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Welcome to Saved by Design

July 29, 2022

New Stuff:

In A Miracle Of Coincidence: “It is finished.”

In A Year In Lent: Only Consistency Allows Change

In Random StuffClick Bait Christ

In Home Page: What Makes HOME?

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself: All That Is Wrong

In Emily’s Days: Coda

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Occupation Preoccupation

In The Rules: 1) Plan. 2) Section. 3) Elevation

In Silence In SpringAstonishing

In Days ’till Spring: “Karening”

A Moment

August 8, 2022

(after unending Editing)

The summer of 1972 was perhaps the most intensely focused time in my life: rendering me as good an athlete as I could be in that moment. Although I was elected co-captain of our tiny football team, there were huge changes that year. The scholarships that allowed our private school football team to have enough talent to win, changed. The little league that the school dominated, ended. Not much was left.

A moment lives with me, amid the coping. The team hit the field in pads for the first time in late August of that year. “LINE UP” screamed the assistant coach after my co-captain and I lead Cal’s. “NUTCRACKER, NUTCRACKER” We who had been there before immediately broke into groups: backs, lineman, linebackers, receivers.

The Head Coach calmly called out our star running back (next year’s captain who went on to start for four years at Union College), then me, then, facing me, the team’s best defensively lineman (who had beat me out of my job the year before) our best linebacker (an angry Junior), an outside linebacker, and the starting safety.

It was our first drill in pads, and we were lined up for the Nutcracker Drill. I faced the defensive tackle, heads up, then ten yards behind him, the inside linebacker, and then another ten yards back the outside backer, and last a safety. The linebackers and safety could only move up if the running back advanced five yards into the ten-yard separation between defensive players – no piling on. Usually, the point of attack saw the back cut off the lineman’s block and get tackled by the first linebacker, or perhaps the defensive lineman defeated the block and tackled the back, or if the next linebacker missed, the safety had to move up. Here, the running back, lineman and linebackers were larger that I was, and were better athletes.

The running back and I faced the defensive tackle, we two linemen got into position, team screaming, as we stared at each other. It was our first contact of the season, after a week of working through plays and technique after a year without football. The ball was tossed to the back as the whistle blew.

A summer of compressed rage, seventeen years of anger and frustration exploded through my body. I launched into the defensive lineman, instantly knocking him down, kept balance, with the back behind me, and came under the linebacker, taking him off his feet, then went through him to chip the next linebacker, with the back pivoting off that hit, then my rage overwhelmed the safety who was terrified at the violence he just saw – and the back screamed in joy, running past the four fallen defensive players.

The team exulted. I had done something for those who I cared most about. Those who cared as much as I did. My body did what I hoped it could. That moment never happened before or since. For six seconds, I was the best player on the field, and never again. Beethoven’s 7th was in my head. The memory is there, now, forever. As is the girl’s smile in dancing class five years before.

1965

July 31, 2022

(after unending editing)

In my first few years at our tiny day school, I had made a few school friends. One, an extremely nice native Japanese student in my class who actually invited me to wonderful birthday parties. They lived a couple of blocks from our home in a “Modern” (!) house.

One of those parties involved an event of the kind my parents had come to reject – the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. My friend’s parents piled about eight of us into their two cars and we drove to Queens. It was an alien universe of radically different buildings – it was as if a hundred Octagon Houses had come to create an entire city.

We were treated to many rides, and one facilitated the permanent scaring of one corner of my brain when a sonic trigger awakens the Ear Worm in my head: the shrill, unrelenting chorus of “It’s A Small World (After All), It’s a Small World (After All), It’s a Small World (After All), It’s a Small, Small World!” we heard relentlessly chorused as we rode thru the Walt Disney World Exhibit on our wee train. The scale and variety of buildings and spaces was amazing.

My parents gave me a $20 bill to buy whatever I wanted to get. And, of course, I got them something interesting, and something for me too! (both purchases are completely forgotten these fifty-plus years ago.)

Despite my complete over-the-moon reaction, my parents, and my siblings simply ignored the possibility that there could be anything they wanted to see there. There were other things to do, and they had to do them.

My friend’s father was transferred back to Tokyo the following year, and the breaks in connection continued.

