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April 28, 2016

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In Left To Myself : Siblings

In Random Stuff: Talk Is Cheap: Architecture Isn’t

In Not (As) Fat: Fat & Drunk

In Finding Home: Obsessive Compulsive Gardening Disorder

In The Rules:  Pitched Roofs Matter 

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Obsessive Compulsive Gardening Disorder

April 27, 2016

Duo Construction_003

Like 17th Century New England farmers, the older I get, the more I realize you don’t shape the landscape, the landscape shapes you. Interlocking rocks, old growth forests, and questionable soil quality tend to get in the way of grandiose visions – even on a 1.87 acre glacial moraine salt marsh bound site that’s always bathed in shade. The gardens I created and “maintain” speak consistent truths to people whose frenzied lives allow only desperate actions with good intensions.

Sometimes life forces circumspection, even when there is precious little perspective in the flow of that life. Megalomania is a never-ending hunger for validation via the here and now. When I was asked to have the site I had worked on for 30 years be part of a Garden Tour, it held a mirror up to what I had done.

With the exception of the south landscape, the first garden, done in 1986, the rest of the work was done by almost exclusively by one person (me) in a flow of effort that had no plan, finish line or, really appreciation other than any given piece being “done”.

The crude diagram below was produced for the 300 tourists. There will be notes and photos added in the next installments, but suffice to say, the numbers are the individual places of creation, with several having such epic fails that holistic new efforts ensued, and the “V”‘s (“volunteers’) are places where native plants were encouraged to dominance, and the letters are individual features that deserve explanation.

In the end, about 24 efforts were made in about 20 places:

garden map

Unlike the rest of my life as an architect, these kamikaze attacks on a vicious landscape were completely reactive – evolving as things died or prospered, or as inspiration forced my hands to action. Unlike parenthood and marriage where the stakes were extreme, if a few hundred plants died due to my incompetence, the guilt and impact was fleeting.

But even in a flailing assault with little perspective, whose reward is more in the effort that the outcome, I divined attitudes and an ethos for my own Obsessive Compulsive Gardening Disorder that has resulted in a place that mostly delights more than frustrates, sustains more than drains, and seems to make sense of the natural world’s complete disinterest in my existence:

• Let it grow, Let it grow, Let it grow – Volunteers are often nurtured, versus removed.

• Weeding happens at whim, so I used French Intensive bed deep cultivation to allow for dense pack plantings over deep beds – 20”-24”, with filter fabric below, to inhibit bottom up bottom up competition, no elbow room for undesirables (edict violated for Garden Tour).

• Watering happens at droughts so the plants have to deal with it.

• Annuals are to be avoided – why keep replanting?

• “Invasives” work – but I put them where salt will stop them on one side and I mow the other.

• Pruning is essential and must be done correctly –our 28-year-old rhododendrons are neither hedges nor trees.

• Nature is the editor of any design – If it feels good, let it grow. An entire wave of ferns has swept over areas that were carefully planted, and remnant wild oats have consumed the north border.

• No Fertilizers after planting: instead, Buckwheat Hulls used about 24 times in 28 years to create soil (edict violated for Garden Tour).

• Edge. An aggressive 10” to 12” deep edging is done on every raised bed every other year.

• Full rake out once a year before major growth: thank God for the Bow Flex.

• Mow your own lawn – it forces inspection – and mow in all leaves not blown away – mulching was necessary given our “topsoil”.


When we discovered this piece of glacial moraine, we found a 12 ft high matt of impenetrable survivalist material covering our entire site (see “EXIST.” on the map) : its presence is why the site went unsold for 2 years. The first two or three months of clearing our site in 1983 and installing a septic system gave rise to fully false expectations that this glacial moraine landscape could be subdued (or at least controlled). Our first effort was our lawn – $400.00 worth of topsoil-ish clay was applied, hardened and broken up and shoots came up just in time for a House Beautiful photo shoot in 1985.

