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Welcome to Saved by Design

September 26, 2017

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff: Kneeling

In Home Page: BUILDING HOME

In Left To Myself : Passing

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: The Next Thing…

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Silence In Spring : Astonishing…

“Stick Frame Over Podium”

October 18, 2017

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Money is essential to building.

Meeting code is necessary.

Building “stock” is quicker.

Cheap, safe and easy to draw, “Stick Frame Over Podium” construction is EVERYWHERE. A concrete plinth is poured, then BANG! The 2X dimensional lumber wood stick frame is popped on it, the skin is schmeared upon that: and BUILDING happens.

Stock systems living in software are clicked, reclicked and clicked again by BIM and CAD Factories that crank out biddable, permittable and buildable boxes cheap and quick.

Like the Italian sausages sold at vending carts they all have difference toppings of color, material and detail tacked on, but they all taste the same.

An expedient way to build fast and sure becomes an architectural meme in a decade.

Nothing succeeds like success..
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Passing

October 6, 2017

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In 1942 my father, at 33, completely lost it. A civilian after a full 8 years in the Army Reserve Field Artillery Corps after participating in Reserved Officer Training Corps at Cornell, he was in a panic.

Pearl Harbor created a wartime frenzy – a record military sign-up and a huge draft was consuming America. Despite his honorable service, including playing polo, he was told he could not have his Army commission back – so being under 40, and not 4F, he would be drafted.

His life in the 10 years since law school was perfect. Working in a great firm, soon to be partner, married to a beautiful artist, every night and weekend either playing golf or going to jazz clubs, life in NYC was a redemption from a broken upbringing.

In 1910, his mother had died during an abortion gone bad when he was a year old, he was then shipped to his mother’s sisters in Toronto for 5 years. By dint of will, and blessed with ability, his first 18 years had been followed by 15 years of an exuberant life.

Until the war.

When the Army said “No.” to his request for a renewed commission, my father was desperate – he had lost all control in a life he had created for himself. He knew that he was not meant to die with the young volunteers and draftees on a beachhead somewhere. So he went a little nuts – shaking and in a cold sweat according to my mom – chain smoking desperate and searched for an option. A few months before he would have been drafted the Navy made him a Lieutenant with the Intelligence officers in their fleet.

Obvious ability and the connections of a white, male, Ivy lawyer worked, the panic subsided. He spent a year training and then two combat zone tours on aircraft carriers – one sunk by the Japanese after he left.

But he knew, well, many who died. He was in the belly of a wartime machine that ground up many young men among those who saved the world. It was unspeakably brutal and flooded with booze and cigarette smoke.

Because another young associate at his law firm had escaped the machine with a 4F condition, upon return he lost law firm partnership to him. So, the freakout returned, at the end of the world’s madness. But the common rejoicing at victory led to my parents to start a family – after their decade of fun and later than most, but in the wake of 3 years of hell.

Despite all mimicry and simulations by The Greatest Generation, it was a time of deep trauma. My father found a new job, then another, they had a stillborn first child, then had a healthy baby, then another, then woke up in 1952 to the the realization that the world was moving north to raise those babies.

But the world was also moving north because it offered a vision of control and peace for millions of war wrecked men and their families. You could mow your lawn. Your wife could have dinner waiting. Where you made money was a distinct world, your place. You could define and control your life up there, in the suburbs. It was quiet, it was made for you.

But therapy only works if you know you need it.

Everything was “fine” for my mother and father. Despite a health issue or too, they had another child, me, and had settled into a place that was lovely and worth the labors of restoration and joined a Country Club. They found a church, private schools for their kids and learned to Barbecue.

But although happiness was assumed, it did not come. The 6:30pm train, greeted by joking and smiling kids brought home a man to dine on a fine meal prepared by his snappy wife and the dozen ounces of scotch before he ate.

Despite the presumed rightness of the life after war, there was no therapy in suburbia. The golf course at the club was abandoned. The church was part of a social framework that was maintained. There was medication in drinking, calming in smoking, and expression of brokenness in screaming anger after the second 4 or 6 ounces of booze.

