An hour spent in meander: “style” & home. Neighborhoods & Pizza, Wonderbread or Pepperidge Farm White: imponderables that make HOME PAGE the best radio on domestic relations found anywhere:
Here in New England, but surprising in many other locales, “Home” equals “Colonial” in the consciousness of many, if not most, homebuyers. “Cape”, “Centerhall”, “Garrison” -the subspecies spiral out, but since World War 2 thousands of acres have been plowed under, “Colonial” seeds planted and there are bumper crops are everywhere – “Colonial” has been commodified, and thus, so has history.
Binnie & Duo discuss the state of hegemonic “Colonial” invasive species in the housing market, and welcome architectural designer, historian and Taste of New Haven Tour Guide Colin Caplan – http://www.magrissoforte.com/ColinMCaplan.html – whose years of thinking and writing about New Haven’s neighborhoods gives him a unique perspective. http://www.amazon.com/Colin-M.-Caplan/e/B001JP4I3A
Why do we think of “home” as that white picket fence in front of a white facade with a centered door facing the street? Or is that definition changing to an apartment above a really cool cafe? And who was Royal Barry Wills anyway?
In Random Stuff: Powerless in the back seat
In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk
In The Rules: HOUZZ Rules
In Home Page Living Solo: Agony or Ecstasy?
Scouting Shots for Scouting Shoot:
As Seen in the New York Times, 12/2/2014
The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY
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 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 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 New Haven Magazine: A House of Homes
In The Source: Duo Dickinson, Architect at Large
In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: On the Indian River
In The New Haven Register: Aesthetically inconvenient Mudd Library faces death sentence
In Connecticut Magazine: Elements of Surprise
In The New Haven Register: Real Icons Aplenty in New Haven
In The Mercurial: Erosion Revelation
In Architecture Boston: Post-Modernism and Intelligent Design
In Design Bureau: Steve & Frank
Archive: Real Life Survival Guide
On Common Ground with Annette Ross: She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered
On HGTV: Mercedes Home Diaries Password: mercedes
On Home Page, Binnie Klein & I debut our new radio show. Listen here!
On A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!
46 years ago, I was being driven to the rest of my life. 13 years of quiet suburban softness, 6 miles south of the Draper household, was ending.
I was in the backseat of our new used Oldsmobile 1966 Vista Cruiser station wagon (with the skylights!). Windows open (especially the inverted corner ones) because, of course, we could not afford AC (exotic, even for a used car in 1969). The added benefit is that, unlike winter, the air exchanges kept the Kent-to-oxygen ratio breathable.
I was also in the backseat of a life swept behind the decades of decisions my parents had made “doing what was right”. Of course that meant staying married, making money in New York, and wearing dry-cleanable clothing. It also meant the things that were not choices, but resulted from them, drinking chief among them.
It meant private schools as that checked off the “parenting” box. It meant bitter disappointment when my older siblings were daunted by the fallout of “doing what was right” that rendered states of confusion, poor grades (despite private schools) and few positive measureables.
Somehow I was the vessel of hope for my parents that needed Buffalo to blossom. Or at least a place for my mother to go to with plausible deniability amid the choices she had made. I was backseat traveling in their wake, and, in memories that are completely rendered in black-and-white, listening.
A scratchy set of voices were on the Vista Cruiser’s Deluxe AM Radio and the volume was up as the windows were down, and the usual silence in the car was focused on a live human event that seemed just like JFK’s assassination in its universal focus of attention: The Lunar Lander was slowly descending to the moon’s surface, its controlled acquiescence to gravity presented live, for the world to hear..
For a moment, there was no existential anxiety over being driven 350 miles to a downtown house I had never seen. No terror at leaving a tiny private day school where I had become the “Bernie Warnock Award” winner for both 7th & 8th grades (unprecedented!) to go to a place that required sports participation from my very soft, white adolescence. No fear over when someone would say the wrong thing and the screaming would begin.
Just scratches, clicks, inaudible fragments of words describing orientation, distance and finally “TOUCHDOWN” – without irony.
“The Eagle has landed!”
As we drove to Buffalo New York, we, in a stuffed car on Route 20, were transported, third hand, to a place we could see every night, but never obtained. Like normalcy.
My fears were a tiny fraction of the boys we heard on the radio, but our uncertainties were intimate, not worldwide. My family’s perspective was snapped, broken and remained unresolved long before that drive, but its 6 hour driving grind was as vivid in its transitional crystallization as was the moon walk to come.