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1.The First Garden. Designed by Mary Zahl,planted 1986 along the south edge, involving a fair number of flowering trees, – it has had a huge evolution over 28 years : things like a non-Dutch-Elm-Diseased Elm has rendered the east end of the bed root concrete, 2 planted Blue Spruce along with numerous other “traditional” hopefuls died over the years. – but a sprig of a pine (A) from a beloved Adirondack location has exploded to 35 feet to the west. One remnant Azalea (B) and a few tree Rhododendrons (B) cling to life amid the raging ferns and Hostas and towering trees, and the 29 year old relocated Boxwoods from the House Beautiful shoot prosper.

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2.Clarence Thomas Garden. Dug out and cultivated listening to the weekend of AnitaHill Hearings on headphones, the Iris’s are only vestiges, the Bridal wreath and Azalea have engulfed the bed, and newer roses fight for south sun.


3.The Shade Garden. Triple deep, 10-foot high stacks of un-split Gloria-felled tree trunks stood at the west end of the cleared land for about ten years until I rolled them further west and imported a truckload of clay sold as “soil” 2 feet deep to support deep shade loving plants(Ginger, ferns, Hydrangea, Sweet William), all of which have grown wonderfully – this counts as 2 gardens as it was significantly expanded and revised three years ago where grass would not grow (C). The west layer of this effort inserted was into the existing moraine, uses Creeping Hydrangeas (D) which use the old trunk pieces as a “structure” to grow upon (along with some plastic rod tepees) – in for at least 15 years, they bloomed for the first time last year.

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(actually 5) The Dot Garden. In one specific area where our lawn was always wet I created a round raised bed about 15 years ago, with nice bagged soil, manure and peat moss – and stuck in Bleeding Hearts, Tiger Lilies, and Sweet William to soak up the ground water.

5 (actually 6) Tree Peonie Outpost. My staff gave me one in 1995, and I created a garden around it – Lenten Rose, a variety of failed efforts (“Wild Woods Orchids”, poppies, yuccas, and others) now replaced with rampaging Wild Oats.

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(actually 7) The Ornamental Grasses Buffer. About 20 years ago, about 100 native grasses in 8 species were planted at the edge of the salt marsh and the culvert being cleared under Route one 10 years ago scorched earth about 90 of them. This area has had “augmentations” – my son’s 4th Grade 4”-high pine is now 18-feet tall (E), (below)
a dwarf bamboo, and the salt-strangled grasses were replaced with loose strife (F) (don’t hate me – the bamboo was salt poisoned and the invasives were legally purchased and have remained at bay – bounded by salted north, and mowed south for over 20 years) but replacement Swamp Iris faded away…


(actually 8) The Crescent Garden. After about a decade of mowing our lawn, I noticed one area that seemed to get sun for more than two hours a day. I took a risk and over an entire summer created a 28-foot long, 10-foot-wide raised bed using OK trucked in soil and lots of organics using the French intensive Bed/ filter-fabric’ed bottom noted earlier, to form an amoeba-like “crescent” that followed the mowing patterns I used when keeping the grass at bay. Huge lilies died after 5 years, but other attempts have flourished and have been augmented – this year’s experiment: Phlox.


(actually 9) House Side – In its 4th incarnation – counted as by me as 3 gardens over 29 years, this hell hole has no water. The death of many efforts – including the heinous overgrowth of relocated foundation plantings from the House Beautiful shoot – meant severe reinterpretations – this year with Bob Kuchta’s – all the astilbe’s are now dead – note the leftover epimedium and creeping hydrangea survivors of a previous effort and the blizzard felled lilac to the north (G) (left) is encouraged in its resurrection sucker-life.


9 (actually 12) The Mistake Garden. Creeping Hydrangea were ordered as part of creating the Shade Garden, but a duplicate shipment of those plants was received. When I called to ask how to return them, I was told “just keep them” I used bagged topsoil to fill in the spaces between the interlocking boulders at the north side of our home stuck in the 8 extra plants and, over four or five years, saw that the two to three hours of sunlight each day allowed these “mistakes” to totally outperform their “legitimate” westerly cousins.


