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Welcome to Saved by Design

January 3, 2023

New Stuff:

In Home Page: An Hour With Paul Goldberger

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

In A Year In Lent: Only Consistency Allows Change

In Random StuffPearl Harbor

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself: A Decade In Memory

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”

Hair Is Faithless

January 21, 2023

The font of all wisdom, The Internet, says “More than 80 percent of men and nearly half of women experience significant hair loss during their lifetime. For many, the thinning starts well before middle age.” This appears without attribution at the top of the Google Search page. So it must be true.

It is true for me. Like a volcanic island, a small patch of skin at the back of my head emerged from my sea of hair twenty years ago. It has become a continent. Any photo taken from behind me has the glaring orb of skin screaming back. 

My father efforted a “Comb Back” where six inch inch long strands of hair were pulled straight back over his continental skin shelf – held in place by a fragrant hair product. When he awoke every morning there had been a violent head earthquake with the anomalously long hairs flayed all across the  one inch long headscape around them, revealing the source of hirsute inadequacy: raw skin.

In the 21st century, attempts to control visual perception have completely flipped. I know no one with a comb-over, let alone a toupee. I know many (many) who have taken the skin ball and run with it.

Men (and maybe some women who I do not know) see the emerging skin, and whether they throw money at hair-growth products or not, invest in high tech razors and multiple minutes every morning removing every vestige of hair on their heads. A variant on this scorched-head assault is the full beard that proudly proclaims the presence of testosterone on a head whose pate otherwise rejects hair.


Who cares?

Like the flowing tattoos or fashion statements so many spend a great deal of time and money on, we want to control what we can. Our lives are given to us, including the insight and capacity to do more than simply live. Somehow the joy of manifesting things beyond survival is not enough – we need to respond to fear with control. Whether Dr. Evil or Lex Luther, many of my skin head brethren opt to take partial deforestation into clear-cutting. The hair I have has not changed color in 67 years so people say “You haven’t changed!” But of course I have. Health and achievements and failures are like a rolling sea that I can only beat against, to no great outcome. But I do beat against the tide I cannot control.

I could shave my head, too. Those posterior shots would have a polished pate that would dazzle the viewer – but I would be the same. Because I do not make me – I just live what I have been given and part my hair to keep it out of the way, not to cover skin.
The skinny pants, cool shoes, and careful coiffed hair that I am incapable of would project what I want to be, not who I am. None of us made ourselves beyond the cosmetic – and I am hopelessly unfashionable.

If I know that God made me, and you, then it’s all just a little silly. I can easily screw up every gift and think I made it myself, or earned it, or just deserve more.

But I did not make my bald spot. It is not an achievement to hide it by layering it with hair from some different location or pretend that it is not there by removing all the other hair around it. All of who we are is what has been given to us by God. We can manipulate our lives to the results that we think are good for us, or we can see that our gifts only promise God’s Grace when we try to use them. Not for what others think, or even some image we feel good about – but for what we have been called to do.

Good luck with that revelation: Jesus offers no manual, no guide, nothing more than Ten Rules that leave the rest up to us.

Including shaving our heads.


January 17, 2023

LIVE! Thursday, January 26th, NOON! 89.5fm STREAMING:

SIZE: Everybody lives somewhere: and how we live determines how much home we want. In the United States there are long term trends that are simply contradictory, and new realities – all impacting on how big our homes are, and how many of those homes we live in.

Homes have been relentlessly growing in size since World War 2, while families are reducing in size for two generations. Amid these swings there are 15,000,000 abandoned homes, and upwards of 3,000,000 vacant homes.

It is not just the area of the homes that we build, or the number of people living in a home, or the need to combine living and working in a home, or just the money needed to have a home: Everything is Changing: What does it mean?

We celebrate home building as “inventory” (homes for sale) is low, but we are building larger homes for smaller families while millions of existing homes are unused. The internet has detached many people from a physical place to work and live near. Interest rates will soon suppress the boom of building we experienced after the radical full stop of COVID.

Will we begin to use our huge supply of abandoned, unused homes?

Will we change our typical home to be a workplace? multigenerational?

Will “sustainability” mean a change in focus from “New” construction to renovation in homes?

A great list of guests will help us deal with a uniquely inscrutable – and universal – market. Professor, planner and writer Alan Mallach joins HOME PAGE from the New York City area to talk about the complicated housing realities we face. Historian and advocate Bill Hosley returns to talk about how home size and families have changed in New England over the last century. Joan Arnold as a community development and thought leader in housing will talk about the future of our homes in the 21st century.