Like the lawn the children offered no solace for the wounds of a complicated life: in fact they offered a vehicle for its projection into anger and remorse.

We knew what was expected. We would dress well at church, clean our plate, and be quiet. But some could not get the A. Body types were an issue. We could not understand. My siblings were called “failures” early and often – and I watched.

No amount of black and white TV or ballroom dance lessons could render his children what he hoped for: better versions of him. The disppointments became expressions for his anger, damaging the growing minds of children in ways that take lifetimes to fully realize.

One of those children died two days ago, at 67. His life was a series of attempts. Just like my parents’ suburban therapy, those attempts did not work out. Two marriages, several career paths, a sex change operation all promised happiness, but his astrangement from anyone I knew or heard of marked a sad life, not a redemptive one.

For a while he was my bother, defending me when my drunken father wanted me to learn to mow the lawn at 9, picking me up from football games – but a constant self-medication by the familiar tools of drugs and alcohol ended that. He then became a young husband, with a younger wife, a photographer, a churchman married to the parish secretary, and then finally becoming a woman with a job as a bus dispatcher. The full transition to being a woman happened after both parents had passed and left him money for the many therapies.

Then, silence.

After he showed me his house over 15 years ago, I never heard from her again. I sent endless mailings and early on invitations, to no response, ever.

Until a call from Peekskill Police Department Detective Merritt on Wednesday, in my car. “Sir, I regret to inform you, your brother is dead.”

“But he had become my sister…”

“We have his name as Win Dickinson.”

“Oh.”

“He – she – died in her sleep – he did not show up for work, and his boss called us and we went to check on him and went through his unlocked front door to find him dead in bed. Um, he was a hoarder, too.”

“I thought so.” I remember cleaning out his attic bedroom with my mother after he left for college in 1968 – amid the cigarette butts and Playboys, there was a full and hidden pile of animal poop, courtesy of his pet rabbit in one corner of his bedroom. 15 years without family or spouse meant there was no cleaning out. Of any kind. Ever again.

So ends a life. Now, again, a war casualty needs a measure of resolution. The remaining end up caring for the passed, not in understanding, or even faith, really, but the hope that the resolution of so much that is broken, can happen – or at least the unhappiness cease.

BUILDING HOME

September 27, 2017

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A GREAT PODCAST! 

Whether it’s a new opening, room, wing, or a whole house, building a place manifests the most essential of human priorities – Pride of Place. This means creating beauty by building it. And then living in beauty, or simply letting the world see what the home builder believes is beauty.

But do we learn to design better if we actually build what we design?

Without building knowledge designers are off the hook for the creative reinterpretation of how a building is made buildable: the middle layer between idea and construction is approaching a hands-off automation that saves time, design cost and insures safe construction with pre-known cost implications of both construction and use.

What is lost when your home is made like your car?

Lets find out: joining us on this great podcast are 3 people who are living the value of building in the design of building. David Getzin is part of a brand new graduate program in architecture at UniSOB – Suor Orsola Benincasa Universty in Naples Italy called “Building Beauty” http://www.buildingbeauty.net he has devoted his professional life to creating (with many others, now including me) a new way to teach architecture at the graduate, professional level. He will tell us how Beauty and building have been working hand-in-hand for thousands of years: and now, maybe, in a revolutionary way.

Alan Organschi is an award-winning architect from New Haven – over 20 years ago he and his wife, Lisa Gray created Gray Organschi Architecture, http://grayorganschi.com and Alan has become the director of the Jim Vlock First Year Building Program at Yale University: http://architecture.yale.edu/student-life/vlock-building-project he teaches the hands-on to those who are living the rare air of Ivy Graduate School Design Education: and they build a house every summer

And John Connell is a Vermont architect at 2morrow Studio http://prefab2morrow.com who has written books, too – and who helped build the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren Vermont https://yestermorrow.org/?_vsrefdom=adwords&gclid=CJPouqGHxdYCFYOPswodAAkCEQ who teaches anyone, at any level of design or craft training and experience in the cross-pollinating value of building what you design – from a shelf to a home, and larger.