10 (actually 13) Loose Strife – mowed to the south, salt-killed to the north, 20 years held at bay and augmented.


The east side, wilder, weirder and actually has vestiges of what we overcame to create our place on this temporal plane. Here are the efforts at managing a brutal patch of earth: 


11) (actually 14) E-Mailed Ferns.  Itching to do something in a newly cleared space, I found a source for large, oriental ferns from Seattle.  Upon planting, they spread relatively slowly, but seemed quite healthy until the onslaught of the newly liberated tidal salt water (see above) managed to kill 70% of them, leaving a clump nestled between two rocks now quite a “nest”.


12) (actually 15) Choir Boy Gulch  – using 12 year old choir boy labor 10 years ago, an odd tide accepting inlet has been lovingly infested with Swamp Iris – 2 varieties: invasive and passive – the passive ones have withered, the invasive have rocked it


13) (actually 16) The Remediation Garden.  In creating the Barn of Fun, the excavator decided that the silt fence designed to keep disturbed soil out of the salt marsh should actually be put through the salt marsh.  Not surprisingly, the Wetlands Officer required me to remediate this condition with a natural gardenscape of indigenous plans which have largely worked.


14) (actually 17) The Hosta Highway: getting a new 2/3 acre for a septic system for the Barn of Fun meant the septic line had to rip threw the interlocking rocks, roots and overgrowth matt – creating a place for 400 $1 hostas in Memorial Day Weekend 200o. the last few years have seen a wane of hostas and a rematting of roots – We  deposit spent Xmas Trees at (H)

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15) (actually 18) The North Forty.  This new septic field easterly plateau was dubbed “The North Forty” due to relative remoteness. With great protest from my family, we spent the better part of a weekend scratching at the fairly uneven (but level) ground to sew grass seed that actually took – instant meadow!  Apple and pear trees (labeled on map) were planted that never bear fruit. Wild flowers are mowed around as are odd fern-ish things (V) and something that looks like creeping strawberries – we have had several daisy crescendo’s, but sadly not this year. This counts as 2 gardens as I attempted to create a vegetable bed (I) at a central, almost sunny spot by using bags of manure and bales of peat moss over the last 5 years: only a tough asparagus plant survived (from the 12 planted) tomatoes died laughing at me but Moonflower from seed do grow – as does the blackberry push – which feeds the birds.


16) (Actually 20) Epimedium!   A miraculous discovery – this Chinese plant can tolerate poor soil, no sun, and little water, thus it is perfect for my inhospitable landscape.  I created a large patch of it in the darkest, driest portion of the property.


17) (actually 21) Parking Lot Border.  Soil had to be trucked in, and hostas began, but a mysterious toxic patch (J) next to the shed seems to kill almost everything and Epimedium has been brought into service.


Failures.  Poppies attempted survival for four or five years, but they finally gave up the ghost.  Aguga (a technically “invasive” plant) worked for several years, but now only appears randomly (and mowed around).  “Creeping mint” lasted about a month.  Three “Wild Woodland Orchids”, at about $100 each, were marginally successful for two or three years and then simply faded away.  Ours may be the only site in all of Connecticut where the state bush, the Mountain Laurel, is unceremoniously killed by the site’s inhospitality. I tried to create two small vegetable gardens (you could count them as Garden 18 (actually 22), in memoriam, amongst the small interlocking rocks, two areas of about four feet wide by eight feet long where all the existing roots and “soil” were lifted up, the organic material sieved out, and new very rich soil created only to have sun-deprived strawberryless strawberries and one dinner’s worth of potatoes the first year, then one or two pumpkins that ended up being eaten by animals. These beds have been given over to some nice volunteers.