News

July 29, 2022

READ:

In ArchDaily: New York’s Tower of Babel

In Mockingbird: The Prodigal Architect

In CT Insider: Column: Rethinking CT’s empty movie theaters, churches and malls

In ArchDaily: Democratizing Architecture vs. Aesthetic Apartheid Architecture

In CommonEdge: Adaptive Reuse Is the Architectural Challenge of the Future

In CT Insider: Column: A ‘Connection Revolution’ is changing architecture

In MockingBird: Sowing Seeds

In ArchDaily: What is Aesthetics

In CommonEdge: Architecture Is Evolving, and the Pritzker Prize Demonstrates This

In CT Insider: Column: ‘Tear down’ culture makes it easy to forget about history

In ArchDaily: “Net Zero” Homes: Marketing Morality

In ArchDaily: The Architectural Pandemic of the “Stick Frame Over Podium” Building

In CommonEdge: Five Simple Rules For House Design That Drastically Lower Energy Costs

In ArchDaily: The Future of Visualization May Be The Past

In MockingBird: Life and Its Absence

In CT Insider: Column: The hazards of hype in a real estate boom

In CT Insider: Column: How ‘The Harvard 5’ brought Mid-Century Modernism to New Canaan

In MockingBird: Consider the Bees in the Air

In CommonEdge: Don’t Blame Bad Buildings on a Lack of Money

In CT Insider: Opinion: Those boxy apartment complexes sprouting up are ‘architectural fast food’

                                                                                                            

Recent Images

                                                                                                             

 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.

                                                                                                             

WATCH:

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

                                                                                                             

Dimly Seen

July 22, 2022

(after endless editing)

In 1903 Harry Dickinson left Newcastle, England to live in Brooklyn, New York. The
story goes that at 22 he came to play English football, employed by the “Immigrant
Leagues” that were created by and for those coming to America. After three years of
play, his knee was injured enough that any income derived from his play ended. He
then became a bricklayer for the Carlin Construction Company of New York City.

In 1906 Lucy Hill and her siblings left Holly Hall in England and arrived in America.
She was, by family accounts, “old” at 25. She worked as a “piecener” at the spinning
mills of textile factories and was to support herself with similar work in America.
Lucy somehow connected with Harry and they were married in 1908. Neither had
graduated from eighth grade.

The sense of distant relatives was that Harry was not a nice man. It was said that his father, a wine taster, was an alcoholic, consequently he never drank a drop.

As was expected, especially for this newly married “older” couple in their mid ‘20’s, a baby was immediately conceived and born in December 1909 – my father George, named after an uncle who had died at sea in the merchant marines.


When my father was one, Lucy discovered that she was pregnant, again, at 27. Harry
did not know. Earning a living hauling brick after being a soccer star was difficult for
Harry, and life with a new baby was not easy for Lucy. Apparently, life was so difficult
that Lucy sought out an abortion – fully secret from Harry.


My father’s mother died while having that abortion. Their son, one-year-old George
Dickinson was then sent to Canada to live with his mother’s sisters – described as
“spinsters”. The removal of pain in the vacuum of immigrant life, detached from
family, makes sense, if you did not love your son.


Things would be repeated.


The devastation of Harry, simultaneously finding out that your wife was not only
having your second child, but that she and that child had died, and her death was
because she could not accept having another child with you, is not any easy
apprehension. But it happened. Its impact had the resonant devastation that echoed
throughout an entire century of three generations.

 
For five years up in Toronto, George would wander away. His aunts feverishly looked
for the 4-year-old. When they found him on one of those occasions, George was
walking upon the docks of Lake Ontario. In relief and consternation, they asked him
“Why did you leave, Georgie?” His answer: “I was looking for my Mum.”


Harry, my grandfather, died the year that I was born, 1955. His lifelong pivot from a
double homicide, ended a family that had no recorded history, but had undeniable
facts that I was forced to deal with my entire life.

The difficult fact was that upon her death, my grandfather Harry had her body
shipped to Northern Westchester – a virtual wilderness to those who lived in
Brooklyn in 1911 – to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla – a truly beautiful place. In
the early 20th century, Westchester County was essentially farms and summer homes
for the rich. But the cemetery was right off the railroad line. Lucy was the only
Dickinson buried there, as Harry was to be buried in Queens, with his second, and
ultimately third wives.

