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Welcome to Saved by Design

February 21, 2020

New Stuff:

In Random StuffThe Code Made Me Do It

In Home Page: Hearth=Kitchen: HOME

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself : I forgot my father’s birthday

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Justification

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Silence In Spring Flaw Flourishes

In Days ’till Spring : 40 Days


February 21, 2020

Recent Images

Progress in Greenwich


 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 Common Edge: The Insanity of a State Sanctioned Style for Architecture

In CT Insider: Review: Greenwich train station plan is revealing in unintended ways

In Middletown Press: Duo Dickinson: SoNo Collection a bold new shopping mecca bucking fading mall trends

In Common Edge: Churches Go Secular: No Place for God?

In Mockingbird: Connection

In CT Insider: Connecticut AIA honors the best in the business

In Mockingbird: Christmas Triggers

In Mockingbird: Shaping the Future

In Mockingbird: “Ad Astra” and Dad

In New Haven Register: Cesar Pelli, New Haven, and 20th Century architecture

In New Haven Register: New Haven’s Temple Street Garage to Brighten Up In a Big Way

In CT Insider: Connecticut’s Architectural Legacy Continues

In Common Edge: The Invented Reality of Suburbia Is Not the Norm



On WTNH News:  Madison Architect Sheds Light on Solar Solution for Homeowners

On Common Ground with Annette Ross:  She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered

On HGTV:  Mercedes Home Diaries       Password: mercedes


The Code Made Me Do It

February 20, 2020

A garage sat in a backyard.

It was a tight, 20ft x 20ft box for two 1950 cars, with a lean-to bay for another 1960 car, all in full violation of the zoning code of 1964, within a foot or two of the side and rear property lines.


“Can we make it a finish place for the kids to play in?” Said the owners.

“Sure!” I replied, “You are pre-existing, non-conforming – and if you do not increase coverage (you are already over that limit) you have the room in in your ‘Floor Area Ratio’ limit on finished, heated space.”

“Could we have a loft.” They replied.


We went to the town.

“As long as we do not violate the setback with new work, and adhere to the Floor Area Ratio, we can!”

So we did.

And kept all the pre-existing non-confirming parts of the garage, add popped up under the 45 degree line of the angle starting from the property boundaries to the side and the rear of the site.

“Can we have a deck looking to the view?”

We went back to the town.


“Yes! IF you keep to the setback and have no supports touch the ground and do not shed water.”

We then worked through septic, a bath, a place to serve food, and heating and cooling: if we met all the limitations of the “Accessory Apartment” part of the code.

It happened.

The builder who brought me into this job has done the best sort of craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and diligence.

After a year we are almost done, And the owners have what they need, the neighborhood loves it, and I find it, well, delightful.

The Brittle Reality of Imitation

February 9, 2020

You learn by imitating. You are inspired by what has been done. Black box, unthinking creation can be absurdly painful.

The recent freakout over “Style” is somehow political, but at its origin this is an aesthetic issue: What is beauty? What reflects America?

I go to church. Every week I am bathed in the first Gothic Revival Building in America, Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven. It has a classic American Congregational Church’s proportions, with a layer of “Gothic” materials and details applied to it. I love it. It is 1816 (plus 1886, 1937, and 2009). But it is simple imitation.

Visual triggers are not inspiration. Mimicry may flatter what is being mimicked, but it is ultimately a xerox. In New Haven, the “Gothic” we bath in every week is a copy of the 19th century British copy of a 14th century Medieval way of building. And in New Haven we also have a 1930’s copy, Yale, in many parts, and a 2016 copy of that.

The copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, the wrought the “new” Yale colleges designed by Robert AM Stern, is perfectly planned and formed. But in so many ways it’s execution is that of aggregated aesthetic sound bites designed to trigger allusion to the copy of the copy of the copy: what Stern calls the “flesh” of Yale Proper.

Next door the exact same design use, size and budget, the 1960’s residential colleges by Eero Saarinen. They offer another way: a use of Modernist distillation blended in medieval planning.

Many dislike Saarinen’s dorms, but many deeply love them, many who lived there. Architects generally disdain Stern’s dorms but they attract students seeking validation of the school’s credibility. (As if it needs it)

The point is that Saarinen’s extreme efforts to distill may be inspired by Modernism, but mimic nothing, but Stern acknowledges mimicking an single architect, James Gamble Rogers, who acknowledges imitating those who where imitating others. And it shows.

From a distance Stern’s towers look and feel almost noble. The walks and courtyards are so well laid out and proportioned that their style does not matter. The flow of Saarinen’s masses and spaces are wonderfully different, and delight as well.

But up close and personal, Saarinen tries to completely obscure working fireplaces, while Stern used cranes to drop in fully expressive “chimneys” that have no function – which is more hypocritical? When you realize that fully detailed vertical masses are a functionless sham, or, alternatively, fully cloaked and detailed to hide their function, what do you see? Which seems worse? Better?