April 26, 2016


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Getting Done in San FranciscoIMG_4888



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 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

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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

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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!

Building Our Selves: Out of Our Houses

April 25, 2016



We build houses and in many ways, they build us. Author/Editor Grant Jarrett asked 19 writers to use “Google Earth” to zoom in on a childhood home and let the image take them back – back to the memories, the meals, the fights, the growth, the losses.

His Brand New Collection “The House That Made Me”  is an extraordinary compilation of brief essays from world famous and lesser-know writers: their insights are often tragic, funny and scary: seldom predictable or comforting: like so many of us, our homes are “complicated” by the lives held within them
We’ll talk with Jarrett on Home Page Radio…

Talk Is Cheap: Architecture Isn’t

April 17, 2016


I was an English minor at Cornell, but that was a rare thing for an architecture student. I do write, early mornings and weekends, but like school, the vast majority of effort is in figuring out how to build things.

But others write, or talk or teach about things for a living. Some have done the things they present to others, but most, in fact almost all, in architecture have not. Like the Robert Duval sports writer in the the movie “The Natural” who loved baseball but never played it, these folk love architecture, can see the forest for the trees, and unlike me, write well.

But its a top-down exercise, seeing the subject in a wider field than I could about architecture simply because I bathe in it. Today, in an hour, I go to work with a client thinking I have lost interest because I did not return an email last night, an entry that must comply with zoning, the interior of an office space to figure out – Right Now: I have over 50 projects and clients, 7 employees with a payroll every 2 weeks and 6 not for profit boards to hew to.

The un-practicing architecture critic has a different agenda: he/she needs access to “thought leaders” to have the info he or she has not lived to create arguments and insights a venue thinks is worth money to publish. The critic, like the political commentator, knows his “take” of aesthetics must be consistent or he loses the street cred of her or his peers.

Architects have budgets, clients, laws, materials and contractors in their lap every day: they are the way anything gets built: the critic has almost no exposure to these realities except through the necessarily self-serving perspective of the architects they write about.

Neither perspective is complete: but at least an architect can effort getting beyond the day-to-day and seeing the larger picture: the unpracticing design critic cannot download a lifetime of experiences a la the Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.”

The InterWebNets allow tiny venues like this to “feel” important. But the web also allows unvarnished realities and unedited airtime. This tiny venue has had 95,000 points of access to readers. One of those folk asked “Which do you enjoy more – building or writing?”

I truly enjoy writing or I would not do for free here, tiny compensation elsewhere. But building is a life’s work for me: not designing in my head, on paper or on a screen, but in built, existing things that engage humans other than myself.

Writing a journal is a good thing: I have one for the last 40 years: notes by, for and to me about me: no intention of engagement, just a mirror and therapeutic expression. But a journal is a gift from me to me: it has no worldly function or intention.

Writing here is a good thing: even though the horrendous typos are inflicted till changed, no editor tempers awkwardnesses, and no one pays a dime or is assigned to ever open a single glowing “page” to read, so I have had 95,000 gifts in these 5.5 years here.

But architecture writers have a mission to frame the life mission of designers in a greater cultural lens than the architects themselves could ever be expected to have. The greatest home-run calls were not by former players, but by journalists: but when a pitcher is having difficulty, the Little League experienced commentator struggles to invent Knowlege he or she simply has never experienced.

There have significant building architect writers who could meaningfully communicate with a large audience of non-architects: but its a tiny group: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Charles Moore and several of his cohorts, Sarah Susanka and…? Usually you get the gobbledigook of Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright or ranting in words and terms and sentence structures that allow me to appear articulate in comparison.

I only claim to understand a few things, and the now reviled football is one of them. I played coached and had a son play through college. So when I see ignorance wrapped in jive that is most football commentary, I cringe. Unfortunately the former players alongside the non-players are similarly compromised by their personal experience being jammed into a different circumstance of the moment.

