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Welcome to Saved by Design

February 4, 2016

New Stuff:

In Left To Myself : Cutting Trees in Buffalo

In Random Stuff: Radio & Architecture

In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk

In Finding Home:  Soul Space

In The Rules:  Pitched Roofs Matter 

In Home Page: Words & Building 

Radio & Architecture

February 3, 2016

Radio is now artisanal. Once at the cutting edge of necessary information infrastructure, radio as become a pleasant nostalgic past time, like baseball (and to me, Baseball on the Radio is near Perfection). But in a place where cell phones and other hand held (or wrist-born) devices connect everyone to every thing all the time, radio has become quaint for most.

But it has its uses. Radio forces visualization in a world of selfies and 24/7 visual TMI. Listening is a skill on the decline, paralleling radio. Architecture as a verbally understood art form may be said to be in decline as well, as the selfie-seduction seems to be at the core of “cutting edge” design – sculptitecture needing no narrative, rationalization or context .

Words and Design have been linked for millennia. Born around the time of Jesus, Roman Thought Leader Vitruvius wrote his “Ten Books on Architecture” about aesthetics so potently that Renaissance design used his Classicist ramblings as the seminal point of conceptual inspiration.

1900 years later John Ruskin wrote “The Stones of Venice” and helped inspire the Arts and Crafts Movement, thus Art Nouveau and Art Deco evolutions. Vincent Scully wrote “The Shingle Style” and offered a conceptual break from Modernism as Canon in the 20th century: maybe even allowing architecture’s crib-killed bastard spawn Post-Modernism to briefly walk on earth. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown tugged he veil off Modernist Canon with “Learning From Las Vegas”, as did Tom Wolfe’s “From Bauhaus to Our House”.

Whether speaking to the choir as in Le Corbusier’s “Vers Une Architecture” or Frank Lloyd Wright’s “In the Cause of Architecture” or speaking to the Vast Unwashed like Sara Susanka’s “Not So Big…” Oprah-approved series, words and design, often house-centric, have both reflected the mind’s focus on building design, but also pushed it in directions that paralleled exhibits, publications and awards.

Except now.

Perhaps because “nobody is publishing books” (altho my 8th emerges next year), perhaps because the InterWebNets distract all thought from all paper, or most probably because words describing abstract sculpture cannot help but pale in efficacy to the gushing appeal of amorphous shapes, – words about design have ebbed.

Why write when you can look, 24/7/365 at every building built everywhere? If a picture is wort a thousand words a sculpture supplants any need for any vocabulary other than visual.

Into this pat fait accompli of academically and journalistically sanctified Architecture’s Settled Law of High Modern Sculptitecture, comes something fun. For me anyway. Architecture on the radio.


Listening. Just listening. Not written, not read, not held in had, not softly carressed by photo’s, let alone video – listening, just listening: to architecture. I had guested on several national NPR shows, and on Curtis B. Wayne’s Burning Down the House streaming internet radio show/podcast “Burning Down the House: Then a high school friend, Bruce Barber, former #1 shock jock in New England, wanted to do a radio show on the local NPR network with me: sometimes it gravitated to houses:

But sometimes to Architecture: (this is a walk-and-talk thru a mid-century Mod home that still delights:

That in turn led to a full on-experiment with New Haven’s alternate newspaper, The Independent: aesthetic topics in full-on ramble – sometimes awkward, often exhilating (to me, anyway):

Another local radio Legend, Binnie Klein of the alternative radio station of Connecticut, WPKN, enjoyed me being her guest, and we launched a monthly connection between our homes, our lives, our relationships and our values:

Creating a rich ensemble of topics and listener interactions:

Do these work? Listenership is tiny, but people do listen, call in the live shows, and comment on the archived/podcast sites: There is no PR, no pay, no benefit, really. Other than doing radio.

Radio is so archaic it harkens to mylar, clutch pencils and diazo-printing. It is exquisitely artisanal. It is hip, like vinyl records. It is also Low Mass Media. It forces the listener to Think: Visualize – not passive Look and Respond. It cannot be Porn like HOUZZ, because it demands thought, not simply passive visual titillation. What I do is not for the choir, like the ongoing San Francisco-based “Archispeak Podcast” : or the blog “Life of an Architect”

Radio takes words, a thing long missing in what long played a part in creating buildings beyond xerographic pandering and forces a listener to visualize. It pre-empts “archispeak”. In order for any inscrutable fine arts blather to work it needs to be draped oversomething you can see, like the Latin in a Catholic service needing icons to focus attention. Not so Radio.  Radio has to have wit, humor, metaphor or it simply puts you to sleep -which I imagine I do on air quite often for some listeners: but its worth trying.

Sometimes the requirement of thought: visualization in the mind is necessary for creativity. The clicks and hums of the computer are inherently mimetic: “cut and paste” is the baseline command. Radio forces the mind to create the image the words implore: its old school, but it is human – or what has been defined as human, until recently…



January 31, 2016


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Getting Done in San Francisco

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Recently Completed!