Invocative Architecture

January 15, 2023

It Is Not A Video Game

January 11, 2023

This week we felt our humanity filter through one man, whose heart stopped, who other humans saved, who expressed love in response to unending love of his teammates, his adversaries, everyone.

Humans love.

Humans are not video games.

1,000,000 humans play football every year. That leaves 380,000,000 who do not. We are all humans, we all die, so love in response to fear is simply natural. But extreme devotion to anything is very rare. Not 1 in 380, but not too many. But like fearing death, all of us want to enjoy life.

So we compartmentalize. We objectify. We turn music into types, we turn people into types, we turn ourselves into a type.

But we also take devotion and make it safe, not something we cannot do, but want to, we take others’s devotion and judge it, by compartmentalizing those who are devoted into things we can easily judge, without understanding or risk of knowing how incredible others lives are, compared to ours.

We often bet on that compartmentalized, objectified devotion. All sports is now bet upon. Football is now a multiple billions industry, using our massive need to have impact on the extreme devotions of others we will never feel, or understand.

In response, the NFL warns others over betting. The best way they think to do that is use an ad to convey that devotion.

They use a video game when humans are playing the game the announcer is narrating. (To see the ad, click on “Watch on YouTube.”)

It is a weird dissociation from the love of a human whose heart stopped being in the devotion that the NFL, that we trivialize by imposing a fully inhuman video game. Or betting. Or making the humanity of those playing into a drama we can understand. Until the humanity of those we try to trivialize cannot be overlooked. Like when a human’s heart stopped.

It is a crushing break when we cannot simply hear the beauty of the love of devotion of those humans who are playing, and we create video games, betting and TV shows to understand that devotion we cannot understand.

But humans, us, are playing.

Damar Hamlin

January 6, 2023

At 24, Damar Hamlin was living a life that he devoted himself to. He worked diligently at his loving family’s cleaning business. He completely dedicated himself to playing football at every level. He went to the University of Pittsburgh, won many honors, and everyone – everyone – loved him.

He was drafted late in the NFL 2021 draft, and persevered to finally see time playing playing at the highest level. Last night, in the simplest of plays for a defensive back, Damar closed on a short reception, went in for a basic tackle, and made it on the receiver’s shoulder, with the center of his own chest.

Damar Hamlin lead with his heart on that play, just as he has his entire life. This time, his heart simply stopped. No one knows much beyond the visual image of Hamlin jumping up after the tackle as he had done hundreds of thousands of times before.

Once up, his body stopped along with his heart. Immediately the machinery of the professional sport went into intense action to save his life. Teams that loved him, deeply, were fully devastated. 60,000 fans were fully silent.

The screaming and noise and humanity of human hubris, competitive intensity, of a national media simply stopped. Because, for a moment millions of lives spent living through an event focus on one of us, mortal, victimized by the passions we all feel – to live what we love, to devote to our passion, with others who feel it.

Hamlin ended his coma surrounded by human care of every kind – medical, social human, love: and said “Did the Bills win?” because that is his devotion. But in his isolated fragility, Damar Hamlin is with the God who made him.

We who live our lives in the world, saw that the world had left Damar – and we, all of us, want him to know, feel, that he is not alone, that he is us, put into a place we will all be, at the edge of not living in this world.

That is where Jesus is. All the time. The life of God made man was taken from him, and then the reality of God showed in the continued life God gave us.

Our life is a gift. No matter how good and devoted Damar Hamlin is, and he is all that, his life did not justify his life, God’s love did.

And that love is still there. It never left. Jesus is with him, and us every day. Even at the darkest of them.


January 3, 2023


In CT Insider: Column: Buildings should go beyond “accessibility” to “visitability”

In CommonEdge: What’s With Our Obsession with Stacked-Boxes?

In ArchDaily: “New Practices” in Architecture are Just an Evolution

In CT Insider: Column: Building booms create more ugly homes

In Mockingbird: Suburban Jesus

In CommonEdge: Building Busts Increase the Value of Architectural Beauty

In ArchDaily: Nameless Buildings Affect Us

In CT Insider: Column: Technology has changed how we buy our homes

In Mockingbird: When Words Defy Death

In CommonEdge: Zombie Projects Come Alive in a Real Estate Boom

In ArchDaily: Is Good Architecture Synonymous with Beauty?

In Mockingbird: The Impossibility of Zen

In CT Insider: Column: Demolish or renovate, what to do when architecture fails

In CommonEdge: Architecture Has Its Own Cultural Appropriation Problem

In Mockingbird: Why Am I So? Why Am I Thus?