 

Kneeling

September 26, 2017

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In this chaotic period our country is vexed and inspired by the simple act of kneeling. This weekend many players on many NFL teams took up the physical commentary on the state of race relations in America by kneeling during the national anthem.

The scope and public presence of the furor was inflamed by a controversial president stating that if owned the teams he would fire the players who dissed the national anthem by kneeling..

But kneeling is a complicated gesture. In my Episcopal tradition, we knelt repeatedly during services, virtually accompanying prayer with “hitting the knees”. To me kneeling centered me, isolated me to be in direct focus and connection to God. If I was subjugated to a subservient posture, I was saying that there was no pride involved – there was no standing up in assertion of my power, rather kneeling acknowledging my inherent weakness and helped foster a personal connection to God.

But times have changed…

Maybe as a lifelong 62 year old Cradle Episcopalian I have lived through the time when kneeling was integral with each prayerful moment to be replaced by allowing an aging population’s failing knees to be respected, but more, having the choreographers of church advocate the rejection of kneeling as a depressing introversion versus the joyous power of standing together and seeing each other, together, not looking down in isolation.

I also played and coached football for 11 years and spent another 9 as the parent of a very devoted football player all the way through college. I know why players kneel or stand when it has nothing to do with a greater attitude than either exhaustion or being a team, or respecting a coach or a fallen hero, injured in the fray.

What changed?

There is less kneeling in church services today than in my youth and now, right now, more in sports. Kneeling is a simple way to isolate you in a group of people in church and in the last few weeks kneeling has become a more common expression on the field. Kneeling expresses faith for some and protest for the other: but it’s always part of something bigger than ourselves.

The formal act of standing, proud, facing the flag or the altar is voided by becoming low in kneeling, becoming personal, versus a phalanx of strength. Only now, in the NFL, outrage brings the proudest among us, professional football players, to kneel. Irony may be limited to old Episcopalians, but it’s there for me…

The imagery of these players kneeling is impactive because it’s staged and intended to be seen, whereas in the days when kneeling in church was the common way prayer was equated with supplication, the act was meant to personalize praying from the greater group of parishioners and center your faith in a crouched hunker of private connection.

Where once we sought to touch God personally on bended knees, one on one, now services in most churches prescribe standing together as one in full appreciation of our collective belief: like the standing players listening to the National Anthem.

Why do athletes who are paid millions of dollars and exert complete lifelong dedication and endure great risk and pain feel the need to express collective rejection of the unity found in a tradition during a national ritual? I think kneeling of the proud conveys the gravity of anger in a deeply divided country. Whether racial, economic, or political the outrage and what was once modest passivity becomes an insult to some.

In my faith tradition of mid-century Episcopalianism we sat facing a God thru an altar – not focused on a Rector who simply gave the words we all said and read our focus. We all knelt in supplication and rejection of any group think or pride: there was no health in us – only in giving up our pretenses to literally bring ourselves low to come closer to God.

The original meaning of “taking a knee” in football was when we all focused on the coach or an injured player: if we brought ourselves low we focused on the other person, not standing together, but kneeling in devotion.

But this weekend saw those worlds flip: now churchgoers stand and pray and the most public among us kneel and protest. It’s an inversion that has meaning because it rejected the original expressions that we had relied on to manifest how we felt at church or in a game.

It’s pretty obvious that those in church are trying to be spiritual, often using the millennia of rituals to get closer to God – and it’s also obvious athletes are physical humans: fully engaged in bodily expression. In a time where religion is having problems fulfilling the hopes of faith seekers and sports is having trouble being a sanctuary apart from the rat race of our culture, we have opted to use our bodies to get closer to truth and our values.