With the passage of time, I find that memories fade into paler grays, remembered sounds become quieter and harder to hear clearly, but the voice of Mission Control calmly annunciating location, distance and time till touchdown was and is a spot-on metaphor that I only see, now, in the dimming past.
Powerless in the backseat or riding in the Lunar Lander, the sweep of efforts that wash us to where we end up are not spectator sports: they change and motivate us: to hope or fear, action or self-loathing, or simply to exhaustion.
As 60 becomes a matter of days, this moment and others like it are more islands than pearls in a necklace: those mysteries of cruelty and grace are the medium of passage. I wish I was one of those who celebrate scars, announce they are proud of every mistake or tragedy because they “made me who I am”, but I rue the misbegotten.
Buffalo and the Moon were obtained, but arrival raised more questions than it answered. The reasons for both journeys were inarticulate, but essential and human. Going somewhere is always preferable to standing still, no matter what the value of the destination. Or at least that’s the rationale.
But that 13 year old is sitting next to me, now. The unresolvable aspects we all experience are either forgettable, or unrelenting.
I still do not know what my parents thought they were driving to that day, if they knew, they did not tell me. Why would they? I was powerless to say anything about it.
HOUZZ is the single blockbuster success in shelter media: Millions upon millions of hits and growing. I jumped in early and created a full site per the instructions of my publisher: http://www.houzz.com/pro/duodickinson/duo-dickinson-architect – I have 166 Followers! (is that good?)
I wrote a few pieces for them, in theory for tiny fees (that I never received) – but they were useful briefs, not captioned house porn, so when my pieces did not “get the response level” they wanted, they more or less required me to write about random HOUZZ images that I had zero knowledge about other that their visual presence. I noted I could not do that. There response was no response: they went dark to my emails requesting clarification.
Last year the site ratcheted it up “HOUZZ IS THE NEW WAY TO DESIGN YOUR HOME!” – a new mantra with an activist message…an ominous thought if I wanted me to be the way to design your home…
This sloganeering now seems to have a sales pitch attached. A friend of mine in Ct has been just been hired by them to sell-sell-sell as the site gears up to actually make money off that popularity – just like every other web-based media outlet: https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/the-monetizing-unicorn/
When I visited their offices in Berkeley 2 years ago when they were interested in fleshing out a “contributor” relationship, I met with one of their founders who was clear they were not clear how to make money off a wildly successful visual resource: Virtually every one of my clients uses the site just as my previous clients used magazines: as a clipping service.
And like those paper magazines HOUZZ is shifting its economic model. Just as the remaining magazines are drifting to “Advertorials” (vanity press “pay-for-play” instead of editorial independence choosing feature subjects that gain readership that allows higher ad rates), HOUZZ and any other number of websites are morphing from content-filtering neutral platforms for exposure and interactions to “pay-for-play” – featuring those subjects who pay money to have featured content. I know this because I was personally approached this spring, (as I was by HOUZZ competitor “Porch” two years ago) to throw money at them for the gloss of their imprimatur.
In a note, based on an editor’s personal referral, I was pitched this:
Below is a brief description. Typically we set up a 15 min call to go over a broad overview of the program. Please let me know if you have any time in the next couple days or next week. You have done a great job with your profile.
• Geo-targeted local exposure in the photo-stream for your company, including sponsored photos and featured local pro banner.
• Enhanced placement in our professional directory, i.e. you will show up much more often on the first page.
• Detailed analytics on your Pro + Program, i.e. visits to your profile from sponsored photos, featured local pro banner and professional directory.
• Dedicated Houzz Client Services Account Manager to work with you throughout the year.
Below is a screen shot to give a feel of how local Architects are targeting homeowners in your surrounding areas.
Note there is no mention of money. So I replied, factually, that I have never, ever, paid money for advertising except in buying ads in not-for-profit events programs. Now, I do think my existing HOUZZ page is pretty cute, and its generated 3 potential clients in the last 3 years out of the 150 inquiries about using my services that I received in that time. The actual jobs that resulted from those inquiries is about 40 gigs. The net actual work generated by the HOUZZ interest is zero – maybe because “HOUZZ IS THE WAY TO DESIGN YOUR HOME.” – not moi…
So I RSVP’d to the note with this piece I wrote for the AIA last fall: http://www.aia.org/akr/Resources/Documents/AIAB104785 where I noted that hype does not sell: good work sells.