Clearly Harry Dickinson wanted to exile his dead wife as far out of his sight and mind as possible. The inexpensive cast grave marker was much the worse for wear, but was probably affordable for a bricklayer, especially given the circumstances. But it was more than that.

Playing

July 20, 2022

(after endless editing)

During the season, football practices were of two types: the long, hot preseason variety, lasting about three weeks, where endless technique drills were balanced by endless input of schemes, offense and defense as we were a tiny team. Once the season began, there was about ten weeks of regular practices,five days a week after the school day – less running, starters and subs chosen, less terror.

In those preseason three-hour sessions, everyone played against everyone in many positions as the coaches wanted to see who could do what. In my sophomore year, our great receiver, who went in to play in college, was running a simple hook pass route, I was playing linebacker for reasons that eluded me, but I knew what he was running, so when his 6-2 frame turned and he leapt to snag the ball at the peak of his jump, I had dropped back just enough to be able to launch into him from behind, hard. He did not like the contact, and ripped back his elbow into by 1966 face mask that offered no resistance. Fifty years later, my left front tooth is still lagging an 1/8 of an inch behind the right.

In those summer practice days I would often have a summer cold, and would uncontrollably blow my nose upon contact, not a good thing for an underclassman hitting a senior. So, I went to the drug store and got “Privine” and emptied three stoppers from the little bottle into each nostril on the bus up to practice. The results were instant, and unexpected: first, no mucus. But then there was no feeling of any kind in my entire head. And a fully racing heartbeat. I then read the instructions: “Maximum Dose Three Drops Per Nostril” I think I overdosed by a factor of 10X the limit: I felt no pain that day, had a great practice, terrified myself and never touched “Privine” again.

Practice happened in all weather. Hailstones were delightful in their sound against our helmets. Playing in snow was hilariously fun in the wild sliding on the ground below. Even mud was joyous in the soft explosions created when bodies are thrown into it. Thunderstorms happened too. And lightning. After one such practice, a bunch of us were leaving the locker room. We then overheard a car radio announce “Four high school football players were killed by lightning in Texas this afternoon when huddling up asthunderstorms poured during practice.” Great.

We never were allowed a drink of water during practices, as it “built character” to be dehydrated. Butthere were salt pills offered, that most assuredly had bad implications in the wrong conditions. But nobody died. 

Anything that deviated from the grind of practices was delightful. One 1970 August a white van was parked next to the practice field. At one moment, three men opened the van rear doors and brought out white buckets, dumped newly opened plastic bags of powder into them. They then began filling the buckets with water from the hose next to the field.

For the first time ever, Coach yelled “TIME OUT – Everybody have a drink, from the bucket!” We gladlygot in line; the water had turned the sunbaked hot hose water a bright yellow green. Any liquid was better than no liquid and we drank. The water tasted like salt, a lot of salt, and something.

I looked down at the buckets. They had black lettering printed upon them, reading “University of Florida Athletics”. Later, we learned that our connected coach, knew someone who knew someone who wanted to test a way to hydrate their football team, the University of Florida Gators. The bright yellow-green salty stuff was later called “Gatorade” – and we did not die testing for their team.

HOME as Architecture

July 17, 2022

LIVE! NOON! THURSDAY, JULY 28th 89.5FM Streaming WPKN.ORG

This Month’s HOME PAGE is a unique full hour with an architectural critic and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Paul Goldberger, who went to Yale, and has written any number of books on architecture, including “Why Architecture Matters” and “Ballpark”, taught at The Parsons School of Design. Goldberger written for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker.

Architecture is the focus of the hour, and homes are the “Ur” building. Homes are the most generic place. We all have them. Either a room, home, institution, we all set our head down and night somewhere, and most often we want that place you extend and express who we are. In that way, homes are fully universal, created in the vernacular of their origins, a social fundamental, a cultural mirror, what it means to be a human, beyond nest or burrow.

Our culture is at a crossroads: The 20th century seems a hundred years ago, COVID and Artificial Intelligence are both present but their impact is unknowable, and the next generation will be completely transformed by technology, environmental and moral change that has not been seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Architecture never leads, it follows. Huge changes have rendered the buildings we used to use daily useless: The office tower, the shopping mall, the worship space, the movie multiplex, even our urban centers may all be repurposed in just the next decade. In all this, we are leaving a housing bubble.