Both perspectives – educated, but unpracticed and experienced, but subjective – can be woven to understand any subject better than either one independent of the other. But at the moment, the practitioners spew incoherent fine-arts speech or defensive dismissals of anything but the greatness of their efforts, and the critics become part of the “thought leader” world: where defendable points of view are lauded by the chorister who is singing in harmony with the rest of the choir.

Different tones, some counterpoint but the music is harmonious: and cannot reflect a profession in extreme change where only 1 out of 3 architects with a professional degree has a job.

That said, I enjoy listening to baseball on the radio, announced by humans who, to my knowlege have never, ever played the game: like me. 80,000 architects design buildings for that almost 400,000,000 people use everyday: about 399, 920,000 readers are just like me and baseball, happy to listen to people who can speak and write well about something they understand better than me. But have never done.

But where are the “color commentators” in architecture? Writing blogs, I guess.


April 11, 2016

I had never heard of “Sibling Day” until this one: and in choreographed spontaneity, hundreds of images have hit the InterWebNets of happy, quirky, cute brothers and sisters. Given my circumstances I am not sure what to do with this.

I have two siblings. But I have no photos of them to show.

Having survived World War II, my parents knew it was time to have children. They knew because in living the life of Mid-century Caucasian American Survivors, victory after such an extreme threat meant celebration via repopulation – everyone was doing it.

Only my parents skewed older than the typical Boomer-Begating Breeders. Upon return from his overseas naval duties in late 1944, my father was in his mid 30’s – and my mother was well into hers. They avoided having children in the 1930’s because, well, they were having too good a time.

Before the war, my father made a relatively large amount of money as he was in one of the great law practices at 1 Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, having been an excellent student and a favorite of several noted law professors at Cornell.

My mother was talented as a rendering artist, very beautiful to my father, and thus a bride in her early 20’s, earning some pick-up money, but more a life of having great good times with her up-and-coming love mate. It seems none of their close friends had children in those years as all their friends seem to have been found in the Stork Club, 21, the Kit Kat Club and other legendary Jazz Age haunts.

They saw a 16 year old Ella Fitzgerald, became good friends with Cozy Cole and my father sometimes sat in with the bands as a drummer in Harlem, and after drank “hootch” with them as they smoked “gage”.

My mother was quite unfiltered, having been the first born beauty, and went to art school (also Cornell) (tho no meeting there) – she had really no regrets or tragedies, with a doting Dad and a sometimes equally adventuresome Mom. She let her children know pretty much everything about their Roaring 1930’s loves, – living together before marriage, partying all night to come home, shower and go to work, and the many (illegal) abortions her friends had so they could keep living the way they loved to live.

After a hard early childhood when his mother died when he was one, and he was sent to live with spinster aunts in Canada, my father became a very good student. He was almost to Partner when Pearl Harbor derailed everything. He would have been drafted, despite a full decade serving as a reserve in the Army Artillery after ROTC in college. Thankfully getting a Navy commission he spent a lot of time stateside, but the last 2 years he was at sea, and there heard of many, many friends being killed or coming close.

Death was not on the radar in their lives until the War: so having their noses rubbed into it, late in life, they, and all of their friends, knew making babies was now the point of making whoopie (where once it was a terrifying potential byproduct to be prevented by any means necessary).

Almost immediately upon my father’s return my mother was pregnant: no complications amid the universal drinking and smoking that every 1944 mother thought was harmless: coming to term, with the baby about to emerge she went to the hospital: her doctor was playing golf, she was encouraged to hold off delivering as long as she could because he would be back “later” – she was put under (as all were for her class at that time) and awoke to find her first born child, Stevens Winthrop Dickinson was “stillborn”. I have no doubt had he lived, I would not have been born – a complicated sibling relationship.

Whether it happened at the 2nd Tee or at the 19th Hole, the umbilical chard was wrapped around my brother’s neck, and he died before living.