The point is that mimicry can be silly when it’s designed to trigger nostalgia in Stern’s college, and the rejection of function in favor of aesthetics also finds a home in Saarinen’s non-chimneys. In both places an outcome was desired, and things manipulated and controlled to effect it. By architects.

Everyone knew what these architects would do before they were hired. No one told them what to create. Once our government creates an Aesthetic Code designers either design to that or they do not design.

is that what we want?

The Property Brothers Are The Voice of Architecture

February 7, 2020


The Property Brothers are on all media all the time. Not their cable show, but their advertising presence as shills for any number of national products on every platform there is.

They must have authority.

They do what they do where it matters: they look, sound and present well. Correct BMI, cute smiles, nice voices, composed, tight delivery. The information they mouth, as defined and written by their producers, is apt, sound bitey, and clipped for TV.

They are TV. But they are design too.

This week architects went nuts debating the evil attempt to control a federal architecture

One critic thought it was a ‘waste of time”. The actual outrage may have been the better story than the subject matter: creating, as one architect endorsed, a “Dress Code” (applied how?).

But tiny groups of stakeholders tweeted each other in a self-focused freakout that no one else saw or cared about.

They were too busy watching The Property Brothers define what you should value. What is “hot right now”. What is important. Based on a few years of flipping homes and a decade of looking good on camera.

We believe them. They give use safe, soft, quick approbation that what is available is what we need. No thinking necessary. No creativity is so no risk. Invention cannot have a sound bite because inventions are simply attempts, not results. In the most risky thing we have, our homes, there is infinite downside to wrong choices. And everyone lives somewhere.

So the vast majority of everyone whistles past those crazy architects saying things we do not understand, using words that seem to promise breaking the bank. We prefer things that are safe.

We believe The Property Brothers. Ideas that are discounted into being commodities. Wisdom that has fully boiled down to those sound bites. We put our money where our safety is: we buy the stuff The Property Brothers sell.

Nothing wrong with “Making America Beautiful Again” but whose beauty? Whether by the AIA, Architectural Record, or the screaming architects, that is a tiny corner of how people see beauty. The rest of us can see, every day, the Property Brothers selling beauty to us all.

But beauty is not a commodity, so those screaming architects (like me) and The Property Brothees cannot commodify what touches us into being a sound bite.

Humans know what has meaning, no matter how many ads are there in the back ground of our overloaded perceptions. The essential truth that some things are moving, rewarding, even thrilling cannot be ”Style” defined, no matter how safe that would be.

Unlike everyone else who has written in the this latest outrage, I help make things everyday. They are there I know some hate them, or just do not care, probably most.

But some find something in the buildings we help make, because something is there, because all the humans who are involved are in those things.

Not the ones on the TV, or the blog sites, just you and me. That may not be enough to define the changing universe of anything as Artificisl Intelligence renders the Property Brothers quaint artisanal buffoons. But our humanity is in each of us, and actually defines us.

Humans need to know that they are the deep fiber of aesthetics, not those who want to control or make money off of them. Have faith.

Flaw Flourishes

January 30, 2020

My vision ended my application to be considered for the Navy ROTC program. My vision was 20-40, and the program, during the Vietnam War that was still raging, only wanted those who could be pilots, thus needed 20-20 vision for consideration. I asked for a waiver, and was denied.

So my parents paid for most of my college tuition, and I was a deep sea scallop fisherman for the rest.

In that eye evaluation, I was told I had a “bad astigmatism”. I mostly did not wear the glasses I was prescribed until I drove, then wearing them was a very good idea, but my eyes never degraded, over 40 years.

Then things changed.

I began to see more clearly when I was not using my glasses, and less clearly when I was wearing them.

I was told that I should go to the eye doctor despite the improvement, so I did. My doctor friends told me that the improvement was normal, but I could begin to need magnification to read or draw. So I went. Tests abounded.

Evidence is not expectation. There is no rationalization. No fear, no faith. It is what it is. The tests revealed that my individual eyes are pretty lame. Fuzzy letters, lack of clarity. Yikes.

But together, their flaws were simply overcome, and I could see dramatically more. Why?

“Your eyes work together.” said the doctor.

My eyes are sentient? They overcome flaws by “working” together? But they report to one brain. Seeing pictures showing the inside of my eyeballs the insane complexity of the entire assembly merely confirms the impossibility of its origin, and my outcome.

But more, I asked the doctor when my close vision will fail.

“Maybe never.”


I had thought the reciprosity of seeing worse long was to slowly erode my perfect up-close focus. But the long vision is not failing, even getting better, and the close-up vision is unchanged.


“Your astigmatism may simply prevent any change in your close focus.”

A flaw creates facility.