I wish I had insights about the effects of kneeling beyond it’s history of stark modesty and a solitary posture: it served me well in my youth, and it’s my natural reaction to those moments in a service where God is addressed directly, up close and personal, in vulnerability. I have even fewer insights into whether a protest about intolerable cultural realities is an intended hate gesture against our national ritual of standing in attention or just a focal moment…

We are in odd times. The simplest of acts or words can be seen as offensive to anyone at any time, and the intense reactions to any provocation are justified by a moral outrage that can end empathy and foment anger, so we are acutely aware of any intended “statement”.

To me, that means the old school tradition of kneeling helps. Rather than lash out in human hubris, a quiet crouch focuses attention. The sad thing is that the attention in the NFL is now completely on the presumption of anger, not our common failures in the eyes of God.

If there were simple spiritual acts of grace that could pre-empt the personal outrage of the kneeling protest it would not be 2017. Today our culture is seeking and trying to express a broad truth: to me we have it: God has given us everything, and we are more often than not too stupid and proud to acknowledge how we fall short.

Clearly I need to pray..,

Equinox Search

September 21, 2017

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Last March, I was in the middle of Lent. The exact middle. I know because, like now, I write every day and silently crank on my recumbent for 90 minutes during Lent -but I had a trip cancelled and was taking the day off. It was the Vernal Equinox. For a very brief period the orientation of the earth’s axis was such that twice in a year our angled orientation was not a day/night factor in our orbit plane to the sun.

Night and day were equal in length.

For once (well, twice) their is balance, symmetry, half light/half dark. The Ying/Yang Dream of the South Korean Flag is achieved. Before the last few hundred years, we sensed this, but ascribed this fleeting balance to a Larger Order, a Great Design, a Meaning revealed to humans by the Creator. We noticed, we projected, because we predicted.

Stonehenge, Wicca, Pyramids, you name it treated this day differently from all the others. Oh, and the longest days and the longest nights were sanctified as well.

But this date in March was made central to me, by me. Having nothing but my corporeal presence to account for it, a tiny part of me was never right and completely hidden. There are 3 layers to veins I have been told. One of those veins had one of those layers created badly by the genes created by my parents’ last attempt a children: this small piece of a vein was flawed enough that under blood pressure it was inelastic enough to break.

In the best and worst place possible.

Worst is that it was in my head – my brain. Best was that that part of a brain can heal itself. So I was 100 hours at Yale Hospital with no symptom – none – Except Balance: I had none, then a little, then some.

That break on the Equinox six months ago came 15 years into working out 5-6 days a week, over an hour a day. 10 years prior to The Event I had dropped 1/3 of myself. It was in my 61st year, Never having anything break in any part of my body, or taking a day off from work, or going to a doctor since grade school. I did all those things because of that Equinox.

Since I lost 1/3 of myself, I had, within a few years, larded back 40% of the 1/3 I lost, but I still fit most clothes. Our kids had graduated, graduated again, my wife and I were in our 27th year together. Life was as good as you might hope. Well there could have been more money…

But I noted the Vernal Equinox, like I felt Lent. Before The Event, the young year was already interesting – book coming out, 2 ten year projects getting finished, elected to the leadership of our Diocese, becoming a Fellow in The American Institute of Architects, being on design Juries at Yale, giving a Big Talk before a few hundred in NYC, and all the other nice things – all were healthy, radio show good, concert series I helped create good, office with over 50 projects – All Good.

But the Equinox came. And its Autumnal counterpart is back again today…

And it was still all good. I was not dead. I repaired. I was told that I did not cause the event, in fact, one neurologist stated “You inoculated yourself!” to the worse consequences of The Event by working out so relentlessly for so long.
Of course this break meant new impacts to “Fight The Power” – losing the 1/3 (about 1/3 of that to go), going to doctors, taking (now 4) pills a day, working out 1.5 hours/6-7 days a week, no coffee, less salt and salty things and on and on…

Why? Why can’t the Equinox be enough? Why the need to take it on? Understand. Control. Try. Why?