Where has architecture been, where is architecture now, and where will architecture go? HOMEPAGE thinks about how the home reflects our culture, so how we live is at the center of the discussion.

No one in this moment knows architecture as fully as Paul Goldberger: JOIN US.

Football

July 15, 2022

(after endless editing)

As with all families, there are patterns we live in,including my early suburban life. My father’s morning walk down to the commuter train to Manhattan was the ritual. I do not recall him ever having a sick day in the years I lived with him.

My father’s rigorous dressing each weekday, and the Sundays he went to church, was a full half hour. First shaving and putting on boxers and an undershirt, no matter the weather. Then garter belts were strapped on, to keep the socks up, then the starched shirt with its fold-over French cuffs and cuff links, suspenders, the collar pins to push the Windsor tie knot out, cuffed pants, a vest and gray flannel suit with a pressed handkerchief set in the suit’s jacket breast pocket, slightly visable, and often used. From September to June, then, often a seersucker suit until August. And the black Oxford Wingtip shoes with the holes in their applied pieces. His pocket watch fob and chain inset into the tiny vest pocket and the daily ritual as complete.  

Virtually all clothing was from Brooks Brothers, as were the hats he always wore – brown or black or, with pinstripes, straw, even after the Kennedy inauguration, where the new president eschewed hats in defiant youthful expression. 

My father’s return from New York City each day meant a family train pick-up, then drinks, dinner, yelling and stamp and coin sorting those five days a week. The weekends were their own pattern. Perhaps no shaving, no formal dress. Just breakfast, chores or stamp and coin sorting, then drinks, dinner, yelling, and sleep. 

But Sunday afternoons in the fall were different. The pattern had a weekly break.

My father would lie upon his side of his bed, and tune in the New York Football Giants, on the local broadcast TV station, perhaps the CBS affiliate, prior to the advent of the American Football League, The screen sitting atop a tolling cart shown black and white images upon our Zenith TV with the tuning-fork silent flicker that triggered remote channel changing and volume control – complete with rabbit ear antenna set upon the set’s top.

As with dressing, eating, sorting stamps and coins, smoking was continuous. Commentary in the play of “Spider” Lockhart, Willie Young, or Fran Tarkentonwas continuous, too. I lay upon the end of the bed, and watched with my dad. When I was seven I even saw the team, distantly, at Hackley Day Summer Camp one summer, as they practiced there, marveling at the flexibility of Willie Young. Two years later I then urinated next to the team’s First Round draft choice in 1965 as a nine year old, my first day at Incarnation Camp. I have no idea why he was there, but as he peed he said “My back teeth were floating” to my deep admiration.

My mother had Buffalo family, who knew the wee school I attended. I saw the brochure – it had an image of football. I had seen some games on TV, and I once went to a game with my Dad at Yankee Stadium.

So football was a thing my father and I could share when he was not drunk, or dressing, or screaming.

I had zero connection to anything more physical when raking leaves in autumn, as my parents were similarly detached from anything but coping. But I liked what I saw in black and white those afternoons. I then saw an NFL film on that TV that described football positions. Based on that I determined that I should be a fullback, not knowing my glacial speed. When I shared that with a friend they looked at my “Husky” body and soft physique and unsurprisingly laughed heartily.   

Beginnings

July 13, 2022

(from endless editing)

After the war my mother’s immediate career was bearing children. With her first three baby deliveries, my mother was in a New York City hospital, and completely “under”. Her first attempt at motherhood had gone horribly wrong. At 30, when she went into labor for the first time, she was encouraged to “hold off” delivering as long as she could because her doctor would be back “later” – so she was put under (as all in her class were 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 doctor’s 2nd Tee or at the 19th Hole, the umbilical cord 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 five years before creating their first-born living son, his name memorializing their lost son: Winthrop Stevens Dickinson.

For reasons that remain unclear, once they found a home, they opted to have a third child. I am pretty sure that even in their ’40’s I was not a ‘mistake” as my mother later shared stories of all her friends’ abortions during these years of transition to a suburban nursery.

The day of my birth, August 21, was hot. I was born in Middle Suburbia, in Middle 20th Century at the beginning of a universally unique drama. Floods were ranging through Pennsylvania. It was the 8th month of 1955, every one of which had been in pregnancy for my mother, now soon over.