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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.


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 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!

Pitched Roofs Matter

January 26, 2016

Roofs and Architecture now have an odd relationship. Roofs have become the litmus test for a variety of judgments. Sculpture has no “roof” it is a shape unto itself. A “datum” (archispeak for a straight line) means a flat roof. Anything that has a symmetric pitch is “vernacular” and thus Not Architecture (just building).

All roofs matter. Gable roofs matter. Flat roofs matter.

So the photo above elicited this cyber comment: “Very cool. What is the commission? Why the one vestigial gable-y thing? Maybe a long “flat” overhang over Entry?”

Clearly the commentator saw the pitched roof in the foreground for what it is -a solar array, and liked it and that there was a roof beyond it: which had to be “vestigial” because it was “gable-y”.

No architect who wanted street cred would intentionally do a “gable-y” roof. Its so “vestigial” of a previous world where allusions begged questions, where easy vernacular pat answers were applied to new technologies, new cultural desires – “gable-y” is not “Modern”. Not Modern requires an explanation.

Here it is: as the photos below show: the “gable-y thing” is clearly the entry to a two part building – its the third part. One part is clearly back office, another a corner-positioned pivot. Between is its own place – higher than either of the others, but also different: it has a center, a focus a place humans want to go to: in this case an entry.

Why do humans think arches, doorways and portals invite access? I do not know, but approaching this place at 55mph I had to say “Here” not “Wow”.

So I made a “gable-y thing”.

Shallow? I think not: it will be a canopy over a forest of columns happening both inside its glass walls and outside. Its dynamism is in stark contrast to its stoic bookends. Contrast is not simple, or it becomes cacophony: here the massiveness of the back office and corner focus had to be itself, proudly.

But the commentator offered up a better solution: a “flat” roof defining entry. That would be a starker contrast to the solar wedge and the pyramidal corner focus parts: clearer, cleaner and simply, to me, morally suspect: there was no zoning or cost reason for a flat roof: and a flat roof while cheaper and graphic and “Modern” sentences the occupants/users/owners to never ending leaks.

Unless you live in an arid climate, roofs should shed water. It you live in a tropical climate they should overhand the wall to protect them. If you live in a climate that gets cold it also needs to insulate the interior of a building from heat loss.

This roof is in a place of hurricanes, blizzards 100F and -5F – a flat roof was not something my clients should have inflicted upon them: instead, the results could be dynamic, clear and cogent: with fewer leaks: “gable-y”  – but for some,”vestigial”.


Words & Building

January 26, 2016

home page


Designing and writing about it has been a fruitful dynamic: Vitruvius defined aesthetics in antiquity that became the Bible of the Renaissance, the Arts & Crafts movement found direction in the writings of Elbert Hubbard, and “From Our House to Bauhaus” by Tom Wolfe changed the way people looked at architects and architecture. But what has happened to this relationship in the era of New Media?

Binnie Klein & Duo Dickinson took on the topic of design, designers who write, and writing about design with two world class practitioners: Pat Pinnell is an architect who has written the definitive guide to the architecture at Yale and Fred Bernstein graduated from Princeton’s architecture school and has written about architecture for 30 years, most recently for the New York Times and Architectural Record

Words and building, building and words: lets talk writing and design, on Home Page.

Into The Boomer Glass, Darkly

January 21, 2016


The “Me Generation” self-defined everything.

I was born in 1955 – at the Generational Equinox for Baby Boomers. The Bible sez humans can expect “3 score and 10” years of life, so the Boomers at the Winter Solstice side of the Generation, those born around 1945 can presume to be at the end of their Life Orbit.

David Bowie might have just been The Poster Boomer. Born right after World War II, he defied every aspect of the Greatest Generation Ethos: gender roles, aesthetic rules, music models. His death at 69 should not be a surprise, as his version of “Me Generation” expression had some risks attached. For Boomers of his vintage drugs were as common as Apple Pie at harvest time. Sex was a common form of casual encounter. AIDS happened 20 years after the Winter Solstice Boomers began having sex, so “safe” just meant practices that respected gravity and sharp edges.

And Rock and Roll meant Elvis ate bacon and peanut butter sandwiches, Momma Cass ate in bed, Freddie Mercury rocked beyond his immune system’s capacities and Jimi Hendrix joined Janis Joplin on the Final Trip. But somehow, some how David Bowie’s death shocked millions on Face Book, Twitter and the rest of Instant Expression Media.

The marriage of “Me and “Media” is a bit diabolic. Instant narcissistic reactions every human has ever had when a peer dies became Human Tragedy, instead of a Reality Check.

Every death is sad, as the Prime Directive is Not Dying. But few natural deaths of 69 year old exquisitely successful and loved humans can be plausibly called “Tragic”. But the millions of grief-ridden Boomer Fans were bereft, if the postings, tweets and blogs are to be believed.