My Grandma Summey is said to have said “Would you rather be a pig satisfied, or a human unstatisfied?” I honestly do not know. I love bacon, but have only eaten one piece a year over the last 23 years. Bacon has consequences for the fat.

I want every thing I do not have: any job I do not design leaves a little grind in my guts. Every award I try to get and do not (like this Tuesday) hurts. Any son’s anything bothers me – bad dreams and marital fights hurt more than The Event did.

Why can’t I believe that I will live as long as I can? Why do I want to live longer? Why can’t I know that I am loved? Everything has been given to me – everything – why can’t I simply accept it?

Why couldn’t the two equal days in 365 be simply noted, and then have a great dinner?

I go to have a Skype call in an hour that seals my presence in an international academic effort, in the couple of days that the nights grow longer I photo a perfect little job, have another concert to run, a son’s birthday, being on the field with my best football friends, and on and on.

I do not have to want what I do not have.

But I must do these, all of these, and regret the these I cannot do.

At 62 I am grateful, guilty and trying. I am guessing this is what happiness is, but it really does not matter. If that vessel blew in a place that forced rehab for the rest of my life, I know I would be grateful, guilty, and trying.

I have no choice.

Building Beauty

September 13, 2017

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We all know what we love. We feel it.

Usually, humans try to understand their feelings, not create them.

“Overthinking”is a great term that describes the “ought” in all of us. I should like opera – I love music, and one son is completely devoted to it, I have tried, but alas, I just find it tediously overblown. For me.

In architecture, kids come to school knowing that they want to make beauty, but over time they begin to know they should be able to define, render and defend beauty: not just feel it. You could say that one of the central purposes of all education is to separate us from our feelings so that we can understand. In school, the motivations and mechanisms are limited to the teachers’ comfort zone: and that is mostly not based in building. If you give building to teaching with words, drawings, models, clicking the keyboard you disengage that act of creating from what you should be doing in architecture: building beauty.

Traditionally in school you are feeding your mind, in the bubble of your brain you are the captain of your thoughts – but you are crippled in your creations by the media, the method as defined by your teachers.

I hate chemistry, but school forced me to deal with it, despite my hate. And I loved architecture and, not surprisingly in school grew to defend what I loved. I did not defend pretense, or Canon, or any theory of aesthetics – I grew to know that fit, and surprise and harmonics weave with movement, use, weather, materials – it was not an easy sell for some professors who built precious little, but taught full time for decades.

Now I have built full time for decades, dealt with over 1,000 sites, clients, scenarios. It’s time to share that, and it’s time the rest of the world in the tightly controlled place of teaching architectural design.

In the fine arts studio world, history is often something that is just a contrast to innovation, not a necessary allusion because we are in our time, on our terms. Size is not important as is scale, as in school we build almost nothing. Materials are texture, contrast, tone, lustre – none have the quality in school you learn by using them – soft, crisp, moving, inert.

Why can’t school be more like the rest of the lives? Why can’t we use what is learned to learn? In music, playing or singing is the best way to compose. In sports unending physical acts in practice allow for games to happen. How often do athletes spend all their time on the caulk board and then go out to play? If they did what would happen.

Some people, and soon me, are confronting students of architecture with the challenge to do what they come to school to learn how to do as a way to become what they want by doing what they value: in architecture that means building beauty: I am engaging in working with a crew of teachers, architects, theorists to be a cog in the teaching of architecture because I have spent 40 years building over 700 things, then taking the time to write millions of words about it.

It’s in Naples, Italy: it is tiny and starts in a month: Could you read this piece? http://commonedge.org/christopher-alexanders-new-architecture-program-offers-an-alternative-to-style-and-orthodoxy/

Here’s my take on this new program, but more the professional devotion of my life: Building Beauty. Its not transactional, its not intellectually constructed – my life has and is steeped in the full choreography of ideas, art, things, humans, climate, gravity, and yes: beauty. I hope you can see why this is worth my time (and yours reading this) http://www.buildingbeauty.net