Death screaming at them in all its cruelty, my parents immediately responded with another new life, my sister and she was “Perfect” – she was as beautiful as her mother, healthy and vital. But it had been a rough ride, and my parents waited 5 years before creating their first born living son, his name memorializing their lost son: Winthrop Stevens Dickinson.

Two children in downtown New York did not fit the model of the moment, and my parents followed their friends, again, to the suburbs in 1952. They found a very nice, somewhat debilitated home where my mother could decorate, my father could renovate. They could barely afford it, getting a mortgage from a friend, and they could only obtain its price tag because it was in what they felt was a “second tier” Westchester town.

Once there, my 40 year old mother knew she now had a good 5 years grace period after Win was born and, against my father’s initial reticence, conceived me.

It was clear that in the 1950’s they were exhausted 40-something’s creating a home, maintaining a derailed/re-railed law practice and 2 other children, so they opted for the easy name selection: after my Dad: George Arthur Dickinson, Jr.. I have no idea when, but to distinguish me, in utero, from by father they code-named me “duo”(for “Junior”) and it stuck: like Muffy or Buffy or Skip.

The pressure was increased by my presence. The happy pre-war pre-child years became ever more distanced by the extremities of parenting and home creation, despite my mother being a full time homemaker, and having the children in private schools. Drinking, always there, morphed from celebratory to unrelenting.

Their 3 children’s birth order were split by 5 years, so school was in place before the next birth, so diapers were one kid at a time, so chaos could be controlled. Or at least they thought it could.

Amid a late-in-life radical break from the Jazz Life to Suburban Family Life, with all decisions colored by uncertainty and alcohol, “Perfect” became a defendable standard for most things. “Perfect” as a standard turns “Good” or “Unknowable” into “Failure”. The spiral of feeling out-of-control, of fully swept into a suburban life they never planned for, but fully immersed themselves in, got worse as their children became who they naturally were.

When benign perfection was supposed, my sister got a few B’s and knew my father, never having experienced that, would be apoplectic – he, and the scotch within him, were.

A different private school was tried, then another, a therapist, then a classic Senior Year Bermuda prep school spring break and a Freshman from Dartmouth – and another male love object other than my father snapped all connection to perfection.

Dropping out of an elite girls school a couple of months before graduation was not “perfect” but it was necessary – as it was to head out to California at 19, and finding another man to love, that crashed and then back to another man back home, a covert wedding, revealed, and then a secret divorce a year later – all before 23.

Finding her ex to be a great life partner absent marriage they reconnected and have been together over 40 years. But in a place of conditional love based on performance, control of yourself becomes necessary: so my sister seldom leaves her town, her dogs seldom leave the basement, food is precise, health is intensely monitored: my sister has a life born of conditional love, where performance keys connection. My Christmas Cards need to be what she knows to be legitimate (versus the odd updates I send out usually before Easter).

My brother had a harder time.

His life was mostly C’s, and my ever-more exhausted parents were exasperated, but tempered by my sister being who she was: and let my brother simply do as he could, always knowing he was a disappointment.

So he smoked, he made money, went to public high school, was shipped off to a state school in Buffalo where drink and other distractions meant a never completed life there: college ended after a few years of half-hearted effort. Photography was huge for 2 decades, as was a first wife, that ended, then the Episcopal Church was a centering influence and another wife, and that ended.

Upon the final fiduciary meeting after my mother’s estate was completely resolved, long after my father had died, my brother revealed he had found what I hope is the final track to feeling loved: he came out as always being a woman, but never being able to discern that until after our parents were dead: I then realized that the amazing Playboy centerfolds in every post adolescent bedroom he had were role models (but for me they were the next level above the National Geographic sex-ed visuals.)

Neither sibling had children, despite relationships that could have supported that decision: they had seen the downside of uncertainty being compounded by radical action. My older sister has never had a drop of alcohol, I do not know the limits of my other sister’s intoxicants, but there were many when I knew her as my brother.