Just like the dead silence after refusing to caption house porn, there was no “sorry, this won’t work”. No “we can make this work” or just “I understand” – just the internet’s universal RSVP when self-interests do not mesh in cynical mutual manipulation: just dead as a doornail silence. There are no crickets on the interwebnets.
So those millions upon millions of “HOUZZERS” will now see hundreds, if not thousands of web presences of architects heavily featured as they passively meander thru HOUZZ’s pages: not knowing that whoever “pays their money, they gets their promo”.
How can you blame HOUZZ? Advertising is a very strange thing these days: it used to be clear that sponsors had a place in distinct advertisements: now NPR, scores of regional shelter mags and newspapers and every other website scrambles to get money: above board, below the table, recognized or covert.
Money makes the world go ’round, and is now behind the HOUZZ architect, designer or product that you see popping up as a featured page: it/they may be great, or its just that their check cleared: who is to know?
More than any other part of America, New England manifests history. History can be dead, focused only on what has been, and gone – or history can be a legacy, inspiring the present, and thus the future.
In terms of building it could be said that Vermont may have the most pungently distilled legacy in New England: in the past it had virtually no building code for building private homes: the logic was that you had the right to endanger your own life. Freedom as a cultural imperative has a special meaning in New England as the flash points of the Revolution and its firebrands found support in the region.
The idea that action and the freedom it reflects means more than words is not unique to New England. But in 1960’s America had its safe post World War II respite broken by Baby Boomers demanding the freedom not to de drafted, to love who and when they wished, to wear hair and clothing that defied conventional aesthetics. Naturally the architecture students of the day wanted their buildings to reflect their hairstyles.
Inspired by the mockery of the Dean of the Yale architecture school by a foreman on a jobsite, one of his students, Dave Sellers, vowed never to be an ivory tower designer who was clueless how to actually build what he designed. It was 1964, at the advent of the “WHY NOT?!” ethos, and Sellers set about to find a place to build. He sought a “natural valley the size of Manhattan” to attract people who could afford to build country homes. Oceanfront property was promising but expensive.
It took a year but he and initially one, then many more participants found that New England’s inability to sustain a viable agricultural economic base offered a fortuitous reality – cheap land. When farmland cannot produce enough food to make a profit, and its hundreds of miles from urban centers it simply sells for whatever price the farmer can get: this meant that ski resorts, like Mad River Valley’s Sugar Bush, can be created with very limited site acquisition costs, and attract those distant urbanites to bask in the beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Sellers and his 1965 cohorts found 425 plus acres of abandoned farm in the Mad River Valley of north central Vermont not far from Sugar Bush, and, having one of his fellow Ivy League students sit on a raspberry bush, the 20-something year old visionaries declared their venture to be “Prickly Mountain”
It is a place where the Yankee spirit of inspired hard work overcame the realities of money and fear to create dozens of wildly experimental homes in a place where antiques and provenance were the order of the day. Initially selling lots at $1,000 apiece, with dozens of “investors” and the zeitgeist of the ’60’s fuelling an innocent enthusiasm that actually leveraged equal measures of invention and hard work by other students drawn to a $500 stipend and free food for a summer of hard labor.
Workers came in bunches as Life Magazine, the New York Times and an architectural journal, P/A, lent this pie-in-the-sky endeavor the allure of newness amid the trappings of New England’s history. The “Establishment” was left back at architecture school – at Prickly Mountain the students were the builders, clients and experimenters in ways no academic studio could ever offer – an “architectural blastoff” according to P/A.
Houses were being designed as they were being built – creating architectural performance art in real time. The young builder/dreamers created genres out of construction alchemy “plywood houses”, “wild beam theory” and a sense that it was unjust to make money on the back selling land was not necessarily a sustainable model, and as the 1970’s progressed, land prices increased to $4,000 and debt grew to over $250,000.
But ultimately the wildly entrepreneurial spirit of Prickly Mountain had spin-offs that are truly profitable: The Vermont Castings Stove Company, Yestermorrow Design/Build School, several innovative energy companies and any number of relatively successful side-developments of commercial properties meant that those crazy hippies became engaged change agents – having been completely seduced and incorporated into the inherently free and industrious sensibility that created New England in the first place.
As in any week, small disappointments, failures and missed opportunities abound in this one. The shortfall of ego projection is unrelenting. We control not much, but want to manifest outcomes in every endeavor.