The drugs were administered but fewer of them for this fourth time in the eleven years and three previous pregnancies. Yet there would be little awareness of birth, save awakening to a visiting baby, soon rushed out of sight, for feeding. Being a boy, immediate circumcision. 

As it was for her previous children, mother’s milk was inferior to manmade nutrition. My father was absent for the messy necessity of birth, as were all his compatriots as well. Then, after two nights recovery in the little Dobbs Ferry Hospital, my mother came home to the home of five-and ten-year-old siblings, long out of diapers fully enmeshed in schooling. It was clear that in the 1950’s my parents were exhausted, 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 or Trip (had I been the third).

The parties were over. The jazz was on the HiFi, and Manhattan was a nice place to visit. Meals were now nutritious from fresh frozen or canned, work was from a railroad with days started and ended by the train schedule. But this third child was the last brick in building the family wall to the world after the chaos of war. The new Family Home was being fully remade in the hopes of the parents, now filled by three new humans not even considered a dozen years before.

All That Is Wrong

July 11, 2022

(From endless editing)

I will never understand my parents much beyond the truth that they were God’s children, just as I am. No better, and no worse. But the damage is abiding, more than twenty years after both of my parents have died. Neither the damage done or the grace received is deserved. 

Despite that reality, the truth of my life in its first 18 years is less clear to me now the more I understand it. Greater knowledge can sometimes reveal far greater ignorance than we could have discerned. After almost a century the brightest minds in humanity, with explosively improved technology, now know that 95% of all mass and force in the perceived universe is “Dark” – fully unknown.  First unknown, then revealed, the amount of unknowable force and mass we can perceive is now a larger part of the universe than ever. The truth of ignorance is still truth. My parents, and so their children, were coping from the moment we had sentience. Like all kids, we just responded.

I am late in a life spent coping, and that lack of control is both fundamental and inscrutable. In every affect and intention, my life growing up in mid-century America was unconsidered beyond its outcomes. For any of us, life is an assembly of defining the right thing to do, then doing it. After the near death of World War 2, the power to control American lives was won for the entitled, and our culture was based on the victors controlling it.

I have come to see that our midcentury lives were lived in the 95% Dark reality we now know for the rest of the universe. Our world, at least my little world, was a place born of my parents’ inebriated rationalization. The unresolved pain in my family’s life was a dark, scary, judging place. And as my parents came to determine that they had fallen short of their own constructions, so my parents came to find that failure in their children. That determination revealed a Dark World of unavoidable, final judgment. Of course, for my family drinking was part of it – it was a time when “Having a drink” was as normal as “Having Breakfast” until the time my father had to be in the hospital where he would die at the end of his life, he never acknowledged that booze had fully distorted all he had been given.

Our mother could not offer anything but support to the font of judgment, my father. Every family lives beyond its present generation. Ours did. Her children were her disappointment because they were not what her husband had wanted. My sister, the oldest, was in every way what was good in the eyes of the world. But her first eighteen years changed her. She could never even think of drinking a drop of alcohol or think of having children but bonded for life with a man who loved her. The middle child found no one trying to bond to anyone. Except in the final control of suicide. I was distant, separated by fear and example.

As my siblings entered the time when culture judged children in mid-20th century America, the early teenage years, the grades they earned were not those our father grew up basing his identity on. The loss of their parents thus became long and complicated.

As a result of the rejection of my siblings, I was simply quiet and studied. When my sister left a month before graduating from a very nice private high school (and thus rejecting going to a very nice college) to be on her own in California, the first incontrovertible break happened, in 1964. When my brother descended into the mind alteration of his father, but with more varied distractions, I was left fully alone, in every way.

My life became a re-gifted fruitcake. Temporarily possessed, but never eaten because eating would ruin the gift, that is, well, worth giving. It was clear in my growing up that enjoyment, never earned, often awaits another time. So there were no hobbies, few times away from work, and now never a thought of retirement. Eating the fruits of this life will probably never come because I cannot give what I have consumed.  Distraction is real at least, for moment, but the first years of my life are beside me, every day, despite all work and achievement.

It is clear, now, that in their potential failure the gifts that were given to my parents offered more terror for them than any hope, despite having a life of comfort unto privilege. The foundation of alcoholism mandates failure, its distortion created a sense of a doomed life defined by the unending ways everyone falls short.