In ArchDaily: Technology Isn’t Trend, It’s Timeless

In CommonEdge: The Accidental Making of an Architect

In CT Insider: What to know before applying to architecture school

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


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.



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



January 3, 2023

These places to live are about the same size, cost and function.

Humanity does not have fur. We need protection. Almost all of us where clothing, for protection against the environment, whether melanoma or temperature. But we have modesty: Humans want privacy as well as protection. Beyond and in contradistinction to being safe and modest, humans also project our values into what we need.

Clothing has color. Food has taste. Language has adjectives and adverbs. Our cars have a visual presence beyond transportation.

We humans also want to have our efforts create value: money is the easy answer that defines value: homes can be places we spend money to gain financial worth, or spend less on rental living to spend money elsewhere. Freedom can have more value than money, so couch surfing or living in the basement of others manifests that. So our homes reflect all of us: some in the anonymity of an apartment block, some in the history of an antique, some in the hubris of their own making.

Home might be where our heart is, but it is also where our hearts are: whether children, parents of those we love beyond blood, the place we sleep is our font of the day to day – we leave it only to return. We cannot escape where we live, and that place reflects where we are beyond physical location.

2023: Invocative Architecture

December 30, 2022

These photos (BELOW) are from my phone: all taken in the last month

A vertical addition manifests the past into the future.

Sometimes words reveal, rather than describe. Perhaps that is poetry. Everyone tries to define what they do beyond the simple description of what they do. Bankers “monetize” the things we value. Advertisers define “brands” that connect things to culture. Whole intellectual playpens describe aesthetics of every kind. All we have are words to describe the wordless.

Architects toil in the place of making, first design in the soup of places, people and culture, then building in the description and technologies needed to realize reality, then, after, the understanding and communicating of what has been done.

This is done with words.

Poet Adrienne Rich said “Language is power”. A poet lives that insight – her words define thought, but those words also manifest her own humanity. Words, like architecture, are uniquely human. All sentient beings experience and act – but humans define those desires and outcomes as ideas – and ideas are expressed in words. 

Just as architects design buildings that address the opportunities of sites and users, humans create language that addresses the opportunities between ideas and expression. In Paradise Lost, John Milton defined the capital of Hell as Pandemonium: Now Pandemonium – of all demons – is a state of chaos, anywhere. Playing off the Tale of Serendif, writer Horace Walpole defined the reality of serendipity – without cause or rationalization. Thomas Moore saw the connection between the Latin word utopia, meaning nowhere, to the impossible perfection of a place, named Utopia.

Architects do the same thing – in self-definition. With words.

Whether its “Organic Architecture”, or “Modernism”, or more recently “Parametrics” architects rationalize the most subjective of aesthetic expressions with words the world can hear. Words become the solvent used to reveal clarity. I think poets understand the potential of our language to define insights beyond the accepted way we use language.

Emily Dickinson wrote:

“The Definition of Beauty is
That Definition is none —
Of Heaven, easing Analysis,
Since Heaven and He are one.”

Since my life’s mission has been to make things in words and buildings, the connection is what I do. Defining anything that exists is simply understanding gaining description. But defining motivation without outcome is hard. I cannot dodge the ethical responsibility to convey why I do what I do without applying rationalization to an outcome.

How do I think about creation?

I have come to a simple place, in the noise of all the hype, posturing and outright bull of self-serving descriptions that now flood the internet. Some dismiss the work I do as imitative hackery, others as offensively “modern”.

We often impose a defensive contrast between tradition and expression. Rather than see the yin/yang of dualities in architecture, many define old as good or as hideous, invention as destructive or the only legitimate role of design. I think there is safety in the past and a complementary power found in freedom. We live with the past just as we base our lives on gravity.

Words can reflect the two simultaneous values of safety and freedom. I think my work does that, too. This moment calls for a description. An editor has described this effort as “word salad”. But the images with the words may make the effort edible.

It is a fine line between evocation and invocation. To invoke uses what exists and projects it. To evoke spurs emotion into expression. Triggers are evocative – unthinking response. Invocation uses allusion to the world that relies on awareness, rather than reaction.

“Invocative” is not a word in a dictionary, but it lives in my work I create invocative architecture – it is a word “Spellcheck” underlines in red, but describes what I  – and others – do better than those found in a dictionary. 

A new home in the ascending pines.