The response to this incapacity is often as pathetic as the assumption of entitlement: why did this (or didn’t this) happen to/for me? Inability poisons any given moment, day or week until the broader truth, that was always hiding in plain sight, bumps into you (you certainly did not move to it).
In my petulance, I went to see a client. Who has a 40-something year old son. Who cannot walk, talk, or control any function. The dad has carried him or held him most of the 40+ years. I knew this, have encountered them for over 10 years, helping them stabilize a bungalow – now thinking about the time when the parents are not there and the son lives on.
But my distraction by the tiny slights and grammatical errors of my narrative made the son’s (and the parents’) reality far starker and real. I connected the dot of my tiny “problems” and their entire, grinding, life of deep love and found myself in the place I always was: powerless in the end and subject to the grace that I cannot understand. My state of incomplete expectations meant I have expectation beyond survival and getting through the day.
Lack of understanding breeds only 2 outcomes: fear or hope. For me I effort hope.
But powerlessness creates the need in us to simulate having power. We can control minutiae by sorting it: https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/sorting/ but that simulation of control is only retrospective.
In the last few years several architects I was acquainted with have died: completely unexpectedly. They were the aggressive, unshy variety, but manifest a sense of propulsion: “making it happen”. Now they have ceased. Like anybody with fewer years ahead than behind I connected my dot with theirs – in their case the period that ended their time on earth.
Beyond earning a living, where does propulsion get us? Legacy. What we did, and what it lead to. To know the “what” of the buildings architects design names have to be given: and styles are born.
The word “Style” to me is as absurdly reductionist as “Religion”. Many artists effort affect to find themselves a place in a sea of uncertainty – by being the right “style” to get a job, an award, invited to the right party, professorship, lecture series. Many people effort the affect of “religion” to find themselves in a larger sea of uncertainty – the churning tides of life: here, now, and then – what?
Those 2 affects: “style” and “religion” merge in architecture for most, if not all of the celebrated elite starchitects in our midst. To make aesthetic theology you need the psalms, meditations and devotional rhetoric that translates art to language: you need names: you need “Styles”.
To believe in the greater good (beyond, say, helping a family cope with a severely disabled son), you need those styles to create “movements” that are just sects with evolutionary logic: “Classical” begat “Gothic” begat “Beaux Arts” begat “Modern” – Old Testament, Gnostic Gospels, New Testament etc..
Charles Jencks – the architect/writer who flourished in the “Post-Modern” era 40 years ago created a chart (above) graphicisizing what had been muttered and alluded to: architecture is a Tower of Babel: where we all speak building, but in unreconcilable tongues.
That was cute then as there were real crazed offshoots mirroring a counter cultural revolution that simultaneously facilitated Nehru Jackets and the Civil Rights Movement.
Now, in a time more in fear than the hope of of the 1960’s architecture has hunkered into a place where there is one giant glacier, Fine Arts High Modern, and some calving off along its inexorable, grinding path. But in the end, “inside baseball” is only important on that part of the Tower of Babel where others can hear you.
Because, sadly, what “Style” any architect affects does not help the family with the severely disabled kid. Or the $20K budget, or the endless regulations imposed on anything. Personal responsibility is not just about dotting i’s and crossing t’s – its about what gives any architect joy within when the creation actually gets built and succeeds beyond “Style”. “What” is not so important – “how” and “why” are, inevitably the drivers that make intentions walk the talk.
Legacy can be simulated by naming its benchmarks: but that retrospective is not legacy: its rationalization: legacy, for me, is like a stone wall, built one client, project, effort at a time, looking forward, not back – and not sideways at what others are doing…
The failure of Post Modernism did not change Jencks: he creates more graphical charts to make sense of the senseless, to create Canon where creativity should be self-evident not anointed by a Star Chamber. More names, more cites, more retroactive sense making of a few hundred thousand creative building designing in built form: some looking to find their place on the chart: most not even knowing there is one.
Architects or not, we all want to sort, control, thus predict and obtain: but no humans control: we work hard and hope. Or fear. We do not even know what gravity is beyond its measure, so what, really, can we control?
It is not a bad thing we fail, we sort, we name, we connect the dots that are unconnectable beyond hope: because in each of these things there is hope that its all worth doing.
But sadly for us, for me, hope always falls short. We are addicted to the charts for success that we draw or are drawn for us. So we continue connecting dots.