, perhaps because it was clear to my father that despite worldly success, he had been unworthy of earthly reward. That is an easy legacy to embed, and easier to maintain: not changing takes little energy, if much regret.

Fear of change that comes from a childhood spent maintaining semblences is a hard groove to slip out of. But I seemed to have regrooved for one week a year.

In an hour I mount 2 bikes on the back of our car, then drive for 5 hours due north. There will come a time this stops, but it will not be by choice, that choice was made 21 years ago, and despite walking pneumonia I participated, mostly sleeping, and watched two little boys thrill at newness – a newness I adapted to.


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