Invocative realities live with history, not in its ignorance. Like gravity, life in the human condition cannot exist without time – so history is as real as light, weight, or smell.  Evocative sentimentality is the manipulation of history to cynically control those being manipulated.

Ascension promises the new as it encounters history (left)

Aesthetics are fraught with evocative triggers: a baby’s smile, a sunset/rise, a chord, a color. But aesthetics can also be comforting in affirming the values of those receiving them – the cliches of style, culture, even traditions that are woven into each of us. For good or ill, humans crave a combination of freedom and safety. History is safe, because it can do no harm. Freedom is nourishing because it is all about you. Traditional architecture is safe. Modern architecture is exhilarating.

The reality of a hillside site seen from an imposed home – windows are of its location, and, like the hill change as the grade changes.

Whether the High Modern distillates abstraction, or architectural Traditions embody memory, human aesthetics swings between denial and ritual. We want validation – historic precedent. We want control – determination of our design. We want the binary toggle of “Good” (who I am) versus “Bad” (different from who I am).

A new interior lives with the home’s history (left)

I think all humans live in response, then rationalize it. Architects live in a world of rationalization. Building is a terrifying act of faith, where risk is overcome by faith – like a marriage or living your values.

It turns out that I “do” invocative architecture. But the way I help make things, teach making things, or write about making things is invocative.

An existing building gains a focal point of use and presence from a busy street.

Trying to deny who we have been are denies who we are. History is human, we uniquely know it. Humanity lives time, but we cannot change it, or gravity. Buildings exist using gravity, not denying it. Trying to recreate history is like trying to deny it. History is the intellectual gravity that is universal in our humanity.

Architecture invokes that humanity even if it tries to deny history or invent it. But nothing can deny gravity or create it. It just is. The infinite cantilever tries to deny it. Historic Styling invents it. But time and gravity are uncontrollable. History and structure are humanity. We can define them, without control or denial.

Architects can create invocative buildings without guile or manipulation.

“Style” of pieces dance with the free line of use, space and materials.

50 Years

December 26, 2022

For circumstances icky and boring, I had to harvest a tree by myself. The first time I cut down a tree I was with others, but the net result was the same: I set up a large tree by myself. I realized that the first auto installation was exactly 50 years ago.

The differences in my capacity, and experience were extreme, but this time, the task was done in love.

In previous Christmastimes to 1972, there were the moments that make all children of alcoholic’s cringe, long past childhood. A change of venue changed nothing.

I, and the other Jock Elite of our tiny day school, were anointed to raise money for Good Causes. Someone had offered up their family tree farm for a pro bono harvest and sale. The senior athletes cut down about 30 trees, sold them, and the money went to a “good cause”.

I had set aside a particularly large 12-footer, as our 1870’s Early Victorian house had ceilings of at least that height. In doing this, I became The First Dickinson Ever to cut down his own Christmas tree. My grandfather had come over from Newcastle to play soccer in Brooklyn, so the tradition was to buy urban precuts, the ones which already had cascades of lost needles on a scale with those of a wealthy heroin addict.

Coming home, tree on my shoulder, I opened the door to find my father and brother watching a football game (NFL playoff, I think, in the days before the Super Bowl flirted with Easter), and my mother was, in theory, cooking.

“I got a tree!”

Silence, then: “Great.”

I proffered “Let’s set it up!”.


I realized it was after 5, so my father was in ethanol infusion, and the fact that my brother was watching football meant he was likely stoned.

Being 17, I had seen things like this flambé into a bonfire of recrimination and reactionary defensiveness. Being a month out of captaincy of the Park Pioneer Football team, I was physically capable. Having witnessed and assisted a decade of cursing frustration that was the putting up and decoration of the Christmas Tree, I knew how to do that. And there were a residual set of freshly transported lights and ornaments (still hideous) sitting with the stand on the living room floor.

Discretion is the getter part of passive aggressive guilt manipulation, so, I proceeded to set its twelve feet up. Myself.

The game went on seen thru the blue haze of Kent Fog, and I got it all done while “the boys” ate by the game in the next room and my mother “cooked”. In about 2 hours I had erected the tree, put on the lights, and most of the ornaments.

I felt anger and sadness. Again.

It was the last tree I cut down until my wife and I had our own house. It was the last Christmas where my father was the Patriarch.

The time after Christmas saw my mother leave Buffalo with my father. It was a lazy Sunday in January 1973. Two weeks after the Super Bowl – a terrible game where one great run by Larry Czonka made the ineptitude of everyone else seem, well, boring