I send things to my siblings several times a year: stuff about their nephews, our life, my work. I receive a correct Christmas Card, a birthday card and occasionally a call from my older sister if things are needed. I love trying to help, but you cannot help what is out of your control.

But I have heard nothing from my other sister, who lives but 75 miles away, in 15 years.

My siblings did not ask to be born, they could not follow the rules for love my parents created from what they understood to be correct criteria. That failure to connect meant no other family member, parent or sibling, attempted connection to me. I survived by largely following the Rule Book my parents never imposed. That, of course, burdens my siblings’ view of their younger brother.

Their lives live with me most every day. I hope they are happy, but that, in truth is unknowable, despite being siblings…


April 5, 2016


I wrote a quick piece on Zaha Hadid’s death for CommonEdge Collaborative it was a moderate success but the piece was selected to be included with 25 others from the hundreds of world wide outpourings of obituaries for the most celebrated architect in the world by the most celebrated writers and venues for writers – and me:

I do not speak ill of the dead. Death ends the validity of any personal enmity – except in historic terms: Hitler is hated now for what he did: when alive I am pretty sure millions would have happily ended his life with extreme prejudice: but once dead, the human as a human is left to a judgment we are completely unsure of – except by what the dead wrought.

Although the architecture of Zaha Hadid manifest the most abstracted version of what architecture can be: and thus ignored any context, function, materiality and scale as part of its design criteria it was a hit with those who declare balls and strikes in my profession: the “thought leaders” of architecture: academia, media and the world architecture professional organizations.

Anecdotally I know her work alienated most of those who encountered it, but it also thrilled others. The thrill for the aesthetic elite was completely evident in almost all the other 25 other obituaries-cum-tributes: I was more circumspect, but not denigrating – and those that knew her truly liked her – not a discouraging word was heard – except backchannel to me in private communications from other architects:

“Ding dong the bitch is dead”

-followed separately by the video of “Ding Dong the witch is Dead”

“Her work set back architecture for over 50 years”

And most graphic, simply a medical diagram of the crossection of a vagina

The anointed are ripe for animus by the ignored: but the architects who sent these notes to me are significant designers of great repute: albeit not in the world of Zaha.

Why does the professional become personal? Why does something as arbitrary as style become religion: where heretics are vilified? In response to a previous article I wrote for Common/Edge Collaberative
Dozens of folk attacked me, bizarrely my website, and each other in a classic micro-world of anger in a place almost no one sees.

I efforted fact-based responses, no name calling, but got only Troll Spew in response. It occurred to me the response was in complete concurrence with the responses I received privately about Zaha. Whether its for sculptitecture, Trump or how to cook tomatoes if you base your values on a specific ethos the Perfect has Become the Enemy of the Good.

The New Puritans, the Isis of aesthetics, the orthodoxies of everything create dismissal of the validity of every “other” attitude as if that attitude were Hitlerian: but, thankfully, there are very few Hitlers among us.

This is not about Style: clearly the Architectural Elite that loved not only the person Zaha, but also her mission also loath and categorically reject the validity of alternative work as if it were a toxin in the body Architecture.

But if not Perfect, only the Horrendous demands extreme prejudice. Treating what you do not to believe is perfectly Perfect as if it was desperately threatening is a defensively destructive attitude. Its also easier than thinking. Having perspective, balancing values, seeing merits and finding them wanting is a time-consuming, soul-searching activity. Jerking the knee is so much easier.

The Good is better than what the vast majority of people now experience in architecture: when one take on the option of Perfect is exclusively presented as “Correct” it equates to “Perfect or Nothing” and that means the not-so-good stuff dominates the vast majority of built things. Building abhors a vacuum: if a singularity of orthodoxy is presented as Perfect by those who are the declared “Thought Leaders” of Architecture, and those building cannot relate to it in any way, then Architecture itself is the enemy of the Good.

And engineers, zoning codes and bean-counting developers design buildings.

And that is Not Good.


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