Bowie’s death might not have been tragic, but his death at 69, meant that the surviving 80,000,000 US Boomers are looking at their “Sell By” dates, assessing the activities, genetics and consumptions that play against the odds of living beyond 3 score and 10.

Bowie did not make it.

“Me” can’t know, let alone control, much after the degree, life partnering, careering, wealth-accumulating, children-creating/controlling(NOT), parent-burying is done – we Boomers are at the edge of the horizon of the Final Loss of Control. We have largely laughed at religion, believed in kicking ass, and bellowing our importance to anyone who would listen. But now, virtually all of we “Me”‘s are experiencing 1001 tiny bodily betrayals (eyesight, wrinkles, ligament status, hair loss/growth etc) that are hysterically laughing at us – every day.

Our children have used tattoos and lifepath “float” to control the immediate vagaries, and with the vast majority of years in the “outyear” side, those temporary fixes of our era’s uncertainties are viable coping controls. But Boomers, even those born at the end of the Generation, when the Beatles arrived in America, are beginning to see the bodily betrayals as just the first little bits of a very dark truth: “Me” is not-so-good without autono-me.

So Bowie dies, we do not, but are reminded we will.

We could distort sensory perception with drugs, visual expression with some of the worst clothing and hair manipulations in all of human history, and created politics and arts that trended shrill and self-imbued.

Modesty and gratitude are not the Boomer virtues. In lives of achievement and expression in the here and now, even Yoga seems a little lite when our own lives’ Winter Solstice comes into apprehension.

Bowie had video/vinyl/8-track/cassette/CD/download recording of his worldly life: the rest of us have the more personal measurables to account as we look forward to the retrospection of our absence.

Looking into the mirror is pretty predictable behavior for the “Me”‘s. But now, what we see is not just us, its the impending absence of us. There is no consolation in achievement when its venue ends.

We may think we have invented this, just like the Internet or the Electric Slide, but we are just the latest, but largest, wave of humans to deal with our inability to write the rules of our existence.

Bowie cut an album.

Not sure what I will do: You?




January 3, 2016

New Year’s Day. It is the arbitrary segue between the end of one solar rotation and the advent of another.

When this switch happens around another arbitrary construction, a “weekend”, the effect is transitioned from one day to a few. But folk now work across all “holiday” platforms: but hospitals, cops and military always worked on the “days off”.

Before the modern era of secular insight, humans in America took the Sabbath very seriously. Hours of church, hours of not doing much. Well, except the homemakers who prepared, served and cleaned up after Sunday Supper.

Now every small business owner, like me, works “as needed”. Once children entered the scene we created another arbitrary break in the continuum of days, “vacation” -7 days where work is limited to my IPad. Before the Great Digital Imposition it was 3 faxes a day.

So we work our lives around days, hours, months, years, holidays and vacations to create an order to life that used to be simply weather and daylight determined.. Why?

My guess is that the reason we create these arbitrary dates and patterns, and thus breaks with them, because we  “have to” in order to accept the arbitrariness of each life, death, success, failure…but it might be dumber than that, perhaps we are simply wired to find meaning. A physicist recently said to me there “has to” be “Dark Energy” because the mass presumed to be in the unmeasurable, unseen impact of “Dark Matter” could not explain the observed movements of all viewable matter.

So one construct was insufficient (Dark Matter), so another was appended to it (Dark Energy) to make sense of what could be observed (the movements of all mass in all space we can measure). This was only true, though, when the universe could be measured well enough, extensively enough, that the gap of understanding could be perceived. Filling the known unknowns with arbitrary ordering is nothing new.

As hunting and gathering and mating became farming and families, the sense that the previously random facts of life was understood to have a cycle of nights and daylight, love and society, so we needed days, months, years to give the bass clef to the treble clef of our time.

The need to grid, to format, to name, to prioritize, to define and apply value that takes us away from the perspective of the pet who would eat us if we were dead and compels us to save animals from being mistreated while humans are dying in squalor and war. When 2 unrelentingly amoral, senseless death machines of World Wars raised questions that had few convincing answers within the God Grid, many have jumped and are jumping off that grid, and continue to think outside it. But we still feel the need for a grid.

We make resolutions to end bad things (fat, smoking) and do good things (help the helpless, like animals and the victims of circumstance). But those resolutions of action are simply responding to a better resolution in seeing a grid of morality defining the unending randomness of love, death, war and sacrifice.

I do not feel the grid of dates, holidays, birthdays or years much, but I do feel the pull of some larger grid than the one I can perceive: Meaning. Meaning is not just measurable, its felt. We, mostly, do not eat our pets. We also “know” there is Dark Energy.

There “has to” be a reality that allows us to feel definition by some level of resolution.

We need more than we can understand.

But we do not always understand that.



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