I have no idea why, I guess I could try to understand, but I am behind in most things, and I had someone who knows declare an probable outcome.

My flaws we have hurt. Sometimes deamatically.

But flaws make us.

Frank Lloyd Wright Is Still Dead

January 29, 2020


Some religions sit shiva after death for a full year. Others truly believe in reincarnation. Others believe in life after death, and Easter is not about the Easter Bunny, it is about Resurrection..

Frank Loyd Wright is finally, institutionally, dead, As reported by The Architect’s Newsletter (AN):

“The School of Architecture at Taliesin will cease operations after this semester, after a gut-wrenching decision by its Governing Board on Saturday. The School of Architecture at Taliesin was not able to reach an agreement with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to keep the school open.”

When a dear friend built a home almost 60 years ago, he used a Taliesin disciple, Arthur Carrara of Wisconsin to design it because he was a keeper of the flame of the recently passed martyr to his own genus, Frank Lloyd Wright. In my teenage visits to the home, I saw that you could care more about making things than simply create shelter.

In the intervening 50 years, I saw Arthur Carrara die, and, as the new family architect, I tweaked Arthur’s lovely Log House 5 or 6 Times, in ways I thought he, and His Master, would approve.

In the 1980’s my friend and client, the builder of the house, went on a pilgrimage to see Oglivanna Lloyd Wright. Because he had made a significant donation to Taliesin, Oglivanna gave my friend an audience. Upon return my friend was bemused.

“She spoke of him with active, alive verbs, ‘The Master believes this’, she would say.” he told me after his meeting. The Master to her, and those at a Taliesin, was yet alive.

He was alive then, 20 years after his mortal passing, and up until this last week, Frank Lloyd Wright lived after his buildings. A state many architects devoutly wish to happen.

But even genius dies.

As organized religion becomes subject to the frailties of its makers, and faith in buildings and rituals changes, we have to open our eyes to why religion was what it was. Religion is not about humans, even geniuses. That’s because Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and others were not geniuses, they connected to God. So Frank was not reincarnated, and could not be worshipped in life after death. He was a brilliant human, a genius, an incredible actor on the stage of architecture. No greater maker has existed. But Frank was just you and me, with extreme abilities, drive and longevity, not God.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is no God called Architecture. But many architects, many schools of architecture, many institutions that celebrate architecture have Canons. There is fealty to any Canon, but architects have made one, perhaps several, and we are devout.

Like recent politics, differences are have become existential threats in the 21st Century. But very few competing ideas are actually ‘evil”, but turn on any media and “evil” is alive and well. Like politicians some architects practice religious fervor. ‘Sustainability” declares there is a judgment beyond just declaring stupidity and waste, so not having solar panels on buildings is heresy. To others in Historic Preservation putting solar panels on buildings is heresy.

There are now “triggers” and “micro aggressions” that project Canon into anger when that Canon is breached.

A Canon, beyond ‘Style” is the Genius Canon. Zaha Hadid smashed the gender limitation in architecture to ascend to Genius. But all geniuses are just us. And genius architects build for us, not themselves (except for their own homes) because they die and the buildings live on, no matter how devoted we are to the genius we love.

In the 20th century, architecture had become a forum for the genius persona as held up by celebrated architects in our culture. Figures like Frank Lloyd Wright or Zaha Hadid present an unknowable black box that defines a problem and reactively, inscrutably, generates a solution.  These solutions are as idiosyncratic as they are self-justifying. Into this fine arts world of starchitects there are architects who do not design for other architects.

But the next genius we are forced to deal with is Artificial  Intelligence. Many will come to treat the literal black box of the computer as the black box of genius. Some will simply ask the embodied Canon in Artificial Intelligence what to do, pretending they control it, because humans, largely dead ones like Frank, created uts database.

This essential basis in the human spirit comes up against this technological revolution, now, in this culture. The human processes that dominated all culture are being changed in ways that make the “Black Box” of human genius look quaint. Plugging in requirements and having the next generation of technology define the outcomes will be a gift to how we live on many levels. But it separates humans from their direct embrace of design. Unless our humanity is brought into the center of how we look to define our place in the world architects cease to exist, just like the Puritans.

There are many Canons: heresy is everywhere. If an outcome is absolute than anything full adherence to it is a sin, it is Wrong. Fortunately life is never Canon, the Puritans found that out when the Congregational Church evolved from it. Connecticut realized that when that church ceased to be the State Religion 30 years after the Constitution. Not every only building has to be saved or forced to be disfigured.

Taliesin has ended. Frank Lloyd Wright’s 60 year Zombie Institution has taken is his final breath of immortality in active architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright , like all of us, has passed into history. All of us end, and if you have a faith in anything larger than you, you think there is a greater meaning than simply silence.

There is, but it is not architecture, literature, music, or anything we make, the meaning of us is in the maker of us.